Tuesday, May 14, 2013

James 1 - Integrity and True Religion - Believe. Speak. Act.

Are you religious? How do you know?
1 John 2:5-6
By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Are you a Jesus follower? How do you know?
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Are you a new creation? How do you know?
Romans 8:9-11
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
The sovereign work of salvation and regeneration that God does in persons through the life of Jesus cannot be hidden. It cannot be hidden. If you have been reborn, a major change has occurred in you. The spirit of the living God dwells inside of you.

If you have the Spirit of God living in you, you have come alive. You have been crucified with Jesus. You have been resurrected with Jesus. You have the power of God inside of you. To think you cannot live an obvious changed life is absurd.

God has radically changed who you are. The most natural thing for you to do is radically change how you live.

If you were to go out and grab a downed power line, you would experience a change in your body. You’d probably never be the same.

Imagine you are a young, nerdy high school student. You go on a field trip to a science lab that studies radiation. You are bitten by a radioactive spider. The next morning you wake up with the proportional speed, strength, and agility of a human-sized spider.

How would someone know? Because you told them?

They’d call you insane, or at least dismiss you as silly.

What if an almighty, transcendent, benevolent creator God had rescued you from a life of sin and death, placed within you a new being filled with the life and power of resurrection itself, and then lived inside you through the Holy Spirit.

What reason would someone have to believe you if you told them? Without evidence, they’d be right to call you insane. They’d be gracious to dismiss you as silly
1 Corinthians 4:20 (NIV)
The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Do the things we say match the things we do? James says that we can be deceived. We can deceive ourselves. We can find ourselves saying that we believe the Bible, saying that we know Jesus, identifying ourselves as Christians, but be lying to ourselves the whole time.
James 1:22 (NIV)
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
It is very possible to talk a good game, but just be playing by made-up rules. God is looking for a life change, not just a facelift.

James, brother of Jesus, writes to Jesus followers scattered over Europe, in the oldest book of the New Testament. His writing is efficient and unpretentious. His concern is integrity. If we claim to carry the name of Jesus Christ in our lives, James challenges us that it should be apparent not just in our belief, but also in our word and in our actions. Followers of Jesus live changed lives that change lives.

James is not first concerned about making sure everyone believes the exact perfect right thing. He wants us to go about the business of matching our faith to our words and actions, living a real religion that actually changes the world.
James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Followers of Jesus visit widows and orphans.

In the original language, to "visit" means to share real life with someone. This means looking after someone in a way that is costlier than charity. Our lives are lived among the marginalized, as Jesus’ life was. We share real life “in their affliction”. A Jesus follower lives in radical solidarity with the oppressed.

That’s real religion.

Along with the alien, widows and orphans are mentioned all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as people God expects his people to humbly care for. It is, in fact, the mark of a God follower. When the Hebrew prophets called God’s people to repent, nearly every time it was for their inhospitality to these, the most vulnerable among them, that God demanded change (see Appendix 2).

In Matthew, Jesus describes a judgment after death when the righteous are known apart from the unrighteous by whether they have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited people in prison.

Life lived sacrificially for justice and mercy among the oppressed is not an option for a follower of Jesus. In fact, it is only in a life described this way that one may suggest they follow Jesus at all.

Integrity in Trials

Real religion manifest among the poor and the oppressed is a hard path. To share real life with those who are afflicted means we will experience trials along with them. Followers of Jesus do not expect a life of comfort. Even before his description of radical religion at the end of the first chapter, James acknowledges and encourages the believers in their trials.
James 1:1
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
 To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
James introduces himself to his readers humbly and without fanfare (see Chapter 1). Though blood family to the Messiah, despite being leader of the first Christian church, he identifies himself as a servant, equal in rank to the believers scattered, displaced from their home by persecution for their faith. James' finger is pointed firmly heavenward, boldly and directly, yet humbly, and identifies himself with brothers and sisters living as refugees. He is one of them, and they are one in Christ with him, despite their suffering.

James continues.
James 1:2-4, 9-12
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
 In the life of a radical Jesus follower, trials are a certainty. James acknowledges the suffering of his readers, and encourages us with three godly responses to the trials that will come.

James' Encouragement in Trials (James 1)

1.            Remain Humble In Trials
James is a servant of God (v1)
We are encouraged to recognize when we lack wisdom. (v5)
We remain humble whether rich or poor. (vv9 and 10)
We remember the shortness of our life no matter the circumstance. (v11, also James 4:14)

2.            Remember God’s Eternal Perspective
Patience and Maturity is greater than Trials (vv2,3)
God’s Provision is greater than Our Lack (v5)
God’s Exaltation is greater than Our Being of Low Degree (v9)
God’s Eternal Riches are greater than Our Temporary Riches (v10)
God’s Rewards is greater than Our Temporary Trials (v12)

Memento Mori - Remember You Will Die

Memento Vivere – Remember You Will Live

3.            Ask, and God Will Provide Wisdom
Remember: Hard Times Are Not Evidence Of God’s Displeasure.
When you, or anyone, goes through a tough time, there isn’t necessarily something “wrong” with you.
This book assumes the readers are experiencing trials (v1 - scattered believers).
James 1:5
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
We will fall into trials (v2).  When in trial, we have joy in the resulting maturity God will work in us, and in the meantime we can ask for wisdom with full assurance that God will provide.
James 1:13-16
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
Trials of faith can lead to temptation to sin.
Perseverance in trials of faith is to resist temptation.

We may be tempted to see ourselves as the heroes in our own world. We’re tempted to see everything we do good as a reflection of who we are, and the bad things we do as something outside ourselves. We deceive ourselves. James says it is by our own desire we are tempted.

This is why we must experience a new birth, receive Christ's gift of grace that makes us new, changing our very desires from within.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Once we have experienced this new birth, and begin walking in faith in the new life Christ purchased for us, how then should we live?
James 1:22-25
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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Doers of the Word (James 1:25)

Remember the context of this scripture: Pure joy in trials! Therefore, by "blessing", we cannot assume it to mean that an obedient life means an easy or rich (in the wealthy sense) life. The blessed life is a free and God-empowered life.

Joshua was commanded by God not to let the commands of God to ever depart from his mouth. In the first Psalm we are reminded that obedience to God, the fruit of meditating on God's word, brings blessing.

In the original Greek, a hearer is one who attends a lecture but is not a disciple of the teacher. Some compare it to an auditor at a university. The student is there and listens, often carefully taking in what is said, but takes no responsibility in meeting the requirements of the course.

In James 1:25, the Word is “the perfect law”. In verse 18 it is “truth”. It is “planted” in us in verse 21. In the Old Testament, the prophets described a day when a new covenant would be made with God’s people. The Law code would no longer be an external boundary, pointing an accusing finger at our every transgression. Instead, God promised to write the law on our hearts. Our change would come from the seed of the kingdom planted within us first, putting its roots deep in our spirit, its fruit manifest in the way we live.

We do not live by rule of law. By faith, we receive the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ,  by faith, and then by faith we live as Jesus did, radically and with freedom.
“It is not enough to remember what we hear, and to be able to repeat it, and to give testimony to it, and commend it and write it, and preserve what we have written; that which all this is in order to, and which crowns the rest, is that we be doers of the Word.”
(Matthew Henry, from his commentary)
The mirror of the Word read us. It shows us what we are, but mercifully, it also shows what we may be. Thus, we live in hope by faith. When we look in a mirror we have 3 possible responses:

1.    Smash the mirror
And we may try to destroy or discredit the God’s instructions (see Appendix 2).

2.    Ignore the image
We may know what the Bible says we should do, but not do it.

3.    Change the image
We allow the Word of God to read us, and we change who we are as we are convicted by the truth.

The law of liberty is the law which provides liberty to those who obey it (John 8:31,32,34,36; Rom, 8:2).
"Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes."
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
James 1:25 says a doer of the word is blessed “in his (or her) doing”. This means the blessing comes in the continued perseverance of faith filled obedience, not just a one-time act. A Jesus-follower perseveres. To persevere means to continue in the same life, no matter the trial. Perseverance is faith repeated, faith stretched out over time. Perseverance is faith in the fourth dimension.

The blessing for perseverance isn’t one that comes as a result of acting in obedience, but rather, it is the act of obedience itself that is blessed.

James 1:25 brings together three great words: law, freedom and blessing. In the book of James, these three are indivisibly linked.

Speakers of the Word (James 1:26)

Who we truly are may be more evident to people around us than we think.

Jesus said:
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
(Luke 6:45 and Matthew 12:34)
Hang around with someone long enough and you can get a good idea of what they’re like on the inside by what they talk about most. You can’t hold it back forever. It’s the “overflow valve”. If you ask your five closest friends what you talk about the most, they’ll tell you what’s in your heart.

Don’t deceive yourself.
James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Notice the flow in these two verses. He describes someone who’s been born again in verse 27 as taking care of orphans and widows, and remaining pure. But before he even goes there, he’s talking about the way we talk. It’s the first step.

When it comes to our behaviour, I’ve found Christians often focus on one of two ways of measuring a moral standard.

1. Personal Holiness (don’ts)
“Don’t have sex. Don’t watch violent movies. Don’t get drunk. Don’t listen to “secular” music. Don’t eat animal products.”

2. Social Justice (dos)
“Give to the poor. Advocate for the oppressed. Build homes for people in third world countries.”

In one breath, James says both. He describes the Christian’s life as looking after the poor and lonely, and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Now, at this point it can be easy to slip into a legalistic manifestation of one or the other of the camps I just described. When we do, the path to personal righteousness can quickly spiral into an impossible list of rules that serve not to set us free to live righteously but to bind us back to the law that can never make us righteous. Our conscience is never clear. We will never be vegan enough. We will never build enough homes in impoverished countries. We will never find a way to perfectly abstain from all potentially harmful media. We will never personally do enough to see the end of all violence, everywhere. This path will only ever become an unattainable obstacle course. James is not setting up a new law. He’s describing the evidence of true religion of those who have been redeemed.
Isaiah 29:13-14
And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honour me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
A holy, set-apart life manifests both expressions of righteousness. We do live lives freed to serve the oppressed and the poor, in solidarity and humility. And we also live in resistance to the corruption of the world, not participating in those things that serve to feed that machine of injustice. We are participants in God’s work in the world, and we are wrenches in the gears of oppression and violence that keep people enslaved. One or the other, and we may be dangerously close to the description in Isaiah 29:13 of living only by rules taught by men.

Look back at verse 26 to see that even before either of these things that we focus on so much, we have our speech. So what comes out of our mouth is immensely important. It’s the first frontier of new believer activity. As new creations, we should be able to control what comes out of our mouth.

Whether we do or don’t, the things we say are a true indication of what’s going on in our hearts. It’s who we really are. So, in this very sober warning, we’re told that we can be deceived as to the state of our own heart.

Integrity – Believe. Speak. Act.

So, what is the evidence that someone who claims to follow Jesus is a person of integrity?

1. The way we believe changes.
We received the word, with meekness. (James 1:22)

2. The way we talk changes, indicating a changed heart.
James 1:26 – control the tongue.
Luke 6:45 – from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.

3. The way we behave changes.
James 1:27 – take care of orphans and widows; remain pure

These three are in agreement. We don’t get marks for two out of three.
James 2:12
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

James 2:17
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
When our beliefs and values, our speech, and our actions match, that’s integrity.

How do we control our tongue? How do we live what we believe?
How do we have integrity?

Assuming first that we are speaking of a regenerated, faith-filled believer, that believer acts in integrity the following three ways:

A. Start with your heart.

Do you know God?
Numbers 23:19
God is not man, that he should lie,
   or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
   Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
God is the ultimate truth teller. God is in you through the Holy Spirit when you receive him by faith. Receive the grace of the gospel, and get to know God. To get to know God better, Read your Bible.
Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable in your sight,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Just ask God! You can pray in confidence that he’ll match your heart, actions, and words. God wants this to be so. To get to know God better, Pray.

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
While you’re feeding yourself with the Bible, consider whatever else you are putting in yourself. If you have a steady diet of violent thoughts, start controlling those things going on in your inner world. Begin meditating on things that are true and good and praiseworthy. Think Different. (Apple)

Start with your heart - Read your Bible. Pray. Think different.

B. Start with your words.

This doesn’t happen next. We start with our words as well. James says these happen simultaneously. These are not steps that build on one another. A change in our speech is the evidence of the change in our heart.
Proverbs 18:21
Life and death are in the power of your tongue.

Ecclesiastes 5:2
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Begin practicing controlling your tongue. A good place to start is to just stop talking for a while.
James 1:19
…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger
Smoochy says:
Hungry Angry Lonely Tired: a brief word. A good reminder to shut up!

C. Start with your actions

Consider your behaviour. Does what you do match who you say you are, who you claim to follow? Is your time spent solely on your own pursuits, or do you share your life with the oppressed, like Jesus?
Titus 2:7-8
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
James 1:22
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Do not be deceived.

Do not take a free audit of God’s commands toward you. Be a student of the word.

Practice real religion in a real world that God really is changing.

Believe the Word.

Speak the Word.

Do the Word.

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