James 3:17-18 – Be Wise

The wisdom that comes from heaven is, first, pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (New International Version)

All New Testament epistles are letters written by Apostles to problems and situations within certain churches. When James sat down to pen a letter to the Jewish Christian churches in Gentile dominated countries, it was to address the state of their fellowship, their Christian lives, and an unhealthy church dynamic.

The believers faced lots of adversity as Christians. Sometimes, they responded well, and sometimes, they did not. They wavered between faith in Jesus and relying on other things to deal with their problems. James labeled this kind of inconsistent approach as double-minded or duplicitous. (James 1:5-8).

The church vacillated between knowing God loves them and wondering where God was in all their trouble. They investigated Holy Scripture, but then did not do what it says. (James 1:22-25) The church claimed faith in Christ, then schemed about ways to cozy-up to the wealthy so they could have a healthy budget. (James 2:1-4)

People professed faith, then sat on the fence, straddling the sacred and secular, doing nothing. The church was between two worlds of heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom. James sought to knock them off the fence, to quit being in two worlds with one foot in each. He wanted them on a path of authentic faith and true wisdom which would support them in a difficult world. 

James provides a way to navigate this troublesome world. He highlights seven characteristics of godly wisdom needed to face adversity and live well….

Pure

Purity is holiness. It’s morality and ethics. The pure person has a singular devotion to Jesus Christ – they pursue God’s will and seek to follow God’s way in everything, without exception. Purity means there are no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, no secret self-serving desires. 

Those who are pure have experienced spiritual cleansing. The pure know this is a foolish messed-up world; living in it means facing envy and selfish ambition. So, they jump the fence into God’s big meadow of grace. They joyously roll in the green grass of forgiveness. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus said, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

Peace-loving

Someone once asked a gentleman married for fifty years the secret to his marital bliss. He said, “The wife and I had this agreement when we first got married: When she was bothered about something, she would just tell me and get it off her chest. And if I was mad at her about something, I was able to take a long walk. I suppose you could attribute our happy marriage to the fact that I have largely led an outdoor life.”

That’s typically how we think about peace – the absence of conflict. But biblical peace is more than not fighting. Peace is harmony, working well together, and enjoying our relationships. Wise and godly people not only possess peace; they promote peace in all they do and say. Peace-lovers long for a real peace, which is more than keeping people from one another’s throats.

Just because there is no appearance of strife, doesn’t mean there is peace. Avoiding conflict is unhelpful. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NIV) 

To enjoy the green pastures on God’s side of the fence means there are fences which have been mended….

“It is better to correct someone openly than to have love and not show it.” (Proverbs 27:5, NCV)

“Avoid saying anything hurtful,
    and never let a lie come out of your mouth.
Stop doing anything evil, and do good.
    Look for peace, and do all you can to help people live peacefully.” (Psalm 34:13-14, ERV)

“Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14-17, NLT)

Considerate

Consideration of others means to be flexible, open to reason, level-headed in anxious situations, gentle, non-combative, non-retaliatory, and generally understanding of another’s point of view. The considerate person puts themselves in another person’s shoes. It’s the opposite of being judgmental and going-off with partial information and quick interpretations. 

To be considerate is to make allowances for the weaknesses and shortcomings of others. It takes the kindest possible perspective. The considerate person avoids jumping to conclusions. I wonder, do you know how another person thinks to the degree you could state their opinions or positions accurately in a way they would say, “Yes that is exactly what I think!” 

The opposite of being considerate is to have a critical spirit. Constant criticism is a clue that godly wisdom will not be coming from the other side of the fence.

Submissive

Submission is a good thing. It’s a choice. If a person is coerced into submission, that’s slavery, not submission.  To submit is to place oneself under someone else’s authority. The submissive person listens and obeys authority. Submissive people are teachable – not concerned with gaining authority so they can call the shots. They humbly receive correction and do what is right. 

“Submit to each other out of respect for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, CEB)

Full of Mercy and Good Fruit

Mercy is compassion in action. It empathizes with the needs of other, then, does something about it. Goodness results from mercy. Withholding mercy is a tactic of worldly wisdom, not godly wisdom. To believe we are letting someone off the hook or encouraging their bad behavior by showing mercy is completely foreign to Holy Scripture. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NIV)

Merciful people scan the horizon to see whom they can show mercy. King David did this with Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth. While worldly kings on the other side of the fence were killing their rivals, David did the opposite by being merciful. He gave Mephibosheth a permanent seat at his dinner table (2 Samuel 9). David used his position and power to extend mercy. That’s why David was a man after God’s own heart. 

Impartial

To be impartial is to have no favoritism, to be the same person toward everyone. The impartial person is steady, consistent, and not swayed by the crowd. They don’t act one way with a certain group of people and different with another group. The person who sticks their finger to the wind to see which way it is blowing is unwise.

An impartial person is predictable – you never have to wonder if they are going to blow up at you, or not. Genuine wisdom is equitable in meeting needs. Impartiality doesn’t ask all kinds of qualifying questions to discern whether someone should get their needs met.

Withholding needs from others is unjust. God is just and impartial and expects people to reflect this basic approach to others. 

“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, GW) 

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15, NIV) 

“Judge people fairly and honestly. Don’t twist the law. Don’t play favorites. Don’t take a bribe—a bribe blinds even a wise person; it undermines the intentions of the best of people.” (Deuteronomy 16:19, MSG)

Sincere

Sincerity means to be without hypocrisy. The sincere person is the same both inside and out; what you see is what you get. They are real, vulnerable, and willing to say what is needed – not what they think others want to hear. 

There are no ulterior motives and no skeletons in the closet with the sincere person. That’s because everything they say and do is above board. 

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

Sincerity creates true biblical fellowship, openness, and honesty in the church.

Conclusion

People dwelling with godly wisdom produce a harvest of righteousness. The sure signs of true wisdom are good deeds done from a devoted heart to God. The source is humility. Conversely, the telltale signs of false wisdom are envy and selfishness. They result in disorder and evil practices.

We must go hard after these seven characteristics of being pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. If we desire unity, harmony, and righteousness, then it’s imperative we pursue godly wisdom.

Be wise, my friends, without being wise guys.

Galatians 5:16-26 – Let the Spirit Guide You

“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.  Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)

I’m the youngest sibling in my family.  So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things.  When I was a kid, it seemed as if everyone believed I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching “Mannix,” “Sanford and Son,” or “Love American Style” past my bedtime. Although now, I understand why I couldn’t watch those shows, the fact remains, I was often a third wheel.

At times, we treat the Holy Spirit of God like some third wheel. We pray to Almighty God. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name. And what of the Holy Spirit? Seems the Spirit gets the short end of the stick, getting treated like a younger sibling in the Trinity family. In fact, I’ve been in some churches where it seems their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible – the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Truth is, we never quite know what the Spirit might do. Heck, we aren’t even sure what pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit. It? He? She? They?  Because the Spirit seems so mysterious and ethereal, because the Spirit is so unpredictable, we send he/she/it off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we can watch TV and do whatever we want. 

Or perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life. We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life. Yet, somehow, we far too often fall short and feel like a failure. Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel. We believe in the Spirit. We have faith the Spirit is there. Yet, we don’t have any idea how to relate. God is big and sovereign. And Jesus has a real body and blood. But the Spirit? Well, the Spirit’s out there, man – like, too cool for school, or like one of the characters on “The Mod Squad,” or something. 

How do you have a relationship with someone or something (many often refer to the Spirit as a “thing”)? How do we relate with a person (after all, the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy and seemingly other than you and me?

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without the Spirit, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, substance abuse, casting evil spells, hate, fighting, obsessive behaviors, violent anger, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, or living for the party.

It is the Spirit who helps, comforts, provides strength, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones, and dead practices with solid spiritual action. The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. 

The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act.  The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a like a sacred temple with the person of the Spirit taking up residence within. 

By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually, at this moment, working within us to make our redemption in Christ an actual real-live encounter. In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world, armed with the implement of God’s love.

I’m going to make a simple observation about our New Testament lesson for today. All the spiritual virtues mentioned are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.”  The nine ethics are a package deal.  When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values. 

If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience,” what that really means is that we are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit. Because when the Spirit is manifested in us, we exhibit spiritual fruit. We cannot separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than we can separate the Trinity. They’re all one spiritual fruit, cultivated and produced within the inner person by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe we need to consider the shadow side of our lives. It could be that, for example, we are far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love. The results of our actions and words might look the same, but the motivation might be far from truly altruistic. It simply will not last if our actions are generated from a place of worry – because it is not of the Spirit.

So, what to do about it?  We must mortify (put to death) the deeds of the sinful nature. You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20).  If we have C-clamped our hearts so tight that the Spirit cannot get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do some gracious and merciful work within us.  It’s the only way to experience genuine transformation of life.

The spiritual life can be scary. Letting go of control is hard for many people, including me. But the results are worth it. The Spirit is competent. The Holy Spirit might work in wild and crazy ways and might show up on “Saturday Night Live” where you least expect to discover her.

Jesus said that the work of God is to believe in the one he sent (John 6:29). The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness. This work of Christ enables the work of the Spirit, who now makes our deliverance a practical reality in daily life.

The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel, but the real deal. Whenever we open our hearts to the Spirit, we experience the wideness of God’s mercy. And when the Spirit is working inside of us, it makes the car chase scenes in “The Streets of San Francisco” look a lot less dramatic.

May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever.  Amen.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22 – Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Welcome, friends! Click the video below and let us consider how God’s goodness comes to us.

And let us worship together with heartfelt thanksgiving.

May the peace of God stand guard over all your thoughts and feelings in Jesus Christ through the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Peter 3:8-12 – To Suffer and To Bless

Light and Dark

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (NRSV)

Its one thing to give blessing to folks when they seem worthy of it – quite another thing when you have stinkers in your life. Bless the very ones who are abusive toward me? Some might think the Apostle Peter was off his rocker to instruct believers to bless insufferable persons. Peter, however, was only passing on what he had learned from the Lord Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said: You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, CEB)

The instruction to bless the hateful ingrates in our lives only seems strange when the avoidance of suffering and experiencing a pain-free existence is the summum bonum of life. Yet, I get it. We don’t like to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. It hurts! I’m not really into pain. I’m not a high tolerance pain kind of guy. I have no problem taking a pain pill at the first sign of discomfort. Even so, I know there will be times I am going to have pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and there is no way around it.  To live in this broken world is to experience suffering. To suffer as a Christian, however, is different because we are following the way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Christ suffered, we can expect to suffer as his followers, as well.  We are not above our Master. The real issue is whether we will suffer because of our own foolishness and selfishness, or because of our devotion to Christ in being kind, humble, and gracious.  When insults come our way, we need not respond with insults.  Verbal cruelty is not the way of Christ.  Anger, slander, gossip, lies, manipulative words, and belligerent bullying have absolutely no place in the kingdom of God for any reason.

God has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech.

The consistent witness of the New Testament is to bless and do not curse, to love and not to hate, to use our tongues for spreading words of encouragement and not of condemnation. Peter’s instruction and Christ’s teaching also totally jives with the Apostle Paul:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Live in harmony with one another…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, NIV)

Church Light in Dark

Christians are to us their tongues exclusively for blessing, not cursing; for love, not hate; for truth, not lies; for building-up, not tearing-down; for proclaiming good news, not bad news laced with insults.  If we suffer because of love, we shall receive blessing from God. If we suffer for giving-in to retaliation and our base desires for revenge, then we will suffer the consequences of our own stupidity.

God has called us to bless the world, not condemn it.  Christians are to be on the front lines of spreading respect, civility, kindness, and the gospel. It is no problem showing love and respect to people we like. It is a whole other ballgame to do the same for those who treat us with disrespect and hate. Yet, God watches over all who obey him, and he listens to their prayers.  God will handle the hate-filled person, not you or me.  Our task is to have a deep concern for humanity, both the ones we like and the ones we don’t.

One of the spiritual practices I occasionally do is to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. 1 Peter is not a long letter. Depending on the pace of your reading, it can be done between 15-30 minutes. I encourage you to take some time today or this week to slowly read it. Pay attention to how adversity affords Christians the opportunity for hope and the encouragement to live well.

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

Loving Lord Jesus, you suffered and died on my behalf.  It is a small thing for me to follow you and walk in the way of suffering.  I know and have the confident expectation that blessing awaits.  Keep me true to following you through all the adversity I face in this fallen broken world.  Even so, come Lord Jesus, you who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.