(These notes are substantially based on teaching notes on the Book of James prepared by Rob Mahon and made available to Connection Class teachers at Hoffmantown Church).
Two weeks ago, we studied the internal conflict that we face as James taught about it in Chapter 4. He asked the rhetorical question "Why do you suppose you have so much conflict?" He then answered his own question with "Don't you suppose it is because of your focus on self gratification?"
James told us to be
James equated our lack of faithfulness to God to being unfaithful in a marriage. He called us adulteresses.
Then he told us that we had to decide if we wanted to be a friend of God, or of the world, and that if we choose the world, we are an enemy of God. That seems to me to be a really bad choice. James seems to agree with me. But he says it is up to each of us, it is a choice that we make.
Then he told us that we need to be humble before God, and that if we are humble, God will exalt us. It is pretty ironic. If we are proud, he will humble us. If we are humble, he will exalt us. It is funny how much better his plan is than ours.
Then he told us how to be humble. Submit to Him, resist evil, stay close to Him, and sincerely repent for our failures.
In the next section of the Book of James, we will learn more from James about surrendering to God, submitting to Him. But this morning, I want to take a short diversion with the question:
How accurate is your view of God?
It's a difficult question to answer because we will naturally be blinded by our own wrong ideas. Our perception of God is our reality, and keeps us from seeing God as he really is.
There's a whole aspect of the teaching from James that we have not focused on. It has to do with what we can learn about God from James. In almost every passage that we study in James, there is a lot to learn about the nature of God. We think about James as a book that is about faith and works. That really sells the book short. James tells us a lot about the true nature of God.
You might ask, why bother with this? The answer is because our understanding of what God is really like has tremendous impact on the way we live and on the way we relate to Him. Consider the following deep statements by A. W. Tozer.
A. W. Tozer was a pastor and a prolific conservative Christian writer who died in 1963. He did not have a formal theological education. It has been said that the presence of God was his classroom. I'd say that that is better than any seminary. He is quoted as saying "I have found God to be cordial and generous and in every way easy to live with." It was said that "Tozer's sermons were never shallow. There was hard thinking behind them, and he forced his hearers to think with him. He had the ability to make his listeners face themselves in the light of what God was saying to them. The flippant did not like Tozer; the serious who wanted to know what God was saying to them loved him."
You are going to have to really listen to this, really pay attention. It is deep, but very important.
"We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God," Tozer says. "This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of ... the church. Always the most revealing thing about the church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid ... Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, 'What comes into your mind when you think about God?' we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.The point is this: as we read the Bible we must continually be alert for everything it teaches us about God. It is our only completely reliable source of information about what God is really like.
"Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image." (A.W. Tozer)
Let's go back and see what James tells us about God.
What we will see is that the Book of James is about God and what God is really like. If we would keep this reality of who God really is and what he is like, maybe it would help us in our daily life.
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. --James 1:5
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. --James 1:12
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. --James 1:13
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. --James 1:17
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. --James 1:18
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 1:25
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? --James 2:5
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. --James 2:13
You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. --James 4:2-3
Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? --James 4:5
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." --James 4:6
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. --James 4:8
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. --James 4:10
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? --James 4:12
Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." --James 4:15
Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. --James 5:4
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. --James 5:7
Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. --James 5:9
We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. --James 5:11
And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. --James 5:15
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. --James 5:16
The reason I'm emphasizing this issue of what God is really like is because it is basically the primary topic of the next section of James. As you'll see as you study the passage, everything that James tells us to do is based on a correct understanding of God. In particular, we need a correct understanding of God's sovereignty, that is, His authority over us and over all of creation. The section emphasizes God's authority over us and our need to submit to Him and His will.
Several months ago, I had a quote from Elisabeth Elliot. She and her husband, Jim, were missionaries in Ecuador. They were working with the Quichua Indians there. Her husband, Jim wanted to work with another tribe there, the Aucas. The Aucas were an unreachable tribe -- a fierce group whom no one had succeeded in meeting without being killed. After discovering the location of the Aucas, Jim and four other missionaries entered Auca territory. After a friendly contact with three of the tribe, they were speared to death. Elisabeth and her young daughter remained in Ecuador as missionaries and even later lived with the Aucas for two years. She returned to the US in 1963 and has been a Christian devotional writer and speaker since then.
Elisabeth Elliot writes: "The will of God is not something you add to your life. It's a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God ... or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world." (Elisabeth Elliott)
That is what James told us in the last lesson and he continues with that theme in the verses we are getting into. James teaches us how to line up with the Son of God and the will of God. His instructions are:
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. --James 4:11-17This morning I just wanted to set the stage for the study of these verses. With the realization of who God really is and what he is really like, as James tells us, I hope it will help as we continue with the teaching of James. I think it will also help us to live like Christians, as James and Paul instruct us to do.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. --Ephesians 4:1In this verse Paul says, as a Christian, act like it. Live like a Christian. James says the same thing. He just says it in five chapters, in detail.
Next week: we will continue, starting with verse 11. To prepare, sit down this week and read Chapter 4 again.