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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

October 3, 2012

James 1:9-27

  1. Verses 9-12. Continuing our lesson from two weeks ago on adversity, we turn our discussion to wealth and poverty, James has not really changed subjects. In the Jewish mind, wealth was the measure of one’s piety or goodness. The good were expected to prosper, while the wicked were to suffer. This is why our Lord’s story of the “Rich man and Lazarus” in Luke 16:19-31 was so shocking to the Jews who heard it. James wants both the rich and the poor to see their circumstances from an eternal perspective. Note, however, that James indicates to us that there will be both rich saints and poor saints, and both of them are exhorted to respond to their circumstances in a godly manner. He does not accept the premise that the pious prosper and the wicked suffer. It has never been very difficult for me to understand James’ words to the poor man, instructing him to take pride in his high position. After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). But what of the rich man? How can James say that he is to take pride in his humiliation? What is his humiliation, and how can he take pride in it? The rich man’s humiliation is his earthly demise. And so the rich man is to realize that his earthly wealth is nothing, in comparison with the heavenly wealth that awaits him. Since it is his earthly demise that takes him to heaven, the rich man exults in his death, his humiliation. Even the rich man on earth is not really rich compared to heavenly riches that awaits him which are eternal.

  2. Verses 13-18. It isn’t difficult to see a connection between adversity and temptation. In the midst of adversity, we may be tempted to think or act in a sinful manner. Many folks wrongly conclude that times of stress somehow justify sinful behavior. Verses 13-18 take up the subject of the double-minded man, mentioned in verse 8. The double-minded person wavers between humble submission to God and prideful disobedience. It is that proud disobedience which seems to underlie the logic that blames God for our sin and names Him as the source of our temptation. James speaks in very absolute terms in verses 13-18. He says that one should never blame God for the temptation we face. Temptation, James tells us, comes from deep within us, and not from God. Jesus made this clear as well in Mark 7:18-23, when he shares that sin comes from deep within us not from outside of us. Temptation comes from within the one tempted. It begins with desire, and when this desire is nurtured, the fruit it bears is sin. And sin results in death. Sin and death are the result of a sequence of events, all of which begin with a desire which is not proper, and which is not rejected and resisted. When James says, “Do not be deceived, my brothers and sisters. . .,” he indicates that when we see God as the source of our sin, we have been terribly deceived. God is not the source of any temptation, but He is the source of any and every truly good gift. This God who does not tempt and who gives good gifts is immutable – He never changes(verse 17). The God who is good and immutable is also sovereign (verse 18). It was through God’s initiative that we were brought to life, through the instrument of His Word (verse 18). If there is any basis for faith and stability, it is in knowing that God is good, that God is unchanging, and that He is sovereign. The good work which God began in us by saving us, He most surely can be expected to finish (see also Philippians 1:6). God is going to redeem all creation, which has suffered the curse as the result of the fall, and man’s salvation is a prototype, firstfruits of the subsequent salvation or restoration of “all things” (see Romans 8:18-25).

  3. Verses 19-20. God sends adversity our way to perfect us, as James indicated in verses 2-4. Adversity reveals our deficiencies, and God graciously provides for our needs in times of trial, producing maturity and wholeness (without deficiency). While God uses adversity to perfect His saints, adversity often brings out the worst in men. Not only are we more prone to anger and harsh words, we may strike out in anger. No wonder James has already warned us about blaming God for tempting us (verses 13-18). James has already assured us that when we lack wisdom and ask for it in faith, God will give it to us (verses 5-7). That wisdom will often come from the Word of God, but it may also come from those who can give godly counsel from the Word, often from those who have endured such affliction themselves (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-7). We should therefore be quick to hear and to heed godly counsel. Conversely, we should be slow to speak and slow to anger. How easy it is to “blow up” in times of adversity, saying and doing things that are foolish and hurtful. Human anger may produce sinful results, but James tells us that it will never achieve God’s righteousness. The flesh never produces righteousness, and human anger, unchecked, is a manifestation of the flesh. We have two choices as Christians. Either we may surrender to the passions of the flesh, which lead to death, or we may surrender to the implanted Word of God, which “can save you” (verse 21). James has just told us that it is the Word of God that was the instrument of our conversion; now he tells us that the Word of God is the instrument of our sanctification. As you can see, I understand the expression “able to save your souls (KJV) or which can save you(NIV)” as a reference to the present aspect of our salvation. There is a past dimension (our initial conversion/penalty of sin), a present dimension (our sanctification/ removing the effects of sin), and a future dimension -- our ultimate perfection (glorification/ free from the very presence of sin) (when we go to be with Him; see 1 John 3:2) – to our full realized salvation.

  4. Verses 22-27. If we are to be doers of the Word and not just hearers, then we must do something about those sins that our study of the Word reveals. To study the Word of God without applying it is useless and foolish. When we study God’s Word and heed it, then we are blessed in what we do. If we do not apply the Word in our deeds, we miss much of God’s blessing. James urges the reader to hear the Word of God and to heed it, by putting it into practice. He then articulates two primary areas of application. If the first area of application is directed toward one’s self, the second area of application is directed toward ones’ neighbors, and in particular, those who are in need.

    1. The first area of application is personal. He characterizes a faithful saint as one looking carefully into the Word, and when he or she does so, the Word reveals them for what they are, like a mirror. The unfaithful saint looks into the word and acts as if the word did not reveal to them who they are and what areas they need to improve. If you look in the mirror and see dirt on your face you wash your face. If you look in the mirror and see dirt and pretend you didn’t see the dirt and think your face is clean you are deceiving yourself.

    2. The second area of application is our dealings with others. James is basically going to say that your religion is worthless if it has not helped you learn how to talk to people. James is very to the point We have to keep a tight rein on our “tongues” conversation. We have to learn how to talk to one another. He will deal with this more later, but there must have been an issue then just like there is an issue now with being able to tame our tongue and speak to one another that edifies and not tears down. The other issue was concerning your faith is helping those in need. James picks the most vulnerable groups in that society and admonishes his readers that if they are not in the business of helping those in need they are really not doers of the word. Because those that have a true faith that has been touched by God are inclined to help the helpless. The purest form of our faith is helping those in need.

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