Australian Bible Church – October 16, 2005
THE MESSAGE OF JAMES – Chapter 1:1-2:7
WHAT IS PURE AND UNSPOTTED RELIGION ?
IT LOVES TESTS OF FAITH,
FINDS FOUNTAINS OF WISDOM,
SEES BEYOND MERE APPEARANCES
Rejoice at tests, regard them with patience, relish the promises, disregard worldly distinctions, snip off temptations at the root, and remember this.
The source of goodness is God, and the great action of goodness is this: that Christians have been given the status of a new creation, by the word of truth, the Gospel. God, who never varies, has this unalterable gift. Such is the thrust with which James launches the epistle from the Lord. Let us consider it in some more detail.
Do not quail or fear to fail when you want wisdom in some test: God is most willing to give, so that it is entirely a question of your being willing by faith to receive. If not ? You are double-minded, so face your follies and do not blame the Lord who is liberal.
Riches ? Do they concern you ? They are like the grass on which the sun shines. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Pre-occupation with such trivialities does not betoken faith in God. It certainly looks good, but does it DO good ? Is that the ground of your interest in it!
So you will be tempted in many ways, to be worldly, to be unwise, to be faint-hearted or double-minded in the face of the divine willingness to succour, guide and protect your life from futility, and make it count in His kingdom. Never imagine that God is setting to work to tempt you: that is not His way. Think of the temptations of Christ. Those were from the devil (Matthew 4), and were resisted. The other option is to let the temptation sink into your being, like oil into cushions, until the whole thing is marred. Put differently, it is like a crop which you allow to grow in your life: its harvest is horrid. Desire acts as a mother, to give birth to sin, and sin, gradually growing to its mature form, brings death.
It is essential that you gain a correct perspective. God who is good is neither the source of temptation, nor the ultimate ground of any evil. He is good, does good, seeks goodness for man, and every good gift comes from Him, whether of wisdom or power or talent or grace or patience or perseverance. Light comes into the heart in art, or architecture, in medicine or knowledge, in understanding or in practical capacities.
It comes from the Father of lights, God Himself, whose ways to not squirm or squash here or there, but come out in straight lines, unchanging, invariable, virtuous. It is He who is that utter and ultimate source which liberty and lovelessness in man can so distort in their lives, that men even come to think, in the floods of their sin, of God as some variable quantity, and forget that the sin that blinds is the wrapping that binds the corpse which becomes the nature of their lives, when they cut off from this Source, which is God.
We who are Christians are not only gifted from God, but the very gift of a new life is graciously given through the Gospel, so that we should become the children of God, a direct personal product of His own saving action, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
IT INDICATES BY WHAT IT DOES, WHAT IT IS
In the face of such goodness and mercy, realise the practical consequences: be willing to listen to what others have for you, and slow to anger; for fits of wrath do nothing for righteous living as before God.
In general, cast off, like a doomed vessel sent to its destruction, all that overflows from evil in your souls, and apply your heart, mind and spirit to the word of God, already written upon you, as His, knowing in this lies the way of salvation.
Read it ? Of course, but do it also. To hear and not do, it is a double-minded thing, like those who asking for wisdom from the living God, dare to doubt that it is given! Hear ? then do. If not, you are like a man who looks in the mirror to see himself, and then forgets what he looks like. The mirror here is for what you SHOULD be, the perfect law of liberty which channels your stream into useful and productive labours and directions. Look into that, and let this be the moulding ideal and force; apply it and live. In particular, put a bridle on your tongue, so that you do not speak like a runaway horse.
In fact, in real religion there is not a swaggering self-image and self-thrusting, but a meekness, and a willingness to show mercy, not just receive it, in such ways as helping orphans and widows, yes, and not allowing the allurements and attractions of the world, with its aliens from the ways and truth of God, to seduce you, or its attitudes to infect you.
IT LOVES WITHOUT PREJUDICE, ESTEEMS ACCORDING TO QUALITY,
Thus you love the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of glory, instilled into human format from His celestial eternity, and show by the spirit and tenacity of your dealings, the strength of reality in the faith He has imparted to you.
Does this mean that you are partial to appearance, to wealthy church or society members, being deferential to them as if show and riches were a determinant of quality, not merely quantity ? Do you seek to kow-tow to power in this world, as if you were blind ? Do you disregard the poor because they lack social and financial clout, can contribute less ? In fact do you even judge unjustly, whether in the realm of your opinions of people, or in actual justice which in this or that realm you may be called on to dispense, favouring monetary power and social influence as if it counted, so distorting the truth and disgracing your very humanity, and much more any part you may have in godliness ?
Do you rank one another in such terms, and so become blind to the real qualities for building in the kingdom of God, spiritual distinctions, becoming a sort of blind guide and governor, or a participant in mere glamour and pretension ? Riches are often used to oppress and to gain further secular advantage: will you then forward such abhorrent practices, beguiled like much of the rest of the world ? This is to blaspheme the very name of Christ! Is the Saviour One who exalted Himself when on earth ? Is the Cross a throne-room, a palace, then ?
Such is the tenor of the first chapter of James, indeed 1:1-2:7. Later in James 2, the Lord through him brings in some further startling challenges which cause thought, and stir the conscience and heart. The Lord’s brother as it appears this James is, certainly presents no lack of blunt wisdom, and robust challenge to anything fraudulent in Christendom, or false. His probes push back the frontiers of dead skin, to the quick. For this reason, it is well, as Paul requests in II Corinthians 13:4-5, to examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith: test yourselves. Faith is happy with tests as James shows at the beginning of this first Chapter. In Christ there is nothing to fear (Romans 5:1-11, 8:1, I John 5:11-13). Indeed we plan shortly to have our next Communion, inviting those with saving faith in Him, and no other name, to come.
Remember these words from the heart of God, then, through the apostle John.
"And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
"He who has the Son has life;
he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God,
that you may know that you have eternal life,
and that you may believe in the name of the Son of God."
Receive THIS part of the implanted word of God (James 1:21), as well as every other.