Fuel4Thought

Journeying through James – the Law of Liberty

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12 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. James 2:8‑13 (NIV)

We are free to serve the Lord in ways that are consistent with how the Lord looks at people. James uses the expression “law of liberty” twice, in James 1:25 and 2:12. It’s a law that sets people free because it puts love first. The only example that we have of someone who did that perfectly is Jesus Christ.

Being patient and forgiving with someone gives the person the opportunity to see how God looks at them. That’s hard for people to grasp, but “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NLT). We often like to focus on the fact that God has forgiven us. That is truly wonderful and kind, but I think we have a harder time understanding that Christ’s blood paid for everyone else’s sins too! Showing mercy for Jesus’ sake changes lives—pass it on.

Journeying through James – Looking at the Heart

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? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James 2:1‑5 (NIV)

It’s very difficult for us to see people differently than how they might obviously appear to us. We have well-known adages like, “Beauty is only skin deep,” to remind us of that. Discrimination is a human problem that needs the forgiveness of Christ and the power of God’s Holy Spirit to make us think differently. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

There are many reasons why someone is poor and even if it were their fault, who are we to judge. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV). The challenge is to not let how we see people cloud how the the Lord see them. Serving others and loving people, as God does, can be very different than what people and your culture might say.

Journeying through James – Favoritism

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? James 2:1‑4 (NIV)

What is your sense of equality is based on? Some people say they’re not judgmental, and I think most people like to think of themselves as fair and impartial. I think James is saying that you should let God be the judge of that. In other words, everybody makes judgements, but not everybody makes them the way that God would. The best example to take is Jesus’ example. He didn’t come to judge anybody, but lived a life of love. He patiently preached the Gospel in the hope that everyone who heard would be saved.

If you know Jesus, you know that none of us measure up to Him. That is meant to free us to accept one another as sinners who need God’s love and forgiveness in Christ. If you value people, even yourself, by race, wealth, social standing, or educational level, you are judging by what the world values, not by what God values. On the inside, God looks at the heart and wants to transform the eyes of our hearts to see others as Jesus does.

Seeking the Kingdom

And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. 31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. 32 So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. Luke 12:29‑32 (NLT)

Does your life feel a bit off-balance? In these times of change, it’s easy to feel off kilter. The last seven months have been so unusual. One friend of Jill’s was at home at the beginning of the corona virus crisis. She was able find time to exercise and enjoy life at a different pace. Now that things are kind of back to normal, exercise time is gone, but there’s time to visit the donut shop on the way to work. Maybe your work hasn’t changed. Maybe you’re retired, but I’m sure you’ve felt the impact of COVID-19 personally.

To daily be aware that Christ has been with us and that he has been providing for us all along is a very helpful frame of mind. It provides a sense of equilibrium in a world that is constantly changing. Being thankful for his goodness and care speaks peace to our souls and bears good fruit in our lives. God will take care of things.

Jesus said, “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. 31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. 32 So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:29-32 (NLT)

Jesus gives us a command to seek because he wants people to learn to rely only on God. The word “seek” in the New Testament usually means to try to learn where something is, to look for, to try to find something. What God wants is for us to find is a deeper faith in Christ’s love and to share that with others. One good thing that can come from unstable times, like this corona crisis, is that we rely more on God than on ourselves. On the Lord, “we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” 2 Co 1:10 (NIV)

We can pray for one another and ask for God’s help in time of need. What will happen is that God will hear our prayers through Christ, and this is more powerful than we know. As a result, people will give thanks to God because of his gracious love. And it’s not just by prayer, but we can also give thanks to God by filling a shoebox and sending it to a child through Operation Christmas Child. Some family in a completely different part of the world will thank God for your gift and have the opportunity to hear about Jesus. And your thanksgiving can abound even more. Hundreds of kids in two schools in Haiti will thank God every school day because you gave them a good meal to eat, a place to learn and the opportunity to hear about Jesus.

Seek the kingdom of God that thanksgiving would abound in your heart; and also that through your prayers and service to others, there would be much praise and thanks to God. He is with us and providing for us, and we can be thankful for his goodness and care.

Journeying through James – On Being Religious, James 1:26-27

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world James 1:26‑27 (NIV)

The word “religion” surprisingly occurs only 6 times in the New Testament. And every time it’s used, it’s associated with some outward form of ritual that people do to worship God. Paul informs us that religion can take the place of true worship. James is basically in agreement with this, but comes at it from a different angle. First consider the Apostle Paul’s concern about “religion:”

“You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion (literally “religion” in the original Greek * ), pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires” (Colossians 2:19-23, NLT).

Paul’s explanation (inspired by the Holy Spirit) doesn’t need any commentary except to note that human beings like being religious. James, of course, would have been very familiar with the many rituals and rites that were in Judaism; however, James comes at this from the different perspective. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Alright, I’m not going to get into the weeds about the notion being religious;” true religion is about:

  • What comes out of your mouth. Jesus taught: “But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20, NLT).
  • Your conduct and actions. Jesus said, “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41, NKJV). And the Apostle John received great inspiration on this: “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:18-19, NLT).

So, how religious are you? Being “religious” isn’t a bad thing as long as your religion makes you more like Jesus in thought, word and deed!

Looking in the Mirror of God’s Word

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. James 1:23‑24 (NLT)

Let’s think about what James is saying here. He says you’re glancing at something. What is it? It’s the word of God. For them back in their day, they did not have as ready access to the written word as we do today. James emphasizes listening, but the idea is “to discover something through direct observation, with the implication of also thinking about it.” *

So here’s some key points to consider for your every day walk of faith.

  • Are you looking, discovering things in Bible? James speaking to people who are regularly hearing, reading or listening to the Bible.
  • What do you see? The point of looking at the image of yourself in a mirror is to perhaps correct our appearance, straighten your hair, etc. In this case, the correction has to do with becoming more like Jesus.
  • The “walking away,” as James puts it, has to do with our daily lives, and what I find is that it’s good for us to constantly go back and remind ourselves of what Jesus has called us to be.

God’s goal for us in to be like Jesus and James is suggesting that we see a picture of the type of people that God wants us to be by “glancing” at the Word of God. Here’s a section of the book of Colossians as an example: “You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. 11 In the new life there is no difference between Greeks and Jews, those who are circumcised and those who are not circumcised, or people who are foreigners, or Scythians. There is no difference between slaves and free people. But Christ is in all believers, and Christ is all that is important. 12 God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:10‑12 (NCV)

Journeying through James 1:25 – Living Under the Law of Love

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 1:24 (NIV)

In this verse, James refers to a something he terms the “perfect law.” When most people think of laws, they think of rules that they must obey. The Oxford Advanced American Dictionary defines law as: “a system of rules. the law [uncountable] the whole system of rules that everyone in a country or society must obey.” Is James using the word “law” in an unusual way, with a broader perspective in mind?

Law also has to do with your identity. An American, for example, is not subject to British law, nor is a Brit to American law. Every country has rules and laws along with leaders and people under them that enforce them.

Is there a leader that every human being is subject to? The answer is yes: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” And the highest law in Christ’s kingdom is love…“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6, NLT).

He says, “look intently” into this perfect law, which is one word in Greek meaning: ‘to look into something by stooping down’. It’s the exact same Greek word used to describe John’s actions when John ran with Peter to Jesus’ empty tomb. John “reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there” (John 20:4-5, NLT). The word is used again with Mary “standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.” We stoop down in humility to consider that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). And as it says in another place: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV).

If you consider John and Mary mentioned in the verses above as well as James himself, the brother of Jesus, weren’t their lives transformed and changed by what they saw? We have different pictures of Jesus Christ in the Word of God. We see him at a wedding, in the temple as a child, we see him showing compassion, teaching on the lake, feeding those who were hungry and offering water to a woman at a well. We see Jesus healing and forgiving, we see him at his baptism, we see him weeping in sorrow, and showing his power over death and hell. Excellent pictures come to my mind when I think of the life of Christ. I see pictures of love, holiness, God’s glory, and God’s wisdom. This is what God has called you to be. The book of James itself (and the whole Bible too) gives us a picture of what it means to live as citizens under this “perfect law,” as good citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Journeying through James 1:22-24 – Reflecting the Word

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.
James 1:23‑24 (NIV)

I know it’s hard to look in the mirror sometimes and see something beautiful, and see a redeemed, holy and righteous person. After all we fail, we fall short – we do things we don’t want to do, no one knows better than you the height of your struggles and pain. We might even be able to look back and see regrets of things we didn’t do, or things we wanted to do better. It’s easy to allow our lives to be run by something other than the image God has for us in Christ. God is calling you to see that your identity humanly speaking is fragile and inadequate, but God’s given you another identity in Christ.

Notice the power that James places in the Word of God. He’s basically saying that if you hear it and retain it, God works through it in your life. This is exactly what Jesus taught: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63, NIV).

When James says, “after looking at himself” (v24). The “self” is not your sinful self, but rather a reflection of who God is. A mirror is only a reflection, but when you’re reflecting on God’s Word, there’s an effectual power associated with it.

The 10 commandments, for example, are a reflection of what God wants people to look like. God’s not embarrassed by His commandments. He thinks that what good people should look like; furthermore, He wants to give you power to keep them. That one really amazing thing—God is able to do that; it’s part of our identity in Christ. God’s glory is first that he forgives us because of Christ’s sacrifice, and secondly that He’s given us a new identity in Christ. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV).

Holiness is quite simply God’s person and power living inside of us, and the miraculous thing James is saying is that this transformation happens by hearing the Word of God!

Journeying through James 1:21 – How the Implanted Word Grows

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

Most of you reading this aren’t evangelists or pastors. You’re just one of 7.5 billion people living on this earth * . And you’re likely one of the 2.38 billion that consider themselves Christians * . Probably the best take-away for you from James 1:21 is that your life is exceeding precious to God. And not only to God, but also to any of the 7.5 billion people in this world that you might cross paths with. Why? One reason is that you can bear fruit in your life that would prove to be a good witness and blessing to others.

Jesus taught: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15, NIV). God implanted the seed as a gift in your life. That’s what James 1:21 says, and the word that Jesus uses in Luke 8:15 for “hear” is past, completed action. In other words, you’ve heard the Word; it’s in your heart and mind—now what? In Jesus teaching, “retain…persevering“ and “produce” are all in the present—things that God is doing now.

The emphasis that Jesus and James are making is about the process that God has undertaken to produce fruit in our lives. Our lives truly do bear fruit. That fruit has an impact on people. God knows how powerful that impression can be. Take a moment, right now, and thank God that He’s planted Christ in your heart. How’s that message being seen though you in the life that God has given you. This is what producing fruit is all about. Try this exercise to Dig Deeper.

Journeying through James 1:21 – What’s the Implanted Word

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

In verse 21, James uses a farming metaphor: ”implanted.“ The word describes a seed that’s in the ground and ready to sprout. James says just to receive the word with meekness. He doesn’t say what the word is, who planted it or when it was planted.

Jesus told a parable that can help us understand this:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

The disciples seemed fascinated by this parable because when Jesus “left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’” Matthew 13:24‑30, 36‑43 (NIV)

The disciples were concerned about the weeds, but Jesus focuses on the good seed. Then, He adds something that’s vitally important for every disciple to take note of: “the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.” The One who sows seed also turns us into seed.

It’s Christ who paid for our sins to make us good seed and not weeds. Christ earned eternal life with His perfect life, and He gave it to us as a gift. The implanted word is the gift of life in Christ. James is focusing on the process of bearing fruit as any good seed should. It’s perhaps obvious that “filthiness and rampant wickedness“ is not what the seed sown by Christ would produce, but how does meekness fit into this transformation? For more fuel for thought, try this Digging Deeper exercise.

In the original Greek manuscripts, the word is “ἐθελοθρησκία,” (pronounced: ethelothrēskia).
According Louw and Nida*, it means “a set of religious beliefs and practices resulting from one’s own desires and initiative—‘self-imposed religion, religion thought up by oneself.’ ἅτινά ἐστιν λόγον μὲν ἔχοντα σοφίας ἐν ἐθελοθρησκίᾳ ‘these (rules) appear to have an air of wisdom in the self-imposed religion’ Col 2:23.”

* Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 532). New York: United Bible Societies.

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 281). New York: United Bible Societies.

The US Census Bureau’s International Data Base estimated that the world population reached 7.5 billion on June 13, 2018 (https://www.census.gov/newsroom/stories/2020/world-population-day.html).