Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Book of James: A Gut Punch for Christian Hypocrisy

I’ve heard the book of James described as a gut punch to Christians. I like that. The book of James, written by Jesus’ brother, somebody who grew up with Jesus, and saw Jesus’ during his whole ministry, writes to us, challenging us to really practice what we believe. That is one of the main themes of James.

Theologians and historians believe James was written at about AD 50. So about 50 years after death and resurrection of Jesus. This letter is not directed to a particular ancient church, but seems to be more generally written to Jewish Christians who are suffering persecution across the ancient world. The opening of James focuses in on the concept of suffering, and how we should view suffering as a gift in our lives that is making us more like Jesus. 

Then we see the theme of living what we say, in James 1:22-25 which says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22-25

This is one of those things that keeps me up at night, about each of you. I always wonder to myself, are they living the faith during the week. Are they really praying everyday? Are they really reading their bibles everyday? Are they really helping others and loving others? It drives me crazy because there’s just no way for me to know. Unless I followed you around all day. That wouldn’t work though. So, live it.

We all as humans struggle with this, the concept of consistency. We struggle to take the list of things we believe and then live that way. This is easy to see in others right. If someone is talking about how much they love Jesus, but they’re insanely drunk as they do, we think, ok, there’s a problem here, they aren’t being consistent. If someone claims to love Jesus, but then treats people rudely, is rude to the waiter at the restaurant, or if they’re neglectful of their family, or friends. We think to ourselves, they’re a hypocrite. They aren’t consistent. 

But guess what, as much as we judge others, which we shouldn’t do, it’s hardest to see ourselves, and where we’re being inconsistent in our lives. So as we’re going through James, I want you to keep that in your mind: How can I make my faith life more consistent?

So in Chapter 2, we find the next concept that James wants us to understand about being a Jesus follower: Don’t show favoritism. Keep equal balances. I have scales of justice up at my house, to remind me to treat people equally. 

James 2:1-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

This is harder than it sounds. How do I treat someone who can’t help me in anyway? How do I treat someone who doesn’t have a car or a job or any money or any way to do good for me? What about someone who has money, influence, power, and can help me? I have to treat them equally. And not give special attention or time to someone with greater influence or power or wealth.

Also, I can’t give special privileges or special attention to someone just because they are poor, or because they are oppressed, or something. That’s becoming more common in our society today, where we give special privileges, special legal rights, special attention to people who were oppressed or harmed in the past, almost as a sort of revenge for the past, and that is also wrong according to scripture.

We can’t give special favoritism to the rich or the poor, to the sick or to the healthy, to the oppressed or to the favored. The biblical standard is equal treatment. Remember that.

Now does this mean that I legalistically spend exactly the same amount of time with everyone in my life? No. If I’m married obviously I’m going to spend more time with my wife, if I have kids, I’m going to spend more time with them than others, if I have close friends, I’m going to spend more time with them than others, but generally within the body of Christ, I treat everyone equally.

James 2:12-13 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Another concept James focuses in on is mercy. Once again this is an issue of being consistent as a believer. God has shown me huge mercy by forgiving all my sins. That’s amazing grace. And what God tells me in response is that I need to show mercy to people around me.

So What if I owe somebody $500.00. And they come to me one day and say Justin about this $500, don’t even worry about it. We’re good. I’ll be super happy about that. But what if I then go to someone who owes me 20 bucks and start yelling at them saying where's my money, screaming at them yelling at them. That’s hypocrisy!

Your sins have been forgiven in Christ. So you’ve gotta forgive people who have done terrible things to you. Who haven’t you forgiven in your heart? Forgive them right now. I dare ya. Do it right now, in your mind, pause for a second, and forgive them. Family? Mom, dad, brother, sister? Friends? Enemies? They all must be forgiven in your heart.

If you’ve not been merciful in your life, and you’ve held grudges and condemned people in your heart, you’ll be judged as a lawbreaker on judgment day. So please be cautious to be quick to show mercy and quick to forgive.

Alright, ready for a punch in the gut? In chapter 4 we get a big punch in the gut from James.

It says in James 4:4-10, “4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Pride is of the this world, worldly pride, all pride is sin. Constantly the Bible commands us to stay humble, stay humble, be submissive to God, submit to God.

We talked about this in recovery group a few weeks back, but the answer to any trial or temptation we’re going through is to turn to God and submit ourselves to God. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

But often during a trial or struggle we’re angry, confused, upset, complaining, hurting, and we’re under demonic attack, and instead of resisting the devil and submitting to God, we start questioning God, and trying to figure it all out instead of simply trusting God, and submitting to Him. Stop the philosophizing in your mind, stop the questioning God, and simply trust Him and submit to Him.

We don’t like the idea of submission in our society. But it’s biblical. We should be totally submitted to God. And submitting to one another in love. Once again, consistency, do I live what I say I believe? Easy to say, to submit, but harder to do, right?

More wisdom we find in James chapter 5. Really everything James is teaching us is essentially how to live a wise life by, living consistently between our faith and our lifestyle.

James 5:7-9 says, “7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

Patience is a virtue, as they say, right? I’m not a particularly patient person. But I’m learning to be more and more patient. God teaches us so much through waiting. He teaches us all about ourselves when we wait, weeks, months, years, I’ve waited almost 9 years now, praying everyday for something special, and I’m waiting still. So be it. Are you learning to be a good waiter? Hope so. God likes to make us wait.

Meanwhile, as you wait, can you take massive amounts of lemons, bad luck, difficulties, trials whatever you wanna call it, and turn them into lemonade? And do it with a smile on your face? Now that’s tough.

And our final point today from the conclusion of James chapter 5:13-20, “13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Are you in trouble? Then pray! Are you happy? Sing worship songs to God! Are you sick? Get prayer from church members. Have you sinned? Confess it to someone you trust. Tell someone. Tell a friend. Tell your pastor. Get it out, and you’ll be blessed, as you repent and turn away from that sin, to have success. Pray for each other, because those prayers are powerful and effective. Prayer really does change things. Remember that. 

Now, should you see someone drifting away from the truth, a Christian who is going astray, falling away, backsliding, whatever you want to call it, go after them. Go talk to them. Encourage them to return. Pray for them. Talk to them. Love them. Spent time with them (but be careful to not be tempted by whatever sins they may be in) Why? Because if you are able by God’s help to bring them back from their error, as they turn again to Jesus, it will cover over all those sins, and they’ll be saved from hell. And that’s a big deal. God loves that. That is beautiful to God.

Why? Because that’s what Jesus did for us. Me, I was the black sheep, who left the 99, and went out on a ledge and got stuck in a rocky crevice, and Jesus came, found me, jumped down on the ledge, grabbed me, pulled me out, and brought me back to safety. And how beautiful it is indeed if we mimic Jesus in that way, by going after someone who has drifted away? It’s lovely to God.

So in conclusion today, we return to the prime question: How can I be more consistent in my faith walk? That is the question I leave you with today. The book of James is all about consistency, practicing what we preach, faith without works is dead, am I living it? That is true wisdom brothers and sisters, if you really want to be a wise Christian in this life, you must learn to take what you believe in your heart and mind, and live it on a daily basis. If you aren’t able to do that, then you’ll be a fool, like proverbs says, but if you can learn to practice what you preach, you’ll be a wise man, a wise woman, who builds their life on the rock of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, what will it matter at all if we claimed to have faith in Jesus, but we never really lived it in our lives? Is God going to accept that faith? No. That faith is dead. It doesn’t exist, because it wasn’t lived. Therefore, live out your faith, that’s the only way for your faith to be truly alive and active in the world. Amen.