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Monday, June 17, 2024

Warning! Do Not Judge! | A Sermon on James 4:11-12

Today, we continue our series on the book of James.  Last week, we learned about choosing God's way over our own selfish desires.  Today, we'll look at James 4:11-12 and talk about the power of our words.  James says a lot in this short passage about how we speak to and about others.  Let's see what we can learn. 

James 4:11-12
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Don’t Slander One Another (James 4:11)
James starts out by telling us not to slander one another.  Slander means speaking falsely or maliciously about someone, damaging their reputation.  When we talk badly about others, we hurt them and ourselves.  We are all part of God's family, and He calls us to love and support one another, not tear each other down.

Let me give you an illustration.  If you are on a baseball team, it's important for everyone on the team to support each other and work together to win.  But if someone is spreading rumors about their team mates, it creates division and distrust in the team and makes it much harder to work together and succeed.  Well, as Christians, who is on our team?  Everyone in our church is on our team.  We aren't competing against eachother, but against the powers of darkness among us.  So we should not slander and spread rumors because it creates distrust and makes it harder to work together and succeed in bringing God's Kingdom on earth.  

And if you think about it, there are other people on our team even outside our congregation.  Everyone in a Bible believing church is also trying to make disciples of Jesus and bring God's Kingdom on earth.  So, we are not competing against other churches in our community.  We all have the same goal.  If they succeed, we succeed.  If we succeed, they succeed.  So let us not bring division in God's universal church or spread rumors and slander.  Let us root for each other and pray for each other to all succeed.

And if we have a broader definition of success, we could include our whole community and our country as being on our team.  Don't we want our community and country to succeed?  Then let us not tear each other down, but build ach other up as much as it is in our power to do so.

What are some ways Christians may be guilty of slander?
Gossip – Sharing unverified or private information about someone else's personal life.  Talking behind their back about their mistakes or failures.

Spreading Rumors – Passing along information that may not be true or is exaggerated, which can harm someone's reputation.  Speculating about someone's actions or intentions without knowing the full story.

Criticizing Leadership – Speaking negatively about church leaders or decisions they make without understanding the full context or offering constructive feedback.  Undermining authority by questioning leaders' integrity or abilities.

Judging Appearances or Behavior – Making negative comments about someone's clothing, appearance, or lifestyle choices.  Criticizing how others raise their children, manage their finances, or conduct their marriages.

Undermining People’s Faith – Questioning the sincerity of someone's faith or relationship with God based on their actions or struggles.  Making disparaging remarks about someone's participation or lack thereof in church activities.

Complaining About Others – Expressing frustration about the behavior or habits of fellow church members in a way that is unkind or unfair.  Creating division by speaking negatively about different groups or cliques within the church.

James says, "Don't Slander!"

Judging Others (James 4:11-12)
James goes on to talk about judging others.  He says when we judge others, we put ourselves above God's law.  "The law" is the moral and ethical teachings given by God, particularly the command to love one another.  Remember, Jesus said the greatest commandment (law) is to love the Lord your God.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). 

 James 2:8 mentions this "royal law" found in Scripture: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  When we speak against or judge others, we are not acting in accordance with this law of love.  Rather, we act as though we are above than the law.  In essence, we are saying God's law of love does not apply to us, or that we know better than God.  We put ourselves in a position to judge the holy law of God itself, which is both presumptuous and wrong.

Judging vs. Discerning
Now, whenever I talk about not being judgmental, I need to remind us of the difference between judging and discerning (or between being judgmental and making good judgments). 

There’s a difference.  For example:  We are currently searching for a new children’s minister for our church.  We are taking applications and trying to choose the best candidate.  How can we hire the right person unless we interview and “judge” the candidates? 

The kind of judgment James speaks against is a condemning, self-righteous attitude that looks down on others and assumes a position of moral superiority.  This leads to thinking or speaking negatively about others, spreading rumors, and causes division.

This is not the same as discernment, which provides constructive guidance with love and humility.  When we interview people we exercise discernment and wisdom.  This includes evaluating a person's character, qualifications, and behavior.  But the goal is to find the right person for the job, not to tear anyone down.

But what is someone is not acting right?  What if their behavior is clearly wrong?  What then?

If we have someone in our church whose behavior is unacceptable, we go to them in love to hold them accountable to build them up and help them be more like Christ.  Jesus even gave instructions for addressing sin among believers in Matthew 18:15-7.  He taught us to:

  • Go to the person privately and gently and respectfully point out their fault.
  • If the person doesn't listen, take one or two others with you to help mediate and confirm the issue.
  • If the person still refuses to listen, bring the matter before the church. The goal is always restoration and reconciliation (not proving you are right by tearing someone else down).
So there is a clear difference between being judgmental and making good judgments.

Humility is Key (James 4:12)
Remember, there is only one true Judge.  Our role is to love and serve one another with humility.  Humility is the key.  It reminds us we have our own faults and need God's grace too.  When we speak with humility, we build others up instead of tearing them down. 

How we speak to and about one another is important.  We are called not to slander or judge,
but to speak with love and humility. By doing this, we honor God and build a stronger, more united community.

It’s Our Job to Build a Better Future
It breaks my heart to see so much division and slander being thrown around in society.  The ignorance, disrespect, and vitriol that characterizes our public discourse is troubling.  It is ungodly, unholy, and unhealthy.  What kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren?

If it concerns you too, then I invite you to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Christians are called to be different than the world.  We are called to be salt and light—to be a positive influence on our broken world.  And we can, because we have the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside us.

The way we make a difference is to live differently, to speak differently.  We are called to be holy as God is holy, to love as God loves, to act with humility and to treat people with dignity and respect.  The way to change the world is not to gripe about it, but to be the change we want to see.

Baptism of Joshua Kirk Ikerd
In just a moment, we are going to baptize baby Joshua, the son of Kelsey and Chad Ikerd.  Whenever we baptize our children, we promise to do all in our power to support their life of faith.  It occurs to me today this includes doing all we can to make the world they inherit a better one.  One of the chief ways we can do that right now is to act with humility and to treat people with dignity so the world becomes a more positive and loving place to live.  Will you do that?

Monday, June 10, 2024

Submit to God, Flee from the Devil | A Sermon from James 4:1-10

We’ve been working our way through the Epistle of James.  Let me review a few important points to remember about this letter.

James is Jesus’ biological half-brother; Mary was mother to both James and Jesus.

James wrote his letter to people who were already Christians, who had been driven out of Jerusalem and scattered abroad by persecution. These were committed Christians who had already suffered for their faith.

The vast majority of Christians at this time were Jewish. They knew the Jewish faith and the Old Testament of the Bible. (The New Testament was not formed yet.)

Our Scripture today is James 4:1-10, but we will take it in three sections.

James 4:1-3
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I am a Christian, but I Still Struggle
The first thing that strikes me from this section is how Christians still struggle with sin and envy.  Remember, James is writing to Christians, not unbelievers, and these were hardcore Christians whose faith had been tested by persecution and they remained faithful.  And Christians still struggle with sin—both in Bible times and today.

People often mock Christians because we don’t always live up to our own standards—we struggle with sin just like everyone else and sometimes we have bad attitudes and even do horrible things.  Just because we are forgiven and saved from Hell doesn’t mean God has fully healed our sinful nature yet.  That takes time.

But that doesn’t mean we get a pass to just live however we want.  We need to let the Holy Spirit reform our character.  And we should be getting better and better, day by day.  James is very blunt—calling out the jealousy and selfish motivations of Christian and naming the evil it leads to:  quarrels and fighting, even killing in order to get what we want.

I cannot help but wonder if James was thinking of a Jewish story from the Old Testament all of his readers would have known:  the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Do you remember the story?  Jacob gave his son, Joseph, a beautiful coat of many colors.  But Joseph's brothers were jealous when they say it because it reminded them their father loves Joseph more than them.  So they planned to kill Joseph, but his brother Reuben convinced them to sell Joseph into slavery instead.  That's how Joseph ended up in Egypt where he eventually rose to power as second in command to Pharaoh.  God used the brother's terribly evil plan to save Egypt and the whole middle east from famine.  Now the Jewish readers to whom James wrote would have known the Joseph story like the back of their hand.

The Joseph story is the story of humanity—jealousy, envy, and using power to take want we want.  Why does one nation attack another nation?  Because they have something we want and if we have the power, we will take it—by force if necessary.  And even so-called “Christian” nations throughout history have acted this way.  Even though they claimed to act in Christ's name, they were doing thing s Christ would have called despicable.  This is not God’s way.  And Christians must give up our love for the things of this world. 

James 4:4-6
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Friend with the World or Friends with God?
James says being friends with the world means being enemies with God.  What does that mean?  It means if we love the things of this world more than we love God, we're not choosing God's way.  God wants us to be faithful to Him.  He gives us grace to turn away from our selfish ways. 

Think about Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve disciples.  Judas was close to Jesus, saw His miracles, and heard His teachings.  But Judas loved money more than he loved Jesus.  He chose to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  In doing this, Judas chose friendship with the world over friendship with God.  His love for money led him away from Jesus, showing us the danger of putting worldly things above our relationship with God.  Do you see how dangerous it is to flirt with worldly desires?

Now, you may say, “I would never do what Judas did.  I would never betray Jesus.”  Listen, if you love the things of this world, your desires will drive a wedge between you & God.  A wedge starts out small, but it gets wider and wider.  Who knows what evil you might be willing to do if you let those dark desires grow inside you.

That’s why James bluntly calls out our sin with strong language in verse 4, “You adulterous people…”  “…anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  James doesn’t pull any punches, because he wants you to know what you must do.

James 4:7-10
Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  And remember, Jesus is talking to Christians.

Make A U-Turn
James says, “Submit yourself to God.”  Submission doesn’t sound fun—especially to Americans.  We Americans are a proud people.  We are proud of our independence.  We founded our whole nation on the idea of not being subservient to a king!  And we proud Americans want to hold our heads up high and not submit to anyone.  So, it can be a foreign concept to be submissive to God.  We just don’t like to do it.

Imagine you're driving to a new place and you make a wrong turn.  Soon, you realize you're lost.  You have a choice:  you can keep going in the wrong direction, hoping it will somehow lead you to your destination, or you can admit you made a mistake, turn around, and go back to where you messed up. 

I do that sometimes—make a wrong turn.  I hate turning around and going back.  Maybe that’s a sign I have too much pride.  I will often let the GPS re-route me so I don’t have to turn around.  Usually, it only adds a few minutes to my commute.  I can deal with that.  But even as much as I hate to turn around, if my GPS says it’s going to take an extra 30 minutes or an hour if I don’t turn around, then even a stubborn old man like me is willing to humble himself and turn around.

Submitting to God is like admitting you made a wrong turn.  It's recognizing that going your own way isn't working and deciding to turn back to God.  When you submit to God, you let Him guide you.  Just like turning around and getting back on the right road will help you reach your destination, submitting to God and following His ways will lead you to a better life, a more holy, Christ-like life.

James also says, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.”  That doesn't mean we have to fight the Devil ourselves (we could never win).  No, we resist the Devil by drawing near to God.  We recognize that the evil, selfish desires in us--the way we “love the world”--are actually attacks from the Devil.  So don’t indulge those desires.  Turn away from your love of the world and you are turning away from the Devil.  “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”  And this makes the Devil flee.  

Repent of your sin.  Mourn for the ways you have turned your back on God and God will forgive you. 
You don’t have to live in sin and you don’t have to be overwhelmed with shame.  Our God is a God of grace.  He never gives up on us.  We can never sin one too many times.  God always welcomes us back when we turn around and come back to him.  Therefore, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

Conclusion & Challenge
James teaches us the importance of turning from our selfish desires, choosing God's way, and submitting to Him.  We've seen how fights and quarrels come from our desires, how loving the world more than God makes us His enemy, and how we need to humble ourselves, resist the Devil, and draw near to God.  Now, I want to challenge each of you to take a tangible step this week to put this message into practice.  Here's what you can do:

Practical Steps This Week

1.     Identify a Struggle:  Think about an area in your life where you are struggling with selfish desires or where you feel tempted to go against God's will.  It could be a relationship, a habit, or a personal goal that is leading you away from God.

2.     Pray for Strength:  Take time each day to pray about this specific struggle.  Ask God for the strength to resist the Devil and the wisdom to make choices that honor Him.

3.     Seek Accountability: Share your struggle with a trusted friend, family member, or someone from our church. Ask them to pray for you and to help keep you accountable. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else is there to support you can make a big difference.

4.     Actively Resist: When you feel tempted, remember James' words: "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." Take practical steps to avoid situations where you might be tempted and make conscious decisions that align with God's will.

5.     Draw Near to God: Spend time each day reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping. The closer you are to God, the stronger you will be in resisting temptation and living according to His ways.

Closing Prayer:
Dear God, thank You for Your Word and the wisdom we have learned from James.  Help us to turn away from our selfish desires and to choose Your way in every area of our lives.  Give us the strength to resist the Devil and the wisdom to draw near to You.  Guide us, Lord, and help us to support one another as we strive to live in a way that pleases You.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Godly Wisdom vs Worldly Wisdom | A Sermon on James 3:13-18

As we continue through the Epistle of James, written by the biological half-brother of Jesus Christ, we come to the place where James compares two kinds of wisdom.  One kind of wisdom represents wisdom that comes from God in Heaven.  Another kind of wisdom is worldly, unspiritual, and demonic.  Would you like to know the difference between the two types of wisdom?  Listen to James 3:13-18.

James 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Christian Examples of Wisdom
Remember, James wrote his letter to people who were already Christians.  And in it he basically says, if you are a Christian, you will live an honorable life and do good works with humility.

Can you think of some examples of people who lived an honorable life?  Perhaps you might think of Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to serving the poor and sick, displaying humility, compassion, and selflessness, embodying the qualities of wisdom, mercy, and sincere love for others.  Or maybe you would think of Fred Rogers, the beloved host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," who dedicated his career to educating and nurturing children through kindness, empathy, and understanding, promoting peace and genuine care for others in his community and beyond.  Or maybe you might think of Martin Luther King, Jr., who bravely and peacefully fought for civil rights and promoted harmony, righteousness, and compassion. 

Though all these examples are public figures who had fame and notoriety, fame and notoriety was not their goal.  They did what they did with humility and compassion, willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others.  (It is interesting to note that all 3 were all Christian leaders.) 

Of course, Jesus is the ultimate example of a man who lived an honorable life with good works and humility.  He gave up the glory of heaven, humbled himself as a servant, lived a perfect life for the sake of others, and even died for sinners who didn’t deserve His grace and forgiveness, but desperately needed it.  Jesus is the embodiment of goodness and wisdom.

An honorable life, according to James, is one marked by humility, good conduct, and wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, merciful, impartial, and sincere, resulting in peace and righteousness.  Christians are to live and honorable life and do good works with humility.  Who have you known personally who has lived an honorable life, doing good works with humility?   How did they inspired you to live like them?

Worldly Wisdom
Worldly wisdom, has an appearance of wisdom.  It has the false-promise of success, but it is a lie.  It is demonic and it leads to sin, suffering, and death.   James says that worldly wisdom is full of envy and selfish ambition (see versus 14-15).  Envy is a feeling of frustrated inferiority where you are jealous of others and what they have.  Ambition can be a positive attribute that drives people to achieve goals and succeed.  But when Ambition is coupled with envy and selfishness, it becomes sinful, focused solely on personal gain, often at the expense of others.  Perhaps you can think of some people who embody the selfish ambition of worldly wisdom. 

You might think of Bernie Madoff, the financier orchestrated one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history, defrauding thousands of investors out of billions of dollars purely for personal financial gain, with no regard for the devastating impact on his victims.

Or perhaps you think of Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, whose ambition for power and dominance led to World War II and the Holocaust, resulting in immense suffering and loss of life.

James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  Sadly, we see a lot of this kind of demonic wisdom in our world leaders today.  We need to pray hard during these troubled times.  

Can’t you see what worldly wisdom leads to?  It leads to conflict and strife, dishonesty and deception, pride and arrogance, short-term gains with long-term consequences, and discontent and unhappiness.  Be very careful of anyone who is full of worldly wisdom.  You can clearly see where it leads.  The Bible tells us.  history has shown us.  Yet people are still manipulated and misled by people with worldly wisdom.  You don’t want any part of the “kingdom” they are trying to build.

Godly Wisdom
In verse 17, James tells us a better way—Godly Wisdom.  This is the wisdom that come from God above—heavenly wisdom, the wisdom Christians should seek.  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

For wisdom to be pure means it is free from moral corruption, selfish motives, and deceit.  It is characterized by sincerity, integrity, and a focus on what is right and just.  Godly wisdom prioritizes truth, goodness, and the well-being of others, reflecting a heart and mind aligned with God's will and values.

Godly wisdom is peace-loving and promotes harmony, reconciliation, and understanding among people.  Godly wisdom fosters an environment of cooperation and mutual respect, prioritizing the well-being of relationships and the community.

Godly wisdom is considerate, mindful of others' feelings, needs, and perspectives.  It shows compassion, empathy, and respect and seeks to understand and value the experiences of others.  Godly wisdom avoids harshness and insensitivity, instead promoting kindness, patience, and gentleness in all relationships and decisions.

Godly wisdom is submissive, meaning it is willing to listen, be open to reason and yield to others when appropriate.  It has a humble/teachable spirit that values collaboration and respects authority.  Godly wisdom is not stubborn or argumentative but is flexible, cooperative, and ready to consider others' viewpoints and make adjustments for the greater good.

Godly wisdom is full of mercy.  It shows compassion and forgiveness.  It prioritizes grace, reflecting a heart that is generous and ready to help others without judgment or condemnation. 

Godly wisdom has good fruit, meaning it produces positive, tangible outcomes in a person's actions and character.  This includes acts of kindness, generosity, and righteousness that benefit others and contribute to the well-being of the whole community.

Godly wisdom is impartial—fair and just, treating all people equally without favoritism or bias. 

Godly Wisdom is sincere—genuine, honest, and free from pretense or deceit.  It does not manipulate or deceive but is transparent and trustworthy, fostering trust and credibility. 

Which Wisdom Will You Choose?
Think about these two very different kinds of wisdom: earthly wisdom that comes from Hell and leads to death or Godly wisdom that comes from Heaven and lead to eternal life.

Wisdom from above is what truly leads to a life of peace, righteousness, and genuine fulfillment.  James, the brother of Christ, challenges us to embody this wisdom in our daily lives, living with humility, purity, peace, consideration, mercy, good fruit, impartiality, and sincerity.

The ultimate example of godly wisdom is found in Jesus Christ.  He lived an honorable life, full of mercy and truth, and gave Himself up for us so that we might be reconciled to God and to one another. As we seek to follow His example, we are called to come together in unity and love, reflecting His grace in all that we do.