“Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”

James 119, 20 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.

“Bad listeners do not make good disciples,” wrote British author John Stott. Like Grandma said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak!”

The author then proceeds to give a threefold admonition or warning, using three key words whose themes are further developed: to hear in verses 22–25, to speak in 26–27, and to anger in 20–21. [1]

Quick to Hear

To hear what? James answers that question in v. 18: “the word of truth,” and v. 21, “humbly accept the word planted in you.”

James tells us we should be quick to listen to God, but how is God speaking to us today? Do you remember the story of the little boy Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 3?

8 The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

In the past, God spoke directly to men like Abraham, Samuel and Saul of Tarsus. Today God speaks directly through his Holy Bible and He also speaks to us through his creation. For the Christian, God also speaks through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In addition to listening to God, we need to learn to listen to each other. That means listening to our spouses at home where communication is critical to our happiness. It means to be keen observers in the workplace and the community where listening leads to action. It especially means listening to one another in our fellowship.

When we choose not to listen, we are saying, “You are not important.” When we listen intently, we have the opportunity to say, “You are important to me. I love you.”

“Slow to Speak”

This is a fascinating admonition. James might be encouraging people to not quickly become a preacher (See 3:1 – 12), but it is also good advice for dealing with anger, his third admonition.

Slow to Become Angry

See Ephesians 4:26, 31.

Why is anger mentioned in this context? “Or, if we understand the previous admonition as against preachers who are too eager to preach the word of God, the anger mentioned here could conceivably be understood as a sort of contempt against or hostility to others, arising out of a person’s arrogance and zeal for the word of God.”[2]

On the other hand, this is simply good advice for everyone. Batsell Barett Baxter observed, “Of the four major destructive emotions: fear, guilt, hostility, and failure, hostility is the worst.”

What causes so much anger in our world? It could be a reaction against depersonalization. Do you ever feel like you are just a number? When you are forced to “Press 1 if you …. Press 2 to talk with …. Press 3 to …,” do you feel like you don’t really matter? Often, we are reduced to just a number and it fills us with frustration and that leads to anger.

Selfishness is another source of anger. I want things done my way and I want them done now. I don’t want to wait in line. I don’t want to take a number. I don’t want to eat __________. I, I, I and I become angry!

What does the Bible teach about anger? First, anger is a God-given emotion and anger is not necessarily sinful. The phrase “the anger of the Lord” appears 18 times in the Old Testament and Jesus himself became angry (Mark 3:5). However, there are times when anger is wrong. It can disqualify a man from serving as an elder. Fathers are not to cause their children to become bitter – the fruit of an angry childhood (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Jesus taught anger prepares a person for the fires of hell! (Matthew 5:21-24) Yet, there are times when anger is the proper response (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11).

Questions

  1. What safeguards should my anger have?
  2. What should I become angry about?
  3. How can I safely express my anger?

[1] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (41). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (42–43). New York: United Bible Societies.

Living with Temptation

The Source of Temptation

James 112 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. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (ESV)

Temptations & Trials

There are two reefs that threaten the faith of a Christian. The first is “trial” and the second is “temptation.” Trials come at us from without and are a part of life. On the other hand, temptations come at us from within.

Who should we blame for our temptations? God? No, James reminds us God can’t be tempted and doesn’t tempt anyone (v.13). Should we blame Satan? The comedian, Flip Wilson, popularized the saying, “The devil made me do it!” But James tells us, we are tempted by our own desires. Like a fish looking at a lure, we are “lured and enticed.”

That’s an interesting concept because the word translated “desire” is actually neutral. The NIV adds the adjective “evil” and the KJV uses the word “lust” in place of desire, but the word desire is actually neutral. The problem is balance. James says we are “drawn away.” In other words, we are moved to an extreme. Hunger is natural. Gluttony is not. When our appetites get the best of us, it is a temptation that lures us into sin.

The Apostle John wrote:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:15–17)

Damning Desires

Let’s break John’s observations down further so we can understand our temptations. The first pathway to sin is giving in to “what the body desires” (The ancient Peshito-Syriac Bible translates it this way) — in other words, our appetites. Even the Apostle Paul wrestled with this kind of temptation (Romans 7:18 ff.) Do you remember the first temptation of Jesus? “Turn these stones into bread.” That is another example of “what the body desires.”

Beyond our appetites are what the old King James Version called the “lust of the eyes,” what the more modern International Standard Version calls “the desire for possessions.” I’d call it good, old-fashioned “greed,” (God’s Word Translation). This was the second temptation of Jesus, where, according to Luke, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to him.

The third tool of temptation is particularly modern: “the pride of life.” In the latest version of the NIV, this pathway to temptation reads like a description of social media: “their boasting about what they have and do,” (TNIV). Young’s Translation calls it, “the ostentation of the life.”

There is another way to view this temptation. The Lexham English Bible translates this third tool of temptation as “the arrogance of material possessions.” Christians should believe we don’t possess anything. We are only managers of what God has given us. Sometimes we forget we’ll give an accounting for how we used God’s gifts to help others.

Likewise, if you think about the third temptation of Christ, to leap off the pinnacle of the Temple and prove He was the son of God, you’ll see this as another aspect of the temptation we are discussing: pride.

Learning to Control Our Desires

So how can we learn to control our desires and deal with our temptations? First, it is important to realize, sin and temptation are not the same! James would tell us temptation is a part of growth. Remember, to triumph later, we must prepare now and that means learning to recognize sin and to unmask the Tempter.

This means our lives must have a purpose and we must never take our eyes off the prize.

Finally, perhaps the most important solution is to find contentment. Here are four verses to write on our hearts:

  1. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. “ (2 Corinthians 12:10)
  2. “… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
  3. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
  4. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5, 6)

Endurance!

Quill

Joy in Trials

1Count 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.

What is hypomone?

  1. Notice “that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” or, as many translations read either “patience” or “endurance.”
  2. There are two synonyms for endurance in the New Testament.
    1. Makrothumia – “Long-suffering” KJV
    2. hypomone – “endurance”

Why is endurance so important?

Have you ever used a sponge? Did you notice sponges work best when they are squeezed? Likewise, Jesus tells us, “by your endurance you will be saved,” (Luke 21)

How can we endure?

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,”

Paul, Romans 5:2b-5

12     Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Questions


 Knowledge

  1. Why is praying for patience “a dangerous prayer”?
  2. Why is patience a key to fruitfulness (Luke 8:15; Galatians 6:9)?
  3. What qualities do the Proverbs say lead to patience? (Proverbs 14:29; 19:11)? How are these characteristics related to patience?
  4. What is the difference between “patience” (macrothumia) and “endurance” (hupomone)? Which one is harder?
  5. Why is patience essential for health relationships?
  6. Why does Paul say patience is the first ingredient in love?

Attitude

  1. Since true patience is “a calm endurance, based on the certain knowledge that God is in control” (James Rye), how could acknowledging God’s power over your circumstances help you to be patient in dealing with:
    1. Career
    2. Ministry
    3. Relationships
    4. Hardships
  2. Why are patient people so attractive?
  3. How would your life be different if you were more patient?

Action

  • In what area of your life is patience most difficult right now? Consider what you need to do to exercise faith in this situation, and write out a prayer to use this week to help you grow.

The Blessing of Words

Quill“Ahhh chooo!” he sneezed and someone piped up, “Bless you!”

That’s an old custom left over from when people believed sneezes were caused by demons and we needed God’s help to overcome the sniffles. Perhaps times have changed. We no longer believe colds are caused by demons, but we also rarely think about blessings either.

The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by declaring, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3, ESV), but what does that mean? The New Century Bible changes the wording a little bit to have Paul say, “Praise be to the God.” (See the Contemporary English Version and others.) This recognizes that there are two Greek words in the New Testament translated “bless.”

We know the first one from Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2 ff.), where each phrase begins, “Blessed are ….” That word, makarios, has the sense “congratulations,” “fortunate,” or “happy.” In other words, if you practice this quality, you will be happy.

The second word translated “blessed” is eulogetos. It is an adjective, a description, which portrays something as “worthy of praise.” This is the interesting part: this word is only used of God the Father or Jesus. They are so fantastic that only they are truly praiseworthy. Everything and everyone else pales in comparison.

Now let’s take our new found knowledge and use it to help us understand what Paul was telling the Ephesians: God is blessed – he is worthy of praise! (Spend some time thinking about why God is worthy of praise.) God is blessed! But that isn’t all Paul tells us. Out of his bounty of blessings, God gives some of that quality to us. His blessings rub off on us through our relationship with Jesus. To the extent Jesus is Lord of our lives, we receive the blessings of God!

Still there is more. We might think about earthly blessings: a new car, a shiny new gadget – my wish list goes on and on – but the problem with earthly blessings is new cars become old, gadgets new to be replaced, and none of the possessions I might desire will ever really satisfy me. That’s why the blessings that come from God are “spiritual blessings.” They make me a better person. God’s blessings just get better and better with time. But that’s not all. These blessings aren’t earthbound. They are “in the heavenly places.” That means unlike anything else in my life, the blessings of God will travel with me into eternity! Now that’s something worth getting excited about.

Meet James the Lord’s Brother

Wednesday nights are special at GCC.  Everyone is invited to join us for dinner at 6:15 PM and our Bible Study begins at 7:00 PM. Here is the class outline for June 21st.

Quill

James the “Late Bloomer”

We actually know more about James the brother of Jesus from historical sources, than we do about Jesus. Although he was not a follower of Jesus while Christ was ministering on earth, James became a prominent believer after the Lord made a special post resurrection appearance to him.

James was none other than a blood-brother, a half-brother, of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospels mention this fact (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Apparently he was at first an unbeliever—“For even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:5). However during the forty-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension, Jesus “appeared to James, then to all the apostles”—and James believed (1 Corinthians 15:7). James is mentioned as being in the upper room in Jerusalem, praying with his mother and the rest of the disciples (Acts 1:13) and was presumably present when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. He had become the leader of the Jerusalem church when Peter was released from prison (Acts 12:17), and eventually he chaired the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13ff.; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12).

James was a “late bloomer,” but he flowered well! James knew Christ as only a few could. For years he had eaten at the same table, shared the same house, played in the same places, and watched the development of his amazing older brother. And when he truly came to know Christ, his boyhood privilege was not wasted, for he became known as James the Just, a man of immense piety.

Hughes, R. K. (1991). James: faith that works (p. 16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

James and the other brothers of Jesus were there in the upper room in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and James became so well-known for his piety among the Jews there, that he was called “James the Just.”

The historian Eusebius records the testimony of Hegisippus that James

“used to enter alone into the temple and be found kneeling and praying for forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel’s because of his constant worship of God, kneeling and asking forgiveness for the people. So from his excessive righteousness he was called the Just.”

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Volume 1, trans. Kirsopp Lake, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 171 (II. 23.3–9).

Let’s see what the sources say about the brother of Jesus and the death of the author of our epistle from James.

The Arrest of James

Caesar sent Albinus to Judaea as procurator, when he was informed of the death of Festus. But the younger Ananus, who as I said had received the high priesthood, was headstrong in character and audacious in the extreme…. He thought that he had a convenient opportunity, as Festus was dead and Albinus still on the way. So he assembled a council of judges and brought before it James, the brother of Jesus, known as Christ, and several others, on a charge of breaking the law, and handed them over to be stoned.

Josephus, Antiquities xx, ix. I.

James is Killed

Then they said to each other “Let us stone James the Righteous”, and began to stone him, as in spite of his fall he was still alive. But he turned and knelt, uttering the words: “I beseech Thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” While they pelted him with stones, one of the descendants of Rechab the son of Rachabim -the priestly family to which Jeremiah the Prophet bore witness called out: “Stop! What are you doing? The Righteous one is praying for you.” Then one of them, a fuller, took the club which he used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on the head of the Righteous one…. Immediately after this Vespasian began to besiege them.

Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius

The destruction of Jerusalem is one of the saddest stories of the First Century. Josephus concludes:

These things happened to the Jews in requital for James the Righteous, who was a brother of Jesus known as Christ, for though he was the most righteous of men, the Jews put him to death.

(This quote from Josephus is no longer extant but is quoted by both Origen and Eusebius.)

James

The book of James has been called the “Blue Jeans Epistle.” It is intensely practical and down to earth. While Paul plumbs the depths of theology, James is concerned about how we live and what we do as Christians.

Think about those early days in Jerusalem after Pentecost. What did the Christians talk about? Those are the topics that James dealt with:

  1. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” 1:19.
  2. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says,” 1:22.
  3. “Don’t show favoritism,” 2:1.
  4. Faith without works is dead, 2:17.
  5. Tame your tongue! 3:1 ff.
  6. “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming,” 5:7.

Questions


Knowledge

  1. Can you name the brothers and sisters of Jesus?
  2. Why didn’t they believe Jesus was the Christ?
  3. Do you think they were embarrassed by Jesus?
  4. What did it take to convince them Jesus was the Son of God?
  5. Why does James call himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” rather than “the brother of Jesus”?

Attitude

  1. Do you think Mary or Joseph ever told the rest of the family that Jesus was “special”?
  2. How do you think Jesus felt when his family thought he was crazy (Mark 3:21)?
  3. Some of us may lose brothers and sisters and family members to the world. (Even the family of Jesus quit following him.) How does Mark 3:31-35 help?

Action

Spend some time this week getting to know one of your Christian brothers or sisters.

 

The Holiday That Almost Wasn’t

Father's DayLeigh Eric Schmidt writes in her fascinating little book, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, “The success of Mother’s Day was an inspiration.” (Mother’s Day was first celebrated as a recognized American holiday in 1908 after Anna Jarvis led a national campaign. Later Jarvis campaigned against the holiday claiming it had become too commercial!) In 1910 Sonora Dodd promoted the idea of Father’s Day among churches in Spokane, Washington. It only seemed fitting to honor Dads as well as Moms. Father’s Day was celebrated first at the local YMCA, but people were opposed to Father’s Day on two counts. First, it was too feminine. For Mother’s Day people were encouraged to wear carnations. For Father’s Day they were told to wear red roses.

It took some strong sermons to make Father’s Day masculine. One of the first was by a Presbyterian, Conrad Bluhm who titled his sermon, “The Knight That Never Retreats.” Fathers were “rugged, husky, [and] stalwart.” He went on, “It was Father’s Day when Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees. It was Father’s Day when Noah built the ark. It was Father’s Day when Christ chose the Twelve… The Bible is a man’s book and its lessons are his life-task.” Bluhm continued, “The word Father is found in the Bible 1650 times; mother but 311 times. It is a Father’s book!”

Father’s Day may have become more manly, but people were also tired of commercialism and it seemed like Father’s Day was just another ploy by retailers to sell pipes, socks and neckties so by the 1920s the fire of Father’s Day had nearly gone out – even in Spokane. Schmidt observes, “Father’s Day exchanges appeared as a kind of practical joke; Dad was bewildered by the attention or even somehow duped by these tokens of affection (some of which were clearly purchased more with the giver than the receiver in mind). Also, and this was a source of popular satire, Dad was seen as the one who, in the end, would have to pay for all these gadgets and trinkets. The bills for Father’s Day gifts were viewed as circling back to him, so that he was made to pay, quite literally, for his own undoing ….”

No wonder then it took so long for Father’s Day to be recognized as a national holiday. The first bill was introduced in congress in 1913. Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak for Father’s Day in Spokane in 1916. Calvin Coolidge recommended it in 1924. The bill was defeated three times in congress. (The last one was rejected in 1957.) In 1966 Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972 that Father’s Day became a national holiday.

Of course God was way ahead of congress and told us to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) As Paul observed, this is the first commandment with a promise. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

Loving

Sunday Morning Sermon
June 11, 2017
John McKeel

Love is the Heart of Christianity

What is the “Greatest Thing in the World”—what philosophers call the summum bonum? If you only go around once in this life, what should you strive for? What makes life worth living?

Religious people might answer “Faith!” but they would be wrong. Faith is important, but it is not the most important object of life. Listen to the apostles:

Paul, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Peter, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart,” (1 Peter 1:22).

John, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” (1 John 4:8)

Why is this true? The Apostle Paul explains, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law,” (Romans 13:10).

But What is Love?

“Love” may be the most abused word in the English language. I might say “I love my car,” “I make love to my wife,” and “I love my friends.” Hopefully we are talking about three different things!

The Greeks had four words, all translated “love” in English, that described four different aspects of love.

  • Eros – The Desire to Possess
  • Storge – Love of Family
  • Philia – Friendship
  • Agape – A Different Kind of Love

The Love Chapter

1 Corinthians 13

The Apostle Paul passes love through a prism and tells us:

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

The Spectrum of Love has ten ingredients:

Patient……………. “Long suffering”

Kind………………. The Mellow Virtue

Does not envy…. Envy is related to eros – the desire to possess

Does not boast…. Literally “love is not a windbag”

Is not arrogant…. Conceited pride

Is polite………….. Good manners

Unselfish…………

Good tempered… Love isn’t irritable

Is not resentful…. Literally “love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.”

Sincerity …………  “It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Love in Action

Finally, in verse 7, we see love in action:

  • “Bears” can have two meanings and both are helpful.
    • “Keeps confidences” – “love that throws a cloak of silence over what is displeasing in another person,” Harnack
    • “Endures” – It stands against the storm.
  • “Believes” as in “I believe in Jan.”
  • “Hope”
  • “Endures” – where as “love is long-suffering” in verse 4, here “love endures.”

Learning to Love

  • Romans 13:8 – 10
  • “We love because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19).