So far in our study of The Book of James we’ve talked about recognizing our life with God through Christ as a new relationship…This relationship depends on our understanding of who God is and who we are when viewed through God’s eyes…It is a relationship that should be reflected to others when they see how we respond to the presence of Jesus in our lives. Last week we talked about the good works we do in response to the free gift of salvation…The idea is very clear that we cannot do anything to earn our place in eternity…That work has already been done by Jesus Christ…When we accept Jesus, we are justified…It is important, however, that we also understand that the proper response to our salvation is to do good works as Jesus did. This week we are confronted with some harsh realities that lead James to caution us to walk humbly in the presence of God…
Let us pray…God, this morning we come to hear your Word and pray that you will lead us to a more complete understanding of who you are calling us to become. Guide our study in Jesus’ name. Amen.
James 3:8-10 –
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue – it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on.
At first it seems that James is condemning us to an inevitable course of destructive behavior…If we only look at this section of the text we might think that the tongue is inherently evil and uncontrollable…This is an example of what happens when we try to interpret Scripture out of context. There is more to the story and we need to listen to what James has to say earlier.
James 3:3-5 –
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
In these two metaphors – the horse’s bridle and the ship’s rudder – James tells us that we are capable of controlling our tongues…The issue seems to be that, even though we can, we often choose not to…This is a mark of our pride. The caution in this section of the text is particularly aimed at leaders and teachers in the church…In one way or another, our most faithful and active church members are, by default, leaders…It is so important that we are careful about what we say because, like it or not, others assume you represent the church…If one person is rude or unwelcoming, the entire church is perceived badly…When one person gossips about the church or its members, others see the whole congregation as an unsafe place to be…A careless comment can easily be misinterpreted out of context and do harm to God’s work in our community…It is not fair, but it is reality in our culture. We must stop thinking that every thought in our heads should be said out loud…Everything we have to say is not as important as we may think it is…Taming our tongues requires wisdom and humility of spirit.
James 3:17-18 –
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
When James talks about wisdom, he wants us to realize that God’s true wisdom is needed for us to live the good life for which we are created…This “good life” that God desires for us is about living together in community and working together to help others discover relationship with God…It is about being careful with what we say because our words matter – they can heal or hurt; they can embrace or reject…It is about treating every human being in the way that you wish to be treated – as a valued member of God’s family…It is about never judging another person more harshly than you wish to be judged by another person – which really means “not at all”…It is knowing that humility is required for wisdom.
- Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.
- Showing deferential or submissive respect.
In order to gain wisdom that comes from God, we must be willing to be humble before God…And so James brings us into Chapter 4 with a very harsh indictment:
James 4:1-2a –
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.
It is likely that James’ use of the violent imagery of wars and murder are symbolic and refer to the way our sins lead to inner struggles and spiritual death…However, in our culture we might also hear these as real examples of the root causes for much of the violence in our world today. On the world stage, the desire for power and the sins of greed often lead to violence.
James 4:2b-3 –
You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.
James 4:4-6 –
You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”
It is a real challenge for us to see ourselves through this lens…The fact is that at some point we are all guilty of being arrogant when we deal with God…Let’s think about what that looks like.
God first demands that we worship…Sunday morning rolls around and we give in to sleep, or the lake, or shopping, or any number of things that draw us away from this – our first priority when it comes to God. Sounds like we think our personal lives are more important than God’s desire for us…Sounds arrogant to me.
God also commands that we love our neighbors and care for them…“But I don’t know how to love those people down the street with the noisy cars, body piercings, and tattoos.” “And surely I can love those people without really getting too close to them; we don’t have anything in common anyway, so what’s the point?” “Surely God doesn’t mean that I should love all those people who treat me badly or who say they hate America or, God forbid, live a lifestyle that doesn’t fit with my view of how people ought to live.” Doesn’t that sound pompous? I don’t hear any Christian humility there.
God sends all of us into the world on a mission…“Mission trips are for the youth; I’m way too old to be of any help at all.” “Helping my disabled neighbor do their yard work isn’t really “mission” is it?” “I really need to get my nails done this Saturday, I think Restore Hope can get along without me this time.” Sounds more selfish than humble doesn’t it?
Listen as James closes out today’s passage:
James 4:7-8 –
“So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud “no” to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet “yes” to God and he’ll be there in no time.”
I think that learning to walk humbly with God is about priorities. We need to making saying “YES” to God our top priority…We need to honestly admit when what we say or do is in OUR selfish interest and not within God’s will for our life…To do this we must surrender our will to God’s will and always seek to do what God wants.
Micah 6:8 –
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen
[Bible quotations from: THE MESSAGE: The Bible if Contemporary Language Copyright © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.]