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Proverbs 4:7 says, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” This proverb reflects the approach people in the Jewish culture took when it came to wisdom. Wisdom was paramount and was seen as the key to living a successful life in God’s rhythm. This is because ancient Jewish teachers knew how life tends to work. They knew there would be situations we will encounter in this life where there is no manual, where we would need heavenly wisdom. When relying on our own strength, it is really hard to discern who is truly wise and who isn’t while we’re in the middle of one of life’s storms. This is why James 3:13-18 clearly reveals the sources of both true and false wisdom. This section in James also talks about how we can tell the difference between true and false wisdom when we are navigating those tough, grey areas life throws at us.
Do you believe the heart is the key to your spiritual life? While the heart is the core of our spirituality, James makes the case that our tongue is the key to our spiritual lives because it exposes the state of our heart. He is simply echoing Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34 when Jesus says, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Jesus and James believe speech to be the thing that reveals true character. People in the ancient world believed that words carried inherent power and could effect what they spoke (almost as if the words spoke something into being). While we have lost this sense of the power of words for the most part in today’s world, we must admit there is something sacred about the way we speak and there is power in our words. Both what we say and how we say it reveals the status of our hearts and points our entire lives in a certain direction. Scripture is also clear that our mouths have the potential to bring life or death to every person and every scenario we face on a daily basis. The bottom line is our words matter. This is why James 3 says “taming the tongue” is of the utmost importance if you are a follower of Christ.
There is a paradox in the Christian faith that many Evangelical Christians have a hard time navigating. It is the paradox of knowing that salvation is something that comes by “grace alone,” yet also knowing that there is some standard of conduct required for those who are “in Christ.” There are tensions in Scripture we’re not quite sure how to resolve. For instance, Paul says in Galatians 2:16, “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” This is one of the Scriptures the doctrine of “Justification by Faith Alone” comes from which most Christians are familiar with. At the same time, James 2:24 says, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” These two passages create a tension within our faith Christians must wrestle with. So, what are we to do with this apparent tension between faith and works?
James is a book all about the Gospel. Its teachings are closely in line with the teachings of Jesus, presenting a true version of the Gospel (as opposed to a twisted version of the Good News), and challenging Christ followers to put their faith in action. James 2-5 begin to flesh out the action element of the Gospel and provide supporting arguments for all that James set up in James 1. He starts into his main discourse, or the heart of the sermon, by talking about the divide between rich and poor Christians. He takes issue with how some Christians treat others, including those the world looks up to and those we might feel we are “better than.”
Every one, at some point or other must attempt, to define religion. We as Christians have often thrown this word away and substituted it for the word ‘relationship,’ We say, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it is a relationship.” While this is true, we cannot avoid the fact that scripture speaks of following God as a religion. I think our problem with religion is that it is often associated with a list of do’s and do not’s. The book of James addresses this very problem and pierces our hearts with the truth that if indeed we do have a relationship with Christ, there are things we are called to do.
The book of James is one of the most important letters in the New Testament for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons this book is so essential is it answers some fundamental questions about the Christian faith and God in an extremely practical, pragmatic way. One of those questions addressed is an age-old question Jews and Christians have wrestled with: “If God is all-powerful and in control of the universe, then how is He not the root cause of sin in the world and in our lives?” Even if you have never struggled over this question, it is a very legitimate question to ponder. During the time when James was alive and wrote this letter, there was debate amongst Jews about this very subject.1 They were debating God’s role in temptation and trials. Some were in the habit of excusing their evil actions by saying that God led them to do such acts. James says something really important about the origin of temptation: It’s not from God, nor is it from Satan alone.
Just like every letter in the New Testament, the book of James was written by a specific person at a specific time to a specific group of people who were facing specific issues. James was written to Jewish Christians who were facing difficult trials and testing, they were facing temptations and sins, some were catering to the rich and mistreating the poor, and some were failing to live what they professed to believe (they lacked integrity). Others were creating wars and divisions in the church by spreading gossip, and some were walking away from the faith completely. With the church facing a number of issues, James, the brother of Jesus, writes a letter to Jewish Christians all over the world.
The time we live in makes it extremely challenging to be a Christian for a number of reasons. Some would go as far as saying we live in a “Post-Christian” society in the West today. While a recent Gallup Poll finds 82% of Americans identify with the Christian religion, only 44% report being frequent churchgoers. A growing proportion of the society in America today thinks Christianity is repressive and narrow. In one Barna Poll, 75% of young non-Christians had negative perceptions of Christianity, viewing the church as “judgmental” (87%) or “hypocritical” (85%). And, these views come from people who are participating in church (over 80% of teenagers spend at least six months in a Christian church). Among American adults, about one in five believe the Bible is made up of “ancient fables, history, and legends recorded by man,” according to a 2007 Gallup Poll. Skeptics, believing the Bible is archaic and outdated, have a “new” way to interpret the Christian narrative.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 says the task for every Christian is to "make disciples." As we saw last week, the first step in any missional movement is to live in a community that is different than the world. Once we are living out this community and making disciples, it is the duty and obligation of every Christian to participate in "evangelism." Evangelism simply means we are called to share our faith with others.
God is a "sending God." We see this very clearly in Scripture, particularly in the Gospels after the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of John gives an account of the events that followed the resurrection, and the scene begins with the disciples hiding behind locked doors for fear of persecution. Jesus shows up to His disciples who were hiding in fear and says, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." The pattern Scripture lays out is God the Father sending His Son into the world, His Son sending the Holy Spirit into the world, and the Holy Spirit sending the Church into the world. The Church has taken up the task of being sent into the world ever since. If the Church is sent into the world, the question remains, "What is the Church sent to do?"