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James (2011)

The Tongue

James 1:18-27

Lesson audio

 

Anger

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

(James 1:18-21 NASB)

Basis of Morality

In reviewing my previous series on the book of James I noticed that verse 18 was placed in the previous lesson. It occurs to me that this was not perhaps the proper placement. That verse tells us why the other verses take effect. To be specific:

·         It is God who has brought us forth — and therefore we are his representatives. It is proper, therefore, to inquire how his representatives should behave.

·         He did so by the word of truth. That could mean the Scriptures; it could mean Jesus himself. Either meaning is acceptable, and both of them convey the thought that God's action is of the highest importance to us. We are ambassadors of the truth.

·         More than that: we are first fruits. What does that mean? Obviously it means we are the earliest fruits of God's design. More than that, the ancient Israelite would have considered firstfruits to be the best of the harvest; we are therefore the best God has to offer. And for those of us would ever seen the first fruit available in season, we know it's the most expensive fruit. Consider therefore how precious we must be to God.

Anger Itself

As ambassadors, we are one to speak for God. Therefore it is fitting that James should then bring up the subject of anger. He does so by giving us the preventive steps — if you will, anger management.

·         We must be quick to hear. Put another way, always listening for the other guy's point of view. Consider the other point of view carefully; see if you can find some good in it. The content of an agreement is good, but the method by which you reach that agreement should be good also.

·         In parallel to that we should be slow to speak. I submit it to you: much of your trouble came when you opened your big fat mouth too soon.

·         Finally, we should be slow to anger. Do you see this implies that anger is not just an emotional reaction, but a state of the will? We can decide to get angry or not; it's not just something that happens.

Of course, James doesn't bring up the subject of righteous anger. So it might ask, "does man's anger ever serve God's purposes?" Please note that the question implies that you want righteousness. Often enough we are angry we don't. The question is resolved easily by looking at the actions of Jesus Christ. He did display the wrath of God — but only at those who were desecrating the temple. It was the over righteous legislators who got the brunt of Christ's anger. Likewise, he passed over any number of other sins without the slightest bit of wrath. Prostitution, adultery, financial skulduggery — all these things did not get even the slightest rise in temperature out of Jesus Christ.

Put Aside

James tells us to put aside filthiness in wickedness. In the King James version, there is an interesting word: "superfluity." James is implying that we have plenty to put aside. So the question is how do we put aside filthiness and wickedness? His first answer involves humility — which is the right way to receive the Word. Pride is always the barrier to Christian growth Christ wants to implant the word of God in us and we should let him. How is this implanting done?

·         It is done by the Holy Spirit, guiding our lives on a day-to-day basis. We are taught not quench the Spirit, and I submit that quenching it involves pride itself. In effect, you're telling the Holy Spirit that you know better than God does.

·         It is done by the process of renewing your mind. This is deep to the point of mysticism, but it works. You don't just change your mind, you renew it.

·         Finally, there is a role for the word "habit." If you form the habit of constant prayer and daily Scripture reading, you enable the Holy Spirit to do his work.

Hearing and Doing

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1:22-25 NASB)

The Concept of Integrity

Philosophically speaking, the word integrity varies with the environment in which it is found. A ship may have integrity, and therefore not sink. A mathematical theorem can have integrity, and therefore be true in the mathematical domain in which it was proven. But in all these areas, the word integrity shows us its meaning. It comes from the word integer. It means, fundamentally, that something is completely unified and is one. It is this "oneness" which is the core of the definition. Interestingly, the postmodern world believes that integrity is not possible with regard to moral endeavors. That's because there is no such thing as an absolute morality in their view. If there is no domain in which integrity can be defined, integrity — by definition – has no meaning.

For the Christian however, there is a rule of practice: the imitation of Christ. We may recall the Christ is God, and as the Scripture teaches us, God is one. God has the ultimate in moral integrity. If we are his imitators than our moral integrity should be flawless as well.

How Do I Do This

James tells us very directly how we achieve such integrity. The first thing you do is, "prove yourselves." To put it simply, you subject yourself to the test of integrity. Do your actions match your words and your thoughts? It's a simple test, and it may miss some of the more complicated situations in life — but it's a good first start.

Having passed that test, you now are asked to "look intently" at the perfect law. That law is found in the Scriptures of course. It's not just a nodding acquaintance that is required, but the serious study of the word of God which is required. In that regard we should distinguish between the old law and the new law. A simple distinction can be made which is most useful: the old law curbs the hand, while the new law curbs the will. Match your will against what the Scripture commands, and you will see if you pass the test.

Results

James now makes the astonishing claim that a man who does these things will be blessed by God. He's not very specific about the blessing, so we may safely assume that it does not necessarily mean a financial blessing. I mention this because many people today have been taken in by the "prosperity gospel" movement. But the truth is really simple, as Hudson Taylor put it, "God's work, done in God's way, will never lack for God supply." There are times when this is proven in exquisite detail.

True Religion

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

(James 1:26-27 NASB)

The Tongue

Several years ago Walter Matthau made a movie titled, "Hopscotch." In that movie he played an intelligence agent who was being put out to pasture — and didn't like it. His antagonist was played by Ned Beatty. The writers had a problem both these men work for the same agency. They have the same motivations and the same experiences. How do we portray to the audience that one of them is evil and the other is good? The answer had a simple solution: Beatty's character swore constantly. Matthau's character did not swear at all. The effect was as desired.

We know it quite well: a person whose tongue is out of control is going to have serious problems. If you don't have your tongue under control, and you think you are mature Christian, then you have a problem with self-deception. It is that simple.

Orphans and Widows

This phrase was commonly used to represent those in need. The ancient Jew would have evaluated such actions based on two standards:

·         The first is the kindness of the deed. We all know that good deeds done grudgingly benefit the giver and the recipient much less than they should.

·         The second, of course, is the degree of trial for the person suffering.

Interestingly, James would probably have had no real concept of the charities we have today. It would be a rare (but not unknown) thing for a congregation to collect money to send elsewhere. More commonly, all the recipients would know all the givers. And the point can be made to the recipients that they are serving the givers by providing an opportunity for charity. As one wise woman put it to me once, "how can they learn to give if you will not receive?"

Unstained by the World

James references this in passing, but we need to know what he's talking about. If you are a Christian you are "in the world but not of the world." Christianity forces you to choose sides. In the plain truth is that this world system is governed by Satan and serves his purposes. We are pilgrims passing through; it is very important that we don't settle down and join the system.

This is done by the radical transformation of the mind. Your entire world view changes when you become a Christian. You begin to see with "forever eyes." When you do, you realize that you have to keep yourself away from the things of this world. Whether that is sexual sin, financial sin, arrogance or too much to drink – you need to recognize it and reject it. As the apostle John put it,

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

(1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

Our physical surroundings are of this world; we can't help that. But we can pick whose side we are on. What we can't do is sit on the fence between them. If you choose the site of Christ, there will be a very practical side of things that you should be doing to grow into a more Christ-like human being. We just have to make up our minds to do them.

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