Last week we closed by seeing that people are never tempted by God but it is in fact our own evil desires within us that draw us into temptation. James continues in chapter 1 by contrasting what God does do. He is not capable of evil but He is in fact the source of all good things as we find in verses 16-17.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
James makes it clear that God is the source of good. This is so simple that people have a hard time with it if that makes any sense. Because God is the source of good things, people want to blame God when good things don’t happen. It’s God’s fault when a storm happens and causes damage or kills people. It’s God’s fault when people get sick.
But of course this logic is flawed. God is not obligated to give anyone anything. We are certainly not deserving of the many good things that He has given us already. And so if something bad does happen, He is not the source of it even if He is capable of giving good things.
Let’s use a far fetched illustration to try to explain this idea. Let’s say that I come into some money and one year for Christmas I decide to give everyone I know $500. Most people would be appreciative of such a gift I’d like to think.
But what happens the following year if I decide not to give such gifts? Does anyone have the right to come to me and complain that since I gave them $500 last year that they expect it this year? Of course this would be an unfair expectation. Even if I had the financial means to do so again, I am under no obligation to do so again. By not giving the gift a second year I am not a mean spirited person nor does it mean that I delight in the suffering of other people who could make use of $500. It’s mine to give as I choose and if I would choose to give $5000 to one person and none to another, it would certainly be within my right.
This is the way that people treat God however. Because some people are spared from disaster or sickness, if they are not, then God is unfair or cruel. God is wrong in the way that He chooses to share His good gifts. We have no right to question how God distributes His gifts however just as no one else has any right to tell me how I should distribute my money.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
I’m going to tell you the cause of at least 75% of problems in the church – communication. Sometimes it is a problem of communication from the top down where people don’t know what is going on. But more often it is people jumping to conclusions without hearing the whole story or people who hear something second or third hand and get bent out of shape about it.
Let me tell you something, if there is something that I have said privately or from the pulpit that you don’t understand or that upsets you, you don’t just have a right to come ask me about it, I’d say that you have an obligation. Sometimes problems arise from simple miscommunication. What was said was either misspoken or heard wrong. Other times it is misrepresented and taken out of context. For instance, I could say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. It would be easy to misrepresent that as being anti-Semitic when that wasn’t the point that I was trying to make. And for the record, the Jews are not solely responsible in the death of Jesus as basically every party involved played a role in His death.
We need to be slow to speak. This means that we gather our facts and know what we are talking about before we go shooting our mouth off. One of the biggest things that is turning people off to politics today is the way that opinion is being treated as facts in the media. And both the liberals and conservatives are guilty of this.
There cannot be two competing truths. A couple of months ago a Republican Congressman made a statement from the Congressional floor that Planned Parenthood spent over 90% of its budget on performing abortions. I can go on the record as saying that I am not in favor of abortion nor are more most conservative churches. I don’t believe that any of my tax dollars should go to support organizations that provide abortions no matter what percentage of that money is spent for that. With that being said, the statement that the Congressman made was completely incorrect and the truth was that something like 3% of Planned Parenthood’s funds were used for abortions. When this fact was pointed out to the Congressman, he simply said that his statement from the Congress floor was not intended to be a factual statement.
No matter how passionate you are about something, the end doesn’t justify the means. Lying is not the way to serve a greater good. Likewise, we should be slow to speak until we know what we’re talking about. The old axiom that your mother taught you when you were young holds true as well. If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, you shouldn’t say anything at all.
It’s no coincidence that James closely ties anger with moral filth. Everybody gets angry at times. My wife will back me up on this when I say that you should see me driving. Anger isn’t good. It creates physical problems like high blood pressure. It creates emotional problems and damages relationships. And it causes spiritual problems.
Anger works much like drugs and alcohol. It changes our mental state and causes us to do things that we wouldn’t normally do because we’re no longer in charge. Instead it is anger that is in control. No matter what the reason, bad things happen when we’re no longer in control because we make bad decisions.
Anger leads to a slew of problems just like drugs and alcohol do. Therefore it is important to ask God for help in controlling your anger and learning ways to become slow to speak. The book of Proverbs is a good place to start as it says a lot about both of these topics.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
I believe these verses cut to the heart of the biggest problem in Christianity. We have churches full of people who listen to God’s Word but don’t do what it says. There is some sort of disconnect between hearing and doing as if having knowledge about something is all it takes rather than application.
Let’s think about something that most people have experienced at one time or another. There’s probably been a time in your life when you wanted to lose a couple of pounds. Now, despite all of the diet and exercise plans out there, there are still only two basic ways to lose weight – eat less or exercise more. Now, has anyone lost weight since I’ve given away this great secret? Of course not because you have to actually get out and apply the concept. You don’t lose weight just because you know how it’s done.
The same comes from living a Christian life. Does it do you any good to know that you have a problem with sin if you aren’t going to work to correct it? The answer is no. In this case, all knowledge does is create guilt. We feel guilty because we know something is wrong but we continue to do it anyway.
God didn’t give us His Word to make us feel guilty. We have the Bible because it is meant to help us live better lives. A lot of people look at God and the Bible as cosmic killjoys that are just trying to ruin their good time. Nothing could be further from the truth however.
Take the example of sex. Outside of Christianity it is perfectly acceptable to have sex with whomever you want, whenever you want. The Bible teaches that this is an act that should be reserved for two people alone and should be reserved for marriage. On the surface this sounds like a very antiquated ideal that is meant to keep people from enjoying themselves.
But we know what rampant sex leads to. We’ve always known that sex causes pregnancy and obviously there have been many children born to people who weren’t planning on getting pregnant. Messages today such as “just take precautions” don’t help things. I don’t know any statistics off the top of my head but I don’t believe that teenage pregnancy has dropped significantly since it was started to be taught that precautions need to be taken.
Then of course there are STD’s or VD or now they are referring to them as STI’s. Right now we’re, well celebrating isn’t the right word, but we’re upon the 30th anniversary of the recognition of AIDS. And of course there are many other diseases that we’ve known about for decades before AIDS. This is one of the risks of having sex with whoever, whenever you want.
But the best case for following the Bible with regard to sex isn’t out of any kind of fear of an accidental pregnancy or disease. It’s out of the fact that – believe it or not – God knows what He’s talking about. Study after study has shown that people are far more satisfied with sex within the confines of marriage than in any other situation. Despite how Hollywood glamorizes sex, it is the boring old married couples who are enjoying it more than the young people who are constantly hooking up for one night stands. Who would have thought it? Following the Bible will leave you happier than just hearing it.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
These two verses kind of tie everything else together and serve as a bridge into James 2. James is a closely knit book with a very coherent message and these verses serve as a reminder of this. Actions speak louder than words. Even though that phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible it is a concept that is taught repeatedly throughout scripture.
As we’re going to go into far greater depth in two weeks, we don’t do things to prove we are Christians or to become saved. Instead, they happen naturally as a result of our Christianity. We’re not always going to be able to keep a reign on our tongue or control our anger but we should want to. We should be doing more than just hearing God’s Word, we should want to put it into practice.
We’re not perfect. In fact we’re far from perfect. We’re going to fall flat on our faces in the application of God’s Word from time to time. That’s not the point. The point is that we keep working to apply the Bible to our lives rather than just nod and say “good sermon” on the way out the door. Words don’t mean anything in this regard. It is action that changes lives.