A few weeks ago, I preached a lesson from Philippians chapter 2 in which we discussed the behavior of some individuals which are worthy of imitating. In the third chapter of this book, Paul writes:
Php 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
How many times have we heard as we grew up: “You need to be a good example for….”? Just fill in the blank. A younger sister, a new student, co-worker, or anyone who would be likely to imitate you and pick up your bad habits if you displayed them. Parents learn this lesson real quick with their children who watch and imitate them, sometimes to the embarrassment of the parent.
The idea, of course,that Paul wants for the Christians at Philippi, and even for us today, is to follow and imitate the behavior of those who follow God well.
He begins with the example that Jesus set for us in verses 5-11. This is an example of humility. Possessing so much and yet being willing to set it aside. Then, not just laying aside all of His glory in Heaven but being born into the world of man as a lowly carpenter’s son. As He began His ministry, He was totally dependent on those who would support Him. He had nothing in this world even though He created it all…and it was all His. Then the one thing which you could call His, His life, is the one thing that He did not withhold….He gave that up for us too.
For His humility, God has rewarded Him richly. He has been exhaled on High. It is an important example that we should strive to follow. The Scriptures teach in several places that humility is honored by God.
Jas 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
The rest of the chapter has more examples we can look at in another lesson. The sermon can be heard here.
Who are the Biblical characters that you most relate to and what behavior do they model for you?
Today’s morning lesson moved on from the topic of Virtue and moved to the second item in Peter’s list of characteristics that Christian should develop. In fact, Peter’s lesson is that that these characteristics need to exist and abound. They are the characteristics which seem to be basic foundational characteristics. While you might read Peter’s statement to say “If you don’t have them, you won’t make it; I would suggest that we look at it more as “we have already made it and we need to grow or else we will go backwards” No Christian should fail to make it to Heaven but if you are not willing to grow in these characteristics you are so shortsighted as to be blind.
Virtue coming before knowledge makes sense since Virtue is when we say “I will do it ” and knowledge says “This is what I need to do”. Determining to do God’s will and then being taught it has been the way people of faith have always responded. Israel agreed to do God covenant in Exodus 19 and then learned what it was in Exodus 20.
So we see that the second characteristic is Knowledge. A word that contains many meanings. To know something as a fact, to understand something from study or to comprehend something from experience are all types of knowledge and this time, in Peter, knowledge is likely a bit of all: facts, study and comprehension. If we want to know God, we need to know Jesus. This is more than just a fact but an understanding of who Jesus is as well.
We should not think that we have NO knowledge right now, in fact Peter uses the phrases “knowledge of him” and “knowledge of God” in verses 2 and 3 to show that by this knowledge we have those things that pertain to life and godliness, or put simply: “You are Christians because of what you know of God (implied: obedience to the Gospel). That makes sense doesn’t it? Peter couldn’t very well be talking to Christians who had never heard the Gospel and had no knowledge at all of Jesus.
This is in line with the Great Commision of Matthew where Jesus sends the Apostles out to Make disciples, baptize them, and teach them the commandments. (Mt 28) You make a disciple by preaching the Gospel, those that believe and respond are baptized and then taught the other commands (knowledge) later on. Read though Acts 2 and you will see this exemplified. The Gospel preached, the people respond, the disciples are then taught more things to build upon the knowledge they have.
Two points are worth noting about this. One is that we GROW in knowledge and the other is we need certain attributes to be able to gain knowledge.
As we look through the Bible, we see Abraham, Moses and even the Apostles learning more as they spend time with God and/or Jesus. In fact, in a particular stunning example, Luke records two times in Luke 9 and Luke 22 when the Apostles argued over who was the greatest. (I guess some lessons take longer to learn than others). Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8 that some didn’t even have settled in their mind such a basic concept as there is only one God and idols are not a god at all. Still, patience is needed with these brethren not criticism. We all grow in knowledge and knowledge is not the basis for our Salvation. Some basic knowledge is needed so that we can have faith but, for example, an in-depth study and knowledge of eschatology (some reading this might think “huh? what’s that?) is not needed to get into Heaven.
An attitude that wants to learn is also needed. The humility that children bring to the learning process, as well as the questions is essential. We need to be teachable. Additionally, we need to be quick hearers and slow speakers. (James 1:19) It is hard to learn when you are talking. A third element is to “NOT” know. When we say that we know or understand or see and do not take the time to investigate and study or listen to a teacher, we remain blind. (Many teenagers fit this category) The Pharisees had this problem as well. They thought they were so tight with God that nothing could shake it. They did not realize that they had a bad relationship with him.
So before we get knowledge, we need to realize we are adding to what we have, we should be patient (with ourselves and others) as we learn and we should develop the attitude that says I want to learn, not I have already learned all I need to know.
The sermon is here.
Humility is a characteristic that we need to develop. It is one of those characteristics that I think we can see that God possesses too. With that in mind, it should not be a surprise that we are told to be humble too.
Humble is a word that comes from root words referring to the earth or ground. Some one who humbles himself or is humbled is brought low; An image of going from high to low. Someone who is humble is not a person who thinks of himself as the center of everything.
Many years ago people thought the earth was the center of the universe. It is referred to as a Geo-centric view. By rearranging the letters you can go from Geo to Ego. Ego, of course, is the Latin word for self or I. An Ego centric view is that the world revolves around oneself.
So what about the one around whom the world does indeed revolve? When God himself takes on the form of a man and dies for him and says in effect “Even though the world does revolve around me and I deserve to have all the glory and be served, I am here to serve and die for you”, where does that leave us when we think about “our rights” and “our due” and “our honor”?
Probably w/o an excuse.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 18:3-4)
Of course, one can take humility too far. We need to learn the difference between putting others first and being taken advantage of. I don’t think Jesus was taken advantage of even though he gave his life for us. We have a perfect example of humility in our Lord and Savior.
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)
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.
Jas 4:8-10 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (9) Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (10) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
In seeing this verse, I am reminded of the older couple driving along a country road. As he drove along, his wife sighed and said, “Do you remember how when we would take these drives and sit next to each other, holding hands?” (this was in the day of bench seats, of course) “Yes, I remember” he said. “Why don’t we do that anymore?” she asked. After a short pause, he replied: “I haven’t moved.”
How true is it that we think that God has forsaken us and withdrawn from us when in fact, it is the other way around. How sad it is for Christians (and James is writing to Christians) to drift away from God when they should be heading closer and closer to Him. All of this is in the realm of being humble which we talked about in the last post. James is not through with that thought.
God sent His Son to die for you, he had the Gospel preached to you, you responded to it and now, now?! you want to slide away to be friends with the world? No! You should be doing something else instead, you should be getting closer to Him.
James doesn’t pull punches. He just called them adulterers and now he calls them sinners. “Sinners!” Now, we may not be surprised by that because we know that we all sin. However, those in Christ are not to be characterized as being sinners as Paul points out in Romans 6. Sin should be dead to us and we, are also to be dead, to it. The fact that these Christians were not was the source of their problems and the source of the source was their own desires, ambitions, and selfishness. (see James 1:13, 3:16 and 4:1)
James tells them to cleanse their hands and purify their hearts. A whole blog (not just a post) could be written on this. To Cleanse your hands involves the outside. Stop doing those things which are wrong; Do not cast your lot with the sinners. Purifying your hearts involves the inside, where man cannot see. However, God can. You cannot be double minded on this. Either you are for sin or you are not. It can’t be that Jesus is Lord on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday but the other days are left for yourself to indulge. You cannot put your hand to the plow and then look back.
Have you ever known someone who rejoiced in their sin? Looked back on the ‘good ole days’ of parties and raucous behavior? I have. They go back to those days in their mind or boast about them at gatherings. They make their sinful behavior appear to be a glamorous thing. Those that did not engage in it, (or those who are too young but will soon be old enough) listen and think “I am missing out”.
Call a spade a spade and call sin, sin. Do not sugar coat the lifestyle of the world or that which you in your former life (I hope it is former) engaged in. Mourn over the things you used to take pride in. Weep at the thought of the wasted years. Be sorry for that sin that you are still struggling with simply because you are not ready to give it up. In other words, REPENT! Humble yourself before God. Be the publican in Luke “Lord, forgive me the sinner”. Be David who in a moment of clarity could only say “I have sinned.”
If you do, God will exalt you. When God exalts a person, He does it right. God gives grace, James has just said, but he gives it to the humble. Be humble!
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Jas 4:6-7)
God gives grace. Grace is a word that should not be so mysterious. A recent sermon that I did talked about this topic. Grace is favor, it is granted and not earned. Did you hear? God gives grace!
This positive statement stands opposed to statement of those who push God toward jealousy with their friendship of the world. It should be known that ‘world’ in this context is not the people (as in “God so loved the world”) but rather the principles of the world which are against God’s principles. Those who are proud and prideful stand against God and wish to do things their way.
God will give favor but only to those who are humble. Consider these examples:
Two thieves on the cross. One repented the other continued his tirade. One went to Paradise, the other did not.
Two apostles: One betrayed Him, the other denied Him. Judas was sorrowful but in his sorrow did not see a way to get back to God; he hung himself. Peter was sorrowful and wept bitterly, God raised him up to preach the Gospel. Judas was, of course, wrong. God would have forgiven and restored him. Paul, is a clear example of that fact, being called from his persecuting ways to preach the Gospel. Paul humbled himself and repented. Did you hear? God gives Grace!
That grace is given the humble and not the proud is so often taught in the Scriptures, you almost don’t need book, chapter, verse but still one of my favorite passages is Matthew 18 where Jesus talks about the need for us to humble ourselves like children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
One of the characteristics of children is their humility. They trust authority and will yield to its call. One of the characteristics of young adults is that they tend to rebel against authority and exert their own will. Later, adults (but still young) may realize that their parents were right and understood a thing or two. The newer relationship is a better one when that happens.
In a way, we all go through a phase like that spiritually speaking. As children, we trust God and can sing songs like “Jesus loves me” at the top of our little lungs, loving God with everything we understand to be love. Sometimes we grow to think, we are self-sufficient and that God, our Father, doesn’t know what He is talking about. What we fail to realize is that, to God, we will always be children. Also, there will never be a time in our existence where we are not His children. The fact is, we need God more as adults than we ever did as toddlers or young children.
The Good news is that when we submit ourselves to God, Satan runs the other way. He is not stronger than God, our humility and willingness to choose God is something that he cannot fight. Jesus did that when he responded “It is written…” to each of Satan’s temptations. We can do it too, if we will only say “it is written…God gives Grace to the humble!”
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(Jas 1:9-11 ESV)
Of all the categories which we lump people into, the category of wealth is the most common: the haves and that have-nots, the rich and the poor, the down trodden and the ‘man’. Yet James’ counsel to both (I hasten to add…inspired counsel) is not to focus on what they have, whether a little or a lot. He directs their sight and thoughts towards a more excellent perspective.
The lowly brother is to look around at his condition and boast. Because even as poor as he is, Christ redeemed him and exalted him and has promised him a mansion. The poor brother, in relationship to this world’s benefits, has little but, in relationship to God, has a great deal. James will say later on (5:13) that if one is cheerful that he should sing. This poor brother should be cheerful and what better song than “I’ve been redeemed” or “His eye is on the sparrow” or “This world is not my home” or….well, you get the picture. Boast poor brother Boast!
It is particularly important that poor man boasts in his relationship with God so that he does not fall into the trap of being envious. Jesus says
“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Which brings us to the rich brother:
James says to the rich that he is to boast in his humiliation. One might ask, “what humiliation?” Not only is he rich but he is going to Heaven! For the rich, the humiliation is that they cannot do it all; their wealth is as nothing to God because it will not buy them an ounce of grace. The rich are made to be on the same level as the poor, no special treatment is commanded for them, and in the Lord’s church it is not supposed to be allowed (James 2). Riches are easy to trust in when you have them. You can buy the things you need, even get yourself out of trouble by hiring competent attorneys, avoid the drudgery of mowing your own lawn, changing your own oil, get to watch your favorite NFL teams on satellite, dress nice and have people call you Sir or Ma’am. The list goes on and does not only apply to the über rich. However, none of the purchasable items includes Salvation.
In the world, special treatments are normal but in the church of God, they are anathema. In that day, a Christian man may have owned a slave and yet his slave might be an elder in the church. The rich man would need to be subject to his slave in matters of the church even though the slave was subject to him in relation to work to be done. (No, such does not happen today very often: think employee/employer but it easily could.) To be made equal is a humiliation enough but to submit to your own slave? There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, rich nor poor, black nor white all are one in Christ. Christ humiliated himself by becoming equal with His creation. The Rich also should boast in this humiliation. Boast rich man, Boast!
James also reminds the rich that they will disappear. Not in pomp and circumstance but just like grass on a hot, blistering, Texas summer day. The grass withers and its flower fades. Notice James says the rich man will also fade “in the midst of his pursuits”. Working away and Bam! in the blink of an eye he is standing before the throne of judgement.
As quoted above, ones life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. When we do finally get to Heaven, the wealth and magnificence of God’s throne room alone will put to shame everything we have here.
All Christians, rich, poor, or middle class should Boast, but in the Lord. Boast Christian, Boast!