Continuing our series, James Abbreviated, let’s tackle chapter 3!
You should read the first post in the series because it sets up every chapter to come. The intent is to show God’s desire for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all seen in the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something only the wisdom of God can help us navigate.
James chapter 2 and 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We saw in the last blog post that chapter two is an exposition of the command to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. Interestingly, as the chapter progresses, it emphasized this call to show mercy, specifically on those in the family of God. A good summary of chapter two is, “If you are a Christ follower, you will love all of Christ’s people”
Now, in chapter 3, James gives an explanation for the first half of v 27, namely, “to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
There are many great points made in James chapter 3, but I suggest one that emerges as the most definitive of the chapter (in bold). As usual, I will offer what I think are the supporting verses, with key verses in italics.
Holiness is manifest in your speech
James 1:1-12 “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, 2 for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. 3 Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. 7 Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. 10 Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water” (HCSB).
While this section of Scripture is easy enough to understand on it’s own terms, I always wondered how it fit in to the rest of James.
For example, how does “experiencing trials” (1:2) relate to the tongue? Or “keeping oneself unstained by the world” (27b)? Or the sin of favoritism (2:1)? Fortunately, chapter 3 is easy enough to understand that most people can apply it to their life niche. Pastors and school teachers may think of their vocation when reading the stern warning of “stricter judgment” found in vv. 1-2. Some are reminded of the fiery hell that is our tongue in vv. 3-6 when we gossip or lash out verbally. Maybe others just think of the zoo when they read of horses (v 3), sea creatures, reptiles, and birds (v 7) :-) But verse 11 sharply refocuses our attention by providing us with a summary of chapter 3:
“Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11)
I’m bringing our attention to verse 11 as the key verse because it unifies the first 12 verses of James’s warning over the destructive nature of the tongue, words, and speech. James defines the tongue as lit by hell itself—it’s not on fire, it is a fire (v 6); he implicates anyone that teaches verbally (v 1); he describes the tongue’s ability to destroy other people (v 8); and after launching into more analogous indictments against human speech, his deep theme emerges: “Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11). James is prosecuting the human heart as the real culprit behind our sinful speech, for if we were holy, only sweet water would pour out of our springs; likewise, bitter waters flow from dead faith (2:26). These first seemed like a bunch of unrelated proverbs, but from a bird’s-eye view of the text, James’s point is overt: holiness of heart is manifest in holiness of speech. Our words do not save us, but they do identify us.
This, of course, flows seamlessly from chapters one (God matures our faith with trials, in and through right relationships with Christ’s people) and chapter two (Christ followers love all of Christ’s people).
Now, this brings us to the sudden shift at the end of chapter 3:
Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
James is setting up an ultimatum.
This may seem disconnected from the rest of the chapter, but remember, we are looking at everything from a view of 30,000 feet so we can leave with a broad and unifying theme that holds these chapters (and book) together. With that in mind, read that paragraph again (vv. 13-18) and see if you can spot some repeating words, phrases, thoughts, or themes. Read the rest of this entry
This is the second post in our series, James Abbreviated!
This one shouldn’t be as lengthy as the first one, but you will need to read the first post in the series because it sets us up for every chapter to come. The summary of chapter one went something like this: God desires for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all of which is the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something we need the wisdom of God to help us navigate.
Before we move on, I want you to take special notice of the underlined sections of that summary towards the end. I got these two ideas from James 1:27,
“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
The first half of James’s sentence (“to look after orphans and widows”) suggests the immersion in the world to love our neighbor, while the second half (“keep oneself unstained by the world”) is where I got the setting apart for holiness unto God. I’m bringing this up, because I think James chapter 2 and chapter 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of these two concepts. James chapter 2 unpacks the imperative to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. What is interesting is that as the chapter progresses, it focuses our call to show mercy specifically on the family of God.
Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter two (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with key verses in italics.
Christians must look after their own poor
vv.1-8 “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? 6 Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that was pronounced over you at your baptism? 8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself , you are doing well. “
This lengthy paragraph suggests three things:
- James addresses a church of believers (not just anyone). He uses Mediterranean strong-family terminology: “My brothers” (v 1, 14); “my dear brothers” (v 5); “a brother or sister” (v 15).
- James brings up a specific discrimination in the church. He points out that certain believers were giving preference to other believers based on their affluence; and points out the irony of the act, accusing the discriminate believer of “dishonoring that poor man” (v 6).
- James condemns discrimination in the church. We see this in his quotation of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v 8), and roundly exposes favoritism as the antithesis of the Law (v 9).
- These three points show us that favoritism in the church, especially in relation to those who are poor, lowly, or discriminated against, is a shameful transgression of God’s heart.
But watch how James connects this ongoing thought to the rest of the chapter…
This is the first in our series, James Abbreviated, blogging through every chapter in James to determine the overarching themes of this wonderful book.
Since every book of the Bible has a point, we should start by identifying a basic flow, argument, or exhortation as we read along. Don’t worry about finding the meaning behind every verse yet, but do use key verses to help you put together that flow. A key verse is an emphatic point or crux buried in the chapter, supported by a lot of the surrounding paragraph. To use another example, news articles and blogs often emphasized their main points in bold lettering above the rest of the text.
Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter one (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with the key verse in italics.
Christians trust God in difficulties
vv.2-6 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.”
Do you see how I developed a short, five-word point (Christians trust God in difficulties) from an otherwise sweeping paragraph? I’ll show you my train of thought…
- The Christian’s trials can result in an endurance that makes us “complete” (v 2-4)
- For this completion to happen, one must ask God for wisdom (v.5)
- Faith–which in biblical terms often refers to trust–defines the wisdom we receive.
- These three points show us that we must ask God for wisdom in difficult situations, while responding to that wisdom with faith in God! This is what separates those who know God, as shown in verses 5-8: the person who trusts in God (“asking in faith”) is saved, and the person who does not (“an indecisive man”), will “not receive anything from the Lord.” (v. 7)
Woo! Let’s move on to the next emphatic point that James makes (I will be gliding over many supporting verses)… Read the rest of this entry
In my last post, I shared how Christians have their own tribal language which can become a barrier when speaking to people outside the church.
A simple way to avert this might be by getting out of the church building.
Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.
- Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
- Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).
Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…
- Be intentional (Don’t go anywhere, aimlessly. Seek the Spirit for where He would have you be)
- Take initiative (Don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek others!)
- Expend yourself (Commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)
(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)
Last night, I introduced a point about conflict from John 7 by opening with a synopsis of the movie, The Help, based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name. It allowed me to take a weighty theological concept like persecution, and illustrate it in real life situations that Millennials can relate to. Most people saw the movie, so most people understood the situation unravelling in John 7 without too much confusion.
“Why are you bringing secular culture into the pulpit? Are you one of those contemporvant communicators?”
“Why are you compromising the clear truth of the Bible with secular illustrations? Just preach verse-by-verse!!!”
“Um…movies are worldly. And so is emotion. So I want a running commentary on Romans while giving me the impression that you’re bored with it all. Now THAT’s preaching!!”
The reason I am not apprehensive of using “worldly” illustrations in communication, is because the avoidance and shunning of all culture comes from the presumption that some kind of God mandated divide exists between the secular and the sacred. And I don’t agree with that pretense. In fact, most of Church history didn’t either until the Enlightenment. And most importantly, Eugene Peterson doesn’t!! Boom.
(Eugene wrote the Bible, just sayin’).
The problem is not culture.
The problem is our insistence that God and culture can never intertwine. We have created an unnecessary moat between the things of God and the things of culture, which ironically, were created to be good by God.
If we approach everything and everyone as having been first made in the Imago Dei (image of God), then we will restore the original beauty of the broken, not alienate or declare anathema that which God intended to be good.
View secular culture through a redemptive lens instead of a combative one.
The funny thing is, I don’t think The Help was created by a group of Christians, much less a Christian worldview. But in that common story reflecting the hardship of injustice and racism, we are able to pick out a redemptive story that can be used to point back to Jesus. We don’t have to write Christianese songs, wear Christian shirts, or sport Christian bumper stickers as a canvas in which to reveal Christ. We have a canvas in creation already. We can simply look for the redemptive qualities that are imbedded within to those who may not be making the connection.
Redeem, don’t retreat!
What if culture has bad qualities?? Is this when we jump ship and shun the heathens? Haha! No. The problem is still not culture, but bad elements in culture.
Ed Stetzer explains,
“Preaching against culture is like preaching against someone’s house–it is just the place where they live. There are good things in it and bad things in it too. But our task it not to preach against a house. Our task is to engage those who live in the house (near and far from us) with the good news of Jesus Christ” (Life Way Research Blog)
Culture DOES contain elements that are contrary to the story of God, but this is not a call to retreat from the scene, but to redeem in light of a better story. Abraham Kuyper once asserted that ”There is not a single square inch in the whole domain of human existence of which Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”
Now does that sound like God is afraid to mingle with his creation?
There has always been tension between church and culture, and rightfully so—they’re different, and yet, one exists inescapably within the other—the church inhabits culture. So how are we to interact with one another? Or, at least, how must a community of Christians interact with culture?
“Some ministries teach you to ignore culture. Do not listen to them. Their view hurts the mission of the church. They teach you to preach against culture. Yet, preaching against culture is like preaching against someone’s house–it is just the place where they live. There are good things in it and bad things in it too. But our task it not to preach against a house. Our task is to engage those who live in the house (near and far from us) with the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to engage people in culture with a biblically faithful message.” – Ed Stetzer