James 4:7-10

Our Scripture for today is:

James 4:7           Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

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COMMENTS:

There is that nasty word “submit”! Deal with it!

Then there is the statement that if we resist the devil he will flee from you. This relates in mind to the problem of demon possession. Do we have to fear demon possession? The truth is that although you might be tempted and badgered by the devil as a Christian, you must actually INVITE or ALLOW a demon to come into you and set up shop before he can… A Christian definitely never has to fear the devil or demon possession if he/she calls on the power of God in Jesus Christ. God is MUCH more powerful than a demon!

Grieve, mourn and wail… There definitely are times when we need to do just this… Is this the time? For me? For you? For our community? For our nation? We flee most of the time not from the devil, but from true repentance! But what is the reward of our repentance and humbleness? It is that the Lord our God will RAISE US UP!

Do we want to be raised up? Who doesn’t? Then let us humble ourselves before not just an angry and vengeful God, but a God who is SO gracious and perfectly in love with each one of us! Can there be anything better?

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James 4:4-6

Our Scripture Reading for today:

James 4:4           You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

        “God opposes the proud
                but gives grace to the humble.”

COMMENTS:

God’s CHIEF gift is GRACE, not “stuff”! God gave us His Holy Spirit not so that we might crave worldly things, but to hunger and thirst for righteousness!
These are difficult words for our generation. A lot of people say they too busy making a living to find time for God. The fact is that they are not too busy making a living, they are too busy attaining the lifestyle they desire! Are they really just friends with the world and NOT God?
Questions to think about: Are there really benefits to being poor? Is being poor a virtue? Jesus himself said that it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle! But when the disciples said “then no one can get into heaven”, Jesus retorted : “with God all things are possible!”
So, no, it is not a SIN to be rich, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t get to heaven, but the serious problem for the rich is that they DO become proud of themselves, forgetting that ALL their riches are a GIFT. Further, they simply forget that they are not self sufficient or without a need of a savior.
What is the problem with our rich western nations who were ONCE mostly Christian? We simply have lost our bearings on our need and dependance on God. We have largely abandoned any true worship of our Lord. We are being tested – and seem to be failing! But YOU AND I, we pray that we might be tested and become stronger in our faith! AMEN!

James 4:1-3

Our Scripture Reading for today:

James 4:1           What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

COMMENTS:

James is really clear on the matter of money and what we do to get it… There was a man out at the corner of Keyser and Oak streets the other day with a sign that said “Honk if you love money”… Well, there were PLENTY of honkers! I wanted to get a sign too and stand with him that said: “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6) Why do countries go to war? Why do people fight and quarrel? It is most often because they want something that isn’t theirs! Plain and simple!

And so the question IS: Are there no pleasures that the Lord wants us to enjoy? Is it out of line to desire that we seek the money to obtain a pleasure? And what WOULD be the proper motive to ask God for something? Is it wrong to ask God for a bigger house, a nicer car, a week long vacation to Disney Land?

This morning I got an email invitation to go to the Holy Land (I get them all the time)… I would love to go, but I wonder what exactly my motives are. Are they just for the adventure and fun of it? Or are my desires truly spiritual – that I go to literally follow in Christ’s footsteps? And is it wrong to have BOTH motivations? Perhaps if I had a PURE and Godly motive, perhaps God would find me a way?

This is, of course, related to the 9th and 10th commandment to be content with what you have. It is important to be able to enjoy what God has given us, but at the same time just be content with it. If we are going to be asking for more, we have to be sure that our motives are actually to better serve God, not just make us “happier”. We all KNOW that a better house and a nicer car really are NOT going to make us happier people!

CATCH UP DAY!

Talk about a sinner pastor! Missing two days of his scripture commentary!

For Monday:

James 3:1           Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

James 3:3           When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

COMMENTS:
This verse reminds us that being a teacher or any other kind of leader in the church demands a high accountability. Yes, all Christians SHOULD be accountable to the faith and to righteous living. But because of the sinful world that we live in, there is a heavier burden of righteous living for the church leader. The consequences on the church when its leaders fall into sin is very large!

I know this for myself, unfortunately! I really don’t make huge “mistakes” every day, but what I have come to realize is that people in the congregation – and otherwise – hold me up to a very high standard – and when I DO make an obvious mistake, seemingly however small it is, it IS a BIG DEAL. You can pray for all pastors and lay leaders in our churches, that we might be faithful in our example of Christian living!

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For Tuesday:

5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

James 3:7           All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3:9           With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

COMMENTS:
We always like to sing the song “Pass it On” which begins with the words: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” I always wondered whether the author of that song knew about these verses from James? The idea is the same, although the subject is opposite! The song’s subject is the Gospel, but here James is talking about the power of the an evil word to cause a whole forest fire!

Perhaps the most difficult task of the Christian is to keep his tongue in check! I always ask confirmation students what the hardest commandment to keep is. Usually they never pick the 8th commandment. I propose to them that it probably is one of the most difficult. Our Lutheran Catechism teaches:

You Shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him slander him or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Stick that in your hat and keep it!

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For Today:

James 3:13           Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

James 3:17           But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

COMMENTS:

What more is there to say on this? James is wonderfully clear and concise! There is wisdom from God that we ought to be seeking out with all our hearts: a wisdom steeped in humility! (Humility is the subject of this Sunday’s sermon!)

James 2:18-26

Our Scripture Reading for this day is:

James 2:18           But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2:20           You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

James 2:25           In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

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A few comments:

Our verses today continue yesterday’s theme of faith and works… again, on the surface James seems to be contradicting St. Paul’s emphasis on salvation not by works but by faith. But we certainly can and must read James to be not contradicting the fact that we are saved by faith in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, but that there NECESSARY consequences to a true faith, and that is WORKS.

+ St. James makes it clear that true faith is NOT a simple “acknowledgement” in the Christian/Biblical doctrine. I personally often remind people who say they “believe” in God that even the devil believes in God and that doesn’t make them a Christian. It is love and trust in that God that would make him/her a Christian, in contrast to the Devil who hates God. But really, when I do this, I am presently realizing, I am really not communicating what James is trying to, or I am only getting half of it right. James’ main point would be to go beyond Love and Trust to the end result of GOOD WORKS.

+ So the question for the Christian is at times: Do I have a true faith? The Devil incites this question and it raises doubts and gives us grief. It is easy for the Devil to accuse us of our sins and shortcomings. He will say to our heart: “You have no faith!” So how DO we know that we have a true faith (love and trust) in the Lord? But it is our great privilege as Christians to view our lives and point out how the Grace of God has enabled us to DO GOOD WORKS (even amidst the sin)! Yes, we ARE ALLOWED to be comforted (not prideful of course, because it is ALL by the grace of God!) by our good works!

James 2:14-17

Our Scripture reading for today is:

James 2:14           What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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Our beloved Dr. Martin Luther of the Reformation rather disliked James. It is somewhat understandable as passages like this didn’t exactly (on the surface) harmonize well with his “Saved by Grace, not works” mantra.

But in all honesty, we really NEED the perspective of God’s message to us through James. And Luther really didn’t need to be suspicious of James because there is no contradiction between Luther and James. Nowhere in James does it indicate that we in any way “merit” salvation through our works. There is nothing we can do to “merit” salvation. But what James is here rightly saying is that IF WE HAVE A LIVING FAITH, OUR LIVES WILL SHOW IT! Plain and simple! And he gives the example of a faithless person as someone who sees his brother in need, wishes him well, but goes away without helping him.

Here is Dr. Luther’s famous AWESOME quote on the true relationship between faith and works:

Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith:
An excerpt from
“An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans,”
Luther’s German Bible of 1522
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith
from DR. MARTIN LUTHER’S VERMISCHTE DEUTSCHE SCHRIFTEN.
Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63
(Erlangen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125]
August 1994

Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream
is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by
good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they
speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they
say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.”
They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working,
creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I
believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because
this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything
from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this
`faith,’ either.

Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives
new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us
completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits,
our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with
it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this
faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t
stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone
asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without
ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an
unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good
works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are.
Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many
words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of
God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it.
Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy,
joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The
Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you
freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve
everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who
has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to
separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from
fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard
against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough
to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools.
Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without
faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.

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This text was translated for Project Wittenberg by Rev. Robert E.
Smith and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute,
copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or
suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary

E-mail: smithre@mail.ctsfw.edu

Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (260) 481-2123 Fax: (260) 481-2126
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