Tag Archives: wisdom

Those who fear God live! — Psalm 49

Those who fear God live! — Psalm 49
By Pastor Lee Hemen
July 2, 2017

Wikipedia relates that “‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. The phrase gives three examples of the ‘inalienable rights’ which the Declaration says has been given to all human beings by their Creator, and for which governments are created to protect.” The writers, the signers, and those who fought for our freedoms believed passionately in these inalienable rights for all people. At the core of this belief was their reasoning that God created mankind for more than servitude and it came from the notion that even nations ruled by kings should fear God.

Today’s America has taken the notion of personal freedom to the extreme that it is a free ticket to do any ungodly or immoral act and excuse it as a personal right. They would do well to remember the spiritual law involved that you reap what you sow in life. The Psalmist here teaches us that those who fear God live; let’s discover what he says about this…

READ: Psalm 49

Many in our day think they can rewrite the laws of God to fit their particular perversion in order to excuse it as sin. The Psalmist reminds us that…

I. Those who fear God listen to godly wisdom! (Vv. 1-6)

Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle: Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me–those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?

1. Sometimes it is hard to gain the attention of those you are speaking to and so sometimes you have to do something to shake people up so they will listen. The Psalmist does that here by including everyone in his pronouncement: “Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike”. He tells them by a command of sorts to “hear” and to “listen”. The first refers to actually intelligently understanding what is being spoken to those who are willing to be taught by the words he is speaking! The second refers to giving an ear or to someone who harkens to the sound of his voice like one would to a herald or a town crier who goes about saying “hear ye, hear ye!” or like a child who listens to the voice of their mother calling them home. Notice that the Psalmist’s announcement is for “all you peoples…who live in the world…both low and high, rich and poor alike”. Why should anyone listen to him? “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.” There are few things or folks worth listening to in this world of fake news and made up headlines or exaggeration. Yet he would “turn [his] ear to a proverb; with the harp [he would] expound my riddle”. It is like Jesus who told and taught his disciples “many things in parables”. (Matthew 13:3 NIV) Like Benjamin Franklin with Poor Richard’s Almanac or Thomas Paine’s Common Sense who both used humor and pity sayings to teach deeper truths, the Psalmist does this as well. He begins, like any good orator, with a question: “Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me–those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches?” He expected an answer probably in the form of question itself; more than likely: “How in the world could you not fear evil days, wicked deceivers, or the ultra rich?” For the Jews of his day only those who were well off could scoff at these things, certainly not a common person! The Psalmist wanted his listeners to know that those who fear God listen to godly wisdom!

EXAMPLE: Benjamin Franklin wrote that “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” But he also had a deep faith in a Creator who gave all things. He was not a believer per se but a Deist, someone who believed in a higher power. Later in life he held stronger views on God and especially Jesus and confessed his faith, contrary to what many theists and atheists would have you believe about Franklin. He would write, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” The Psalmist knew this several thousands of years before Franklin. He understood that those who fear God listen to godly wisdom!

One of the attractions that drew people from all over the world to America was that you could become whatever you could in America through shear hard work and tenacity. However, far too many have forgotten where their lives come from. The Psalmist teaches us that…

II. Those who fear God remember where their lives come from! (Vv. 7-13)

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him–the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–that he should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah

1. With his very next words, the Psalmist writes such an important lesson that the world today would do well to heed it. “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him”. Is this true? For the Hebrew of this era it was and it is why Jesus’ teaching was so astonishing because everyone knew “the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–that he should live on forever and not see decay”. These words were never forgotten by the Jews and so when Jesus came and taught one could live forever through faith in him, it was astounding! Perhaps we have forgotten life is costly. This is why the framers of the Declaration of Independence included the phrase “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. It establishes three inalienable rights which the Declaration states that have been given or endowed to all human beings by their Creator, and for which governments are created by the same God to protect. Life is costly and yet things are not as costly, “For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others.” What you so dearly hold on to right now and think so precious probably will be sold in a garage sale, trucked away to the Salvation Army, or dumped in the trash! In fact, even those who are wealthy, famous, or powerful in this life will soon learn that “Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.” What good news then is that while “the ransom for a life is costly” Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”! (Matthew 20:28 NIV) You see the Psalmist knew what a lot of folks forget, namely dead is dead and once you are dead you are the same as all other dead folks! That “man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.” He is not teaching about how you or your pets end up eternally but rather more like the morose teachings of Ecclesiastes who lamented, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19 NIV) “This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.” However, the tacit implication is that those who fear God remember where their lives come from!

EXAMPLE: If you look at many of our coins you will see the inscription, “In God We Trust”. The phrase appears to have originated in “The Star-Spangled Banner”, written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. The fourth stanza states, “And this be our motto: ‘In God is our Trust.’” The Reverend M. R. Watkinson, in a letter dated November 13, 1861, petitioned the Treasury Department to add a statement recognizing “Almighty God in some form in our coins” in order to “relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism”. It wasn’t until the Civil War that one and two cent coins were inscribed. In 1865 Congress passed legislation to place the motto on all gold and silver coins. However on the 50th anniversary of the motto in 2006 Congressed affirmed “In God We Trust” as the United States of America’s national motto. Those who fear God remember where their lives come from!

In America we have problem with death. Unlike past generations who realized life was short, often took care of the elderly themselves, and where people often did not live past their sixties because of illness, war, and poor health conditions. The Psalmist reminds us that…

III. Those who fear God realize they are destined to die! (Vv. 14-20)

Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed– and men praise you when you prosper–he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

1. We all face death and just “Like sheep [we] are destined for the grave, and death will feed on [us]”!  There is tremendous good news in the Psalmist’s message however, “The upright will rule over [the rich, powerful, or famous] in the morning”! In other words when God comes to finally judge the living and the dead while “their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions”, ours won’t and it will be like a fresh new dawn! The Psalmist was well aware that indeed “God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.” He had full confidence in God who loved him. Here dear little child of God is where we are to never forget those wondrous and amazing words of Jesus when he promised, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3 NIV) So, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.” As one old preacher stated, “We are all lay on the same level in the grave, unless we stand with Jesus!” And sadly, “Though while he lived he counted himself blessed– and men praise you when you prosper–he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life.” But not those who trust in God instead. Remember Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV) and do not forget the words he told the weeping Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 NIV) Dead is dead unless you know God in Jesus but “A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.”  Those who fear God realize they are destined to die!

EXAMPLE: Unlike past generations where people celebrated death and those who had died by annually setting aside a time to remember them; today we have such a problem with the idea of dying we make roadside pagan shrines to the dead hoping they somehow realize that we now care. But dead is dead. It may be a means to assuage our own guilt and fear of dying. However, the godly person has absolutely no fear of death because we know our destination because of the one we have trusted in. Those who fear God realize they are destined to die!

Conclusion:
Those who fear God listen to godly wisdom! Those who fear God remember where their lives come from! Those who fear God realize they are destined to die!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The Wise Life! — James 3:13-18

The Wise Life! — James 3:13-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 22, 2014

Where does wisdom come from? Does it come about because of age? Does it come from the amount of knowledge one knows or has acquired? Mark Twain retorted, “The person who has had a bull by the tail once has learned 60 or 70 times as much as a person who hasn’t.” Another quote that is often falsely attributed to Twain is the one that states, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years!” My father used to remind us that “Just because you think you know something, does not make it true.” We find this pithy bit of wisdom to be quite true in our day and age whereby so many think they know God when in fact they know nothing about him at all. Both the psalmist and the writer of Proverbs agree that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…. (Psalms 111:10 & Proverbs 1:7 NIV)” What then is the wise life? James gives us a glimpse in what he defines as a person who is wise.

He writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13 NIV)”

We have to remind ourselves that James is writing to believers and not the world at large. So, his premise is that Christians would already understand that what he is so concerned about comes from a life that is already given over to Jesus Christ. If not, you will not understand or have the wisdom to discern what James is trying to teach. We all would like to be known for being “wise and understanding”, but for James it is predicated on that fact that Jesus is the focus of your life, then you would show your understanding and wisdom by your “good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from” the “wisdom” he has been writing about!  Remember James had just told us that he would show us his faith by what he did and not simply by the words he used (James 2:18). The fact remains if one has placed their faith In Christ, then Christ will affect their lives and in the humility of Jesus we will do the deeds we need to do that displays our wisdom is from following him!

However, James knew that “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth (James 3:14 NIV).”

These kinds of characteristics in the life of someone who claims Christ cannot be! If we harbor, hold on to and tenuously keep, bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts, how could we possibly be a follower of Jesus! Bitter envy is like deliberately sucking on a lemon and expecting something sweet! We have those around us who would have you disdain others who have worked hard for what they have. Then, there are those who would walk over anyone to gain a nickel! We should not boast about bitterness or hidden envy that we have kept like pampered pets, nor should we try to deny the sin of it because when we do, such action denies the truth of the gospel that should have affected our lives!

In fact, for James, “Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15 NIV)”

Literally James is saying it is not from God at all but from world, earthly, unspiritual, and demonic! Much of what we hear today on the TV, read online, or are inundated with in the classroom and workplace is the ungodly sensuality of the world’s wisdom. It is thoroughly demonic! The demonic wisdom of the world tries to rewrite the definition of what love, marriage, family or faith is. It belches out the satanic propaganda that loves is what you feel at the moment, marriage is defined as to whatever you desire, family is anyone or anything in relationship and faith is any spirituality. This ungodly and demonic “wisdom” has given us unprecedented violence, dysfunctional families, perverted tolerance, and small-minded selfish mysticism! Recently Fox Channel 12 News gushed how wonderful it was that Portland, Oregon has become a Mecca for gay men to come and have women give birth to their children!

While some of the things we do in our society today are in of themselves harmless, they are perhaps symptomatic of the deeper spiritual sickness that has crept into our society. Instead of believers being the salt and light of the world, the gospel change agents they are commanded to be, we have become societal chameleons. Take for instance the rampant sexualization of our society. I believe it represents the self-absorb outcome of the culture we live in. We readily use our bodies without a care as to the ultimate psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual result. The legalization of marijuana when we have not come to terms with the horrendous fallout of alcohol as a society, speaks volumes as to where our wisdom is coming from.

For James, the proof was in the outcome of what he saw in the lives of believers, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16 NIV)”

My Dad used to say, “If you have to think up an excuse for what you’re doing, do you really need to do it?” James understood that when you’ve seen lives filled with the envy of what others have or where one was willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, even lie, cheat, or steal – he knew there was a problem! The problem was a sin problem because when you see this kind of ungodliness of character, “there you find disorder and every evil practice.” In fact, as Paul retorted to the Roman church that, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another… Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:22, 24, 32 NIV).” Paul would also later lament, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 NIV).” The world today disdains godly wisdom because it understands that what itself teaches as clever is nothing but stupidity. This is why Paul would continue by writing, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV).”

James, however, would write, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17 NIV).”

What a difference there is between what society prizes as sensible and what God sees as wisdom! Godly wisdom does not have to make excuses for its behavior because it is first and foremost pure. After all it comes from God himself! James is making reference to the fact of the gospel message. The message of the cross is always foolish to the spiritually or morally ignorant and corrupt. Yet we see that the life affected by gospel is “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” He did not mean it accepted sin but that it was impacted by the Spirit!

The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported concerning how “Parents of children at a primary school in the suburbs of London, England are complaining after they were treated to a pole-dancing exhibition at a school fair. A four-year-old girl participated in the pole-dancing festivities at Crockenhill Primary School, the Daily Mail reports. Other performers ranged in age up to 12.”

“‘A lot of people were upset about it,’ a father who endured the pole-dancing routine told the Mail. ‘They were performing a routine to music in inappropriate clothing and they had children doing it and I just thought, “This is so wrong.”’ Of course, School official Sarah Warshow defended the pole-dancing performance.”

“‘There was one performance by the teacher and some by the children,’ she added. ‘It’s great for the children to keep fit and it’s fun as well.’”

We have an economy still cannot provide jobs for millions of Americans, there are rumors of $6 gasoline, the Middle East is aflame but we have time to support the gay agenda? This is despite the CDC’s warning that one in five homosexual males in the U.S. is infected with HIV/AIDS and new studies proving children raised by same-sex parents are far more likely to commit homosexual acts and abuse than other kids.

James ends this section by reminding us that “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18 NIV).”

Calvin wrote that “Those truly wise towards God, while peaceable and tolerant towards their neighbors, yet make it their chief concern to sow righteousness, not cloaking men’s sins, but reproving them with such peaceable moderation as to be the physicians, rather than the executioners, of sinners.” Far too many believers have instead become enablers of sin in our world today so that they can be seen as “tolerant” instead of righteous. Peter reminds us, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:15-17 NIV).”

Isaiah warned his nation, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight (Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV).”

What is wisdom? The wise life “fights the good fight of faith” that Paul encouraged Timothy to do. Wisdom comes from God himself as we walk with him daily, as we fight the good fight. As James would say, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13 NIV).”

This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering…
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 25, 2014

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8 NIV)

I was wondering why much of the world is confused by what constitutes good wisdom, it isn’t knowledge. Knowledge comes from facts, events, or studying while wisdom comes from using those facts, events, or studies in the real world. Wisdom often comes from our experiences coupled with our knowledge. This is why having more education does not necessarily make one wiser, just perhaps more knowledgeable! Facts are useless unless you know how to use them. James knew this to be true and why he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Anyone, anywhere, can ask God at anytime for greater wisdom and this is the key, the wisdom James refers to is the wisdom that comes from God. It isn’t the wisdom of the world which often leads believers astray concerning spiritual matters. However, James says there is a caveat, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Now James is not saying you can never have doubts concerning your faith what he is referring to is an individual doubting that God can give them the wisdom they need when they ask! The problem arises when we are uncertain we can trust God! When we doubt we are like “a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Often we do not recognize the answer given from God because we have doubted we would receive one in the first place or we only look for the answer we desire and ignore everything else! Too many believers have fallen into the false doctrine of thinking God is involved in every minute detail of their lives, when in fact he is not. Now do not misunderstand what I am saying, God does know what you are about after all he is omniscient – all knowing. He does know the hairs on our heads and when a sparrow falls to the ground, but he does not necessarily get personally involved in every detail of our daily lives where it truly does not matter what choice we make or when we know the choice we should make! In our hurried lives we often want answers in our timing and not in God’s. We therefore willingly forget that God can answer yes, no, wait, or not at all! Contrary to what Copernicus taught and many Christians think; the universe and creation does indeed revolve around the Son! His plan does not revolve around you personally. Jesus related to his disciples what James is teaching here when he taught, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27 NIV) The problem is that too many sheep do not recognize the voice of their Master because they are so busy listening to their own wisdom or that of the world instead. They are trying to get God to agree with the answer they desire so that it will justify their ungodly wisdom. Makes one wonder…

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How to sail through life! – James 3:1-18

How to sail through life! – James 3:1-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 20, 2013 AM

All Christians must deal with the issue of self-control. Many refuse to practice it, because they find it difficult. They do not like to be controlled, and they show this by refusing to control themselves. The recent events where Senate leadership accused their opposition of being “terrorists” and “anarchists” is an example where some will say and do anything in order to get what they want. Even when believers try to practice self-control, they often speak hurtful words and perform wrong actions. However, for Christians such control is a critical matter. Everything we say and do should reflect our relationship with Jesus Christ.

On the PBS show Nova, they showed how we are trying to make things go faster, everything from the Internet to sailboats. In fact, the man who owns Oracle just recently won the America’s Cup with a newly designed sailboat that uses a carbon fiber wing for its sail and hydrofoils for its keel. It can take a 15 mph wind and propel the boat at 50 mph! The sail literally sucks the boat along at faster speeds. Controlling machines is one thing; controlling other parts of our lives is another. Almost all of us have to deal with control issues. James teaches us how to sail through life. Let’s discover how…

READ: James 3:1-18

In what areas of life do you need to exercise better self-control? Some declare they are plainspoken and that “what you see is what you get.” This may be a thinly disguised excuse to be rude and to insist on the freedom of self-expression at another’s expense. Others view sins of speech as minor and model their conduct by society’s pattern. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

I. Speak carefully! (3:1-2)
1. James begins by addressing a teachers’ heavy responsibility to speak carefully. Perhaps, there were some believers who wanted to teach but were not well qualified or equipped. Some selfishly may have wanted the prestige, recognition, and honor the teacher’s role afforded. James warned against allowing believers to become teachers simply because they wanted such a position. He knew they first needed a firm grasp of the gospel’s contents and applications for living. Commentators have offered differing suggestions concerning the teacher’s role among early Christians. One view is that teaching once was an official position ranked among the highest in the church but later became part of the pastor’s function. A contrasting view is that being instructors in Christian doctrines probably was not limited to a special group in the church. Based on the synagogue model, numerous members of a congregation could teach. Yet James cautioned that not everyone who aspired to teach could do so adequately. James’s words here declared all believers stumble. Note he included himself. The Greek word translated stumble means “to make a false step,” thus “to commit error.” It can have the stronger ideas of offending or transgressing. Here it has the sense of sinning or failing in speech. “In many ways” means “often” or “many times.” James declared that a person who can continuously avoid sinning in speech is a mature man. The word mature also can be rendered “perfect.” James probably had spiritual maturity in mind. Disciplined speech is evidence a person can control his whole body. The term body could refer to the physical body whose appetites or drives can veer out of control. More likely, it refers to all that a person is. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak carefully!
EXAMPLE: Churches need qualified teachers, but they discharge a heavy responsibility. Teachers receive a stricter judgment—literally, “a greater sentence.” They are held accountable for correct or incorrect teaching. Teachers answer to God for their words about His Word. However, because believers are not completely mature spiritually and sin in their misuse of speech, they need to give attention to their words. It has always mystified me that folks have to use cursing in order to convey their desires. Believers especially need to discipline their speech so their words are not offensive. Being careful in what we say and in how we express ourselves shows our maturity in Christ. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak carefully!

James then presents three illustrations to describe the power of speech, the dangers associated with uncontrolled speech, and the importance of controlling it. All three illustrations contrast the tongue’s small size to its tremendous power. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

II. Speak harmlessly! (3:3-6)
1. James moved to the first of three illustrations that stress the power of speech. He had used the Greek verb for “bridle” in 1:26; 3:2. The word “bits” could be rendered “bridles,” but the phrase into the mouths favors the small bits riders placed under the horses’ tongues to control them. These bits enable riders to guide the whole animal. James’ point is that small bits could control large, powerful animals. Bits have power out of proportion to their size. James next used ships that were very large to present the disparity between size and power. When huge ships encounter a storm and are driven by fierce winds; the ships’ pilots use very small rudders to guide their vessels in the desired direction. James sharpened his contrast by using Greek terms that mean “so great” and “smallest” or “least.” The rudder’s size does not give a true picture of its power or of the concentrated attention, it demands. The tongue, an essential element to clear speech, is a small part of the body. Yet as little as it is, it “makes great boasts.” The word boasts probably does not refer to idle bragging but expresses the tremendous power and influence of speech—for good or bad. James stressed that what believers say and how they say it matters. James pointed out a small spark could start a raging inferno that engulfs a huge forest. He reminds us, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” James knew that the tongue can be a basis of potential evil among the body’s members. It is neutral, but it easily can be misused. An uncontrolled tongue represents an uncontrolled life. The use of undisciplined speech pollutes or corrupts the whole body. Our careless words “stain” or “soil” and contaminates our lives. “It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Undisciplined speech is continually fueled by hell. Evil goes on feeding the flames of uncontrolled speech. James emphasized the terrible evil that speech can work, and he also implied God’s judgment on such speech. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak harmlessly!
EXAMPLE: Speech is too powerful an instrument for good or for evil to be regarded casually or misused willfully. Words can heal or hurt. They can influence people for Christ or turn them away. We all can remember when we were hurt by another’s careless words. Christians have a obligation to use speech positively and redemptively. Unless we control our speech, we risk causing others great harm. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak harmlessly!

James continues by emphasizing the need for consistency in believers’ speech. He acknowledged the difficulty of controlling speech but condemned people who poison the air by using words inconsistent with the gospel. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

III. Speak consistently! (3:7-12)
1. James pointed out that humans have tamed or domesticated all kinds of creatures. Yet people who can tame animals have trouble taming the tongue. The irony is apparent: Humans can control animals but have great difficulty controlling their speech. James described the tongue as a restless evil. Restless has the idea of impulsiveness, unpredictability, and inconsistency. Though not evil in itself, the tongue (or, our speech) is capable of great evil. In fact, it can be death-dealing, full of deadly poison. Poisonous speech strikes with venom comparable to that of the world’s deadliest viper. James presented a devastating contradiction to emphasize believers’ deadly misuse of speech. Christians continuously verbalize praise to God, who is Lord and Father. James’ scathing indictment is that believers turn from the highest use of speech—praising God—to the lowest—cursing people. It’s the idea of a seething hatred that wants misfortune to befall its object. It also could have the sense of using speech to abuse and insult others verbally. With a pair of rhetorical questions that call for “no” answers, James drove home the necessity of believers’ maintaining consistency of speech. His first illustration from nature concerned water, a precious commodity. A spring gushing out of a fissure in the earth does not produce both sweet and salt water, does it? James’ second illustration concerns food-producing plants. These plants produce after their kind. Fig trees produce figs, never olives. Grapevines produce grapes, never figs. And, a spring produces one kind of water! A saltwater spring, such as those in the Dead Sea area, could not yield fresh water—always at a premium in the promised land. James focused on nature’s consistency to emphasize that believers’ speech should not be inconsistent with their new nature in Christ. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak consistently!
EXAMPLE: James stressed people are made in God’s likeness. Because all people bear God’s image, we are to treat one another with respect, not with hatred and verbal attacks. Although James shifted from the use of the tongue (speech) to a person’s mouth, his emphasis is clear: The words that come out of our mouths should be consistent. We should not worship God with praise and turn to others with withering words of insult and injury. For blessing and cursing to come out of the same mouth is a moral contradiction. Recently, two teenage girls are under arrest for causing the suicide of another girl. Their words on social media cause her great stress and ultimately her life. The struggle to attain such consistency is ongoing. At times, we will fail in our efforts to speak only helpful words. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak consistently!

James returns to the topic of Christian behavior. The next verses call for using wisdom from God to control our behavior. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

IV. Behave wisely! (3:13-18)
1. James apparently returned to the subject of being “wise and understanding.” James was deeply concerned about their spiritual and ethical character; moral excellence is required of them and of all Christians. Christians are to demonstrate their works “by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.” The wise and understanding person follows Christ’s directives for the good of God’s people. Rather than being puffed up with pride, the individual is to place his intellect at Christ’s disposal. James continued by writing, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” Envy could have a positive or a negative meaning: “zeal” or “jealousy.” A contentious spirit denies true wisdom and the truth we profess to believe. These attitudes are counter to a faith expressed in love and grace. Wisdom demonstrated in “bitter envy and selfish ambition” does not come from God. James described false, truth-denying wisdom with three strong terms. First, counterfeit wisdom is earthly—human with human limitations. Also, such wisdom focuses on worldly pursuits. Second, false wisdom is sensual; it is concerned with appetites and desires. Instead of following the Holy Spirit, a person with this wisdom is mastered by unregenerate human nature. Third, such wisdom is demonic; evil is its source and it serves evil. James pointed out that selfish ambition results in disorder and every kind of evil. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Living by wisdom from God produces the fruit of righteousness—evidence of a right relationship with Him. Believers experience peace and work for peace among others. Sowing the seeds of mercy and good deeds, believers function as peacemakers. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to behave wisely!
EXAMPLE: How sad to see or hear Christians use their intelligence as a means of sarcasm. There is an old fashioned word that was used to describe such persons, “prig.” It described someone who used their position or intelligence to feel morally superior to others. If we use our wisdom from God to control our behavior, it will be what He wants and will promote good relationships with others. If we continually ask Him for wisdom, we can be peacemakers. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to behave wisely!

Conclusion:
In order to sail through life as a believer we should speak carefully, speak harmlessly, speak consistently, and behave wisely! (3:13-18)

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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When common sense isn’t! – James 1:2-18

When common sense isn’t! – James 1:2-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 22, 2013 AM

Jack was one of the smartest people I have known. However, while Jack was “book smart” he was pound-foolish. He did not use his knowledge to make himself wise. Ken, on the other hand, while not highly educated, used his godly wisdom to meet life’s challenges and to serve his Lord faithfully. Among God’s good gifts, He provides wisdom to help believers endure trials, resist temptations, and put material things in proper perspective. It is more than common sense it is Godly wisdom.

When people face trials, they may wonder, “How can I handle this situation?” People without wealth may wonder why they have so little. Individuals with great wealth may congratulate themselves on how much they have and concentrate on getting even more. When people face temptations, they may succumb and blame everyone including God. All these thoughts, however, reflect earthly wisdom rather than wisdom from God. People who think like this need to know God offers and generously provides us wisdom when we ask for it. Let’s discover what James teaches us about Godly wisdom…

READ: James 1:1-18

How do you respond to trials, temptations, or issues regarding material possessions? Often, believers faced with trials, temptations, and issues regarding possessions depend on their own intelligence. Many rely on past experiences, self-help books or seminars, and available resources without asking for God’s wisdom. Believers need to understand they can receive wisdom from God and ask Him for wisdom concerning trials, temptations, and wealth. James stressed that God offers believers wisdom so they can cope with times of trials and testing. James teaches us how…

I. To endure trials! (Vv. 1:2-8)
1. James began by telling them to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds!” He wanted them to regard what he was sharing. His “brothers” in Christ were not to invite trouble but were to value trials when they occurred. Why? James knew that a Christian’s faith is not founded on how we feel or what we may be going through. “Joy” is a deep sense of being held securely in God’s grace no matter what. It is not the emotion of happiness, but the settled gladness of knowing nothing can separate us from God. “Trials” can be translated “temptations” depending on the context. Here, it has the sense of adversities, afflictions, or troubles—problems and difficulties that test a believer’s faith. These difficulties were of many kinds (literally, “many-colored”). Some might be unexpected adversity. However, God can bring something good through our trials. Believers can face testing of their faith with joy because it “develops perseverance.” The word “testing” was used in examining metals to certify their purity.  The idea is a faith, which has been tested and then results in a finished product! This is why James reminds us that, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God intends believers to be “complete, not lacking anything”. In fact, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Instead of going to the world for answers, we are to go immediately to God! Yet, “when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Receiving wisdom from God hinges on total trust in and commitment to God. The doubter’s commitment constantly wavers between God and self. Such an indecisive, unsettled individual cannot “think he will receive anything from the Lord”. An indecisive believer is “double-minded” or “doubled-souled.” Such a person is completely “unstable in all he does”! Like a drunken, staggering sailor! However, Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!
EXAMPLE: Enduring trials does not mean we are to simply put up with them and go on; rather it is an opportunity to grow in Godly wisdom. Having wisdom from God, we can tackle trials and tests with joy because they are opportunities for us to become more mature in our faith walk. On coming to the understanding that we need God’s wisdom, we can request it and be sure He will give it. We are to ask in total commitment, however. Our faith cannot be mixed with the indecision of circumstances or trials we are suffering. Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!

James goes on to admonished believers that only their relationship with God, not their wealth, was eternal. Godly wisdom teaches us…

II. “To put material things into proper perspective! (Vv. 1:9-11)
1. James addresses both poor and rich people. He showed wealth could be a problem whether people had nothing, much, or something in between. Regardless of believers’ financial status, their earthly lives and any earthly wealth they have are only temporary. “The brother of humble circumstances” can become bitter and resent what others have. Instead, they are to rejoice in their spiritual wealth as members of God’s family and kingdom. Because God is impartial, all people—regardless of their financial status—stand on equal footing with Him. He values all His children. However, least pride should overtake those who have more materially, James immediately writes, “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.” Those who are well-off needed to realize their wealth was temporary and perishable. They would wither and die like a “wild flower” in the summer’s heat and leave all their worldly possessions behind. “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” James’ illustration of life and wealth’s transitory nature should give all believers pause. As the day progresses, the sun’s scorching heat evaporates the dew from vegetation. In the same way, as the wealthy feverishly go about their business, they wither away. Riches might accumulate, but life will end. Let me ask you, “How do you view your material possessions? What dangers do they pose for you?” Godly wisdom teaches us to put wealth into proper perspective!
EXAMPLE: When we look to God for wisdom, we can put wealth in its proper perspective. If we have little, He will help us avoid resentment and greed. If we have modest means, He will give us wisdom to manage well what we have. If we possess much, He will keep reminding us to trust in Him and not in what we have. Also, He will urge all of us to share whatever wealth we have with those in need. Remember, Jesus taught both the rich and poor, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it… And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:39, 42 NIV) Godly wisdom teaches us to put material things into proper perspective!

James clarified the source of temptations to sin. He emphatically declared that God never tempts anyone; temptations arise from people’s “own evil desires”. Temptations entertained and accepted lead to sin, which in turn issues in death. Godly wisdom teaches us…

III. To resist worldly temptations! (Vv. 1:13-15)

1. Perhaps, some of these Christians may have blamed God for the temptations they experienced. Perhaps temptations arose because of trials, and people accused God of causing the trials and thus the temptations. James stated emphatically that believers are responsible for any pull to evil, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone!” Temptations to do evil do not arise from God. No pull to evil can touch Him because He has no such human vulnerability. The morally perfect God who is, at heart, a loving Father does not sadistically use temptations to evil to test His people. James squarely placed the responsibility for temptations on the individual, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” Temptations arise from within the person but in themselves do not constitute sin. Entertaining temptation, however, can set in motion a tragic process. First, the person is “dragged away and enticed” by his own evil desires. The term is taken from hunting where animals are lured away from their places of safety. It is the idea of being caught by a baited hook or trap—what we mean by the phrase “taking the bait.” A person’s own evil desires, lust, are the lure and bait that ensnare the individual. James then shifted to the metaphor of conception and birth, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Joining one’s will with evil desire produce sin in embryo. If the fetus develops to the point of birth, full-blown sin emerges. Consistently giving in to sin’s attractions leads to spiritual ruin. Let me ask you, “With what temptations do you consistently struggle? What are you doing to overcome them?” Jesus taught, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) The ungodly world runs after its lusts, we are to resists worldly temptations!
EXAMPLE: Because God is not responsible for our temptations, we can look to Him for wisdom to resist. We all are tempted daily, yet those temptations are not sin. Rather than give prolonged consideration to any temptation, we are to immediately seek God’s help to reject it. Godly wisdom teaches us not to lust for the things of the world but rather to resist worldly temptations!

God is generous and gives only good gifts. James stressed this truth and pointed to future rewards we receive from God as we are faithful. Lastly, James teaches us that to gain Godly wisdom we are…

IV. To acknowledge God’s gifts! (Vv. 1:12, 16-18)
1. Going back to verse 12 James reminds us that, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” The word for blessed means “happy” which is not happiness based on favorable circumstances but the joy God’s people experience as His children and members of His kingdom, the joy of shared life with God. The person whom “perseveres under trial” experiences the joy of a deepening relationship with God. When we have “stood the test” of our trials, we “will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”! If the term crown refers to the garland that victors in athletic games received, James contrasted the garland that eventually withered to an eternal crown. He emphasized that genuine faith perseveres to the end, when the faithful believer will enter God’s immediate presence. God has promised the imperishable “crown of life” to “those who love Him.” They prove their love by using His wisdom to victoriously endure trials. In verses 16-17, James fondly tells us, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” He did not want fellow believers to be led astray. God is the source of “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” The gift is free and full. The word perfect also can mean “complete.” God’s spiritual, physical, and emotional provisions for believers are exactly what they need. God does not change, like wavering humans do. He remains constant. His intention for His children is always good. Is your life in Christ a shining example of consistency or one of shifting shadows of sin and doubt? Never forget that, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” The greatest of all God’s gifts is the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. People who respond positively to the gospel become the firstfruits of God. In the Old Testament the Israelites gave the first part of their crops as an offering to God. It acknowledged the whole harvest belonged to God and expressed faith that a greater harvest was to come. James saw Christians as consecrated to God and His firstfruits! Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!
EXAMPLE: We are wise when we recognize God is generous to us and when we give Him credit for all the good things, we enjoy in life. This calls for us to identify all we have received from God and to express gratitude to Him for these gifts. Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!

Conclusion
1. Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!
2. Godly wisdom teaches us to put material things into proper perspective!
3. Godly wisdom teaches us to resist worldly temptations!
4. Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!

This article is the copyrighted property of Lee Hemen and may not be edited or redistributed without his written permission.

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