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Put down the sin and back away!

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.

The Gift from above

 lots of gifts in boxesEvery good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (Jas 1:17-18 ESV)

As God finished each day of creation, the text says that his creation was “good” and when finished, the whole thing was “very good”.  When we think of the gifts that people give to other people, sometimes those gifts are not so good. Sometimes they are inadequate and sometimes not appropriate to the person who is recieving the gift.

However, God gives us good gifts, things that are necessary and adequate for us. He meets our needs, not always our wants. Sure, we may not have as much as we think we need but when we serve God, even if we were to die of hunger, there is a feast waiting. The struggle we have oftentimes is to trust God and wait for him.

James has just told his readers not to attribute to God bad things (temptations) and here he reminds them why: God doesn’t give us bad things! In fact, contrast HIS WILL with OUR WILL and you see a big difference. When left to our will, we bring forth all sorts of hurts, lusts, desires that come from our heart.  These are not good gifts for the benefit of others but, rather for our own benefit. (Wait till we get to chapter four!)

However, God not only provides for us the things that give us life in this world (food and clothing with which we should be content 1 Tim. 6:8), he provided us the greatest gifts from above that will give  us life in the world to come: first, in the person of Jesus who modeled His will, and second, in the person of the Holy Spirit who reminds us of his will, having first inspired the Apostles to write it down for us and second by dwelling in us.

The heart is the source of a person’s quality and character. When you look at how God choose to manifest HIS desires, qualities and characters, we see that it resulted in bringing us forth through the word of truth.   By obedience to the Gospel (the word of truth), we are born again. 

 We are now a kind of firstfruits. Certainly that would be more true of the Christians to whom James was writing but it is also true of us. Much can be said about the firstfruits but one thing is certain: If there are firstfruits, there will be secondfruits. We not only have the joy of being brought forth by God’s word but we have the opportunity to be the source of spreading that same word to have others brought forth too. If only we would not try to do our own will. 

James will have more to say about how to mold our will to His next.

Waiting for the crown of life.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
(Jas 1:12) ESV

James began his letter  by telling us to rejoice when we meet various trials. He talks about the trials producing steadfastness,  gives some advice about obtaining wisdom, and gives counsel to the rich and the poor. Even that counsel to the rich and the poor is within the overall theme of standing fast in trials because each economic status brings its own sets of trials.

The question is often asked: Does verse twelve  belong with the section above or the section below? I honestly think that it applies to  both. James uses this statement as a transition from trials/temptations in general to a specific type of temptation, one that entices to sin.  Some versions pick up on the slight difference by using “trial” in verse 3 but use “temptation” in verse 12. The ESV uses “trial” in both verse 3 and 12.

Temptations (direct enticements to sin) are definitely discussed in verse 13 but not all trials (temptations-NKJV) are direct enticements to sin. The death of a loved one, the need to find a different discipline for the youngest child who responds differently than the first two (thus the need to pray for wisdom),or  some financial set back can test us and may lead us toward sin but throwing our faith away is not the most likely response.  Of course, if enough of those trials are heaped on top of us, we may choose to buckle but Job did not buckle under his trials and, as far as I know, they were not direct enticements to sin, with the exception of his wife’s advice to “curse God and die.”

In either case, James ties our reward in Heaven (the crown of life) to standing fast. The only way to be able to say that one has stood fast in this context is to die faithful in the Lord. In other words, it is the summation of a Christian’s whole life not a few victories and  then a sliding away. This is a similar to Revelation 2:10 “be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life”. The idea then is that  trials will be present throughout our life, but this should not disturb us.

Verse twelve also reminds us who this reward is for. He says that the crown of life is promised for those who love God. Much is made of the fact that God loves us. John 3:16 is a well known and comforting verse. However, to be loved by someone does not mean you love them in return. The greatest commandment is that we love God with our whole being, so it stands to reason that this promised crown of life is to those who love him in return. How do you know you love him? In this context, when you have stood fast through your whole life, your love is shown.

As we go through and grow through these trials, our hope is set on Christ and that crown of life that awaits us. Our steadfastness in trials and temptations will allow us to say with Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
(2Ti 4:7-8)

Boast in the Lord!

  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.”
(Luk 12:15)

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!

Wisdom, a gift from God

James says that our trials will produce steadfastness and that steadfastness has an effect on a person so that they ‘lack nothing’. However, James goes on to suppose that someone may lack wisdom and in that case there is ultimately one source…God. (1:3-6)

God, unlike man, is a great gift giver. He isn’t stingy about it or scolding either.  Should you need the gift of wisdom, ASK!  He can and will provide it. Solomon asked for wisdom and got not just a little bit of wisdom, he got a whole bunch. Judging from these verses, I think that we gain a lot of wisdom from the trials we go through. Still, occasionally, we may face a situation and truly not know what is the best way to handle it.

Prayer should be our first step. I know that gaining insight into a problem doesn’t always occur during prayer but it has happened. Additionally, the faith in we must ask is not to be an impatient one where we expect God to answer just as soon as we finish the question.  Sometimes there is a delay in the answer.

Two additional sources for wisdom (and the reason why there may be a delay) is from His word. Proverbs is full of wisdom as well as the many passages that teach us valuable lessons to apply to our life. As we read his word (you do that regularly, don’t you?) we often will come across a passage that we forgot or one that we see speaks to the situation and guides us to a solution.

The other source is the experience of others. So many times we can learn from what others have done, their mistakes and triumphs. Several times Solomon says to his son “listen to what I am saying”. If you have someone you know who has gone through the experience you are going through, asking for their insight can help, especially when they are a Christian.

Wisdom is the appropriate use of knowledge that results in a blessing. It is also one of the best blessings God can give us. Ask if you need it.

 

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