Doing the right thing.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (Jas 4:17)
At first glance this might be saying something different about sin than we think of. We generally think of sin as doing those things that we are not supposed to do. James talked about sin in chapter 1 as something that results from our own desires, desires which go beyond the boundaries God has established. So it is natural to think that now James is adding to a new twist to the definition of sin: The NOT doing of something that you know you should.
Sin, when it is limited to the “thou shalt nots” is easy to define. Don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, Don’t steal. Got it! Even the “Shalt” commands are easy to see and in a way are just opposites of ‘thou shalt not’. I mean, everyone understands “honor your Father and mother” is a positive command. If you don’t do it, you are wrong. So is James simply saying that if you don’t do the positive commands, you are sinning? The simple answer is usually the best.
But by making this statement in this way, James puts on his Christian brothers the need to do what is right, not just ‘not do’ what is wrong. What is right in this situation is: Not to quarrel and fight, not to be friends with the world, be humble, draw near to God, Cleanse your hands and purify your minds, humble yourself before God, don’t speak evil of a brother, make plans that include God, don’t be arrogant.
James is urging them on to maturity.
What if the only commands you had were “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Would those two commands alone be enough to fulfill what James has just told them? YES! Jesus said that these two commands sum up all the law and the prophets. The things that James has just mentioned, which they are struggling with, are things that, if they would remember Love, would be taken care of.
When Jesus was asked by a lawyer “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus spoke the parable of the good Samaritan. At the end, he asked the lawyer ‘who was neighbor’ to man in need. Guess what? The lawyer got the answer right! He already knew and now knew that he knew. Jesus simply said “go and do likewise”
It is right to confront a person who offends you to make peace, it is right to help someone who you have the ability to help and it is also right to not help someone who you can’t. It is right as a preacher to spend time visiting families and studying with the lost or saved, but it is also right to raise your own family. It is right to plan and count the cost of a venture but it is also right to include the Lord in your plans “If the Lord wills”. It is right to do right. It is right to live like Jesus did.
Sometimes it is hard. I think a lot of people wrestle with ‘the right thing to do’. They know there is a right thing but they are not sure what it is. If you lack wisdom, ask God, James said. Have you ever been asked by someone “what is Gossip?” It is one of those things that seem to elude people. However, there is a right, there is a wrong. Do what is right.
Let me close with a question: What is your definition of Gossip? How do you define it? When do you know you or others are engaging in it? How do you stop them or yourselves from doing so?