The Book of James, Part 9:
Appreciate What Really Lasts

Review:

Last week, we finished the first two of the three "A" instructions that James gave to us in the early part of the first chapter of James.

  1. Ask God For Wisdom              (1:5-8)
  2. Accept A Lower Place             (1:9-10)
  3. Appreciate What Really Lasts   (1:11)
We identified that all three of these are aspects of how we should lean (rely) on God, although that is the opposite of what most of us want to do.

We spent most of last week on the instruction to:

    2. Accept A Lower Place   (1:9-10)

As I reflect on what James tells us, I would paraphrase it as "God loves you.  If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, you are the richest person that ever lived.   Here on earth you have his love and grace.   In eternity you have all the blessings of heaven.   What you do not have here on earth may in fact be a blessing."

I was particularly struck by the realization that it benefits the spread of Christianity that some Christians are poor and some are rich.   This plants a representative of Jesus in every feasible location.   Just another reason to realize that we are to live our lives worthy of our calling, as Christians.

Today:

Let's tackle the third instruction in this passage:

    3. Appreciate What Really Lasts (1:11)

To set the context, I will start with verse nine, but we are focusing on verse eleven.

We are a society that longs for wealth and possessions.  But consider these words:

"When you lose a daughter, son, wife, husband, or other loved one, wealth is no comfort. When you lose your health, are betrayed by a friend, or are wrongfully slandered, money cannot buy peace of mind or decrease the pain.  Trials are the great equalizer, bringing all of God's children to dependence on Him.  Wealth does not bring God closer nor does poverty keep Him further away."

What Really Lasts:

What are some things in life that don't really last?   Wealth, property, things, stuff.

James ends this section with a reminder about the brevity of life and also the brevity of wealth.  This brings us to our third principle related to relying on the Lord -- we need to believe what He teaches us about what really lasts and what doesn't.

Someone has observed that in verse nine, James speaks of poor people who are really rich and in verse eleven, he speaks of rich people who are really poor.

I think one key here is to remember that God has said that certain things in this life will last forever -- we need to invest in these:

Augustine wrote: "Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God."
   --from The Confessions of Saint Augustine.

That's what we're talking about in this passage. We're not talking about doing evil things; we're talking about doing the normal, daily things of life, without relying on the Lord.

In Decision magazine, Joni Eareckson Tada (who is almost completely paralyzed from the neck down) writes:

That's a great example of relying on God.  The life of dependence starts by spending time with Him in His Word and prayer in the morning.  It's not easy; it's "hard won" but essential to living a life of dependence throughout the day.

Breaking Bad Habits:

Now let's go forward in James into a section in verses 13 to 21 which could be entitled "Breaking Bad Habits".

According to Boston College professor William Kilpatrick, the Western world was fairly clear on the standards of morality and virtue for about 18 centuries.  In his book, "Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong", Dr. Kilpatrick says that when people wanted to know what was right and what was wrong, they looked up.  They agreed that God is a righteous God and that His righteous laws ought to rule our conduct."  Certainly, that consensus didn't guarantee compliance.  It didn't mean there weren't people who did their best to break every law possible.  But most people still accepted the fact that transcendent, righteous laws existed and that these laws had God as their author.  And most people also believed society would work better if those laws were respected rather than rejected.

But today, things have changed.  Today we think that we all we need to do is look inward rather than upward to know right from wrong.  We think we can rely on our hearts and our minds rather than on God.  But there's a problem with this thinking.  The Bible teaches the following:

Temptation:

As we discuss this theme of breaking bad habits, we're going to be talking a lot about temptation.

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis.  He was only 39 years old.  Yet in those 39 years, Bonhoeffer had distinguished himself as a pastor and theologian as well as an active and courageous member of the resistance against Hitler's Third Reich.  He was loved by many in his native Germany, but now, even more so, by the family of God around the world.  His works on spirituality are still widely read today and many are considered classics.  But the best may well be a small booklet fewer than fifty pages long, entitled: "Temptation".  In this, Bonhoeffer has left us with the single most descriptive explanation of temptation anywhere outside the Bible:

I am going to break up this temptation section into 4 sections.
  1. Acknowledge The Danger of Temptation    (1:13-15)
  2. Appreciate The Goodness of God    (1:16-18)
  3. Avoid The Appeal of Anger    (1:19-20)
  4. Abandon The Rest of Sin    (1:21)

Assignment:

To prepare for next week, reread James 1:13-21 and think about what James is telling us.   Think about how we should lead our lives worthy to be a Christian, from what you read here.