James 3-5 Endure for the Blessing

TMS Hebrews 12:2-4 Weary and Discouraged
12:2 ”looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 For consider Him
who endured such hostility
from sinners against Himself,
lest you become weary
and discouraged in your souls.

4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.”

Observations: 12:3 Following Christ in the midst of an apathetic or hostile world can easily cause discouragement to the point of quitting and sitting on the sidelines, or going back to the way we were. This was a temptation faced by the original audience (see context in Hebrews 12) and modern believers as well. The corrective is to fix our eyes on Jesus, who had His eyes fixed on the joy of the prize. If He became discouraged and quit, where would we be? The same Spirit and grace that energized Him is available to us. The same prize, to a lesser degree, awaits us if we endure and don't give up. (See James 5 below).

Application: If we keep our eyes on Jesus and God's promises, we'll keep heading to where God wants us to go; if we focus on the difficulties, we'll become discouraged and want to quit.

Prayer: Father God, thanks that Your Spirit dwells in me to give me both the motivation and power to do Your good pleasure like Jesus did; please help me follow in His footsteps. Amen.

James 3-5 In James 1:25 James stated that the one who would be blessed in the Kingdom was the one who was a performer/worker of the law of liberty. Then he taught that pure and undefiled (“blessable”) worship required controlling one's speech and meeting the needs of others. In chapter two he elaborated upon the importance of works for faith to be blessed, using an illustration of meeting the needs of those in need. He now picks up on the importance of speech and having an undefiled life. He will explore the sources of incorrect speech in both our unsanctified desires and demonic influences, and advocate solutions that will enable believers to have blessable lives and works.

James 3 Words and Wisdom
3:1 "Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. 2 For in many things we all stumble. If anyone doesn’t stumble in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3 Indeed, we put bits into the horsesmouths so that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body. 4 Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires. 5 So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna. 7 For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and thing in the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. 10 Out of the same mouth comes forth blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness/humility of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

Observations: 3:1 It's amazing how many “Bible teachers” say there are no consequences for how believers live their lives on earth once they accept Christ, nor differentiation of blessedness in heaven. James says that teachers need to know that they, in particular, will receive greater judgment. The fact that there is greater judgment means there is judgment. Judgment necessitates consequences. It's not like: “Good teacher...enter into the joy of your Lord” and “Bad teacher...enter into the joy of your Lord.“
It's more like “Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord” and “Bad teacher...no biscuit.”
As Jesus taught in Matthew 25:21-30 and Luke 19:17, reward is dependent upon having “done well,” and been good, faithful, and a servant. The key element is being faithful with what God has entrusted to us. Teachers have a stricter judgment because they have been entrusted with more truth (or at least should have more truth) with which to be faithful, and they multiply truth (or error) by their teaching. Surveys indicate that only 10% of those who teach the Scriptures professionally have actually read the entire Bible even once. One has to wonder if they are teaching the truth, or just parroting some party line, or what people want to have tickle their ears. Teachers who don't see or walk in the light keep their listeners in the dark (in more ways than one). Come judgment day, some will be blessed with reward and joy in the Kingdom of light, and some will be in the outer darkness lamenting that they have “no biscuit.”
3:2-12 The reason James warns about the judgment of teachers, is because we all stumble (offend), but if one doesn't stumble in word, that person is mature/perfect, and able to control (James 1:26 for only other use) the whole body. Arguing by analogy, bridles and rudders exert a control far greater than their size. The tongue has a similar influence, but it is difficult to control. Words can cause great defilement (and loss of blessing), and destruction. James compares the destructive power of the tongue to a fire that consumes one's life with the fire of Gehenna. Gehenna is the garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem where unprofitable things are burned. It should not be confused with the lake of fire, the place of eternal punishment. The majority of uses of Gehenna occur in Matthew, being introduced in the Sermon on the Mount referring to unpleasant consequences for unpleasant believers (see comments on Matthew 5:22,29,30). This is the only use of the term outside the Gospels. James says the tongue can't be tamed, but alludes to the source of the defilement, one's heart, which can be purified. He will discuss the cure in the next chapter, but first he highlights the incompatibility of blessing God and cursing men who are made in the image of God, which is like a spring sending out fresh and bitter water or a tree bearing figs and olives.
3:13-18 The person who is wise and has insight will demonstrate his/her wisdom with good and humble conduct. But if jealousy and selfish ambition reside in his/her heart, he/she is living inconsistently with the truth. Such self-centeredness is not from God, but is demonic. It is a product of earthly and sensual motivation rather than Spirit-led thinking. Self-centeredness results in disorder/contention and evil works rather than love and good deeds. Wisdom that comes from God is pure, peaceful, gentle, reasonable (easily entreated), demonstrating mercy, fruitfulness, and without partiality nor hypocrisy. Godly wisdom results in the fruit of righteousness, doing what is right in God's sight, which would include harmonious relationships with other believers.

Application: Those who are wise teach truth that bears the fruit of righteousness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, may my words reflect Your wisdom and result in a reflection of Your character, for Your glory. Amen.

James 4 Grace for the Humble
4:1 "Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your pleasures/lusts that war in your members? 2 You lust, and don’t have. You kill, covet, and can’t obtain. You fight and make war. You don’t have, because you don’t ask. 3 You ask, and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it for your pleasures. 4 You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously"?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore it says,
"God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble."
7 Be subject therefore to God.
But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.
11 Don’t speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge another? 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit." 14 Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. 15 For you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that." 16 But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil. 17 To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin."

Observations: 4:1-5 The reason some of James' audience have intrapersonal discontent and interpersonal difficulties is because they have unsanctified desires/lusts, developed in Satan's world, and not renewed by the Spirit. Their desires are unsatisfied because they are looking to their self-gratification, rather than seeking and trusting God to meet their needs (you don't have because you don't ask). When they do turn to God, it's to demand the the fulfillment of their temporal desires, rather than seeking His will (you ask amiss). There is no abiding contentment in the goodness and timing of an infinitely good God (Psalm 84:11; Philippians 4). James accuses such worldlings of adultery, being friendly with the world, and disloyal to God. By seeking their temporal pleasures (as well as power and possessions) they become enemies of God (not a good place to be if they wish His blessings). James cites a principle from the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5) although there a number of passages that have roughly the same idea, that God wants the sole allegiance of His people, and gets rather peeved when we are disloyal. The Spirit that dwells in us wants us to Himself (which is why God isn't thrilled with idolatry in either testament). So those who have a higher loyalty to the their pursuit of pleasure and prosperity in the world than they do to God, are not only His enemies, but are adulterers headed for judgment, and nowhere near the blessings promised in the Good News.
4:6-10 Speaking of good news, there is a solution for all who find themselves not living the abundant life that Jesus came to give. It is to draw on His grace to do His will. There is a limitless supply of God's power/grace available to live the victorious Christian life. And God gives it to those submitted to Him and His revealed will. God actively resists (stand in battle against) the proud (those who consider themselves above others). Those who set them up as lord of their own life and master of their fate, will find a fearsome opponent in God. Imagine having the Creator of the universe thwarting your efforts. On the other hand, imagine having Him as your Helper. The choice is yours. He gives grace/power to the humble, those who have a proper estimation of themselves as His dependent creatures. Therefore, we should submit to (line ourselves up under) God's rightful authority in our life. Living dependently is the path to blessing; living independently is the path to ruin. Note what we have to do:
  • subject ourselves – place ourselves under God's rule to get His grace;
  • resist the devil (and his temptations – so he will flee (more below);
  • draw near to God (it's our move, then He responds; He doesn't intrude where not invited);
  • cleanse our hands (stop playing in the mud of the world) otherwise we remain defiled sinners;
  • purify our hearts from our double-mindedness (decide once and for all that God's way is the only way, and do whatever it takes to not deviate from it).
A couple things worth elaboration, beyond what you can find in “It Ain't Gonna Reign No More” are Defense Against the Dark Arts, and being wholehearted like Caleb, rather than double-minded.
We are supposed to flee temptation, but resist the devil. Anyone unaware of the devil's schemes and dirty tricks of twisting truth and distorting reality is most likely stumbling around in the dark. The way to resist the devil, is as Jesus did (and Eve didn't), with truth. When he can’t get you to buy a lie, he might try to scare you, which is just another lie (see, and memorize 1 John 4:4). We must cleanse our hands and purify our hearts by washing them with truth. Verse 9 is my favorite verse to write on birthday cards and for other happy occasions. What it means is that sinners need to change their hearts, so their value system is brought into conformity to God’s values. The things that they once thought were fun, are now poison to them. It’s difficult to drink poison and expect happy consequences. So if we humble ourselves in submitting to what is right in God’s sight, we can trust that He will give grace and exalt us in the proper time.
4:11-17 James addresses some behaviors that should flow from hearts that are cleansed and submitted to God. Not speaking against or judging each other (except as God has mandated) is how to be a doer of the law. Another is depending upon God for our plans making sure they are in line with God’s will, rather than just tacking “God willing” onto our statements. He can help or hinder our plans, or rescue us from trouble, or bring calamity. So it makes sense to seek His will, which He will bless. Those who glory in their accomplishments aren't holy. If we know what we should do to please God, and don’t do it, it’s sin. Paul also said that whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14).

Application: Humbling ourselves to draw upon God’s grace and do His will is our position of protection and prosperity.

Prayer: God, You are my Master, I exist to do Your will; please guide me and protect me, so I may do what is pleasing in Your sight. Thanks. Amen.

James 5 Endure For Blessing
5:1 "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming on you. 2 Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be for a testimony against you, and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up your treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of those who reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts. 5 You have lived luxuriously, on the earth, and taken your pleasure. You have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous one. He doesn’t resist you.
7 Be patient therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receives the early and late rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Don’t grumble, brothers, against one another, so that you won’t be judged. Behold, the judge stands at the door.
10 Take, brothers, for an example of suffering and of patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we call them blessed who endured. You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the Lord in the outcome, and how the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
12 But above all things, my brothers, don’t swear, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your "yes" be "yes," and your "no," "no"; so that you don’t fall into hypocrisy. 13 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praises. 14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the assembly, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, 15 and the prayer of faith will save/heal him who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The pryer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.(NIV) 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it didn’t rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 He prayed again, and the sky gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit. 19 Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins."

Observations: 5:1-6 Those who've spent their time accumulating temporal wealth at the expense of doing God’s will and loving others will regret the judgment day, when their ill-gotten gain is called as a witness against them. Gain gotten at the expense of fulfilling God’s purpose for being on earth, is ill-gotten. Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. Just because we don’t experience immediate negative consequences, doesn't mean that we won’t.
5:7-11 In the closing “book-end” James advocates that believers wait patiently for the coming of the Lord, like a farmer waits for the fruit of his labors. This requires having a fixed heart, waiting for the return of the Lord. He will not only bring our reward, but will judge our behavior, therefore we must be careful to have proper relationships with one another. As an example of patience in the fire of suffering, Job should give us hope. The story didn't end until the Lord doubly blessed him for his sinless response. (See comments on Job). James is clearly talking about blessing and reward, not forgiveness and the substitutionary atonement.
5:12-20 James admonishes believers to be truthful in their speech, meaning what they say. If any suffer, they should pray (rather than complain). If cheerful, they should sing praises. If sick, they should call for the elders, who using medical (oil) and spiritual means (prayer), should save/heal the sick, and the Lord will raise them up. James uses a more common word for putting oil on the body, that some suggest should be translated "rub." If the person has committed sins they will be forgiven as a result of the prayer (which would have included confession or acknowledgement of sin if it were present).  The fact that the elders are called for suggest that this is a spiritual sickness, or one brought on by sin. This passage indicates that sin is at the root of some sickness. Not all sickness (physical and/or spiritual) is healed. Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20), and Ephaphroditus was sick while with Paul. Some think that this is only a reference to elders who had the supernatural gift of healing, or that this was a temporary bestowal of God's grace. Others suggest that anyone who is sick today lacks faith. The one thing that is clear is that believers who aren't functioning to their full potential physically or spiritually should take whatever steps are necessary to live as God intended. 
Believers should confess their sins to one another (not some intermediary) and pray for each other so they may be healed. James notes that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, citing Elijah’s prayers in the days of Ahab.
If a believer wanders from the truth, and another believer turns then from the error of their way back to the truth, a multitude of sins will be prevented, and the sinning person would be spared from death (either physical discipline as in 1 Corinthians 11, or spiritual as in Romans 8).

Application: Believers should prayerfully endure suffering knowing that the Lord will return, rectify, and reward those who remain faithful to Him.

Prayer: God, thanks that I can trust You to be faithful and just in all your dealings with me. Amen.

Digging Deeper:

God in a nutshell: God gives grace to the humble, blessings to the righteous, and opposition to the proud and sinful.

Build-a-Jesus: Jesus isn't mentioned in these chapters, but His example of resisting the devil is implied.

Us in a nutshell: We need to watch our words and walk to receive the blessings God has planned for those who are loyal to Him. We have the responsibility to work at our relationship with God, from submitting to His will, resisting the devil, drawing on His grace to purify our hearts and clean up our act. If we do, we will be blessed. If we don't...what do you think happens?

Where to Go for More:

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