On worldliness, part 2

7 Nov

Worldliness is dangerous because it stains us.   

James says true religion is to ‘keep oneself unstained by the world.’

In other words, if you are not actively keeping yourself, you are going to be stained by the world.

The reason you have to actively keep yourself unstained by the world is because the world is constantly seeking to press us into its mold.  You hear a lot these days about tolerance. But the truth is the world is not tolerant towards God and towards true believers.  The world wants you to think like they think.  That’s why the apostle Paul explains in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  

If we are not on our guard, we are in danger. 

You’ve all heard the story of how you boil a frog.  You don’t just set him down in boiling water.  No you put him in a pot of water that is a nice temperature, and then you slowly turn up the heat.  That’s the way worldliness tends to stain us and to infect our lives.   We let down our guard.   

You see this happening in the Old Testament. 

One author explains, “As Israel became apostate, it’s practices were progressively less distinguishable from those of the Canaanites.”  Slowly but surely they began to think and act just like the world around them because they were not on their guard.  They weren’t keeping themselves unstained from the world.  

And “Just as Israel was told repeatedly to separate itself from the immoralities of the pagan peoples it was displacing in Canaan the early church was to separate itself from the beliefs and practices of the … civilization within which it existed.  Christians were not to feel at home in the world but rather were to conduct themselves as strangers and exiles, without becoming conformed to the surrounding society.”  

If we are not careful, what happens is that we being to integrate worldly ideas and principles with our Christian practice, without even really realizing it.  We become more and more worldly but are unaware of our worldliness because we are still participating in religious activities.  

Herbert Schlossberg in his book Idols for Destruction explains, “Rarely when Israel fell into idolatry did they openly renounce the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to bow before the pagan shrines.  Instead…the nation combined the old rituals with what it knew of Canaanite religion.  We can see this in the description of the religious revival under King Josiah.  The king commanded the priests to remove from the temple the vessels that had been introduced for the service of Baal and of the heavenly bodies, he deposed the priests who burned incense to the pagan deities, he scattered the cult prostitutes…In turning away from God, the nation had not fallen into irreligion, but had combined the temple religion with the pagan beliefs and practices of the surrounding peoples.”  Their lives were stained by the world, and thus their worship was unacceptable to God.  

When I was a young man I went to the border of Rwanda.  And if you remember Rwanda a number of years ago was the scene of a terrible tribal war.  Hundreds if not thousands died.  And it was so sad as I talked to one of the missionaries about Rwanda he told me that before that event occurred Rwanda had been considered a Christian nation.  Many missionaries had gone to Rwanda and many had been supposedly converted.  But what had happened in reality was that many of the Rwandas just added Christianity to their old tribal religions.  It was a surface Christianity.  They went to church, they went through the motions of worship, but down deep, they hadn’t changed.  And so when the war broke out, they went back to their old ways because they had never really turned to new ones.

It’s easy to point our fingers at the Rwandans, but I’m afraid many professing Christians are like that.  We’ve just added going to church and praying as kind of a surface covering over a heart and life that is completely devoted to the world and our previous way of life. 

 If we take a step back we can see this happening in the church at large. Too often the ideas and principles that control the church are just the same principles and ideas that control those in the world, only perhaps they are clothed in more religious language.

For example I was reading in a newsletter, that in a past issue of Newsweek their religion editor asserted that ‘mere tolerance of other religions is not enough..’ and the ‘acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient.’  According to the editor, ‘the most important theological agenda in the millennium is for committed Christians, Jews and Muslims to find within their own traditions sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without compromising their own.”  

Now you think, that’s the world, I can understand that.  Apart from God, that makes sense.  But you don’t expect that kind of thing from the church.  But turn to Christianity Today, in a recent article by a college professor from a well known Christian college, we read that Christians ‘should seek Muslim prayer partners and gather together to pray to the true, one and only God to have mercy on us.’

“When evangelicals capitulate and attempt to soften the offense of the gospel this way, they blur the lines between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible.”  That’s just thinking like the world.  We can love Muslims and reach out to them without compromising the truth.  To do otherwise is to be stained by the world.  

Another example is that of psychology.  A University of Illinois psychologist “studied over a long period of time the relationship between academic psychology and the American churches.”  And you know what he found?  He discovered that “psychology and psychiatry were beginning to discover the damage done by their naturalistic assumptions…” But on the other hand, many in the churches had become so enamored with the naturalistic assumptions that were contradictory to their own beliefs that they were more committed to psychology and psychiatry than the psychologist and psychiatrists were.  

There are certainly other examples. 

James Montgomery Boice gives four.  “Like those liberals of past years, evangelicals today…1.) Pursue the world’s wisdom…If they are asked whether the Bible is the authoritative and inerrant Word of God, most will answer affirmatively.  But many have abandoned the Bible all the same because they don’t think it is adequate for the challenges we face as they enter a new millennium.  They don’t think it is sufficient for winning people to Christ so they turn to felt-need sermons, to entertainment, or to signs and wonders.  They do not think the Scriptures are sufficient for achieving genuine Christian growth, so they turn to therapy groups…2.) Embrace the world’s theology.  Like liberals before us evangelicals use the Bible’s words but give them new meanings.  Sin becomes dysfunctional behavior.  Salvation becomes self-esteem or wholeness…3.) Follow the World’s agenda.  The world’s major agenda is not hunger, racism…The world’s major agenda is being happy and happiness is achieving the maximum amount of personal peace and sufficient prosperity to enjoy it.  But is that not the bottom line of much evangelical preaching today?  Being happy?  Being content?  Being satisfied…4.)  Employ the world’s methods.  Evangelicals have become like liberals in this area, too.  How else are we to explain the stress so many place on numerical growth and money?  How else are we to explain that so many pastors tone down the hard edges of Bible truth in order to attract greater numbers to their services…”  

But we must be careful here.  It’s easy to talk generally about worldliness.  It’s even easy to talk about ways in which the church at large is becoming more and more worldly.  But we must remember that the church at large is made up of who?  Individuals.  And the church as a whole compromises with the world because individuals do.  So if we are concerned about the worldliness in the church, we need to start by being concerned about the worldliness in our hearts. Take your time this week and evaluate your life in light of Scriptures. 

Am I being stained by the world?  

Sometimes it is hard for us to identify the ways in which we are worldly because we have become so accustomed to it.  I’m sure many of the Rwandans didn’t think much about killing members of the other tribes because that’s the way they had always lived.  And many times we don’t think much about our worldliness because that’s our culture and we haven’t examined ourselves in light of Scripture. 

Donald Grey Barnhouse tells of how “Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch. 

So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world.”  

Again, Herbert Schlossberg explains, “Idols are hard to identify after they have been part of the society for a time.  It became ‘normal’ for the people of Jerusalem to worship Molech in the temple, and it seemed odd that people calling themselves prophets should denounce the practice.  Molech was part of the establishment religious scene, one that directed the national worship throughout living memory.  The idol was supported by all the best elements of society, the political, economic, and religious power structure.  The prophets therefore denounced the powerful, wealth, and respectable, not because there is anything inherently wrong with those attributes, but because in that society people so described organized and validated a system of idol worship and injustice.”  

That’s why we must be on our guard.  That’s why we need to be called to ever-renewed vigilance and watchfulness in the war against worldliness.

If we are not warring against worldliness we are giving in to it.

On worldliness, part 1

6 Nov

Are you worldly?

That’s an important question.

After all, listen to James 1:27.

“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father…to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  

Worldliness is a problem because the world wants to stain you and it’s a problem you should be concerned about because as James explains worship that God accepts comes from people who keep themselves unstained by the world.  

So the stakes our high.

Our relationship with the world is a test of our relationship with God.  Therefore regardless of how often you go to church, and how religious you appear, you need to ask yourself, am I keeping myself pure?

It is possible to engage in religious activities while being stained by the world.

Isaiah 1, perfect example. 

As one man writes,

“The nation of Judah was sunk in corruption and oppression, bribery was rampant, and the legal system a tool of despoliation.  Economic crime and murder abounded and government officials committed criminal acts.  Yet with all this the official religion of the nation, the temple worship of the Creator of the universe flourished.  People took part in the cultic observances of the God whose laws they had come to despise.” 

They claimed to worship God while living for themselves.

And you know what? 

God hates that kind of worship. 

He says, “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me.  New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.’ (Is.1:13)”   

They were worldly worshipers, and so God rejected their worldly worship.  

But worldliness is not just an Old Testament problem.

It’s a New Testament problem as well. 

Paul says in Philippians 4:18,19 “Many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, who set their minds on earthly things.” 

Many people are worldly.  Not just those who are outside the church.  Many professing believers lives are stained by worldliness. 

That’s why the apostle John has to give this urgent admonition, “Do not love the world, nor the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  

And if worldliness was a problem in the Old Testament, and a problem in the New Testament you can be sure that it is a problem today. 

In fact, I am afraid, many professing believers have failed at just this point.  

They don’t abandon worship. They come to church.  They go through all the motions.  But what they do on Sunday morning has nothing to do with the rest of their lives.  As one writer explains, they fail to understand that their worship service on Sunday mornings completely repudiates the way of life they uphold throughout the week. 

In the other words, they are  just as worldly as the world.

The truth is, many are outworlding the world. 

As James Montgomery Boice writes,

“Over a decade ago, Professor Martin Marty, always a shrewd observer of the American church said in a magazine interview that in his judgment, evangelicals would be ‘the most worldly people in America’ by the end of the century.  Marty’s observations are not always right in my opinion, but in this case he was on target.  Evangelicals have embraced worldliness in the same ways that it was embraced by liberal churches.” 

Iain Murray explains,

“Instead of the churches revolutionizing the culture, the reverse has happened.  Churches have been converted to the world…the stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself.”  

Worldliness is a problem.

Are you worldly?

To answer that question, obviously you need to know what worldliness is.

The Greek word James uses for world is ‘kosmos.’

Sometimes it is used in Scripture to describe the physical universe itself, things like stars and planets, and the earth.  Obviously that’s not how James is using the term here.  He’s not talking about grass stains. This term kosmos is also used throughout Scripture to describe a way of thinking about life, and a way of living one’s life.  As one Greek dictionary defines it, the world is “the system of practices and standards associated with secular society (that is without reference to the demands and requirements of God.)”  The world represents apart from God thinking and living.

Worldliness, as Iain Murray explains,

“Is departing from God.  It is a man-centered way of thinking.” 

Or as David Wells writes, “Worldliness is that system of values and beliefs, behaviors, and expectations, in any given culture that have at their center the fallen human being and that relegate to their periphery any thought about God.  Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd.”  

You see, there are two ways of viewing life. 

One is from God’s perspective, which is revealed in the Word, and the other is man’s perspective, which is revealed in the world.  God has a worldview, and He presents that worldview in the Scripture.  Unregenerate man also has a worldview.  He lives his life according to Galatians 4:3 in bondage to the basic principles of the world.   And these two perspectives, God’s and unregenerate man’s, are not neutral towards one another as some seem to think.  They are opposites.  What is of the world is not of the Father, and what is of the Father is not of the world.  The apostle John explains, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)  The two cannot co-exist.

The Bible tells us God looks at the world’s ideas and principles and says they are foolish.  In fact, Paul says He has made them foolish.  1 Corinthians 1:20, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  And the world looks at God’s wisdom and thinks it is foolish.  1 Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to Him…”  

Sometimes when people hear the word worldliness, they think of a list of do’s and don’ts.  But when James talks about true believers keeping themselves unstained by the world and we talk about warring against worldliness, we’re talking about much more than just sticking to a list of do’s and don’ts that some person has made up. 

In fact, I think this is one of Satan’s great strategies. 

Many people hear James say ‘keep yourself unstained by the world…’ and they automatically think, ‘Great I am doing that.  I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to bad movies. Therefore, I’m not worldly.’  But worldliness, being stained by the world, is something much bigger than not drinking and not smoking and not going to bad movies.  You can avoid movies, wear plain dresses and live in a monastery in the wilderness and be as worldly as a person who does all these things, because as John MacArthur puts it, “Worldliness is the sin of allowing one’s appetites, ambitions, or conduct to be fashioned by worldly values.”

I am saying, worldliness is a way of thinking, a way of looking at life

It is about more than what you do or don’t do. It’s about what’s going on in your heart.

To be stained by the world is to think like the world thinks and live like the world lives. 

You know, James uses different language but makes the same point over in 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

An enemy of God!

Are you worldly?

It’s dangerous, and in our next post, we’ll see just how dangerous being worldly can be.  

On evil speaking, part 3

31 Oct

Yesterday we looked at what it means to speak against others.

Today, why.

Why do we speak evil against others?

 We speak against others because we think we know better than God’s law. 

“He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law…” 

When you slander someone, when you gossip, when you criticize, you are setting yourself up as judge over them.   That means you are saying I know enough, or I have the right to say that what you are doing is wrong or not good.   

Most of us understand that.  That much is obvious.   

Think about the last conversation you had where you were criticizing someone.  

“I can’t believe they said that.  I mean who are they to come in there and look at me like that.  They think they are so good.  They think they are so much better than me.  I wish I could just tell them what I really thought of them.” 

What are you really saying?  I know the right thing to say.  You didn’t say it.  I deserve much better than how you treated me.  I know what you were thinking.  I can read your mind and discern your motives.  And I don’t think your motives are good.

You are setting yourself up as judge, jury and executioner.

What most of us don’t realize is that when we speak against others, we are not only speaking against others, and we’re not just judging others.    

We are also speaking against God’s law, and we are also judging God’s law. 

When you slander someone else, you are disobeying God’s law, you are showing disregard for God’s standards, and you are saying you don’t need to obey it.  

You see God is King.  And He explains in Scripture how He wants us to speak.  Our words are not our own.   God has a mission for our mouths.   That mission is found all throughout Scripture, but it’s summed up for us in Leviticus 19.  

Listen to how Moses puts it, “You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.  You shall not hate your fellow countrymen in your heart, you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”  

God has been so good to us.  He’s shown His love to us in amazing ways.  But we’re not only to be recipients of God’s love.  God is saying here, He wants us to be agents of that love. Which means we’re not free to talk however we want to talk.  Our King commands us to speak words that are motivated by love.  

And so when we don’t do that, when we speak against our brother or judge our brother, we’re not only saying bad things about him, we’re saying bad things about God’s law.  We’re not only saying we are better than our brother, we’re also saying we know better than God.  We know more than He does.  We don’t have to obey His laws.  We don’t have to do things His way.  We are excused.  God says don’t, I say do, that’s it, end of story.  I’m breaking God’s law. 

You see, James sums it up at the end of verse 11, “But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.”  

If you slander your neighbor, you slander God’s law and if you slander God’s law that means you are not obeying it.  And by not obeying God’s law you are making a statement.    You are saying, you can live by your own standards.  And what’s that?  Pure, unabashed pride.  

Do you see that?  

When you slander others you are not just saying something about them.  You are saying something about God’s law.  You don’t have to obey it. 

Imagine a guy whose driving his car and refuses to stop at red lights.  He just keeps driving on the wrong side of the road, and never keeps within the speed limit.  That’s guy is dangerous.  He will kill someone. He is also utterly contemptuous of the law of the land. 

Or think about a soccer-player who picks up the ball in his hands and runs with it ruins the game, and also is despising the rule-book. 

Or perhaps think about a soldier who gets up when he feels like and won’t go on maneuvers and says to the sergeant “Well, that’s your opinion.”   That guys is going to end up in a cell. He also belittles the army code. 

If it’s foolish and dangerous for a motorist…how much more for us to disregard God’s law.  Geoffrey Thomas explains, “Now, those are just human laws and codes, but this royal law is the written by the finger of God.  So all slander hurts your brother or disparages your neighbour, but also it dismisses the Word of God. In that great day God will say to you, “You sat in judgment on my word, and you condemned it. You spoke against my word.” And you will say “When, Lord? When did I speak against your word and judge it?” And God will say, “When you ran down Bill Jones and Mary Smith. When you sat in your kitchen with that telephone in your hand and said those cruel things against them so harshly, it was then you were sitting in judgment on me and on my words. Depart from me ye cursed into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” When you judge the law the law will judge you. The law is given to us to obey, not to be despised.”

What would you think of a person who went around saying, ‘God’s law is stupid.  I don’t have to obey it.  I don’t need to waste my time listening to it?’  And what would you think if he called himself a Christian? 

Yet that’s just what we are doing when we slander our brothers.  We’re saying we know more than God’s law.  

So do you see how pitiful you are when you go around gossiping about others?  You are going out and you are saying, I can’t believe what so and so did, I mean can’t believe the things they said, and how they acted.  And when you do that you are acting like you are so holy, like you have the right to be their judge.  When in reality by the very act of slandering while you are criticizing them for breaking God’s law you at the same time are arrogantly breaking God’s law.  It’s kind of like a guy who is just drenched in mud pointing at another guy and mocking him because he’s drenched in mud.  Doesn’t make sense.  

All this nasty talk, this slander, this speaking against others, this hypercritical spirit, it is a symptom.  A symptom of what?  A symptom of blind and foolish pride.  We think we know better than God.

You’d think that be enough. 

But we will see tomorrow, James gets even more intense.  

 

On evil speaking, part 2

30 Oct

What does it mean to speak evil against someone?

Let me get specific.

We speak against others when we speak words that are intended to hurt not to help.   

When you speak against someone your words are like soldiers that you send out to do war.  The term James uses here literally means to speak down on. When you speak down on someone what are you doing?  You are speaking to crush them, to hurt them, to punish them, to pummel them, to put them in their place.  Why do you do that?  At that point, your words certainly aren’t motivated by love. When our words are motivated by hatred instead of love, when our words are motivated by a desire to tear others down instead of a desire to build them up, when they are motivated by a desire to hurt others not to help them, we can know for sure, that we are doing just what James forbids.

We speak against others when we speak words that are produced by pride not humility.

Notice in the second part of verse 11 James expands his thought.  “He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother…”  This is basically the same activity just viewed from a different angle.  

When we speak against others we are setting ourselves up as their judge.  James is not talking about evaluating someone, he’s talking about condemning them.  He’s talking about the kind of speech that flows out of a heart that is filled with pride, that comes from a person who is looking down on others, and thinks that he has the right to make disparaging comments about them because he is so much better than they are.  

Some people get a little confused here, and they use these verses as an excuse. 

Somebody confronts them in their sin and they say you know who are you to judge me, who are you to speak against me?  That’s not the kind of speech James is talking about here.  That’s taking this verse way out of context. 

It’s not wrong for us to confront someone in their sin.  We’re commanded to.  You look over at Galatians 6, “Brethren even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself lest you too be tempted.”  It’s kind of hard to do that without words.  God’s not calling us to be namby-pamby, to be spiritual Barney’s just going around with plastic smiles on our faces ignoring reality.  

It’s not even wrong to be passionate about the way we confront, and to when appropriate use some strong language.  If you flip back to Matthew 3 you see John the Baptist confronting the Pharisees and Sadducees, verse 7, “You brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the wrath to come…”  Or you look at Paul in Galatians 3, and he writes, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…”  Or over in Philippians 3:2, he’s warning the church about a certain group of men and he says, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision…”  That’s passionate, strong language. Jesus Himself, who is perfect, confronts Peter and says “Get behind me Satan…”  You can’t say anything much stronger than that.  

No, when James talks about not speaking against others, and not judging others he’s not talking about lovingly dealing with someone’s sin; he’s not talking about closing your eyes to reality; he’s not talking about humbly going to someone and dealing with an issue.  

Really, at a fundamental level, he’s talking about selfish speech, speech that has one purpose, to make you look good and to make others look bad, speech that is motivated by selfishness, not selflessness, characterized by pride not humility. 

You know, we can get specific, and we should get very specific about exactly how we do this, but first we’ve got to start out in a very general way and just look at what motivates our words. 

That’s really the issue here.  

Next time you find yourself talking about people or talking to people, I just beg you, ask yourself, why am I saying what I’m saying? 

First, is it even true?  Or am I just assuming? And then even beyond that, what’s the point?  Why am I talking about this?  What is it that is motivating my speech?  

To get a little more specific, sometimes we speak against others by lying about them. 

As Exodus 20 puts it, we bear false witness.  We say things that aren’t true.  That’s actually how Noah Webster defines slander.  He says it is a “false tale or report maliciously uttered and tending to injure the reputation of another by lessening him in the esteem of his fellow citizens…”   A story that makes someone look bad.  

You wouldn’t think we’d have to point this out in church, but guys, the Bible makes it clear God does not want us to say things that aren’t true about others.  That’s sin.  And we do it all the time.  

Sometimes we do it in very blatant ways. 

We say things that we know aren’t true about other people just because we want to make them look bad. 

But most of the time, we’re not so obvious about it. 

We say things we don’t know are true about others just because we enjoy looking like we know something important. 

We’re quick to pass on that word of gossip. 

We hear something negative about someone, and what’s the first thing we do?  Do we go to that person to find out the truth, to see if we can help?  Do we get on our knees and pray for that person?  No, we go out and we talk about it.  We spread the word.  And it could be we are just flat out lying because we’ve never taken the time to figure out the truth. 

Sometimes we just exaggerate a person’s faults.  We paint a caricature of them.  

A lot of times a spouse will do this.  They’ll be talking with their friends about their husband or wife, and they will keep emphasizing their spouse’s bad qualities – and don’t tell their friends the whole story.  

Or sometimes when someone does something to hurt us, we’ll run and tell others about it.  And we keep talking about the way they hurt us, only to find out later that we didn’t know the whole story, and they had a reason for saying what they said, or doing what they did.  We just didn’t know it.  And so we went out and lied.   We slandered them.

But slander’s not just lying. 

Sometimes we speak against others by saying things that are true about them behind their backs for no other reason than just to put them down. That too is slander.  

This is such a powerful temptation.  You’ve got to recognize that. 

You know it must be a powerful temptation because there are at least three shows on television devoted to doing just this about celebrities.  Britney Spears smoked a cigarette in Mexico, we’ve got pictures, whoo, come find out.  And people just eat that stuff up.  We love gossip.  

But, God hates it. 

As John MacArthur explains, “The Old Testament denounces the sin of slandering God or men more often than it does any other sin.  In Leviticus 19:16, God commands His people, ‘You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people.’  It is the mark of a godly man that ‘he does not slander with his tongue;'(Ps.15:3) it is the mark of the wicked that they do slander others; (Ps.50:19-20; Jer.6:28; 9:4; Rom.1:30).  The seriousness of slander caused David to vow, ‘Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor him I will destroy’ (Ps.101:5), and to pray, ‘May a slanderer not be established in the earth’ (Ps.140:11).  Solomon wisely counseled against associating with a slanderer. (Prov.20:19)  The New Testament also condemns slander.  The Lord Jesus identified its source as an evil heart. (Mt.15:19) and taught that it defiles a person. (Mt.15:20)  Paul feared that he would find slander among the Corinthians when he visited them (2 Cor.12:20) and he commanded the Ephesians (Eph.4:31) and the Colossians (Col.3:8) to avoid it.  Peter also exhorted his readers not to slander others. (1 Peter 2:1)”

Gossip might taste sweet, but God says it is a poison. 

A sweet, sweet poison.  

Sometimes we speak against others by just being hypercritical.  That’s what’s implicit when James talks about judging people.  He’s talking about finding fault with others, constantly putting people down.  We don’t just do that behind people’s backs, sometimes we do that right to their faces.  Nitpicking at everything that person does.  Whatever they do, it’s not good enough for you. Constantly standing in judgment on people. 

I heard a story about David Simmons, “a former cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys which illustrates this kind of speech. His father, a military man, was extremely demanding, rarely saying a kind word, always pushing him with harsh criticism to do better. The father had decided that he would never permit his son to feel any satisfaction from his accomplishments, reminding him there were always new goals ahead. When Dave was a little boy, his dad gave him a bicycle, unassembled, with the command that he put it together. After Dave struggled to the point of tears with the difficult instructions and many parts, his father said, “I knew you couldn’t do it.” Then he assembled it for him. When Dave played football in high school, his father was unrelenting in his criticisms. In the backyard of his home, after every game, his dad would go over every play and point out Dave’s errors. “Most boys got butterflies in the stomach before the game; I got them afterwards. Facing my father was more stressful than facing any opposing team.” By the time he entered college, Dave hated his father and his harsh discipline. He chose to play football at the University of Georgia because its campus was further from home than any school that offered him a scholarship. After college, he became the second round draft pick of the St. Louis cardinal’s professional football club. Joe Namath (who later signed with the New York Jets), was the club’s first round pick that year. “Excited, “I telephoned my father to tell him the good news. He said, ‘How does it feel to be second?'” 

We may not be that extreme. 

But we do have to be honest, and recognize that for many of us it is easier to constantly be criticizing others than actually try to help them and encourage them and build them up.  

Listen. 

Our words have power. 

They can either build others up or they can tear them down.  God doesn’t want us to use our words to tear others down. 

That’s why James writes, “Do not speak against one another, brothers…”

On speaking evil…

29 Oct

“Do not speak evil against one another brothers…” James 4:11

Every week, every one of us experiences all sorts of different problems. Our car breaks down, a friendship crumbles, we lose our job.

Now obviously such a wide variety of problems require a wide variety of solutions. But regardless of what particular problem we experience, every solution, every real solution has at least one thing in common. We all know if you are going to effectively deal with any sort of problem you have to move beyond merely treating the symptoms of the problem to dealing with what is actually causing those symptoms.    

Imagine taking your car to a mechanic because the engine is making funny noises. He listens, says you are right, sounds funny. So he goes out into the garage and comes back with a pair of headphones. Put these on, you won’t hear the noises anymore. 

Or imagine if one of your kitchen pipes burst. And so you call a plumber to come out and fix it.  And he takes a look, scratches his head and comes up with a solution.  He twists the pipe so the water shoots out into a bucket, then he sits down at your kitchen table and makes out a schedule for your family, every person has three hours a day that they have to watch and dump the buckets when they start to overflow.  

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out if you just deal with the symptoms you are not going to really deal with the problem. But unfortunately for many that basic principle is not so obvious when it comes to their spiritual life and their spiritual problems. They are continually frustrated in their attempts to change because they are dealing with the symptoms, not their real problem. They are putting band-aids on a broken leg.

In James 3 and 4, James is doing everything he can to make it very clear, that our problems in our relationships with others are symptoms.  They are symptoms of a problem in our relationship with God. Therefore to resolve the problems you have in your relationships with others, you must first resolve the problem you have in your relationship with God.

One reason so many Christians are stuck in sinful conflict is because they fail to understand just that. They see their relationships with others as somehow disconnected from their relationship with God.  And so they are continually trying to solve their problems in their relationships with people while ignoring what their relationships with people say about their relationship with God. They are continually treating the symptoms but never dealing with the cause.  Because they don’t see how the two connect.

And, that apparently is what is happening here in James.  There were a number of people who wanted to be teachers because they thought they were spiritually mature, but failed to control the way they spoke to others.

They were failing to see how their relationship with God had anything to do with their relationship with one another.  They were so blinded by their own spiritual pride that they failed to see they even had a problem. And so James goes to great lengths here in chapters 3 and 4 to show that their relationship with God has everything to do with the way their relationship with one another.   

Point blank: 

You are not spiritually mature if you are stirring up strife.  

So although they may appear religious and wise, James makes it clear since they are so quarrelsome that proves their life is not controlled by wisdom from God but by the wisdom of the world.  The fact is, they live their lives as slaves to their own selfish desires, which is just how the world lives.  And really that’s a way of life that is hostile towards God Himself.

So ultimately the reason they are having these problems in their relationship with others is because they have a major problem in their relationship with God.  They are proud.  And Scripture makes it clear that they’ll never resolve their problem with others until they resolve their problem with God.  

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore instead of exalting themselves in the eyes of others they need to humble themselves before God and repent.  

That’s the pathway to peace.  

So you say how do I resolve my conflicts with others? 

James answers, you need to begin by dealing with your conflict with God.  

Fights and quarrels are a symptom. A symptom of a problem in your relationship with God. And James explains, the problem is pride.  You haven’t humbled yourself before God so you aren’t humbling yourself before others.  

Now that is helpful. 

It gives us an entirely new perspective on our problems with people.  You’ve got to see what your problem is before you can deal with it.  

But even still, you may be thinking, what do you mean?  It’s still a little bit fuzzy for me.

I mean, I get the general overarching principle, pride is at the root of my problems with others, but I need you to show me how this works out in real life. 

How does a problem in my relationship with God produce a problem in my relationship with others?  

So James illustrates. 

That’s what he is doing in James 4:11 and 12. 

He is giving a very practical real life illustration of how the problem of strife in our relationships with others is directly and inextricably linked to the problem of pride in our relationship with God.    

And he does so by addressing an issue that is of particular importance in dealing with conflict, the way we speak.

He begins with a command: 

Do not speak evil of one another

There’s no doubt one of the most common ways we sin is the way we speak. 

And one of the most common ways we sin when we speak is by speaking against others.  

Perhaps that’s one reason why James keeps highlighting the importance of godly speech. He knows how easy it is for us to fail to pay attention to the way we communicate.  And that’s a terrible mistake. Because he explains in chapter 1 that the way you speak is a test of whether or not you are a believer. In fact, he continues in chapter 2 by reminding us God is going to judge us for the way we communicate. Then he follows that up in chapter 3 by pointing out the power of speech and especially it’s potential to destroy.  People may minimize this issue, but God does not.  He cares about how you speak.

Now you know James. 

He’s so practical. 

And so here in chapter 4 he gets very specific. 

He doesn’t just tell us vaguely to pay attention to the way we speak, he points out very specifically, the kind of speech that displeases and dishonors God.  

God doesn’t want us to speak against each other.  

This is one of those times we have to be very careful we don’t miss James’ point.  The problem is this is such a common sin that many of us do it without even realizing we are doing it.  We speak against others all the time, but we don’t even think of it as speaking against others, because it’s just the way we normally speak.   

I remember watching a story about an EMT up in Boston who only had one arm.  And she was so used to her handicap that she didn’t even really think about it.  She went out on runs, went to people’s houses, did her job and didn’t stop and think about the fact she only had one arm.  But you can bet other people noticed.  It was obvious.  But she had that physical handicap for so long she’d become accustomed to it, so she didn’t even really notice it.  Everybody else saw it; but she didn’t because she was used to it.  That’s the way some of us are with the way we speak. 

We’ve got a major problem. It’s obvious to others. But we’re not even aware of it.  

So, in the days ahead, let me take some time to break down what James is talking about here very specifically so you notice it and can turn from it.   

Truth Matters

25 Oct

Truth matters to God.

In James 5:12, he shows us how much, when he writes, “let your yes be yes and your no be no, so that you may not fall under judgment.”

This word judgment is intense.

Obviously, as Christians, we know God disciplines us and prunes us to make us more like Him.  That’s a kind of judgment.

But that’s not the judgment James is referring to here.

Apparently, the particular term he uses is never used in Scripture to refer to the judgment of believers. Instead it’s always used of the judgment of unbelievers.  In fact, James uses it back in 2:13 to describe God’s merciless judgment of those who refuse to repent and turn to him.

And so his warning here is very obvious. 

If you are characterized by a casual attitude towards the truth, if you are not consistently honest,  you are showing the characteristics not of a believer, but of an unbeliever, and therefore you need to be warned because if you refuse to repent you are going to experience God’s everlasting judgment.  

So again it comes down to this, you better pay attention to the way you speak, whether or not you speak the truth, because how you speak and whether or not you speak the truth is a test of whether or not you are truly a Christian.

You see, how can you claim to love God and yet continue to do what He hates? If you say you love God but you are continually weaseling out of the truth without repenting and changing, not only are you untrustworthy, you may not even be a Christian.

John MacArthur explains, “Lying…demonstrates utter disregard for God… throughout the Old Testament, you have this little phrase “lying lips” and wherever it appears, it’s linked with disdain for God. You could really care less about God, about God’s love for truth, about God’s requirement for truth—there’s a disdain for that and a love of lying and deception…”  Satan is the father of lies, and so when you lie you are doing Satan’s will not God’s. 

God is absolutely against the liar.  Psalm 5:6 says God abhors the liar.  Abhor is a strong word.  It’s closely related to the word horror.  It means to shudder with hatred.  To treat with extreme repugnance.  Lying is an abomination to Him.   

That’s made real clear over in Proverbs 6:16-19, turn there with me, “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him.  Haughty eyes, a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies and one who spreads strife among brothers…”  And Proverbs 12:22, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord but those who deal faithfully are his delight.”  

Again MacArthur explains, “The worst thing that can be said about a person is that they are a habitual, inveterate liar because a person who is adept at lying and who has run roughshod over conscience and no longer feels the shame and remorse that normal people feel about lying, someone who has developed such a skill as a liar—the worst thing about that is that their ability to cover up things makes them vulnerable to every temptation. That’s why we have so much to fear from people who are chronically deceptive.”

In other words, lying isn’t just about lying.

You lie to cover up other sins.

Revelation 21 and 22 sum it all up.

Listen to this frightening warning.

Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake of fire and brimstone…”  Revelation 21:27 speaking of heaven, makes the distinction very clear,“…and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”  And then in Revelation 22:14,15 quite a picture, “blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.  Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and…” get this “…and everyone who loves and practices lying.”  

If you are a liar, and this is the warning of James, watch out, judgment is coming.  

What you need is a new nature.  You need to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness and of lies into the kingdom of God’s precious Son, the kingdom of truth.  Because while, true Christians, may lie sometimes, and may seriously struggle with it, they don’t love and they don’t practice lying. 

You know how I know that? 

Because John says that those who love and practice lying won’t be in heaven. 

They’re going to hell.  

Which means, today, when you are tempted to make promises you aren’t intending to keep, to say things, that are not actually true, remember the priority God places on truth, your relationship with the One who is truth, and the dangerous consequences of not speaking the truth, and make a deliberate decision to honor God.

Above all, speak the truth

24 Oct

We are thinking a little about James 5:12.

Partly because there’s a little statement at the beginning of this verse that is somewhat shocking. 

You don’t want to miss it. 

James says, “Above all…” 

And.

That means most importantly.  

Now James has already said some pretty important things. He’s already given us a great deal of instruction on how God desires for us to speak. But here as he is drawing this letter to a conclusion, he is coming to a climax, he wants to address the issue when it comes to how we speak that he feels is most important, so he says, “Above all…” or “This is especially important…”

Speak the truth.

I think, one reason, we need to think carefully about these two words, ‘above all’ is, because we live in a society that doesn’t place much value on truth. It’s really unusual for you to hear a call for truth, because almost anywhere else in society, if I made this kind of call to unswerving, unflinching honesty I would be greeted with blank stares, and incredulous faces.

Our culture doesn’t think speaking the truth at all times is all that important. 

We’re constantly being made aware of that.

I mean, honestly, just look at the way our political leaders speak.

There are too many examples, especially now, in our current political climate, but I don’t really keep up with the news as much as I used to, so while it might not seem fair for me to stretch so far back, indulge an old man, let me remind you of one example that struck me when I was a bit younger.

Remember Bill Clinton?

At one point he got himself caught in a web of deception.

From what I understand. He perjured himself.

He looked straight into a camera and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…” when he in fact did, he got caught and then went to great lengths to explain away and cover up his sin, and in spite of all that, and really we could go on and on, he had a huge, monstrous approval rating.

He lied and nobody really cared.

And you know what that approval rating proved? 

It proved just how much like the Pharisees we’ve become.  The Pharisees made a big show about being committed to the truth.  But they had all kinds of outs, all kinds of situations in which it was perfectly acceptable not to speak the truth.  And that’s really the way most Americans look at life.  There are certain things you must not lie about, but there aren’t very many of those things, there are many more things you can lie about without a twinge of conscience.  That’s why you could have a man who is in the highest office in the land, and there was very little outrage over his complete disregard for honesty.   I can’t believe how many times I heard the sentiment, “I mean I can understand why he lied about that.  That was embarrassing.  He had a right to keep his private life private.”  

Listen.

If it were easy to tell the truth, everybody would do it.  Anybody can tell the truth when there is no cost, it takes absolutely no character to do that.  And if he had told the truth in the first place, on his wedding day when he promised that he would be faithful to his wife, he wouldn’t have been faced with the temptation to lie later on.  

Almost as surprising the widespread approval of that particular president was the complete vilification of the man who was charged with prosecuting him. Here this man who was pursuing the truth, and people kept blaming him, why are you making such a big deal out of all this.? There was a gigantic cost to his investigation, something like forty million dollars and people blamed who for that?  The prosecutor.  When if the president had just told the truth, we wouldn’t have needed to spend a cent.  

Now we know, Scripturally speaking, that the world is constantly trying to conform us to its way of thinking. 

So if we look out at our society and we see this kind of thing happening, a disregard for truth, people minimizing the seriousness of the sin of lying; then we have to realize we’re going to be tempted to do the same thing, to act as if speaking the truth were not really that big an issue. So we have to come back to Scripture and fill our minds with God’s Word. 

Why does James say here above all, speak truthfully? 

Why does God place such a high value on the speaking the truth?  

There are a number of different ways we could go about answering that question.

First a failure to tell the truth is source of many of our problems as a society.  This is one of the major sources of problems in international relations.  One country can’t believe the other.  They make a vow, they sign a treaty, but they quickly go ahead and break that vow or treaty as soon as they get a chance.  But not only that, a failure to speak the truth is one of the primary sources of problems in domestic politics.  The political ads on television almost drive me crazy, because I never know who to believe.  Our politicians are not at all interested in speaking plainly, they just want to spin the truth so you never know who to trust.  

But still that seems far away.  So let’s move a bit closer to home. 

Every day thousands of couples stand before each other and before a group of people and make a commitment.  They look into each other’s eyes and say something like, “I take you to be my wife or husband, to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live…”  They all make basically the same promise.  But over half of those who make that promise fail to keep it.  At the heart of a broken marriage, lies a broken promise.  A failure to speak the truth.  To let your yes be yes and your no be no.  So one of the reasons James says above all speak the truth is because a failure to do just that is one of the primary reasons we have the problems we do. 

But second, we can see why James says above all speak the truth, by looking at what God says about the importance of truth.  

We know truth is important because throughout Scripture speaking the truth is given as one of the essential characteristics of a godly man.  

In Exodus 18:21 Jethro is counseling his son in law Moses, and he’s describing for him the kind of men who should be chosen to help him lead the people of Israel, he says, “you shall select out of all the people men who fear God, men of truth; those who hate dishonest gain…”  He saw truth as an essential quality for leadership.   The Psalmist explains in Psalm 101:7 that one of the marks of a righteous leader is that he hates deceit.  He prays, and we find this over in Psalm 119 that God would remove all those who speak lies from His presence.  A righteous man is so committed to the truth that he will not tolerate anyone who tells lies.  A godly man is absolutely committed to the truth.  Remember Psalm 15?  “O Lord who may abide in Thy tent?  Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?  He who walks with integrity and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart….”   Our culture may act like the truth is not all that important, but God does not.  You can’t live a life that pleases Him unless you are committed to the truth.  The apostle John actually describes being a Christian as being a person of the truth.  

We truth is important because God earnestly exhorts us to speak the truth. 

God pleads with us to be truthful.  That’s what we are seeing here in James.  And that’s what we see throughout Scripture.  In Proverbs 3:3 we’re told to refuse to allow “kindness and truth to leave us, to bind them around our neck and to write them on the tablet of our hearts.”  Then over in Proverbs 23:23 Solomon exhorts us to “Buy the truth and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding…” 

There’s a powerful passage in Jeremiah 5. 

God is angry with the nation of Judah because they are living in complete and absolute wickedness.  They are ignoring Him.  And yet because He’s merciful He says to Jeremiah, “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note.  And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth then I will pardon her.”  God is saying, look I want to have mercy on this nation, I am a God who loves mercy, and if you can just find one person who is committed to the truth than I will relent from punishment.  One person who speaks truth can save a nation.  God values the truth.

A commitment to the truth is a means of protection for you.  Charles Spurgeon, once explained, “When a heart is untruthful, when honesty has gone from it,” in other words, when it’s characteristically untruthful, when it is habitually a deceptive heart, when it lies as a pattern of life, he said, “then it is prepared to be the seed plot of every evil thing.  Any crime is possible to a liar.  He who is rotten with falsehood will break at the touch of every temptation.”    

If you make lying a practice, if if it is natural for you to lie, you are placing yourself in a very dangerous position.  You’ll do anything.  Because you don’t fear getting caught.  If you get caught you will just tell a lie, and that right there, removes a great barrier to temptation. 

Listen to how John MacArthur puts it, “If you’re devoted to the truth, if you’re committed to truth and speaking truthfully and being honest, you are restrained in temptations because you’re afraid that somebody might ask you about your life—somebody might ask you about your behavior and you really don’t want to lie.  So, that disdain for lying, that reluctance to be put in a position to have to lie becomes a restraint in the time of temptation.  You see, for a person whose heart has been cultivated to being truthful, the thought of lying produces fear, guilt, shame, apprehension,…anxiety.” So a commitment to consistently speaking the truth, that’s a means of protection for him. That’s why and this is just a footnote, as parents you want to severely punish lying.  You’ve got to build in your children a love for truth and a real fear of lying.  Because if they don’t fear lying, than any sin is an option.  They’ll just cover over their tracks.  But if they are committed to the truth, that’s going to be a restraint when they face temptation because they know they are going to be found out sometime soon.  

But perhaps nothing highlights the importance of truth to God than the fact that Scripture consistently portrays truth as one of His essential qualities. 

In Psalm 31:5 He’s called the God of truth; in Psalm 86:15 we see that He is abundant in truth; in Psalm 108:4 that His truth reaches to the skies; and in Psalm 111:7 that truth is the work of His hands.  John says that Jesus came to earth full of grace and truth; and Jesus Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Jesus is the truth.  Paul explains in Ephesians 4:21 that the truth is in Jesus.  In John 14:17, 15:26 and 16:13 the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth. God’s Word is called the word of truth, the gospel is called the message of truth, and Christianity in 2 Peter 2:2 is actually called the way of truth.  

“Lying is contrary to everything that represents God.”  And that’s why, while our world may minimize the importance of truth, and, our world may tell you it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to keep your word, as Christians we know that God does not minimize the importance of truth, and we understand why James says here above all you must speak the truth.   

Why, above all, speak the truth? 

One.

Because of the high priority God places on it.