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An autopsy of sin.

A repost with minor edits: enjoy!

With all the of the CSI programs on TV today, not to mention the old medical shows like Quincy M.E., it seems that people have an interest in autopsies. An Autopsy is the procedure performed on the body after death to see what killed it. (So I suppose my title should really be something like “An Autopsy of a spiritually dead person”) Today’s post is going to look back and see what kills us, spiritually speaking, from James’ book.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (Jas 1:13-16)

Who Tempts us?

First, off it is important to note that he instructs us not to blame God for the temptations you are going through. Not only is He not tempted, he does not tempt anyone. Flip Wilson, a comic from way back was famous for his phrase “The Devil made me do it!”  James is going to show that the devil doesn’t MAKE you do anything. From early on in our life we learn to blame others. Even Adam tried to blame both God and his wife in one shot: “The woman YOU gave me….” is why I ate. We will look everywhere and at everyone else that  we can except at ourselves.

It is true that Satan tempts us but James is going to show us the limits on his ability to tempt us. It not true that God tempts us and Paul says that God protects us from being tempted above what we can handle. In other words, he reins Satan in so that he is not able to overpower us.  (I cor 10:13)

What is a temptation?

James says that each of us is tempted when we are drawn away and enticed by our own desires. The word ‘desire’ is an appropriate word here. The meaning in this context is ‘illicit desires’ which is why some versions use the word “lusts”. At its core, a lust is a desire but it passes beyond the boundaries that God has set. An example is our desire for food. It is a perfectly normal desire to feed ourselves and satisfy our desire for food, but when turned into lust, it results in gluttony. Our natural sexual desires when taken in to the category of lusts results in fornication. Basically ‘desire’ is fine when kept within the boundaries God has established.

Temptation is the enticement to take a desire beyond its boundaries. So to be tempted means you must have some desire to begin with.  It would be useless to tempt me with liver. I do not like it, can’t stand it and so if I were guarding the ACME liver factory, there would be no temptation, to take any home with me. The same would not be said if I were guarding the See’s chocolate factory or the Blue Bell factory. It could become a temptation. The desire is for chocolate not to steal. Theft would be the result of letting the enticement go too far.

What if I like my sin?

Once the lustful desire has been conceived and accomplished it brings forth sin. Then when the sin becomes fully grown, it brings forth death. Since Scripture teaches that ONE sin is enough to result in death, I asked myself why sin would have to become full grown in order to kill. (“Self”, I asked…..)

Keeping in mind that James is writing to Christians, already cleansed in the blood of Christ, the lesson James teaches has to apply to our current temptations and desires. Christians are not prevented from sinning mechanically. God does not make it impossible for us to sin or the first chapter of First John wouldn’t make much sense.  The blood of his Son cleanses us from our sin….if we walk in the light as he in in the light.

But what if we like our lust and desire? What if the sin conceived is enjoyable to us and we do not wish to stop? Well, it grows. Cain had already sinned in not offering an appropriate sacrifice. God warned him that sin was ready to take control and urged him to do right so that he would be accepted. As we know, he didn’t listen, held on to his own sin and let it grow.

You see, if you could blame God for all this then there should be no fault attributed to your account. If you can blame Satan for making you do it, then again no fault is yours. But, if, just what if, that sin you are doing and giving into actually started from your own heart,  your own desires that you fanned into lust and then into sin and then decided you liked enough to live in it. Well, that would be a horse of a different color.

So on our autopsy death certificate it should read:

Cause of death:

Sin caused by an acute desire.

(we could have saved this one if he had repented)

Put down the sin and back away!

** I am going to repost some of my earlier blogs from the blog study I did through James. I will probably do this for the next five to six posts. I hope you enjoy them as many of my current readers were not with me when I put these out. There may be some slight edits but essentially they will be the same.***

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  (Jas 1:21 ESV)

When ever you see the word “therefore” you should look and see what it is there for! And sure enough, this therefore is there for a reason. It concludes a thought that James is expressing and brings to close an argument (or at least a portion of it) that he has been making.  Because we are responsible for our own temptations and sins and God is the one who is giving us all of the good gifts, especially being born again into his family, we need to stop! Listen! and realize that our anger at our perceptions of reality (which are not the way things really are) is messed up. So….

We should put away something and receive something that will benefit us.

That which we are to put away is all of the filthiness and rampant wickedness in our lives. Wait! What is that? Filth and wickedness?  Isn’t James talking to Christians who had been washed in the blood of Jesus? Cleansed from their old sins? How can they have filth and wickedness? Sure, a little sin once in a while (everyone does) but “filth” is such a …well, it is such a filthy word! Don’t even get me started on wickedness. Contrary to the popular usage (or the little note of encouragement that WordPress gave me at post 14 “Wicked!”) it is not a compliment.

James is not the first person to address this issue and every Christian realizes that from about 5 minutes after coming up out of the grave, sin is still a possibility. We are not mechanically prevented from sinning. Paul dealt with it in Romans 6 and told those Christians that they could not live in sin any longer.  In this context though, the filthiness and wickedness would be attributable to a life that was not lived in faith and, worse yet, one that blamed God for the situation.  You can see now perhaps why James goes on from here to give so much good practical advice to his audience on how to live a life of faith and the many actions that will show that you live a life of faith.

I like the phrase ‘put away’. It is used in several meanings. 

  1. To put in its proper spot. “Would you put the trash away please.”
  2. To incarcerate. “The judge put him away for 1000 years.”
  3. To be victorious over. “He put him away with that final shot”

In either case, the understanding should be to remove that stuff out of your life because it does not belong there.

To contrast the putting away and removal of filth and wickedness, James says you are to receive something. In this case, the implanted word.

How you are to receive it is very important: with meekness. As I have heard all my life, “meek doesn’t mean weak” but we still tend to think of it that way. Actually, meek has more to do with the control of strength not  the absence of strength. A meek horse is still a powerful animal but, rather than flexing his muscles and running away with or bucking off the rider, he permits the rider to be there. We also need to permit the word that God has implanted to be there. To fight against it and to tear it out is not good for us.

Jesus spreading seedThe illustration reminds me of the parable of the sower. In that parable, the seed was also the word of God and it fell on four soils. These have already proven themselves not to be the hard soil and probably not the rocky soil. Judging by James’ book, I think he was concerned that they may be the thorny soil. When the word is implanted into the soil (our hearts) if we receive it with meekness, it is able to save our souls. If we do not, well… it cannot do its job.

James is going to expand on this thought in the next few verses. What we need to consider, as we read the word, is are we receiving the word with meekness or trying to remake it into our own image and plans? One last cliché to close. We have seen those bumper stickers that say “God is my co-pilot”. While the thought is nice, I would suggest that God should be the pilot!  Let’s meekly let God direct us in His paths.

Question: How hard is it for you to back away from sin and meekly accept only God’s word?

Does Brotherly affection belong in the family of God?

The above headline falls squarely under the category of Rhetorical. However, if it is so rhetorical why is it that we find so many people making justifications for not loving a brother in certain specific situations?

Keep in mind, we are not discussing the Agape love but the love that is known by emotions, Phileo love. Nor am I even suggesting that this is easy all the time to do. My own life would NOT bear witness to an attitude of brotherly love 100% of the time and for some, maybe not even 30%. The point is not to point and place blame but the point is to understand the ideal, the standard, the level of affection that Christ had. When we understand that ideal, we can better examine ourselves and look for that weakness that we can correct.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;  (1Pe 1:22-23 ESV)

As the old saying goes, we can pick our friends but we can’t pick our family. Even the natural course of life tells you that your parents chose to bring you and your siblings into the world, you did not get to choose. In the same way, the Gospel, the seed of the living world goes out, enters the heart and produces a Christian. You don’t get to choose who.

In fact, the early church tried to do that, preaching only among the Jews at first. However, the Gospel is not to be denied and it was eventually preached among the Gentiles. Although I have no proof of this, I imagine that certain ethnic or race groups may have initially been denied the Gospel though history but I dare say that there is no such group of persons to whom the Gospel was not eventually preached. If Paul had written Gal 3:28 today, I am convinced it would read something like this (bold print is my addition)

There is neither Jew nor Greek nor Muslim, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female,  there is neither Democrat, Republican, or Independent, there is no black or white, communist or capitalist,  for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 ESV)

Not that he needed to add those words because they are implied in that verse as well as any other distinction man might make (blue eyes, red hair, rich, poor, etc) How dare we make distinctions where God has made none!

Without brotherly affection, it is easier to fight and argue. Without that bond that says, I like you and want to be around you, selfishness will grow. We will make distinctions among ourselves (James 2), strive to inflate our importance (James 3) and fight for our own rights, privileges, economic security (James 4).  When we realize that all of us (which includes the one writing and the one reading) were/are sinners who need God’s grace and mercy then we will be less judgmental towards others who also need it. (not need it more….that person does not exist) James 1 and 5.

We need to develop brotherly affection in ourselves and help draw it out in others. It is part of being a part of the family of God.

Question: Knowing that it can sometimes be hard, how can you develop brotherly love for someone that is hard to love? What else might cause a hindrance to developing this characteristic?

photo credit basykes

Testing faith

So you go to the bookstore and find three books that you wish to purchase. You hand the books to the cashier and walk out with the books in your bag, a receipt, and a vague feeling that the amount is not correct for your purchase. The vague feeling quickly becomes a confirmation in your car before you leave. You have been overcharged! Instead of three books, your receipt reflects four. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

clipartreview.com

How many of you did not need 30 seconds? How many of you knew that you would immediately march back into the store, receipt in hand, and point out the error. Would you also discuss with yourself  “Self, what if they do not believe me?” The answer would be obvious, you would ask for a manager. It would be important to you to correct this error. The clerk made a mistake and should not have done so. It must be corrected, it will be corrected. You do not even leave the parking lot.

This is a reasonable conclusion. You may have concern about being believed but you wouldn’t let it stop you. You would be just and righteous if you were to return to correct the problem.

So let’s revisit this situation again, only this time, instead of being charged twice for one your books, you get to the car, check your receipt and that vague feeling is again confirmed. This time, you notice that he only charged you for two books, not three. What do you do?

(Insert 30 second pause here)

I would hope that no one needed more time deciding what to do in this scenario than they did in the previous one. Unfortunately, we have grown up in a society where if the mistake benefits “me” then we will just keep our mouth shut. The justifications range from  “He should have noticed it—his loss”  or “They can afford the loss–it is after all a big company” to the outrageous ones “God has blessed me!”

Unless two parties are agreed that something took place, how can you call it an honest transaction?  Sure mistakes are made and sometimes correcting them takes a lot of time but at least, by calling it to the attention of the other party you allow the unintentionally self inflicted harm to be corrected.

Honesty is always right. Integrity cannot be shown only when things are in your favor.

As you leave the store, the second time you feel good because the total is right. Neither of you lost money, the transaction was as it should be. Price offered and willingly paid.

James says that when trials come that our faith is tested. (James 1:2) I think many consider this faith that James mentions to be a belief in God’s existence. I think that he means instead, that we will test what kind of faith (trust) in God that we have.  We will learn, after the test, if our life matches the life His Son led. WWJD?

Dishonoring the poor!

I will repeat this post which received a lot of views. I don’t know if that made it the most popular but I think it is worth redoing while I am at a conference and writing time is limited.

Lost Pines church of Christ

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

(Jas 2:5-7)

“Listen!” Just what you want to say to your kids, spouse, and friends sometimes. My wife often comes home from school asking me “Do you hear any sound coming out of my mouth?” “Am I speaking English?” (Apparently, first graders, as well as adults, are prone not to listen.)  He has mentioned the need to listen a couple of times already.  “Listen my beloved brethren, this is something that is needful for you to hear…

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Wanderers and those who bring them back.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Jas 5:19-20)

James’ final statement is one of concern for another person, the one who wanders away. What they are wandering away from is of particularly importance in these verses. What the person does who brings him back is also an important thing. The statement seems to focus more on the one who goes after the brother than it does the brother itself.  Still, the “consequences” or “results” of going after the brother who is brought back should be a comfort to the one who wandered away.

Wandering away not always an active action, though it can be. A lot of times, it is the unplanned result of actions which, like a dot to dot puzzle slowly take a person further and further away from where they should be. Much as been written on the topic of whether a person can ‘fall from grace’ and the one thing I know is that one blog post will not change anyone’s mind. However, in reading James’ statement about a person wandering away from the truth (and not just any person, but a fellow Christian), needs to cause the sober-minded, God-fearing follower to take notice.

The truth that one wanders from is beyond a doubt the Gospel. The Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus is the Truth, all that He has done for us and is doing for us, His promised return and our eventual home in Heaven with Him. You can’t be saved without Jesus.

That one would go out after a brother is almost an assumption. Our Lord and Savior parabalized the Good Shepherd who left the 99 sheep that were safe and went out after the 1 that was lost. Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is yes. If you do find him and you do succeed in bringing him back, you save him from death and his sins will be covered. The blood of Christ, covers the sins of the sinner.

James’ final statement might also relate to his first one.  “Count it all joy my brethren when you meet various trials”….only this time, it is to those of us who are strong and know of one who wandered away and did not successfully meet those trials. Go after him, bring him back, and let him know  you care and that God loves him.

 

 

Prayer works for us too.

Jas 5:16-18   Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  (17)  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  (18)  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

If I am correct about my suggestion in the last post, then James’ use of Elijah here should encourage the activity of prayer and petitions and supplications to God. Elijah, who we know that God heard, who was taken up from this earth and did not die, was a man like us. We think of great men of faith and think “Oh for their faith” We shake our heads and feel we will not live up to their example.

So we elevate the prophets and do not just underplay their weaknesses but forget about them altogether. Elijah had his grand moments and no one can doubt that his contest on Mt. Carmel was a true mountain top experience. God answered his prayer at almost moment he began to pray and the whole nation could see that God, was indeed God. Then Elijah, upon receiving a death-threat from Jezebel, ran! So much for the great man of faith!

Do not let us not judge Elijah harshly, let us remember, he was a man like we are: Prone to the Mt. Everest top highs and the death valley lows.  This should encourage us to follow more closely after his example of prayer, in which he was successful.  The only one to not sin, Jesus , also took on our nature too and in his distress, he prayed. (Luke 22:44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.)  In his example, we see the power of prayer for sure, but I think James uses Elijah because he was not sinless, yet he was heard.

James wants us to pray also. He also wants us to know that pray works. More than just our prayers, but also the prayers of others on our behalf.

The prayer of the righteous man has great power, James says. I would presume that James is considering that the one asking for the prayers is deep in the struggles of his own sin, trying to be righteous and needing the help of those who are. He confesses his need, humbles himself before God and those who are spiritual (Gal 6:1-2) lift up prayers for him, as well, I would suppose, for themselves so that they are not tempted too.

In all of this, I see the need for community. Not in a casual, see you for an hour on Sunday type of community, but a community were we get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable with confessing our sins. Those who do not feel as if they need the fellowship of believers (“I can worship God where I like”) forget the admonition to ‘not forsake the assembling of (our)selves together” (Heb 10:25) But those who quote 10:25, need to quote 10:24 also and balance it out. Verse 24 says we need to know one another well enough to encourage us to do good works.

There is much in the Bible on Prayer, we need to learn as the disciples did, how to pray. (Luke 11:1)

Pray when you are sick.

Jas 5:14-16   Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  (15)  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  (16)  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

In looking at this passage, there are basically two ways you can look at this. Well, three if you simply want to say that both options are under consideration. The first is to think of this as a physical healing and from a physical sickness. The second is a spiritual healing from a spiritual sickness. It obvious that we are to pray for the sick and we know that God does intervene from time to time (In His time) to heal people in ways that we are amazed at. 

We know even in the Scriptures that sickness is not always taken away. Paul suffered the thorn in the flesh and God did not heal him. Paul had faith.  One of the things about Biblical interpretation is that the easiest answer is most likely the right one. Unless the context clearly says it is spiritual or physical we are left drawing conclusions from what is said. 

 There are some difficulties either way. Still, I will suggest that this is a spiritual illness and what may be most likely under consideration is some of the ‘illnesses’ that James has been rebuking them for. One cannot assume that the whole church was the way James was describing it but certainly enough of them were that James wanted to put a stop to it. What would/should a person do who sees himself in the descriptions that James is bring out? This is scripture from an inspired man, a leader and elder at Jerusalem. As the audience listens to it, some of them (the humble ones) would be thinking “Ouch, you are stepping on my toes. I need to fix that.” Some might even be having a David moment: “Thou are the man” and responding “I have sinned”. Such humbleness would lead to many actions of repentance but one would certainly be the confessing of that sin.

Who better to confess it to than the Elders. Spiritually mature men who can help others (Gal 6:1-2) and asking for them to pray for their infirmities of the soul.

Think for a moment! If you begin to realize you are greedy and covetous, or envious and boastful, do you think such a flaw in character can or will disappear in a night and a day? Each person is different. Even Abraham told the same lie about Sarah on two different occasions and Isaac did the same thing with Rebekah (but that was a full lie since she was not even a 1/2 sister).  Common sense and our own experience recognizes that some sins keep coming back (or do we keep going back?) and one of the best ways I know of to remove the power of a temptation is to tell someone else you are suffering with that issue.

Pornography, sexual activities before marriage, adultery within marriage, covetousness, greed, jealousy, thoughts that make you ashamed, etc, etc. When another knows, there is help, there can be accountability but there can also be prayers that will help you fight and protect you against the temptations. The promise is that God will heal you, raise you up and that your sins will be forgiven you. The forgiveness of sins is of great comfort but the being healed of any of the maladies I mentioned in this paragraph or many that I did not mention, is a load of the mind and spirit. It will help you to be more productive in the Kingdom of God.

 

Pray in suffering

The next few posts, Lord willing will deal with prayer. James has a few things to say and I think it is worth taking some time to look at all of these verses together and spread it out.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (Jas 5:13-18)

 

The first thing that is worth noting is that James recommends prayer when you are suffering. I am reminded of his opening verses where he advises us to meet our trials  with an attitude of joy and if we lack wisdom (presumably, the wisdom of how to deal with our trials) we are to ask God who gives generously to all. The sufferer might need more assistance in how to deal with his sufferings in a wise way. Job, of course, seems to have already had that figured out. “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  (Job 2:10) but not everyone does.

The assumption is that praying while you suffer will be of assistance to you. If you are praying for wisdom, James says God will give it. Perhaps though you just need encouragement to keep going. Luke 22:40-46 talk about Jesus and his disciples at a difficult time. Jesus is said to be in agony. (sounds like suffering to me) The disciples are sorrowful and wind up falling asleep because of it (which may be a result of suffering too as I am sure they were affected by the Savior’s mood). The action of Jesus and advice to the disciples supports the idea that prayer helps. “Pray that you don’t fall into temptation” he said.

Paul expresses confidence in the power of prayer when he asks for prayers from the Ephesians.

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20)

I know that sometimes we have a tendency to ask for prayers and are not sure if anyone really will (or perhaps we don’t really expect someone to) and sometimes we say “I will pray for you” and then do not. But I don’t think Paul’s words were “just words”. He really wanted their prayers.

It might be worth it to note what he asked for: Prayers that he might preach the Gospel as he should! What?! Paul, the preacher to the Gentiles, traveler on 3 missionary journeys, author of many epistles, appointer of elders, trainer of preachers, establisher of congregations…..THAT Paul wants prayers to speak boldly?

If he needs prayers, it is a 100% certainty that I do.

Let the prayers go forth and let them go strong. Those who suffer, pray and pray for wisdom, patience and know that God will hear your prayer. We all should pray not just for those who suffer but for those who preach the word too.

More on prayer in another post.

Tell me Yes, Tell me no but tell me straight up.

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (Jas 5:12)

People have a tendency to swear and boast when they are expressing the seriousness and intention which they have in accomplishing some object.  “I swear i will do this or that”, ” I swear on my mother’s grave that what I am saying is the truth”, or perhaps:

Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”  (Mat 26:33)

Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. (Mat 26:74)

No one would no better the advice James gives than Peter would but we all fall into the trap of promising more than we can deliver.

I know that some use this passage as a reason not to take the oath to tell the truth in court. I don’t think the context here supports that use of it. In fact, the Yes, Yes and No, No might be more akin to what you promise to do anyway. There should be know need to promise to tell the truth if you always tell the truth. Of course, people don’t so if they are caught in a lie, perjury charges result.

God doesn’t need to result to perjury charges, we have all bitten off more than we can chew or let our eyes fill our plate with more than our stomach can handle. We have assured people of things that we had no intention of fulfilling and also have assured people of things we had not ability to guarantee we would fulfill.

When a bank lends you money to buy a house, the house stands good for the money owed. You promise in effect to pay the note or return the house. Most of our ‘swearing’ doesn’t even offer a tangible collateral and so we put ourselves in jeopardy by promising what we cannot promise. James refered to this in chapter 4 by saying that we should say “If the Lord wills, we will both live and…” fulfill this promise or that one.

When you promise something and do not fulfill it, it is a mar on your character and God’s. We should be slow to speak and that would include slow to promise but when you promise something be humble about it. If you cannot do a certain something with reasonable certitude then don’t take it on. When you do take it on, don’t give false hopes as to its finish. It is always important to verify both the expectations that another person has and your ability to promise to do something. If you promise, then do it. Don’t had oaths and lofty words to your speech, just say “yes” or “no”

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