“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.”
When I hear the word endurance I think about sports. In football, it’s about playing through the whistle and being the strongest team in the fourth quarter. In running it’s knowing how to pace yourself to be able to run the kick faster than anyone else to win the race. Endurance is an important thing and it is not something we have naturally. We have to work at it. We have to push ourselves more and more to extend our endurance. When we push ourselves to failure in practice, we now know better how hard we can push ourselves in the game or race. That testing of our endurance produces better results when it comes to the game.
This is exactly what James is talking about in our scripture for today. He says for us to “consider it great joy” when having our endurance for God tested. It can be tested by trials, tribulations, and troubles. (Sounds like a three-point sermon). Why is it that he would say to consider it great joy? Because it will produce maturity and greater endurance in our relationship with God. We grow closer to Him and grow in our understanding and wisdom when we go through a trial. This allows us to be used by God in other situations. Maybe you become the person God uses to help another person through a similar issue. Or maybe when something big happens to you and your friends your calmness and willingness to go directly to God will strengthen the people around you. No matter what, the trials we go through in life will produce endurance in our lives.
Don’t worry though, when you read the rest of this section you will see that you aren’t going through the trials on your own. You have access to the creator, ruler, and sustainer of the universe. James says, "Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.” When the trials come and you don’t know what to do, just lean on the Holy Spirit and ask for the wisdom you need to get through the trial and you will get it. Ask in confidence, full of faith, and God will give you the wisdom to make it through any trial you face.
Take some time today to think through the trials of this life. How did you handle them? What did you learn from them? Were you lacking wisdom and asked God? Or did you lack wisdom and try to figure it out yourself? After thinking through these situations and these questions, take some time to ask God for wisdom. Look at the things that are coming up. Look at the possible trials you could face, ask Jesus to give you the wisdom you will need, and look for that wisdom in His word. He will guide you and give you the wisdom you need if you will just seek Him.
“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works — this person will be blessed in what he does. If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Knowing who you are is very important. It is what helps make our decisions that eventually mold our future. When we figure out who we are we know what we like and don’t like, we know our passions and our abilities. This allows us to make wise decisions and not have as many regrets in life.
When we think about knowing ourselves well, as a Christian, we should also know whose we are. That is our identity that is in Christ. This identity will help us to know the deepest part of our life and it will give us the strength we need to get through this life. When you look at today’s verses, you see a mix of guidelines and imagery. All of which points to our identity in Christ, knowing who we are and knowing whose we are.
This section of scripture in James is a great picture of living the Christian life. He starts with our outward actions. The way we represent Jesus. He says, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” There are a lot of things in this world that will cause you to be angry. As a believer in Jesus, we should turn that anger into passion. We do that by listening well, processing the information properly, and then handling the situation with grace. That can’t happen in anger. James then moves on to another action we can do. He says to be a doer of the word. This means we have to take the time to know the Word of God and then the time to put it into action. This is what allows us to know our identity. James uses the imagery of a man looking intently into a mirror to describe what he is talking about. Someone who looks in the mirror and sees dirt on his face, food in his beard, and a booger hanging out of his nose, is going to take care of that while looking into the mirror. He’s not going to walk away from the mirror and say to himself, “I look great, everything is fine.” In the same way, how can we look into the word of God and not see the things we need to correct. When we read God’s word it will direct us to make the changes necessary. That’s what it means to be a doer of the word. When God's Word shows us a correction and we don’t do it, it’s like we are walking around with boogers on our faces.
So the questions for today are this: Do you allow God’s Word to speak into your identity? Is it that mirror that shows you who you are, both good and bad? Once you see it, do you put it into action? Think through this today. Let God’s word be that mirror and then put it into action.
“Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker.”
I fought the battle of “good enough” my whole life. My personality is carefree and in the moment most of the time. Through the years I have definitely changed and become much more driven, but as a middle school and high school student, my goal was to be good enough to play sports and not get in trouble. I didn’t care whether I exceeded expectations or did the best in the class. I just wanted to get it done and be able to play sports and hang out with my friends. What that meant was when the bar was set, I hit the bar and stopped. No extra effort, no striving for greatness, just good enough.
In our lives, we tend to live according to this principle. We are good enough. How do we come to that conclusion? We compare ourselves to other people. When we want to feel better about our Christian walk, we look at the group of people who do less than we do and we say, “If they are Christians, then I’m a super Christian.” In today’s verses, James combats that logic and shows us how we have a great flaw in our thinking. He talks about how those who keep the law, loving your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. It’s like a good job pat on the back. For those of us with the “good enough” mindset, we are thinking “Awesome! I’m done.” But then James takes it further and mentions the sin of favoritism. Maybe you struggle with this sin or maybe you don’t. The specific sin doesn’t matter. It’s what he says after that. He says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” In other words, one broken law makes you a lawbreaker and therefore you deserve the consequences that come with that title. God is the author of every law, so to break any of it is to break all of it. So the idea of good enough is not there.
So what do you do with this? We have pretty much learned that we are all guilty of breaking all of the law. Well, what that means is we are all in the same boat. We can’t be good enough, we can’t even be good. Comparing ourselves to others doesn’t change lives and it doesn’t make a difference in eternity. Knowing who we are and that God's amazing grace is the only thing that makes us righteous, should motivate us to live for Jesus and love others no matter what, simply because we are the same. God's grace saved us, changed us, and works in and through us. Stop comparing yourself to others and start comparing yourself to the word of God. When you see the change needed lean on the Holy Spirit and make that change. When you begin to settle into a good enough mindset, look back at Jesus and what He did for you so you can have a home in heaven. Use those thoughts to ignite your passion to serve Him to the best of your ability. A living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto him.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works…For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Have you ever been around that person that is all talk? I remember having a student once who liked to talk about all his great abilities to everyone but he would never show those abilities. It became such a problem with the other students that I actually had to talk to him about it. Of course, the real issue was that he wanted to be accepted by the other student, he was just going about it the wrong way. The thing I noticed that would happen when he would be “all talk” was the way the students would want him to prove it. He would say something about being able to do a double backflip and everyone would say, “No way, I don’t believe it. Prove it!” When he didn’t prove it the other students decided he was a liar and didn’t believe anything he said.
This is the message James is trying to get across when it comes to our Christian walk. He asks the question, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” His final verdict is that faith without works is worthless. He says in verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” If you say you have faith but you don’t have anything to show for it in the form of action then you really don’t have faith.
This is the age-old battle of are you saved by faith or are you saved by your works. I don’t honestly understand where the battle comes from because scripture is very clear on this. We are saved by our faith in Christ. What James is saying here is that our faith in Christ absolutely will produce fruit or works. There is no way you can know who Jesus is, what he did for you, put your faith and trust in him, and then not work for Him. It’s just impossible. This is an opportunity for us to look into ourselves and ask the question, Do my works show my faith? Are you the kid telling people all the amazing things you can do with your words and never backing it up with your actions or are your actions doing the talking for you? When people look at you and me, they should see Jesus in our actions and words. Most of us just need a little reminder to get to work. We have fruit that proves we know Jesus as our savior but it’s been a while since that fruit has been visible or all the fruit has fallen off our tree. It’s time to blossom again and bare fruit. Allow the word of God to be that nourishment, the water, and fertilizer needed to bear fruit. Let’s start today working towards allowing our works to point others to God.
“Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell…We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it.”
Small but powerful. It’s a concept we love when you really think about it. We have spent millions of dollars to create microchips that are smaller and smaller yet more powerful and more powerful. Think about it. The first computers filled a room. The first space shuttle had less technology and ability than today’s common cell phone. The problem we run into with these small but powerful things is when they begin to have a negative effect. Although the microchip is a great thing, it has been used to destroy lives yet, it has been used to save lives. It’s been used to distract people from their creator yet, it has been used to bring people closer to their creator. It’s all about how it’s being used. It is used for both destruction and encouragement.
This is the same thing James is trying to get across with the human tongue. He uses the example of controlling a horse with a small bit and moving a big ship with a small rudder. The small object has a big impact and that is the same for our tongue. We use our tongues to praise God and curse God. To uplift our fellow man and to destroy them. It is powerfully positive and powerfully destructive. James’ main point is that no man can tame the tongue, not even their own. In our power we will be both destructive and uplifting, we will say things we shouldn’t and not say things we should. It is a constant battle for mankind.
The first step in fixing a problem is to admit there is one. We all have a problem with our tongues. We are exactly what James was speaking of. Our tongue can set fire to the world and truly pollute our entire body. But God! When we allow the Holy Spirit to have control of our lives and our tongue. He can use our tongue to change the world. He can cleanse our tongues like He did the prophet, Isaiah. He can give us the right words when we don’t have them. Taming the tongue is throughout scripture but it’s only through the Holy Spirit. This is the exact meaning of Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. That includes taming the tongue. It’s why James 1:19 says for us to be quick to hear and slow to speak.
Taming the tongue is not within our power but that doesn’t excuse us from saying what we want. We must give our words, our tongue, over to God. It is something we must surrender every day and maybe even every conversation. Think about that today. How are you with your tongue? Do you use your words to uplift and encourage or to tear down and destroy? Give your tongue over to God today and every day. Ask Him to cleanse your speech, work in your mind and grant you the wisdom you need to be the encourager He has called you to be. Let’s lift praise to the Lord and love to our fellow man.
11 Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow— of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth— 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Our focus today turns to our place versus the place that is God's. Everyone loves to say, “Only God can judge me,” when they feel like they are being judged by others for something they want to keep doing. This is mostly true. God is the final and only perfect judge. Of course, as fellow Christians, we are to help each other to stay on the right track, but we need to be focused on correcting the sin in our own lives and help guide others to a closer relationship with God. But, because God is the perfect judge, He will one day judge us all, and He will judge perfectly. That alone should be enough to scare you straight. We need to change the saying from “only God can judge me” to “only God can judge me and He will!”
Today’s verses in James 4, show us that God is the creator of the law and the judge of the law. So when we want to judge others we need to make sure we remember this. Point those people to God’s law and to the foot of the cross because, as Philippians 2 says, “Every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” When we point people to Christ they have the opportunity to bow now instead of on the day of judgment.
As a Christ-follower we need to remember these verses and check our hearts. Everyone will bow and declare Jesus as Lord. It will either happen by their choice or after they die and face the truth that will lead to their judgment. We need to check our hearts and make sure that our goal is to point people to Jesus as the ultimate judge and allow them to accept Him as Lord and Savior before it’s too late. If our heart is just to point out sins and show them how bad they are, we are missing the point and becoming judges, which is the job that belongs only to God. He is the only one who has the right to judge from a seat of perfection.
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.”
This section of the book of James is packed full of awesome advice and the power of God. He starts by asking a few questions and then giving you simple answers to those questions. Don’t think of them as simple, meaning not enough, but simple as in the real answer really is that simple. The simplicity of the answer sometimes makes us think it’s not worth doing. It’s kind of like the simplicity of Salvation. We have to trust that Jesus did what He said He did and that He is going to do what He said He is going to do. In the case of Salvation, it’s all on Jesus and that is the same with these first two questions. Are you cheerful? Sing praises! Why? Because Jesus deserves it, it will increase your cheer, it will remind you who is responsible for that cheer and it will bring cheer to others. Simple answer but a big response. Are you suffering? This is the hard one. We want to do so much more because we want to take it into our hands but the answer is, to pray. When you are suffering, pray! Lift it up to the only one who can actually relieve the suffering. Once again, the why is because it helps you to remember who is in control, it lays the burden at the feet of Jesus, and it shows people the faith you have in Jesus which can change their life. Once again, simple but powerful.
The next part is my favorite part of these verses. This is the power of God and we get to be the conduit. It’s about faith and righteousness. If you are sick and you want healing, call on the elders of the church, have them anoint your head with oil, and pray for your healing. It is through your faith and the prayer of the righteous that God hears and answers. James says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” In confessing our sins to one another we are showing how we are not righteous and that we are only made righteous through the forgiveness of our sins. Once again looking to God and reminding ourselves that He is in control. Praying and asking for healing in faith with this group of people shows God your faith in Him. It strengthens the faith of those involved and it allows everyone to lay everything out to God.
Every action in the verses today focuses our attention on Jesus and allows us to be reminded that we are nothing and that He is everything yet in that nothingness, we are made powerful because of Him. Think about that today. Everything we have is because of Jesus and in our unworthiness He has chosen to make us worthy. He has chosen to use us to bring His power into the world and these difficult situations. How amazing is it that we get to be used by God? May we always remember the privilege it is to serve God and may we strive to live our best lives for Him.