James Chapter 1
Big Idea: Throughout James’ letter, he is going to give instruction over several areas of life that we are prone to live inconsistently by saying one thing and then doing another. James will talk about humility, temptations and trials, how we treat people we stand to gain something from versus those we do not, what we do with our finances, and how we use our words. What James understands, however, is that these issues do not even begin to cover the multitude of different areas we need to live as faithful hearers and doers of God’s Word and followers of Jesus. There is a gap between what James can cover in his short letter and what is needed to live the faithful Christian life. To bridge that gap, we need wisdom and wisdom only comes as we seek it out from the source of true wisdom…God. In chapter 3, James concludes his teaching on wisdom by showing the fruit of Godly wisdom.
Welcome to week two of our James study.
James’ purpose for the book = Briefly explain perfect and complete
James want his readers to live wholehearted lives of devotion to Jesus.
James will give us twelve different teachings (some closely related and hard to distinguish from one another at times) about specific areas of our life that we tend to fail at living out our wholehearted devotion to Jesus.
But, James realizes that if we are going to grow into perfect, mature, wholehearted followers of Jesus, we are going to need three things. We looked at one of those last week. Anybody remember the first thing that James says grows us in maturity and perfection?
This week, we are going to still be in chapter one as we look at the second thing James tells us we need if we are going to wholeheartedly follow Jesus in every area of our life.
Tell the story of deciding to plant a church and then deciding to come to Washington…napkin story...
You see, James is going to give us several different practical examples of areas of our lives where we do not live with perfect, mature, wholehearted devotion to Jesus. James is going to talk about:
How we are inclined to view people and even treat people differently depending on what we stand to gain from them.
James recognizes that we will often choose to follow Gods Word only in the areas that we stand to benefit.
He’s going to talk about how we deal with one another in humility.
James is going to spend a lot of time talking about how we use our words to both bless God and then tear down the people made in His image who God actually cares a lot about.
James is going to address our motives and the things that cause us to fight and argue with one another. He will also talk about our judgmental attitudes and how that destroys other people.
James is going to talk about our propensity to constantly be looking ahead to what comes next in life and how that is a distraction from right living and right relationships in the present.
He addresses what we do with our money, what true religion looks like, and even how to be patient.
Honestly, James is cram packed with some incredibly relevant teachings that will touch all of our lives in some major ways if we allow it to, and yet please don’t miss this… James realizes it’s not enough. Even though James runs after a dozen different practical issues, there is still a gap in things that James isn’t able to cover…in fact, if James’ letter was a thousand pages long, it still wouldn’t cover everything.
A good example is this: How do we know we are living faithfully and moving in the right direction when it comes to planting this church? What are we to do? Where are we supposed to move to? Even though James is careful to talk about how we view and plan for our future, He doesn’t cover specifically what to do in the situation Danielle and I found ourselves in.
Even though James talks about our finances, he doesn’t tell you whether or not you should make that huge purchase, buy that house or that new car. And there are ways we can live faithfully through how we handle our money that really matter and yet James doesn’t address those areas specifically.
Even though James encourages us to guard our speech, does that mean we never speak out against things that God cares deeply about even though it might offend someone else? What are those things and how can we know with certainty where to draw those lines?
Those are just the areas that James DOES address that still leave major gaps. What about all the different areas James DOES NOT cover?
Like whether or not you should take that job offer or get a vaccine or put your kids in public vs. private vs. home-school. What about whether you should seek counseling for your mental health or your marriage? This past week, my parents were faced with an impossible decision. My grandmother fell ill with COVID and her health deteriorated very rapidly to the point where she would never come off the ventilator and her quality of life would only worsen as time went on. How in the world are we expected to make a decision about something like that? We aren’t God, we don’t control life and death and yet that was the very decision my mom was asked to make about her own mother this week.
We are faced with questions, decisions, and choices every single day that range from the mundane to the life altering that God’s Word does not directly inform and yet our faithfulness is still critical and required.
In that gap stands wisdom.
Here is the Devin Wood paraphrase of Biblical Wisdom:
Biblical Wisdom - The God-given discernment and insight that enables us to live faithfully as we go about our daily lives when the Bible does not directly inform a situation.
Please note that I said:
Live faithfully NOT In a way that best benefits us.
That will be critical as we go along.
So let’s go back and read James’ opening words about wisdom and why we need it again with that definition in mind.
READ AND EXPLAIN AS YOU GO ALONG HIGHLIGHTING THAT DEFINITION
4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
That is what James wants for us. He’s already told us that one way we become perfect, mature, wholehearted followers of Jesus is as we allow the trials of life to mould our characters but watch this next word:
But… James 1:5
5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
And so James is saying what I’ve been saying all morning. We need wisdom if we are going to live faithfully. Do you remember what I said last week? James didn’t write anything, really I mean anything that isn’t already somewhere else in the Bible. What made James so certain of this? I mean, I have asked God for all kinds of things in the past and His answer has been no on many occasions… for one, I’m still not a millionaire. Where did James get this idea so certainly that he says God will give wisdom to ALL and do so generously and without question? I’m so glad you asked this question that I was ready to answer.
He gets it from two places:
First is the story of King Solomon. Check this out from 1 Kings 3:5-12 EXPLAIN AS YOU GO ALONG...
5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 “Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 “Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 “So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 10 It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.
And James also has these words from Matthew 7:7
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
And so James just puts these two ideas together, and don’t miss this: James does this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is filling James with the wisdom needed to write this book as he pens these words.
Now we saw that first but but its the second but that we have to really pay attention to because:
Biblical wisdom has a prerequisite.
6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let’s talk about faith for just a second. I don’t want to dive too deeply because that’s actually the third thing we need to live out wholehearted devotion to Jesus and will be covered at length next week but we do need to talk about it for a second.
What is faith?
Well any good Christian who was paying attention in Sunday school growing up will immediately quote you this verse:
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And so we would say that faith is the belief in something that we don’t see but know to be true. And if you said that, you were definitely right because it actually says it right there in the Bible that that is the case. But in keeping with James’ theme…there is a BUT. But that definition is incomplete. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is right and serves the purpose that the writer of Hebrews is going to talk about over the course of the rest of the chapter, but when taken viewed against the entire Bible (and consequently against what James is going to show us next week) it is incomplete.
Let me give you a better word.
Words derive their meaning from usage not from a dictionary…dictionaries change with the usage of words over time. So the ‘better’ word I’m going to give you still isn’t the best but it gets us about 1500 years closer in usage than the word faith does.
Faith = Fealty
Do king Arthur bit and fealty.
Faith is both a trust in (even when the object of faith is not seen) and a commitment to act in accordance with that trust.
Check out what Proverbs 9:10 says
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Fear of the Lord isn’t just ‘afraid’ but it is an awe and trust in God that is so life-permeating that it changes our actions.
And so here’s what needs to happen now that we know these two definitions of what wisdom and faith actually mean. It’s meant to drive us to answer a couple of questions:
Does God care about this issue and does my faithfulness in it matter?
Here is what I mean…I have watched as people get paralyzed by this reality…do funny toothpaste bit…crest with whitening strips or colgate total protection?
But some issues do matter:
Go back to the story from the beginning…we were at the point where we either had to get out of the military, take one of the two open jobs, or stay in and move towards church planting.
And the second question is this:
Will I faithfully execute the wisdom that God reveals?
Do funny “nope God we are going to New York” Jonah and the great fish bit...
No, we have to ask these two questions prior to seeking wisdom from God and by doing this, we will save ourselves from being a double-minded person who is unstable in all their ways.
Question…Do people ever abuse this?
Funny story about the guy who wanted to quit his job and go into an industry that left him homeless the last time he tried it. Don’t forget to mention that he only wanted to do that because he hated his current job.
Have you ever heard someone say: “Well I have prayed about it and I think God is leading us to do blank...”
To which you are like…yeah…no…I don’t think God is telling you that. Like, I’m not God and obviously am not all-knowing but even I can see that’s really stupid.
I hear people invoke the name of God all the time into matters that they have no business doing that. I just can’t help but cringe really hard too. It’s almost like James somehow knew we would abuse his words and go on to attach God’s name to our own actions that really just serve us best to massage our conscience, make our choice seem nobler than it really is, or just give us an edge of superiority because this decision has God’s stamp of approval.
This is why I said that seeking wisdom must be done as we seek to live faithfully as wholehearted followers of Jesus not just for self-serving means.
And so James includes a sort of test…some markers if you will…to determine if our wisdom is truly from God or if it is really just self-serving wisdom masquerading as God’s wisdom. Here is what he says:
James 3:13-15 explain
13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
And so from this, we have to understand that it is completely possible to seek wisdom from God but have His answer drowned out by our own bitterness, jealousy, selfish ambition, and arrogance. And when that’s the case, the action is faithful and God-honoring but is actually a lie.
I’m not going to delve into any specifics but have you seen any actions done over the past couple of years that claim to be done in God’s honor or with God’s backing and yet have just caused disorder? Listen to this:
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
That is the true test of whether or not something is earthly wisdom rooted in our own vanity or whether it is wisdom from God. It’s such a shame though that we can’t know before we see the effects of our actions though…OH WAIT…WE CAN…CHECK THIS OUT!
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
This is the list of qualifications we have to run our answer through to ensure it is an answer coming from God and not just something we have made up to serve ourselves. And do you remember that I said James didn’t write anything new? James didn’t just pull this list of qualifications from thin air. Actually if you go back and bounce this list against the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the beatitudes, James pulls it almost word for word from there.
Let’s finish out with these qualifications:
Pure - Does this wisdom contradict some part of God’s Word?
How many morally questionable things have been done in the name of God over the course of history? The list of horrors are seemingly endless. Obviously this includes all of those things, but more specifically it applies to the seemingly innocuous decisions we make that are just off of morally upright.
For instance, God’s wisdom will never have you doing something that harms your neighbor…even if it comes at great personal cost to you (hence why living faithfully must come before self-service when seeking wisdom).
God’s wisdom will never have you choosing between the lesser of two evils because God does not lead us into temptation or sin according to James.
Peaceable - Does this lead me to be a peacemaker or a peacekeeper?
Explain the difference. Do log in the road example...
Jesus’ mission was a peacemaking mission and to execute it FAITHFULLY it cost him greatly. The mission of Jesus is a peacemaking reconciliation mission and if the wisdom you receive detracts from that mission it isn’t God’s wisdom.
Gentle - Does this lead me to deal kindly and leniently with others?
The word for gentle in Greek is the word we get our English word lenient from. Does the wisdom you have lead you towards legalism and the imposition of your standard of conscience on others or do approach others with understanding and kindness?
Reasonable - Am I still persuadable and open to adopting another position once more information is gained?
Again, going back to Greek school. The word for reasonable here is persuadable. God’s wisdom is rarely complete because God still allows for the free will of others that make it necessary to adjust. God has revealed himself progressively through scripture (explain) and often He divulges wisdom in a progressive manor as well.
Give example of adjusting our plan once the original plan fell through once we got here to Washington...
Did that mean God’s wisdom wasn’t good or that we didn’t hear Him correctly? No! It just meant we had to keep our heart open and remain flexible to God’s leading throughout the process. For this reason, I am very hesitant to speak about the wisdom being revealed until I can look back for confirmation and to see how the whole plan unfolded.
Full of mercy and good fruits - Does this wisdom lead to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom in the here and now?
No Greek needed for this one. Does the wisdom you are receiving from God lead to “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Does it lead to you loving your neighbor or serving those who need it most or justice or peace or kindness, or joy, or gentleness, or self-control?
Unwavering (not causing dissension) - Will this wisdom lead to greater unity under God or greater dissension?
The word unwavering here isn’t talking about your commitment to the wisdom…James is going to talk about that in the next word. This is about not causing dissension.
Unity under God is the key here though. Just because your wisdom may unify your thinking and actions with a particular political party, moral argument, or cultural opinion does not mean it is promoting true unity. James is going to fight viciously for our unity with other believers and with the Holy Spirit just in the next chapter. This is inevitably going to put you at odds with the world and yet that doesn’t mean we have to be disruptive even in that.
Here is a good example. Does the Bible command us to preach the Gospel so that people might come to know Jesus? Yes. Does it teach us to bring the whole counsel of truth in scripture as we do that? Yes. Does that mean that people need to know the stakes of eternal heaven and hell? Yes. Is shouting at people through a megaphone outside of the Sea-hawks stadium that they are going to hell while wearing a crazy ‘the end is nigh’ sign the wisest way to do that? Probably not. Because even though you are telling a truth, that if people reject Jesus’ free gift of salvation God will honor their decision by allowing them to spend eternity apart from Him in hell, you are doing it in a way through your tone of voice and devoid of any real relationship, to where people hear dissension before they ever the life giving truth of the Gospel. What you are doing isn’t necessarily wrong in theory but its unwise in practice because its done in a way that causes dissension.
Without hypocrisy - Am I willing to follow through with God’s revealed wisdom regardless of the personal cost?
This is the antithesis of self-service. Often times, God’s will runs directly counter to the will of our flesh and so if it is just naturally comfortable and doesn’t require any faith and trust in God to live out the wisdom, it is cause for concern. This isn’t a hard and fast rule because I believe we definitely do grow in our submission to Jesus over time where we genuinely enjoy following him…and yet, even if we enjoy following Jesus, it doesn’t necessarily mean we enjoy the action being asked of us through the wisdom.
Take Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane just hours before his crucifixion. Jesus was in perfect submission to God and knew without a shadow of a doubt this is what God had fixed for him and yet he still prayed that if there was any way the cup of suffering could pass from him that God would do it.
And as always, James closes out his teaching with this little catchy one liner. This is going to be our memory verse this week:
18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Do you want righteousness. That is to say: Right relatedness to God, self, and others. This is the pinnacle and culmination of a perfect, complete, mature, and wholehearted follower of Jesus. That fruit stems from a seed and that seed is the peacemaking wisdom of God.
And because this is such practical stuff, I want to close on a very practical note today.
I want you to consider two questions you can take with you and apply to your life.
What is one missed opportunity you have had recently to seek God’s wisdom and how could the situation have turned out differently had you sought it?
What is a situation that lies in front of you that requires God’s wisdom?
I want you to then take your Bible and take these notes and put that decision to the test.
Does God care about this issue and does my faithfulness in it matter? And: Will I execute that wisdom no matter what?
And then run through this list of tests as you are being led by God:
Is the root of this self-serving? Is it pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy? Because if it’s not it’s not wisdom from God.
I hope that helps…let’s pray...