Saturday, 31 January 2015

People of our word

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes" be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgement. – James 5.12

It is apparently really important that we be people of our word. Here James repeats the Sermon on the Mount principle about not taking oaths or swearing.

I had just studied through Jesus’ words a few weeks ago when I was called for jury duty. When it came time to take the oath I was a bit anxious because I wanted to do the right thing. I don’t really think there is a problem with taking a legal oath in court, but I just wanted to do right. So when it came to my turn I asked for an affirmation where I just declared that I would do what was required of me.

That is probably taking it a bit too far, but there is a principle of Christians being truth-tellers.

We ought never to have to swear to the truth in order to be believed. I should never have to ‘promise to do it’ or ‘swear on a stack of Bibles’ or anything of the sort. If we say it everyone need to know that we are going to do our best or do our very best to do it. We should not let people down unless God’s changes our plans.

Things are going to come up. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. All of our plans should have a ‘D.V.’ attached – but if we are not people of our word how are others going to have any faith in us when we share the gospel?  

Friday, 30 January 2015

Blessed endurance

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. – James 5.10-11

There are times in all of our lives when it seems like it is just a matter of holding on and plugging away. Sometimes there are not dramatic highs or devastating lows but just plodding and living day by day and doing our best and waiting and trusting and, well, enduring.

That word endure is the same Greek word that is often translated ‘patience’ (though not the only word for our English word patience). It means to bear up under pressure. It is sometimes translated ‘persevere.’ I think we get the message.

‘Look at the prophets,’ James says, ‘and all they endured as your example.’ These are the prophets talked about in Hebrews great Hall of Faith who ‘…through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

God blesses the plodder, the endurer, the patient, the consistent one, the plug away-er, the hold-er on-er.

God says be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

I love the old hymn 'Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.' If I had any kind of poetic or song writer ability I would write a few lines about 'blessed endurance, Jesus is mine.' 

Don’t quit. Just keep on enduring. Keep on keeping on. We don’t need to be superstars. All God requires is that we be faithful 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Quit complaining about each other

Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! – James 5.9

I like this English word ‘grumble.’ It verges on being onomatopoeic. Think about what it is like when we grumble. It involves groaning and sighing and mumbling. I wonder if the word is a combination of groaning and mumbling? It comes from a Middle French word meaning ‘to mutter between the teeth’ and that really seems to give the sense of the Greek word here. 

Grumbling of any kind is bad enough. Grumbling always expresses a spirit of discontent. It means that that we are not happy with the way things are. The Bible tells us that we should do all things we do without murmuring or complaining, or using this word – grumbling. 

Grumbling is an awful thing. We hate it when our children or grandchildren do it and correct them for their attitude. 

How much more must God dislike it. 

The grumbling here is especially bad. James warns against grumbling about each other. It is so bad that we are even warned about the danger of judgement. Now we know that this judgement is not regarding our eternity, but there is a sense where God does judge His children. In Hebrews we read about how God chastens His children to produce works of righteousness. There are only a few passages where God addresses this kind of judgement. 

The church’s key trademark is love. Love and grumbling about each other are not compatible. It is a sad day when we see the church at war with itself with its members bickering and fighting and grumbling and complaining about each other. There is no room for it. God hates it. It will bring God’s chastening. Let’s just stop it. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Be patient

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. – James 5.7-8

We need to have a quick look at the previous verses here to get the context for this passage.

​Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

James writes of a world that is obsessed with getting rich and prospering materially. He tells that world, caught up in that rat race that all of that is going to be for naught. It is going to rot and corrode and be wasted. All the people those have taken advantage are going to be avenged. Because God gives man free will that is going to keep happening.

So what do we do? How do we put up with it? How do we endure?

Two little words – be patient. Just wait. A better day is coming.  This whole section is all about that patience and how it should be seen in our lives.

But for today we need to just be reminded of how important it is to patiently bear up with what we have and keep in mind that a better day is coming. We need to be like the farmer who patiently waits for the crops to be ready for harvest.

There is a key element of patience here – ‘establish your heart.’ If we don’t get the right heart and right attitude the wait is going to be miserable. Having the right attitude makes all the difference in the world. It’s like sitting in traffic (kind of). If I get caught in traffic I can either accept it and be at peace, or I can get angry and frustrated and make for a miserable time. It’s up to me.

Waiting on Jesus is the same thing. I can get bitter and angry and frustrated, or I can decide to patiently live for Him and serve Him and trust Him enough to believe that His timing is right. It is pretty clear which is going to make the waiting more bearable.

Establish our hearts and minds on Christ and His coming. Be patient and wait on Him to sort  this mess out. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

To do good

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. – James 4.17

Many, many years ago I sat in a service in Phillip’s Chapel. It was a an old (really old) church building at Highland Park Baptist Church. I don’t if it is even there now. It was a church building that was being used as a chapel for Tennessee Temple Baptist College. I am not sure if it was a chapel service or an overflow service for the main church.

The preacher went on a ‘rant’ that I still chuckle about. I knew even less now than I know then, but I knew this fella got carried away with this verse. He went on with bullet points like this:

Is it good to go to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?
Is it good to pray 2-3 hours a day?
Is it good to read your Bible more than you watch TV?
Is it good to share the gospel with every person you meet?
And so on and so on it went.

I only bring that up because it sticks in my mind. And, even though he was over the top and legalistic in making such a list and screaming ‘TO HIM IT IS SIN!!’ he does have a point. When we know God’s word and know what He says is good and we refuse to do it we are in sin.

I prefer the verse that defines ‘good’ more as our attitude that a lists of dos and don’ts. ‘God has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you – to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

That’s not all that ‘good’ is, but it’s a pretty good place to start. If we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God the rest will fall into place.

We know what ‘good’ is. We know how to ‘do good.’ We don’t need a list of rules – all we need is to do it.

And if we don’t? Well the rest of the verse is pretty clear. Isn’t it? 

Monday, 26 January 2015


Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” – James 4.13-15

On the 10th of September 2001 the people of New York City went about their regular business. Business meetings were scheduled for the next day at the World Trade Center. People planned to meet for coffee or breakfast. Tourists had ‘See World Trade Center’ on their calendars for the next day. As offices closed that afternoon people said things like ‘see you in the morning!’ as they locked up their offices and waved good bye. Lunch plans were made. People packed for flights to far off destinations. Travellers from all over the world closed their suitcases and set them by the doors looking forward to trips to America the next day.

It was just going to another Tuesday.

But it wasn’t just another Tuesday. The whole world changed that day. By 10.00 there was no World Trade Center. Planes were grounded in mid-flight. Thousands were dead. Plans and appointments and schedules and holidays were all cancelled.

Who knew what would happen ‘tomorrow?’

Our tomorrows are no more certain than theirs. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. So, in reality, it is a bit brash to set our plans in concrete. When we set our plans in concrete to the extent that we are thrown off our game when they fail into place we are setting ourselves up as mini-gods.

We don’t know what is going to happen even later today, much less tomorrow. Therefore our attitude ought to be ‘God willing’ when we talk about the future. That is one of the vestiges left over from Catholic Ireland. A lot of older people still say ‘God willing’ when talking about the future.

In older days almost every one included the letters ‘D.V.’ when announcing upcoming events. In most cases it was probably just custom, but those letters stand for ‘Deo Volente’ which is Latin for ‘God willing.’  I like that custom because it reminds of who is really in control.

So whether we use ‘D.V.’ or not or say ‘God willing’ or not our attitude does need to be that our plans need to be open to whatever God allows to come our way tomorrow – because we certainly don’t know what it holds. 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Who do you think you are to judge each other?

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? – James 4.11-12

Judging or not judging is a real hot point. Jesus addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount. We are prone to judge others and the reason is simple – it is easier to judge them than to examine our own hearts. Most of us don’t like what we find when we check out our own hearts.

So we judge others. We speak evil of each other. We put each other down. When we do that we put ourselves on the judge’s chair where only God, the Perfect One, is authorised to sit. Even Jesus says He did not come to judge the world.

When I see my brother in error my job is not to sit as his judge and speak evil of him. It is also not my job to ignore his sin. My job is to go to him in love and compassion to help him deal with his sin. Even that is a scary thing to do because I find so often that the beam in my eye makes me feel so unworthy to help him deal with his speck.

I don’t need to judge – that is God’s job. My job it to love and help my brother get his life sorted out, and do it in humility because I may be the next one who needs my brother’s help. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

He will lift you up

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. – James 4.10

I really admire those rare Christians who manifests themselves in meekness and true humility. Their sweet, godly, and quiet demeanour show a real knowledge of who they are and who God is. 

Most of us don’t act that way. Maybe I shouldn’t paint with so broad a brush. I only know about me, and I know that I like to be honoured and lifted up and recognised. If I don’t get it I am liable to seek it for myself. My self-lifting will fail because I will always fail. 

But if the Lord lifts me up – what a difference. He is able to keep me lifted up because He is able – full stop. 

We are warned at one point about how when we go to eat we always seek the lower place at the table, not the position of honour. That is how life should be. We never take the place of honour, but let God put us there. 

Only One deserves to be exalted and glorified in my life. Only Christ should be elevated. Paul wrote the to the church in Corinth that God normally uses the weak and the foolish and the abased to do His work. He does that so that no one has any room to brag on themselves. We all know deep down that there is not much in us worthy of being lifted up. If we all acted on what we know about ourselves humility would be the only possible result. 

Then, and only then, are we in the place where God can lift us up. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Clean hands

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. – James 4.7-8

Submit to God – resist the devil – draw near to God. All of these are vital for the believer.

But along with that there must be action. Something must be done. Submitting to God must be seeable.

I suppose J.C. Ryle, a 19th century Anglican bishop must be one of my favourite authors. I can read him like I read an unputdownable novel. He had a real grasp of holiness and the practical application of holiness. He said this about genuine conversion.

High or low, rich or poor, gentle or simple, we all need a complete change,—a change which it is the special office of the Holy Ghost to give us. Call it what you please,—new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance,—the thing must be had if we are to be saved: and if we have the thing it will be seen. – J.C. Ryle

So James tells us, in addition to submitting to God and drawing close to Him and resisting the devil we need to do. It isn’t enough to just ‘let go and let God.’ Our faith must be seen in action.

Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts. James writes that those who fall short of that are ‘double-minded.’

Cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts mean that there is both an outward and in inward cleansing. We clean up our outside – but we can’t really do that till our hearts are purifying.

Psalm 24.4 describes the man who wants to walk close to God – ‘He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully.’  Drawing close to God requires inward and outer cleanliness. It will be seen on the outside as we live holy lives in the presence of our holy God. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Submit to God

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. – James 4.7-8

We are always going to be tempted to cosy up to the world. It is always going to be here and we are always going to have to see it and live in it.

So we need a plan to stay out of it.

Verses 7-8 contain that plan. There are some more spiritual things to do and they are a couple of practical things. I am going to look at the first few today.

First of course is the teaching to submit to God. That of course lays the foundation for all the rest. If we submit to God we submit to His will. He submit to His leadership. We submit to His word. We submit to His plan. We submit to His way.

When we submit to God we can’t submit to friendship with the world.

Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Since the devil is the source of the present world system it only makes sense that if we flee from him we are fleeing from the ways of the world and from friendship with it.

If we resist the devil he flees. If we draw close to God He draws close to us. If we don’t want to be friends with the world we pull away from the system. If we want to be friends with God we get close to Him and He gets close to us.

Submission to God – step number one in battling friendship with the world system. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Friends with the world

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. – James 4.4

Last Sunday I preached on the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and ‘stuff.’ I think the contrast here is very similar. There Jesus talks about how we are going to love one and hate the other or hate one and love the other. 

Here we see a good explanation of where John writes ‘don’t love the world or the things of the world.’ We can’t love the world and love God. If we love the world we are hating God and proving ourselves His enemy.  

Let me pause for a second just in case the wordage is not clear. This does not say to not be friends with the people of the world. God says, after all, ‘love God and love people.’ Notice it says in 1 John ‘don’t love the world’ and here ‘don’t make friends with the world.’ The principle is that we are not to be friends with and we are not to love the world system. It has nothing to do with people. Too many times I have seen Christians unfriend lost friends because of sorry advice. We must be friends with the people in the world – but we don’t have to befriend their system. 

We can’t afford to cozy up with the world and its ways. We can’t get comfortable in this system because it will always draw us away from God. We have to live in this world system. We are going to have friends here. Let’s be sure that our friendship is with them and not the system. 

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Why can't we all just get along?

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. – James 4.1-3

‘Why can’t we all just get along.’

That’s a great question.  What can’t we all just get along?

Years ago, when the tensions between the religious communities in Ireland were still a major issue there was an advert shot in a play-school. They showed children playing together. Because this particular conflict was not racial you couldn’t tell the Protestant children from the Catholic. They all got along famously. The point was that if we can get along as children why can’t we get along as adults?

Of course anyone who has had children or worked with them knows that they don’t get along. Our daughter-in-law recently posted on Facebook a video of our  2 year old grandson and our 9 month old granddaughter fighting over a toy. After six children and nearly a dozen grandchildren we have learned that is the norm rather than the exception. It seems that not getting along starts really early in life. We don’t have to learn how to fight.

So where does conflict come from?

The answer is right here – they come from your ‘desires for pleasure’ that rage inside you. You murder and covet to get what you want and you still don’t get it.’

To put is clearly we fight and war because of our own selfish desires and because we are not content. They happen because we want to please ourselves. They happen because we, like children, want the other toy.

But that’s not all of it. These desires also affect our prayer lives – ‘you don’t have because you don’t ask, and when you do ask you ask based on your desire for your own pleasures.’

There is one key lesson here – stop pursuing those pleasures. Stop living for the world and live for Christ. We can’t serve God and stuff anyway. Be content with what God gives us. That way when we ask we will always ask with the right heart.

And save ourselves a lot of trouble. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Sowing righteousness in peace

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3.16-18

Since it is clear that there is no room for envy and self-seeking I am going to leave that aside. I am much more interested into how James describes the ‘ wisdom from above.’ 

Full of mercy
Full of good fruits
Without partiality
Without hypocrisy

Now James points out that the wisdom is first pure. I like that note that it is first because everything else must be based on this purity. That is the very foundation. All of the rest must be based on purity. That means that we can’t sacrifice purity, and later righteousness, in order to achieve any of the rest of the descriptors. Peace and gentleness and a willingness to yield and so on are all based on the fact that it includes purity.  You can’t have one without the other. 

That peace vital. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. The fruit of righteousness is not sown in ugliness and a judgemental spirit. In meekness it is spread in peace by those who are meek enough to realise that we too had to be rescued from our own righteousness. 

Blessed are the peacemakers indeed. Pursue peace with all men, and also holiness. The two must go hand in hand. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Meekness of wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. - James 3.13-15

How do we know the wise man amongst us? Is it the guy who has a whole alphabet of letters after his name? Is it the guy who always has an answer – whether you ask for it or not? Is it the guy who stands behind the pulpit every week and shares God’s word? 

Maybe, we can’t rule them out. But God has an answer here about how we know the wise and understanding man. 

We know him by his good conduct
His good conduct is done in the ‘meekness of wisdom’ 

In other words we know the wise man because he lives right. That makes sense. I get that. 

It is the next part that I have a hard time with in my life. The man’s works are done in the ‘meekness of wisdom.’ That seems to equate wisdom and meekness. The wise man is a meek man because true wisdom leads us to a realisation that we can’t do this ourselves. 

Depending on ourselves leads to bitter envying and strife and boasting and arrogance and self-seeking. It is earthly and devilish because that kind of proud false wisdom seeks to replace God with me. 

The meekness of wisdom means I quietly lead my life in such a way that I totally depend on Him day by day as I seek to live godly in this present world. 

O for the meekness of wisdom in my own life. 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

These things ought not so to be

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. – James 3.7-12

Man has tamed all kinds of animals. You can go to shows and see all kind of tamed lions and tigers and bears (oh my), dogs, cats, seal, whales, rats, and so on and so on. But, as James puts it, no one can tame the tongue. 

And why is that? Because it is an ‘unruly evil.’ It is full of deadly poison. Poison is so destructive because it spoils everything it comes in contact with. James uses the illustration of a water spring that gives pure clear sparkling water and bitter poisonous water at the same time. It just can’t happen. It makes no more sense than a grapevine that bears figs. It is not natural. 

How does Paul illustrate this sin? ‘With the same mouth we bless God and curse men who are made in the image of God.’ 

What a horrible thing to think about. And yet it is one of those things we see all the time and of which we have all been guilty at one time or another. I don’t know, maybe it is me just getting soft in my old age, but it seems like there is more mean talk among believers than I have ever seen. It seems like some believers are always in ‘sic ‘em’ mode when it comes to each other. We go to church and praise God and say amen and all that, and yet at the same time it seems like we have a hard time saying anything nice about each other. 

James puts it perfectly – ‘me brethren, these things ought not so to be.’

We need to watch our mouth, or as the psalmist put it – ‘Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.’

We spread enough poison. Let’s turn our words into holy, pure, and edifying words so the poisonn cannot spread. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

A raging fire

Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. – James 3.5-6

I am sure we have all seen footage of those vast forest fires that destroy thousands of acres (or hectares) of trees, destroy homes, and threaten towns and villages. We can all see the vast effort required to get these fires back under control. Property is destroyed and lives are lost as a result of these disasters. 

Sometimes these are natural disasters. Sometimes a lightning strike ca set a tree on fire and the massive fire is a result. 

But far too often these fires are the result of man either accidentally or purposefully setting a fire. And it doesn’t take a flamethrower or firebomb to do it. 

It only takes a match or a spark at the wrong place and time to see a fire raging – but how great the consequence. 

And so it is with an uncontrolled tongue. Just a wrong word or two can set a roaring fire that is nearly unstoppable. That fire has the power to defile the whole body – and more. It can set a fire that roars all around us.

There is one more thing  that we can’t miss – the source of the fire. The original source of the fire is hell itself. 

There is little than can do as much damage as a tongue out of control. Satan knows that and is more than willing to help light the match or set the spark. Our little tongue, only a tiny part of our body has the power to destroy everything. 

We must be sure to watch our words – we don’t want to start a fire that is going to cause so much destruction. 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A measure of maturity

For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses' mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. – James 3.2-4

I like the first line here. It is attached to the teaching about the danger of being a teacher. We have to beware because we all stumble in many things. None of us perfect. We are all going to trip up. 

And to take it a step further we read that there is one area that is especially hard to deal with. ‘If any man doesn’t stumble with his words he is a perfect man in control of his whole body.’ 

I think this is easy to understand because there are all kinds of issues with the tongue are so varied. It is hard to get all of them right. Sometimes our words are the really mean words we first think about. 

But there are also sarcastic words
But there are also vile words
But there are also subtle words designed to to damage
But there are also gossipy words
But there are also prideful words
But there are also lying words

And the list could go on and on. As soon as we think we have one type of words controlled we see another one pop up. 

My tongue is a great measure of my spiritual maturity – according to my tongue how mature of a Christian am I?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015


My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3.1

I love to teach. I remember the day 38 years ago when I knew I was a teaching. I was in military training (ROTC) and Widener College (now University) in Chester, PA in the US. This by the way is the same place where I was saved. 

As part of our advanced training we had to teach a class. I taught on the various types or mortar rounds.  A mortar is an artillery piece that fires explosive rounds of various kinds. I studied all about them and could still tell you about several of the rounds. I was scared to death before hand, but once I got up there I knew I had found my calling. I loved it. I didn’t even mind watching the videotape we  were recorded on. The only points I lost were because I let the turned pages of my notes flop over the podium instead of folding them under. 

I started teaching immediately. The leader of the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship offered me a chance to teach a Bible study. And that was it – I was hooked. I have been teaching for about 40 years now and still love it. 

But with the joy of teaching comes an awesome responsibility. A teacher is held accountable for what he teaches and that is a ‘stricter judgement.’ While teaching is a great ambition and there is a sense where we are all to teach by example we all need to remember how awesome the task is and not be too quick to teach what we do not know. I think it also reminds us, since we are going to be held accountable that we only teach ‘this sayeth the Lord’ and never ‘thus sayeth Roger.’ No teacher likes to mis-teach their students, no real teacher that is. But it is even more important and more eternal consequence if we mis-teach God’s word for then we have mislead others into spiritual error. 

I am glad for a loving and patient God. I look back to some of the nonsense I preached and taught (I wonder why we don’t say preached and teached or taught and praught) I am embarrassed. I have asked God (and some of those I taught) to forgive me for preaching my agenda or preaching what I heard without studying it myself. 

I can’t fix that any more than I have tried to do, but I can seek God’s help to remember the heavy responsibility for what I teach and see that it always lines up with His word. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Faith or works?

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2.14-17

This is one of the most hotly debated passages of scripture. We know the truth of ‘sola fide’ (by faith alone) but when we get to James we find out what appears to be a contradiction. ‘For by grace are you saved through faith’ and ‘Abraham believed God and was counted righteous’ is faced with ‘faith if it does not have works, is dead.’

The conflict was so great that for a time many folks believed that James should not be a part of the canon of scripture. Of course. We don’t have the space here to give this a full study – but I think even a quick view will clear things up.

The Bible makes it clear that works cannot save us. If they could Jesus would not have had to die on the cross. So could it be that we have to add works to what Jesus has already done?

Of course that would mean that Christ did not do enough – He needs our help to secure our salvation, But He said ‘it is finished’ so how could we have to do more.

We don’t – but we will. In Ephesians 2 we read that we are ‘ordained to do good works.’ Faith changes our lives. Faith produces works. In fact we can make it even simpler – true faith works.

Where there are no works we know that the supposed faith that is there is nothing more than dead faith. And dead faith is not worth anything. There is no confusion here – true faith always produces works and if there are no works than there never was any living faith. Living faith always produces the fruit of good works

Monday, 12 January 2015

Mercy triumphed

So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement. – James 2.12-13

Talk and walk like one who is no longer judged by the Old Testament Law, but now talk and walk like one is lives by the law of liberty.  In other words James is telling us here that we need to live like people who have been freed from the law and freed from the power of sin in our lives. We are free to live in a new and special way.

And one way to do that is that we are to be people of mercy. If we are not people of mercy all the indications are that we have never really received mercy.  True mercy is always reflected by mercy being shown to others. Those who don’t show it have never had it. Those who have never received mercy are harsh and judgemental toward others. They treat some with kindness and others with disdain.

The context here is still that of being partial toward people. If mercy overrules judgement in my life then I am going to show mercy to all – not just those who look or act or dress or believe like me.

Think about it for second. When God saw me in my sin all I deserved was His wrath and his judgement and his punishment. I could do nothing about it – I deserved to be judged.

But, in Christ, mercy appeared on the scene. And then mercy triumphed over judgement. What a marvellous phrase that I have never noticed before. Someone ought to write a song called ‘Mercy Triumphed!’ Through the precious blood of Christ mercy won out over judgement for me – for me! When I accepted Christ as my Saviour mercy won!

Now, with that in mind, how can I not choose to show mercy? And, if I do, I can be assured that mercy will never run out, because ‘blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.’

Mercy triumphed over mercy for me. Will it triumph as I deal with others? 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Not good enough

If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. – James 2.8-11

The Law was a great thing. It set down God’s standard. It told the Jews, and it tells us, what sin is. It was our ‘schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Jesus summarised it pretty simply – ‘love God and love others’ because that is what all the Law amounted to.

So James writes ‘if you keep the law to love your neighbour as yourself’ you are doing a good thing; but…’

There always seems to be a ‘but.’

‘But that isn’t good enough’ James writes, ‘if you still show partiality you commit sin.’

James goes on to explain it – ‘if you keep the whole law, and only miss in one point, you are guilty of breaking the whole law.’ If you commit one sin you fall short of the glory of God. One sin – that makes the whole world guilty. Close isn’t good enough. All it takes is one slip up. Keeping 99.99% of the Law would do no good. When the Law is broken – it is totally broken.

And that’s why we need Christ. Only Christ completely fulfilled the Law – and He is willing to stand in my stead so that God chooses to look on the one who could complete the Law and pardon me who had no hope.

There is a ‘but’ but praise God there is another ‘but.’ I could never fulfil the Law, but Christ did it for me and offered me the benefit of it. My responsibility to the Law could not be completed in me, but it was when I accepted Christ almost 41 years ago. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Heirs of the kingdom

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? – James 2.5-7

There is a reason why James uses the illustration of rich and poor rather than any number of other examples of prejudice or partiality. James here drives the point home in a way that his readers are really going to get, possibly in a way that western Christians can’t really get. 

James wrote the ‘twelve tribes scattered abroad.’ He was writing to Christian Jews who were part of a diaspora who had been scattered due to persecution. We have already heard that they were suffering trials and tribulations. They knew what it was like to suffer. 

So James uses that knowledge. ‘You know what it is like to be abused and attacked by those who are well off. They have blasphemed God by their actions and yet you do the same to the poor who love Christ and are as rich in faith as you? It is the poor and needy that Jesus came to save!’

James is telling us here that when we are prejudiced or partial against the poor we are no better than those who persecute the church. We blaspheme God because they were so worthy to Him that He sent His son to die for them. If we dishonour the poor man we dishonour the One who died for them and for us.                         

Friday, 9 January 2015


My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? – James 2.1-4

I remember the day that this passage first hit me. I don’t remember exactly the setting, but I do remember the impact. I was in a church, not that different from many churches. I began to notice a real difference in attitude about how to treat different visitors to church. I noticed that when nice looking, well dressed and turned out families walked in the door for the first time there was always a kind welcome and warm handshakes and plenty of people to make them feel at home.. The welcome for the ‘right’ people was great.

But not everyone fit the mould. Some folks came in and they didn’t quite fit in. Their clothes were not as nice. Often they did not wear the right things. Men may not be in nice suits and women may not have been dressed just right. There would not be a real rejection, but there were often funny looks and whispered words. There was a subtle difference in the way folks were treated. Folks who came in dressed poorly surely would have felt out of place.

Apparently this is nothing new. James wrote about this exact same scenario to the early church. There is no room for rich Christians and poor Christians and a difference in the way we treat each other. There is no place for ‘showing partiality amongst ourselves.’

But it goes much deeper than rich and poor and well dressed and poorly dressed.  If there is no partiality it means that there is no room for black Christians and white Christians and Hispanic Christians and American Christians and Polish Christians and Irish Christians and African Christians and settled Christians and traveller Christians and whatever Christians. There is no room for racism or jingoism or culturalism or any other kind of ism or schism.

We are one’ Let’s just act like it and treat each other like it. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Pure religion

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. – James 1.26-27

James moves from useless religion to pure and undefiled religion. This ought to be interesting. What are the tests of whether or not our religion is pure and undefiled? I wonder what would happen if we did a poll of people who didn’t already know this verse? What do you think we might hear?

Religious people go to church
Religious people are holy
Religious people follow the golden rule
Religious people act holy

We could go on and all of those are good things. In the gospels Jesus summarised the law with ‘Love God and love others.’

And the funny thing is that what we read here really isn't all that different.

Care for the orphans and widows
Keep yourself unspotted from the world

One of them is a way to love others.
The other is evidence that we love God because if we love Him we are going to keep ourselves ‘unspotted from the world.’

Sometimes we can complicate things so much. We add of kinds of dos and don’ts. We add all sorts of religious activities. 

But James writes that if we want to show proof of our pure religion we care about people and we act on it. That is a constant theme in the history of the church. We have always cared for the weakest and most needy around us. If we are truly religious we take care of people. I have to ask myself if I do.

And then we are to keep ourselves unspotted in this wicked old world. It is a dirty broken old world and it is easy to get caught up in it. Our challenge is to remain unblemished by the sin of the world around us while living in it.

Love others enough to help the helpless
Love God enough to keep ourselves unspotted by the world

Is our religion pure and undefiled? 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Useless religion

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. – James 1.26-27

The Bible doesn’t talk about the word ‘religion’ a whole lot. Here is one few times and in just a couple of verses we read about religion in two contexts – useless religion and pure religion.

Let’s look at useless religion first. What would God call useless religion? Surely it would be something really serious like paganism or Satanism or some terrible cult to be called useless? Actually, on second thought I guess those would be worse than useless.

So what is useless? They have already been implied here.

To have an unbridled tongue
To deceive oneself by being a hearer and not a doer (as we have already seen) 

This unbridled tongue is going to get more coverage later but it is worth a mention here. Just think about how a few slippery unbridled words sneaking out can destroy or do serious damage to a testimony for Christ. Just think about the damage someone’s words have done to you. Even worse, think about the damage your (finger pointed inward to me) have done to others.

When I was younger I had a mean, biting, sarcastic tongue. That really makes me sad. I think about all the damage that did. Even worse I think about all the damage it did to others. If we define ‘religion’ as the ‘outward show of inward belief’ my religion was pretty useless. How can we expect our ‘religion’ to do any good if we can’t keep from running off at the mouth?

I’ll stop for now – more later on our unbridled tongue. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Continuing in liberty

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. – James 1.25

It is required in a steward that a man be found faithful. Don’t get weary in doing well. Be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. Seeing then that we have this ministry we do not lose heart.

Continuance and faithfulness and consistency are all vital to our living for Christ. This is a key test to being a true doer of the word.

It is obviously not always easy to keep on going. I am finding that when I struggle it is usually because I am a forgetful hearer. I only struggle when I think about my own strengths and abilities and try to figure out the future myself instead on relying on what God says in His word.

This perfect law of liberty frees me from the cares and concerns that can press me down and imprison me. It frees me from the cares and anxieties that keep me awake at night. Those things keep me from being the doer we read about yesterday. If I could ever get to the point where I live in freedom from my fears and anxieties I would be liberated to do God’s word and live a life of God’s blessings.

By God’s grace may we choose to live continuously in the light of our liberty in and through Christ instead of continuing in our thoughts and cares and concerns and fears. 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Do-less hearers

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. – James 1.22-24

It is the easiest time in history for us to hear the word of God. For the vast majority of the church Christians either had to go someplace to hear the word of God or someone had to come and teach it. It has been less than 100 years since any kind of device was used to record and spread the spoken word of God. 

But it doesn’t appear that all the access to the word of God is making a whole lot of difference. If anything, in the eyes of many, things just seem to be getting worser and worser. 

Just having great access to hear the word in church and on the telly and online and on podcasts and on our phones is not nearly enough. We can’t just hear it – we have to do something about it. We are called to be doers and not just hearers. 

Being do-less hearers doesn’t make any sense. The illustration here is pretty obvious. Being a hearer and not a doer is like waking up and looking in the mirror. Despite our hair (if we have it) being mussed and that little bit of dirt on our face and that piece of broccoli in our teeth we turn aside, forget about those little problems, and go on our way. 

No one would do that – and no one should do the same with the mirror of God’s word. We can’t just hear the word of God, see our lives in its light, and walk away without doing something about it. If God’s word doesn’t move us to do we are wasting our time. 

And when we are do-less hearers we are only fooling ourselves. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Superfluity of naughtiness

Therefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. – James 1.21

There are some phrases in the KJV that I really like. I wish we had kept some of those words. This is one of those instances. I don’t think there is a translation that can match the words ‘superfluity of naughtiness.’ ‘Overflow of wickedness’ and the like just don’t do it quite as well.

Well, enough of my quirkiness.

Because of every good gift that God gives.
Because I am to be slow to speak and quick to hear.
Because I am to be slow to anger.

There are some things I need to do. I have a couple of things to lay aside and something to take on board.

I need to lat aside all filthiness. That doesn’t take a whole lot to explain. It means I really can’t even afford to keep a speck of filthiness in my life. There is no room for filthy living in the life of the child of God. As tempting as they might be there just is no place for them. The best way to avoid the temptations that so easily ensnare us to put anything that can lead to this ‘superfluity of naughtiness’ out of our lives.

Fortunately God offers a replacement for us. Instead of allowing the filthy things into my life I need to be meekly receiving the implanted word of God in its place. We all have choices every day. Am I going to take in all the rubbish of the world and let it control me, or am I going to humbly and meekly spend my time applying the word of God.

The filthiness may give its pleasure for the moment – but any of us who are believers know well what a waste that is. We all know the long lasting affect of God’s word. That, and only that, can deliver us from the trials and tribulations and difficulties that we face today.

So let’s forget about the superfluity of naughtiness that we are going to see around us today. As we go to church today let’s meekly receive the word of God in its place and go on to serve our God.

Saturday, 3 January 2015


So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1.19-20 

Anger seems to be part and parcel of getting things done today. There seems to be an idea that to get anything done you have to get angry. The bad thing is that is too often works. People do respond when someone gets angry. There is truth to the old axiom ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ Anger, if handled properly, can get things done.  

Wrath, on the other hand, is a terrible thing. I think about the things I do or the thoughts I think or the attitudes I adopt when I am angry. I have never acted godly when I am full of wrath. Wrath has never improved my walk with God. We hear about ‘righteous anger’ yet James tells us that the wrath of man does not produce God’s righteousness. 

The issue here is one of defining these words. They are close, but not synonymous. Anger is the natural human response to a perceived injustice. Anger happens, Paul admits that in Ephesians when he writes ‘be angry…’ but that it not the end of the sentence. He completes it with ‘…but do not sin.’ 

Anger should motivate us to deal with the situation that caused it. Sometimes it is caused by a misperception on our part. Sometimes something is done truly offends us. Either way our goal should be to deal with the situation and not let wrath control us. Being angry with our sin or with wicked situations should lead us to rectify it with a godly spirit. 

Too often though my anger leads to wrath and as I said above wrath does nothing. Wrath seeks vengeance. Wrath leads to sinful actions. While anger, if properly handled, can lead to righteousness wrath only leads to more problems. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

Swift to hear

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. – James 1.19-20

I don’t believe in New Year's resolutions. From my own experience they last about as long as sunshine on an Irish winter’s day. As long as I can remember the basic resolutions are to ‘eat better and exercise.’ And yet impact does that resolution normally have? 

But if I did do resolutions I would like to adopt this one for 2015. 

Be swift to hear
Be slow to speak
Be slow to get angry

That all sounds so simple, doesn’t it. Can you imagine a world where we all listened more, spoke less, and watched our anger? I an honestly say that most of my problems with others have come when I have not listened enough, when I have spoken too quickly, or when I have allowed myself to get angry. I’ll deal with anger later. For now I want to take a quick moment to look at the importance of being swift to hear and slow to speak. 

I hope that as the years ago I am learning some lessons. I hope that I am not the man I used to be. In my youthful ignorance I far too often had to have my say. There was nothing more important than getting my point across. I often have spoken before I have heard the whole story or thought about the consequences. I simply had to speak my peace. 

It is still a struggle. You would think a guy who is saved for forty years would learn how to simply keep his mouth shut – but I still battle with. 

Mary never liked the phrase ‘shut up.’ I agree, it is an ugly thing to say. But sometimes I think we all could learn some valuable lessons, avoid a lot of problems, and be a better testimony for Christ by simply keeping our mouths shut and listening more.