January 22, 2023
The Bible translation I use, the English Standard Version Study Bible, gives us a helpful section heading in chapter one…TESTING YOUR FAITH. James is anticipating our question, “How genuine is my faith?” How can I know that my faith is real? And then he sets out, through five chapters, to answering that question.
Last week, we started with three tests for real faith:
Perseverance in Suffering.
Blame in Temptation.
How a Person Responds to the Word of God.
We’ll add five more today. And then, after this overview of tests for real faith, we’ll move through James in greater detail.
Before we pick things up with Test #3, how about a little satire as a way to understand the importance of Scripture, and Scripture alone as the source of real life and real faith?
The Babylon Bee is a delightfully subversive Christian humor website. Satire and sarcasm are wonderful teaching tools when wielded with precision and care. As you might know, many people begin a new year with a Bible reading plan. That’s always a good thing. To illustrate how far off-track liberal Protestantism has gotten, The Bee did a story covering one pastor’s proposal, titled “Progressive Pastor Introduces One-Year ‘Don’t Read Your Bible’ Plan.” Remember, they refer to themselves as “Fake New You Can Trust.”
Here's a selection from the story:
Pastor Karen Younis of Pittsburgh’s St. Andrew Lutheran Church has released a new, innovative Bible reading plan where people commit to one year of never reading the Bible.
“My plan is designed to be like an easy, wide path that everyone can
follow,” said Pastor Younis as she passed out sign-up sheets. “Simply keep the Word of God closed, with all its bigotry and intolerance, and believe whatever you want! Christ accepts all! What could be easier?”
Pastor Younis reportedly came up with the plan after hearing about the martyrs of the Early Church. “That was when it struck me – if those people had just quit reading and believing the Bible, they would never have been killed!” explained Pastor Younis. “In fact, I’m told there are these crazy people in China still dying over wanting to read Scripture. My plan to keep the Bible shut could literally save lives. Those poor people have the whole world to gain!”
As part of the program, Pastor Younis will send out weekly encouragements to help people keep their Bibles shut. “This week, we remember that after thousands of years of human ignorance recorded in the Bible, 21st-century American progressives have at last discovered the truth,” said Pastor Younis. “Next week, we will focus on how the Bible calls every single human sinful, instead of simply affirming every stray whim of neurochemistry.”
At publishing time, Pastor Younis had added not going to church as part of
the yearly commitment, and was now working as a CrossFit instructor.
Oh, how we need to spend time in God’s Word, and trust God’s Word, and conform our beliefs and actions to God’s Word, in order to have a faith that is real and genuine and true. That’s what our time in James is going to do for us.
So, let’s pick things back up with Test #3 of a genuine faith…how a person responds to the Word of God.
As we saw last week, James makes clear that if you are hearers of the Word only you are deceiving yourselves. Here’s what he writes in 1:19-22:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Conforming our lives to what is written in the Word of God reveals what’s in the heart. Now, we understand that nobody’s perfect, and sometimes we’re going to fall into hasty or angry or corrupt speech, but if we are genuine in our faith, then out of the heart is going to flow speech that is kind and encouraging and gracious and merciful and uplifting. You get the point. Looseness of speech is never a good thing. As Proverbs 17:27 reminds us, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
There’s a great line from the new movie, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” where private investigator Benoit Blanc says to a dimwitted social media influencer, “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.” That is a great test for genuine faith.
James 2:1-4 says:
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
The key phrase there is in verse four…sit down at my feet…which means literally “out of sight, out of mind.” Was it really happening in the church? Probably not. All we know for certain is James uses hyperbole to make a point. Perhaps it was an exaggeration of an isolated incident of favoritism taking place. Clearly James is nipping that kind of unbiblical behavior in the bud. He is saying, “Don’t even begin to entertain the thought of allowing what the pagan culture practices to find its way into the church.”
Years ago…in the olden times…in the days of yore…some churches had pew rentals. And – you guessed it – the best seats in the sanctuary went to the biggest givers. Not coincidentally, these biggest givers were also seated closest to the primary source of heat. And guess what about the balcony? Exactly…the cheap seats. One huge New York City church nearly ran their new pastor out of town when he got rid of pew rentals and other forms of favoritism.
It's never a good thing when the clear teaching of Scripture is avoided or ignored.
Remember, while we’re only touching lightly on these passages now, we will explore them more fully in the weeks and months ahead.
Now back to the tests of genuine faith.
CONTROLLING YOUR TONGUE.
In 3:2-12, James says:
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond
yield fresh water.
The observation from fictional character Benoit Blanc can be applied here, as well. There is a beautiful interconnectedness between these passages and points.
In his call to control one’s tongue, James is saying that genuine faith produces self-control; self-control through what is spoken and how it is spoken. Ugly speech comes from an ugly heart. Bitter words come from a bitter heart. How do you talk to people? How do you frame your thoughts and words? What tone is in your voice? How do you speak to others when you’re under stress or when things don’t go your way? Most of the time…in most circumstances…more often than not, are the deepest desires of your heart and direction of your life seen in godly speech?
For what it’s worth, I think some of the most unhealthy people to be in relationship with are the ones who say things like:
“I call ‘em as I see ‘em.”
“I tell it like it is.”
“I just speak my mind.”
“I never sugar coat things.”
We do well to guard our relational lives against people like that.
This leads us to Test #6:
In chapter three, verse thirteen, we read:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
What is the opposite humble knowledge? James spells it out…bitter envying, strife, lying, selfish ambition. Do you know what’s on the rise in our culture? Narcissism. Across the board. And it’s going to get worse as people move farther away from Biblical truth. What do we say around here? It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about us. As James reminds us, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” It is a beautiful thing when we are living out of the truth of those words. As we’ll see throughout this series, there really is a subtle reflection of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, in these passages.
How many of us have trouble in this area? No matter what happens in your life, trust in the Lord. Have patient endurance. In the rough and tumble of life, don’t give up…don’t give in…don’t grumble…don’t feel sorry for yourself…don’t lose your sense of wonder and awe over the beauty of life. Here what James says in 5:7-8:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
In other words, James is saying all kinds of bad things can come against you, but what gets you through is your primary focus on the return of Jesus Christ. One way or another, in this life or in death, you know you are going to see Jesus. And because your heart is filled with that hope, what happens in this life is not of utmost importance. If all comes crumbling down around you, all is well with your soul because you are waiting for eternity with Christ.
Here's something you might want to write down:
I HAVE AN UNANXIOUS PRESENCE IN ALL AREAS OF MY LIFE.
Finally, Test #8:
As James says in 5:13-16:
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Next to breathing, what’s the most important thing you do as a devoted follower of Jesus Christ? You pray. You pray. Just as you don’t need to be reminded to breathe, you don’t need to be reminded to pray. Prayer is a vital part of your life.
Let’s do that now:
HEAVENLY FATHER, GIVE US GREATER COURAGE THAN EVER. KEEP US FIT TO THE TASK OF A GROWING AND ABIDING FAITH. AND MAY OUR LIVES CONTINUE TO EXPRESS A LIVING, VITAL FAITH. THANK YOU FOR OUR TIME OF WORSHIP, FOR TO YOU WE GIVE ALL HONOR AND GLORY AND PRAISE. IN CHRIST’S RISEN NAME WE PRAY. AMEN.