THINGS TO AVOID

James 4:1 – What is the source of quarrels and conflict among you?

James proceeds to answer his own question by identifying numerous sources of conflict. He begins with “pleasures that wage war in your members” (James 4:1b). Pleasures speak of lust. Lust can be manifested in numerous ways. Sexual sins, material wants manifested in things, and any other worldly possessions that come from fleshly desires. These things produce jealousy, competition, and covetousness. This is contrary to the exhortation of learning to be content in whatever state we are in.

Quarrels and conflicts, for the most part, are rooted in the attitude of insisting on having things my way. It is really the same root that is found in lusts. James continues his thoughts by saying, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder” (James 4:2a). James is giving a tough message to the church. A familiar saying is, “I would kill for that.” Can you recognize the source of James’ comment in the more modern day expression?

“You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2b). No wonder James deals with the subject of faith and works. It sounds like those to whom he is writing are not living the life of faith, but still living by the lust of the flesh from which they had been redeemed. The life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit are in direct enmity. James goes on to deal with the subject of wrong motivations of prayer. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). James likens this motive to “adultery.” He calls it “friendship with the world.” Friendship with the world is hostility toward God. If one wishes to be a friend of the world, then that one becomes an enemy of God.

These are rough Scriptures to wrestle with, but important ones. At this time of the year, the world begins to put pressure on consumers to spend, spend, and spend. The world will make you feel guilty when you don’t spend a lot of money on gifts and other things at Christmas time. The world does not have our best interest in view. The world appeals to our lusts and pleasures. The Spirit of God in us is jealous for our life to not be drawn to worldliness. He wants to give us great grace as we humble ourselves before God. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

Avoid lusts, pleasures, envy, and jealousness. Avoid quarrels and conflicts. Draw close to God. Learn to be content with what you have. Give away and bless others, especially those who are lacking the basics. Nurture the presence of the Spirit of God who has come to indwell your life with His gracious presence. Long for fellowship with God, and not the friendship of the world.

Father, I ask You to help me avoid those things that are not pleasing to You. I ask for the Holy Spirit to show me when I am demanding my own way, so that I can repent. I desire to draw near to You, Father, and I thank You for Your promise to draw near to me.

WISDOM FROM ABOVE

James 3:13 – Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

As you begin to read the third chapter of James’ letter to the church, you read of comparing the gentleness of God’s wisdom to bitter jealousy and selfish ambition of the heart. The old nature can easily become filled with jealousy and selfish ambition. Both jealousy and ambition are products of the sin nature and represent the old self. They are focused on self-serving as opposed to serving others. Certainly this is a great contrast to the life of Christ, which was filled with gentle wisdom as He served the needs of others around Him.

Through faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection and His life-giving Spirit we too can be filled with gentle wisdom. Conversion, as it relates to Christianity, is about drawing our life from Christ’s life which has been given to the believer by the Holy Spirit. Many Christians continue to live from the old life and habits rather than the new life contained in the new birth. Jealousy and selfish bitterness can be entangled with many other sins. The danger of these sins is that they create arrogance and lies. The world system is filled with this type of arrogance and deceit. The world sees this type of nature as wisdom. It is not a wisdom that comes from God. James calls it “earthly, natural, and demonic (James 3:15). Where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you find disorder and evil.

God’s wisdom is pure. It has no hidden motives, just a desire to relate and help others. It is peaceable. It is filled with desire to produce peace in the life of believers. It is gentle. God’s wisdom seeks to help resolve problems with a gentle voice and a gentle hand. God’s wisdom is reasonable. The wisdom of God does not reason from emotions, but rather from truth. The wisdom of God is filled with mercy and good fruits. When God’s wisdom is administered and received, it is productive. God’s wisdom is neither double-minded nor filled with hypocrisy. It is unwavering in its nature and always has the best interests of others in view.

As we celebrate the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” make it your ambition to sow peace into the lives of others. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with the wisdom of God. Ask Him for the life of Christ to be manifested in all you do. Seek His life of peace, gentleness, mercy, and good fruits. Make it your ambition to be known as a person of wisdom because of your relationship with the “God of wisdom” through His Son, Jesus Christ. Develop a more intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit by listening carefully for His promptings and knowing His word through the Scriptures.

Father, I ask for the help of the Holy Spirit in drawing my life from the new birth and not the old natural life I had before Christ. I pray for Your gentle wisdom to control me and to produce good behavior that is pure and peaceable. Help me, Your servant, to be unwavering without hypocrisy in all I say and do.

THE TONGUE IS A FIRE

James 3:6 – The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

In this verse, James goes straight to the heart of human problems. James says, “No one can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). Only Jesus was able to control His tongue, He did this by only saying what He heard His Father saying. The Holy Spirit was given to bring forth the life of Christ in each believer. He begins with the heart because the issues of life flow from the heart. Next, He wants to control our tongue. It is profitable for believers to give themselves a personal evaluation. Consider what changes have taken place with your words since you believed. Have there been changes such as cursing, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or harsh comments toward or about others? Then think about what changes still need to take place, such as a soft answer, more positive conversation, and words for encouraging others around you.

The fire of the tongue can be quenched by the “water of the Word of God.” It is through the Holy Spirit that the tongue can be controlled. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). What a great prayer that David gave us! Why not daily ask the Lord for His help regarding your words and the things you think about? Invite the Holy Spirit to be in charge of your conversation. Freely give your heart and mind to Him day by day so He has your permission to assist you in what comes out of your mouth. It might take a while to break old patterns of speech, but He will faithfully help if you will be persistent.

“Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue” (Psalm 15:1-3). The Psalmist lists a few things that God cares about. Walking in integrity speaks of values and wholeness. The first step in quenching the fire of the tongue is to be established in the value of relationship. That is, caring about the feelings of others. Next is experiencing your own wellness. This means coming to a place of wholeness through Christ. Another area that concerns our Lord is works of righteousness. Works of righteousness are rooted in what pleases God and what affects others in a positive way for their good. A third area is learning to speak truth from the heart. A healthy heart, spiritually speaking, becomes a fountain of kind words that cleanses others. Last, is guarding your tongue from slandering another individual. Make it a habit to not uncover another person’s weaknesses in front of other people.

Father, I ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to tame my tongue. I trust You to help me with the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart. I pray that both will be acceptable to You.

FAITH AND WORKS

James 2:14 – What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

Some have thought James preached a different Gospel than that of Paul. Paul laid the foundation of believing faith throughout his letters. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). How do we reconcile what James says with Paul’s teaching?

There is a difference between saying you have faith and actually demonstrating that faith. I knew a man some years ago that evidenced a knowledge of Scripture. He told me he believed the Bible, but his life did not demonstrate a “believing faith.” Saying “I have faith” is one thing, but living that faith is totally another. The evidence of faith should be expected from one who says “I have faith.” As we grow in faith a greater demonstration of our faith will be evidenced.

Paul taught, “God saved us, not on the basis of works which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5). Redemption came through Jesus Christ and His sacrificial work. We had nothing whatsoever to do with that work. He went to the cross for you and me while we were dead in our trespasses and sins. All that is required of us is to receive what Christ has accomplished. What James is addressing in his letter is the attitude that all I need to do is to say “I have faith.” Saying it and believing it are two totally different spheres. Believing what Christ has done will produce a demonstration of faith. Do others know your faith by what you say or by what you do?

It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to believe. He grants the gift of repentance. He reveals to us the need for the work of Christ to be applied to our lives. He regenerates us, causing the life of Christ to be lived out through us. Through believing faith, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit daily and live out Christ’s life, demonstrating faith by our works. Trust Christ totally for your salvation through the work of His cross. Don’t talk about your faith; demonstrate your faith by allowing the Holy Spirit to work through you in serving others.

In this season of the year, there will be many works of good deeds toward others. It is the “Spirit of Christmas” to give! All that giving is not related to personal salvation. On the other hand, the true believer should be in the forefront of giving. There are many opportunities to allow your faith to operate in the Christmas season. Some examples are to help feed the homeless, taking gifts to the children of prisoners through Angel Tree Ministry, and sharing thoughtful gifts with your neighbors. Perhaps you will also be able to speak of your faith and help another receive the greatest gift in their life, Christ the Lord.

Father, I thank You for sending Your Son to die in my place. My faith is centered in all You have done in Christ. I ask for the Holy Spirit to fill me with Your life. Cause me to demonstrate saving faith by works pleasing to You.

DEMONSTRATING LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, AND FORGIVENESS

1Timothy 1:15-16 – It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

The Kingdom of God is all about love, acceptance, and forgiveness. In the kingdom of God, we first love, and then move into acquaintance. This is different than the world’s perspective where we get acquainted then we move toward love. Usually people have many acquaintances; they have some friends, but are in need of real love and acceptance.

The love of God is not based on what I do or what I feel. His love is rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ who died freely before anyone sought Him out. God’s love is commitment and is independent of feelings or knowledge of what another has or has not done. By God’s grace, we should be able to love and accept people before we really know them. Once we come to know a person, God wants to supply the necessary grace to love and accept them in spite of what we have come to learn about them. This is not by human effort, but through the grace that God supplies.

Consider how the Lord Jesus spent His time. He hung out with the outcasts of His society. He ate with sinners who had robbed their own people to become rich. He ministered to prostitutes and tax collectors. He was known as a friend of sinners.

Today, the church is filled with broken people, people who need to be loved and accepted. Some of these believers have come from heavily damaged pasts. Some have had a life of trauma beginning in their childhood. Others have had marriages that produced severe wounds and have left many scars. Others brought injuries upon themselves through addictions and poor choices relating to sexual involvements. Each person is precious in the Lord’s sight. The blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to cleanse and heal broken lives. The other healing factor is people, who themselves have experienced God’s grace in their life, reaching out in the spirit of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to those in need.

The Christmas season is the ideal time to express love. It is that special time of the year to demonstrate real acceptance. Examine your heart and see if there is anyone you have failed to forgive from your heart this past year. If so, choose to forgive that one now. If appropriate, let them know how you have chosen to forgive and accept them in your heart as one you love and care about. Ask them how you can pray for them in the New Year.

Father, I ask You to help me to be a person that lives in Your power to love, accept, and forgive with my whole heart. Fill me with the Holy Spirit to demonstrate Your power by extending my life to serve another who is in need.