Faith…works. This is the message of James. That we, in our own ability, cannot stand in the face of adversity. We could never find the strength to trust without faith because we don’t have the capability to see above the trials we meet, to keep our eyes focused on the King while counting the situation we are currently experiencing as joy. Faith…works. This is the essence of James. We don’t work to be saved; we work because we are saved.
Without faith, without works, we too quickly become that man in the mirror staring at his face but then forgets the way he looks as soon as he turns away. But with faith, with works, we stay steadfast on this journey, progressively sanctified, knowing we’ll be perfected once we reach the other side. Faith…works. This is the cry of James that faith apart from works can never be sustained, that in every day and in every way, we should see this truth proclaimed because it’s faith that makes us doers of the Word, not just hearers.
It’s faith that keeps us humble, not proud. It’s faith that directs our tongues to bless, not to curse. It’s faith that causes us to show mercy, not judgment. It’s faith that leads us to true religion, not its empty substitute. It’s faith that’s causing us to preach the good news to every tribe, tongue, and nation with every breath we breathe. It will be faith that causes us to worship our God for all eternity. This is the message of James. Faith…works.
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If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. Where do you think you’re turning? James. There we go. Go ahead and turn to James, chapter 1. If you don’t have a Bible with you, we have little hardback black ones somewhere around you. As always, my hope is you’ll see what we’re reading and what we’re saying aren’t really my ideas or anything like that, but we’re really kind of digging into and seeing what the Word of God has to say.
While you’re turning there, I want to spend just a moment or two praying with you. One of the marks of Christian community is we do life in such a way that we enter the joys and sorrows of one another. In a church our size, there could be in any given weekend hundreds of things to rejoice in and hundreds of things to mourn about. We’re to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
Every once in a while, though, there’s an incident or something that kind of transcends really those hundreds of other incidences, not in a more significant way but just in a way that needs to be considered by the body. Bill and Sue Graves and their six children moved here a little over a year ago. Quickly led by their 22-year-old son, Blake, who was a podcaster when they lived in Minnesota… He led the family here, and they dove in and were just a picture of health and vitality.
Bill Graves, just a man of God, loved his wife, loved his children, was on a flight back from Minnesota earlier this week. If you read about or saw the plane crash in Argyle, that was one of us. Bill died late on Wednesday night/early Thursday morning and left behind a wife and six children: Dalton, who is 5; Noah, who is 6; Carter, who is 10; Grace, who is 15; Brooke, who is 16; and Blake, who is 22.
Josh and I made our way over to their house on Thursday morning as their children got up as we were able to just kind of share the news that Daddy wasn’t coming home and just weep with that family and hang out with that family and just be a ministry of presence. I wanted to lay that before you so we might pray for them. We might feel the weight of this and intercede on their behalf.
I know there are many here who are in your twenties and in your thirties. One of the big pieces of your testimony is that the loss of your father at a young age led to some bitterness and some resentment and some anger that finally the Lord worked in and saved you out of. Now we want to pray that these sweet boys and these sweet girls are saved from some of that and that the Lord might bring about a peace that passes all understanding.
We need to pray for Sue as she begins to try to navigate. I know, having multiple conversations now with Blake, who is 22 and a senior at TCU, just the pressure he feels to step into space that’s really not space for a 22-year-old to step into. But certain times there are times that life puts you in situations where you have to get thrown into the deep end of the pool. He is feeling all the weight of that.
Bill was a ferociously godly man. In fact, even as we were at the house and friends and neighbors began to come over, the testimony of so many people who were not Christians, not followers of Christ, was that Bill was constantly trying to drag them to this church and constantly telling them about Jesus and why they needed Jesus. If he was wrong, that wouldn’t cost him anything. If they were wrong, that would be significant. “So come hang out. It’s not what you think!”
Just a tremendous guy. To sit in his house with his children crying and hear his lost neighbors talk about how he pestered them all the time to bring them to church just kind of marks the life of Bill Graves. I want to pray for them, and I want us to pray for them. Here are a couple of words in regard to engagement.
If you know the Graves family, if you know their children, then this is the time to reach out. This is the time to encourage, to text, to see what you can do. If you don’t know them, this is not that time for you. Really, what you need to do is be praying, because our lives… We’re going to shift into what’s next for us as soon as this service is over. After talking with Sue, this is hour at a time until we can get it day at a time until we can get it week at a time.
I don’t know that those waves really ever stop coming. I just want to pray the Holy Spirit would do a profound work in that family. I’m just trying to get your head around that. Just so you know I’m not wearing any cape here, I can see and agree with the apostle Paul when he talked about being perplexed but not crushed at how God governs.
Just cards on the table…I’m perplexed. I don’t know how this fits into God’s design and God’s good graces, knowing theologically he could have stopped it. He could have intervened. He could have not gone about it this way. Yet in his sovereign will, this is what he has chosen. I wish I could make sense of that, but here’s the reality. I’m 40; he is eternal. We’re probably going to see some things differently. That’s probably a good thing we see things differently because he has always been and will always be, and I’m 40.
Let’s spend some time praying for the Graves family. You can group up there and just pray with who you are with. I’m going to pray for us out loud. Try not to get caught listening to me pray, but rather let us agree in prayer together for our brother and sister and these children. I mean, their life was distinctively marked on Thursday morning when they woke up from sleep thinking Dad would be in the kitchen. Instead, it was Josh and I. Let’s pray.
Father, we want to lift up the Graves family. We want to pray for Sue and for Dalton and for Noah, for Carter and Grace and Brooke and Blake. I just pray, Holy Spirit, that you would bring the peace that passes understanding into this home. I pray that in the days and weeks and months to come, we might be the family you have called us to be to the Graves. We might come alongside. We might weep with them. We might mourn with them.
As things thin out and family goes back home and neighbors get back into the regular routine of their lives, Father, we would draw near and be closer than a brother to this family. We might walk alongside these little boys, these 5-, 6-, and 10-year-old boys. We might walk alongside these two high school girls. We might support and encourage Blake at 22, and we would be all Sue would need us to be in the weeks and months to come.
You are good and gracious. The cross bids us to believe this, that you are for us, not against us. Father, we do pray that you would help us as a covenant community to love and serve this family. While they are not the only ones dealing with tragedy, they are not the only ones hurting, they are not the only ones suffering, Father, they do stand as a banner for us in this room today and across these campuses that are hearing this. You are good, you are God, and we need you. Help us. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen. Amen.
Just continue to be in prayer for the Graves family. I’ve asked in my own prayer time that as you leave here today, the reality they’re walking in might haunt you a little bit so as you go about and have a good lunch… I want you to have a good lunch. It’s a right, good thing to have a good lunch. You might just be mindful there’s a family out there trying to navigate this. You might just simply pray for them.
As you go outside and play with your kids today and as you roughhouse with your boys, Dads, we just might be mindful. These are good things to be enjoyed for us, but there’s a family (us…part of us, part of our family) who this is not a reality for and you might be drawn to pray for them. On and on I can go. We’ll update you as we can and as Sue wants. Until then, just be mindful and prayerful.
Let’s look at James 1:1. James, chapter 1, starting in verse 1. Here’s what it says. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” One of the most compelling, mind-bending aspects of what the Bible teaches about the nature and character of God is, in one sense, his immensity, that there’s nothing that is that he doesn’t rightfully govern and know about.
The orbit of every planet in the universe, the temperature of every sun in the expanse of the universe…God knows it all, governs it all. Yet in the midst of that immensity, he is dialed into things at the micro level. Not just every cell in every body, not just every plant on every landscape in the world and in other worlds, but the Bible says he has taken a special interest in us.
Let me read you two of those verses. In Luke, chapter 12, verse 7, here’s what Jesus has to say about this. “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not.” So, “Fear not.” Why? Because God knows all the hairs on your head. “You are of more value than many sparrows.” I’m looking around the room. Some of you are like, “Well, that isn’t hard for the Lord to know all the hairs on my head.” Right?
Here’s the reality. Here’s what’s being taught in the Scriptures. In the midst of the immensity of God, God is dialed into us, made in his image, in a way where he knows every hair on our head. If you don’t have many of those, then let’s draw out the meaning of the text, which is when you had some, he knew all of those. He knew when you had to go through that awkward stage where you didn’t quite know, “Am I just shaving it? Am I combing it over? What am I doing with this?” You made that decision on into where you are today. God has known all of that!
Then on top of that, we read this text when we talked about the sanctity of human life. Psalm 139, verse 16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” You have this God, this immense, sovereign King of everything who is kind of dialed into you.
He knows all the hairs on your head, and he knows all the days that will be shaped for you because he put you together in your mother’s womb with your giftedness, with your personality, with who you are. Then he has these days for you. What I don’t want you to do in this moment is default to kind of the us. God knows about us. I want you to think about you.
I rarely do this. I most often want to get your eyes off of you and on to the us, but for the purpose of this, listen. He knows the hairs on your head. Not our head, your head. He knows all the days he has for you. Not for us (although that’s true), but for you. You need to personalize what the Bible is saying about God’s interest in you.
He knows the hairs on your head. He knows the days you would live. In fact, he put you together and put those days together so you might walk in the fullness of joy, bringing the greatest amount of glory to God. Then on top of that, you have these kind of spectacular claims about really what God is all about in regard to being dialed in to those hairs and those days. In Psalm 16:11, the psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Now I love verses like this, and there are dozens if not hundreds in the Scripture. Because primarily what people think about God is that what God is after is a type of begrudging submission that we’d better do what he says before he lights us up and gives us cancer. We’d better not be smiling and having a good time. He’ll stomp that out in a second. He is not like that. “He is holy. Quit grinning.”
That’s not what the Bible said. The psalmist says, “You have made known to me the path of life.You fill me with joy in your presence, pleasures in your right hand forevermore.” Not the cheap kind of fleeting pleasures we can enjoy for a moment that lead to guilt and shame but the type of pleasure that never ceases.
Then Jesus lays out the paths like this. John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” What I need to get in your head and heart as we dive into James is what God is after, what God is trying to do, what God is going to accomplish is he is trying to lead you into the deepest life possible, the richest, fullest life imaginable. He is not the enemy of life. He is the author of it, and he is heaven-bent on laying the path before you that leads to the fullest life possible.
The sovereign King of Glory is not a taker. He is a giver. Where he takes, he takes only to give. This is the big question: How does God lead us into this life? If the psalmist is saying, “You have led me. You have granted me fullness of life…” If Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly,” how does he lead us into full, rich, meaningful life?
Well, he does it two ways. One is primary. The other is secondary but necessary. Did you follow me? One is primary. The second is secondary (hence, the second is secondary) but still a necessity. There’s not one of these pieces that isn’t necessary. It’s just you have to understand them rightly. First and foremost, the way God leads us into the fullest possible life is by revealing to us who he is. To gaze upon the beauty, glory, magnitude, and might of the Creator God of the universe is what our hearts have been created for.
Every other promise turns to ashes in our mouths. It is God and God alone who will satisfy the longings of our hearts. The world swings around and goes, “No, no, no. No, no, no. You need a partner in life. You need a husband. You need a wife. You need a boyfriend. You need a girlfriend. You need money. You need a good job. You need this. You need that.” All of that betrays. All of that doesn’t work in the end. They’re all good things, but they’re not ultimate things.
If you make them ultimate things, they’re going to turn to ash in your mouth. You’re going to spend all your days chasing the wind. No, what you need, what I need more than anything else is to behold the glory of God, to see his magnitude, his might, his power, his glory. We have been designed for this. Our hearts are restless until they see it. In fact, God is so about God that the Bible itself, first and foremost, is about God. It’s not about you.
How many of you grew up in church? Did you hear like, “This is the roadmap to life”? Right? Now I don’t want to dog that because there are some maps back here. I’m not dogging out the roadmap to life idea, except here’s my problem with it. The Bible is not primarily about you. It will reference you, but this is not the Lord kind of stroking your hair, going, “Man, you are so amazing. I mean, I just want to talk about you all the time.”
That would be so crushing. The Bible is about God, because what we need most is to see him, behold his glory, get transfixed by it, and be led into the deep end of the pool. That’s how this works. That’s primary. That’s what we need. That’s what we were created for. We call this salvation. The Holy Spirit opens up our heart to believe upon the person and work of Jesus Christ, reconciling us to God the Father, and allowing us to behold the magnitude of the grace and mercy of God, rescuing and ransoming sinners from death. That’s primary.
Secondarily but also necessary is, on top of letting us see who he is, behold his glory, and being transformed by it, he makes known to us the path of life. He lays before us throughout the Scriptures the “Thou shalts,” and the “Thou shalt nots.” Here’s what’s important to note about the “Thou shalts,” and the “Thou shalt nots.”
What God is doing every time he gives a command is wooing or calling us into how he designed life to work. When God says, “Thou shalt…” he is trying to lead you into this life of abundance and depth and meaning and purpose and peace. When God says, “Thou shalt not…” he is not trying to rob you of anything. How would God be glorified if his big plan was begrudging submission on your part? If God’s big plan was, “Man, I’d better do this, or he’ll light me up and maybe get me sick, maybe hurt somebody. I’d better do what he says…”
If you asked me how my marriage was and I went, “Well, do you know what? I made some promises. I’m going to have to keep those promises,” does that make you go, “Man! Being married is awesome! I’ve been dreaming about that my whole life. Tell me more about this, ’You have to just stick to your commitment, but you’re miserable.’ Tell me more about that. Since I was a little boy, I’ve just hoped, man, can I marry someone I kind of don’t like and just have to be stuck there forever?”
No, that’s begrudging submission. That’s, “I’ve made some promises. I have to fulfill that.” That’s not what God is after. How will God ever be glorified by that? If you said, “Tell me about marriage, Matt,” and I was like, “Golly! Where do I begin when it comes to Lauren?” I began to recount the joy she brings to my world. I began to recount all God has done in her, how I’m so glad to get home when I get home.
Now all of a sudden, you’re like, “Yeah, give me some of that!” That’s glory, not begrudging submission leading us to life. The “Thou shalt nots” are not God trying to take, but God trying to lead you to something that’s going to bring you more joy than your idea of what’s going to bring you joy will bring you.
The great thing about the book of James is the book of James is going to do both of these things simultaneously. It’s going to show us the glory and might of God while simultaneously showing God going, “This way. This way to joy. This way to depth. This way to meaning. This way to peace.” We’ll get to see both in one book. You have salvation. That’s how God does it. That’s how God woos us into fullest life. Then you have obedience. Those are the two ways God woos, God calls, God draws into this fullest life possible.
Let’s talk about the book of James just for a second. Pop quiz: Who was the book of James written by? Look at you guys! I’m so proud of you right now. If somebody would have gone, “Paul,” I would have just resigned right here. I’d be like, “I’m out! I’m out!” Right. James wrote the book of James. Now here’s an interesting note about James.
James is the half-brother of Jesus. All the evidence we have is that while Jesus was doing his three years of earthly ministry, James did not think his half-brother was the Son of God, because that’s what happens when you have a half-brother. You don’t think they’re Deity. Not only that, but we have one instant in the Gospels where the Bible tells us the half-brothers and sisters of Jesus showed up to seize him because they thought he had lost his mind.
That’s also what happens when your half-brother starts claiming he is God in the flesh. Yet about the time of Christ’s death, James pushes all his chips in and says, “My half-brother, who I tried to have institutionalized, is God. I take it back. He is God! I’m in!” What happens? What card did Jesus play? Are you ready? Resurrection from the dead. Here’s what convinces your half-brother you’re God. You die, stay that way for three days, and then show back up and eat some fish with him.
Do you see how James talks about Jesus? He says in this text he is the servant of God and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The guy who wrote James is the half-brother of Jesus, who so put his faith in the resurrected Messiah that he was martyred. In Jerusalem not long after this is penned, a mob grabs hold of him, forces him up to the top of the temple, and throws him off the Temple Mount. He lands. He does not die.
Church tradition tells us someone picked up a stick and bashed in his skull. He refused to recant. In fact, tradition tells us he was praying for the mob that was attacking him when finally the man busted his head. This is who wrote this. Scholars would agree this book is the earliest New Testament manuscript we have. This book was written in the 40s. No numbers in front of that. Are you tracking? No numbers in front. Just 40s. All right? Not 1040, 1140, 1240. No, no. It was written in the 40s.
It was written not long after the ascension of Christ. If you were here during our study of the book of Acts, it was written not long after Acts, chapter 7, the stoning of Stephen. The church is dispersed throughout the ancient world, planting other churches and establishing new congregations throughout the ancient landscape. This is written somewhere after the stoning of Stephen and the dispersion of the saints across the ancient world.
It was written to (and we see that in what we already read here) the 12 tribes in the dispersion. That reference of the dispersion is… If you remember Acts, you had 3,000 men saved at Pentecost. Then 5,000 men were saved just a couple of chapters later. The Christian church in Jerusalem is running (let’s be safe in our estimations) about 18,000 to 22,000 people in Jerusalem. They’re enjoying favor.
Men and women are becoming Christians every day until Stephen is stoned to death (the first Christian martyr). The Bible tells us and history tells us that a great persecution broke out against the Christians in Jerusalem, and they fled. As they fled Jerusalem, they fled preaching the gospel to anyone who would hear and established churches throughout the ancient Roman world.
He is writing to the 12 tribes in the dispersion, these people who have been dispersed because of the persecution in Jerusalem. This language of 12 tribes has… I mean, you cannot read 12 tribes and not think of Israel, because Israel is on repeat throughout the Scriptures described as the 12 tribes of Israel.
What we see in regard to biblical theology, an overview of what the Bible teaches, is that James isn’t just writing to Christian Jews, but rather his understanding and our understanding is that Israel (the chosen people of God) is now all of those who have come to know Christ as Lord, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, Greek or Scythian. Right? We are all the true Israel. It’s not ethnic Jews who are Israel but rather all of those who are in Christ. He is writing to the true church of God dispersed throughout the world.
James was written to encourage Christians in an increasingly hostile environment to live lives dependent on God and not give themselves over to the presumed comforts of the world. This is how the book breaks down. In chapter 1, we’ll see trials and Christian perseverance that will move into hearing and doing the Word of God. In chapter 2, we look at the sin of partiality and the relationship between works and deeds.
In chapter 3, we see the taming of the tongue and wisdom coming from God and not from our hearts. In chapter 4, you get a warning against worldliness and boasting in tomorrow, being arrogant. In chapter 5, we see a warning against trusting in riches and comfort as a satisfier of the longings of our hearts. We see a call to patient suffering and prayer. That’s the outline of the book of James.
Now when the church would have received this letter (that’s what it is; it’s a letter), a runner, somebody who knew there was a church in this town, would show up. They would deliver the letter, and then the church would gather. It would look nothing like this. It would be smaller. They would gather together in a house. They’d probably share a meal, and then the pastor would open up the letter from James, understanding it is Scripture, it is authoritative.
He would open it up, and he would read it in one setting over the gathering. They would eat a meal together. They would pray. They would sing songs. Then they would open up the letter and read. If we’re honest, they would have it read to them. He wouldn’t say, “Open up your copy of the letter,” read the first sentence, and then for 50 minutes break down the first sentence. That’s not how this would work.
He would open up the letter in a given context, in a given place, with a given people. This context is a dispersion of people who are being persecuted, walking in tragedy in the margins of this society, hated by their own ethnic group, hated by the predominant culture, marginalized, disrespected, suffering. They would gather together.
Don’t romanticize it. All the issues that are present today were there. There were women in that congregation who didn’t like each other, who backstabbed all the time. There were men in that who were living duplicitous lives. There were teenagers in there wild’n out. I could keep going. Don’t over romanticize the early church. They were a train wreck, just like we are.
They would gather, and then they would just read the letter in one sitting. They would sit. They would gather around. Everybody would have gotten something to eat. They would just read the letter. I thought what we could do to kick off our study in James is we could go old school. Like old, old school. Like first-century old school. We could just read the whole letter together. All right?
Here’s what I want you to look for as we read throughout. I want you to look for and see that suffering never surprises God. He does not promise that we will not suffer but rather that he will be with us in our suffering, and he will redeem it. I want you to notice really what God is about is progress, not perfection. Where there is faith, there is movement forward. It might not be a hundred miles an hour forward, but it does move forward. Lastly, the constant pull of the world is that riches and comfort will satisfy, and that pull is always, always, always a lie.
It takes 15 to 16 minutes to read through the entire book of James. I have done plenty of research on what all our televisions and iPads and smartphones have done to us. If you look at the research, it’s made us functionally morons. We can’t hold any thought longer than for a second or two.
If you want to follow along and that helps your brain, that’s great. If you want to just listen to me, that’s great. We’re going to read it. It takes about 15 minutes. Those are the things I want you to look for. Then we’ll pretty much be done for the day after we head to the Lord’s Table and celebrate what Christ has done for us. Let’s look at this. James, chapter 1, starting in verse 1.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ’I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ’You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ’You stand over there,’ or, ’Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
For he who said, ’Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ’Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ’Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, ’You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ’Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.
Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ’He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Come now, you who say, ’Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ’If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ’yes’ be yes and your ’no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
There are three things I wanted to draw your attention to in these five chapters. First, trials, suffering, difficulty can be expected. They do not surprise the heart of God. The way I’ve tried to teach this historically is simply by letting you know that God does not drive an ambulance. Do you understand what that means? An ambulance shows up after the accident and tries to put things back together. An ambulance shows up and goes, “Oh my god! We have to try to save this life.” That’s not how God operates. He never shows up late.
What are we to do with that truth in light of our suffering? Well, the way I will point you for the rest of my days as long as I have breath is I’ll point you to the cross of Christ. There is no greater objective evidence that God is for you, not against you, than the fact Christ has come, he has died, and he has ransomed and rescued our soul from sin and death. We have ever before us the public crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection as the objective evidence that regardless of hardship and suffering, God is for us, not against us. We have not been abandoned.
We see in the book of James (and this is why I love the book), if you live to be 170 years old… First, I don’t think anybody wants that, but let’s just say you get there. You read the book of James after 150 years of trying to faithfully follow Christ. You’re going to read through James and go, “Dang it! Still not there.” James exposes that we’re not as far along as we think we are in this journey of sanctification.
Man, even reading, even studying and getting ready for this series, I’m like, “Do you know what? I still am not great with my mouth. I still will jab and tear down and justify. Do you know what? I feel a pull in me. I feel a pull at times to show greater honor to those who can honor me back and not show honor toward those who can’t. I feel that pull. I have to fight it. God, why do I have to fight it? I know better than this!”
I like nice stuff. I’m drawn. I will buy into the lie that a nice vacation, a nice house, a nice car, nice things are going to satisfy my heart. I’m pulled by these things, and James exposed it in me. It will expose it in you. Why that’s good news is when we see we have so far to go, Christ is quick to step into that space and go, “Yep! That’s what I’m here for. I got you. Get back on. I’ll carry you home.”
That’s what’s good about the book of James. We’re going to see over and over again that this is about progress, not perfection. If he gave you a thousand years, the tongue will still be not tamed fully. You might get better at it, but it will still sneak up on you. It will still sneak up on you.
Then finally you saw on repeat here riches, comfort. These things will not satisfy the soul. The pull of the world to soft sell what the Bible teaches about life and practice will be ever present. It will just be easier if I sell out. It will just be easier if I kind of readjust what God said.
“God, you’re making us look crazy down here. You’re making us look crazy on how you define things, how you lay out obedience. Nobody thinks like that anymore, God. Throw us a bone here. We need a bit of a makeover. Help us out.” The tendency to sell out for the world’s approval will be a constant pull and an ever-increasing pull in the decades to come. James will try to drop an anchor for us.
Friday night was my daughter’s twelfth birthday (my oldest). We love Audrey’s birthday in particular. She would say it’s because she is our favorite kid. That’s not why. Lauren was seven months pregnant with Audrey when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church (this church). Every time Audrey has a birthday, we’re reminded of all God has done to create this family of ours.
Those of you who have come to know Christ here and those of us who have been grown by the Lord here, we’ve suffered together, wept together, rejoiced together. We’ve done all of that together. When Audrey turns a certain age, every time she has a birthday, we’re just reminded of God’s faithfulness, goodness. I didn’t have one single person who thought it was a good idea for me to come to this church. Not one!
Everybody thought, “They’re going to kill you. You’re going to kill them. This doesn’t work this way. You should stay itinerant. Just travel around and teach. This isn’t going to work.” I like to think they were wrong and dumb. I feel justified. See, that’s my tongue. James. I’m back in James. I’m in trouble. In this, here’s how we try to do… I have a 12-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 5-year-old. Here’s what I’m trying to do.
I want to, as often as I can, explain to my children the what. “Here are the rules.” But I also want to train them in the whys. As best I can, I want to never say, “Because I said so.” Now they force your hand, so I’ve had my hand forced. I want to go whats, and I want to go whys. Then I want our house to be filled with laughter and joy. I’m laying my yes down. You ask and I can say yes, I’m saying yes.
Friday night (Audrey’s birthday), it was me in a minivan full of 11-year-old girls driving out to the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo to watch the rodeo. Is anything about me oozing, “This guy loves the rodeo”? I’m laying my yes down because the memories I want my daughter to have are, “My dad was for me. He loved me.” There are those days I have to sit my kids down who buck against the whats and the whys now. I have to say, “You’re grounded.” I have to say, “Give me that. You’re not on that for the next week. Meet me in my bedroom while I go get the spoon.”
I’m doing all of that, and I’m doing all of that because I’m 40, and they’re 12 and 9 and 5. At 40, I see better than they do about how we should walk this thing for their joy. Not always for their happiness, but for their joy. For deep, meaningful, rich life. At 40, I can go, “If you go down that path, baby, this ends badly. Son, you take that route? It ends horrifically. This way, buddy. This way to life. This way!”
I’m pleading with them for their own joy, and they’re not going to see it that way. Gosh! Even this week they didn’t see it that way. But I’m Dad, so I’ll take a little bit of being despised for an hour or two to get us to life. The book of James is our heavenly Father going, “This way! This way! Come on! No, no, no. No, no, no! Don’t do it. Listen. I’m eternal. You’re like 50. Eternal…50. You’re the 5-year-old in Chandler’s illustration. I’m the dad. This way.”
We’re going, “Oh gosh! I just don’t think you understand. You know, I’m 26. I don’t think you know what I’ve been through, being God and all. My life would be easy if I could just do whatever I wanted in my god-ness. You don’t understand!” Right? So James is like, “Hey, no, no, no. Come on. This way. This way to life. This way to meaning. This way to depth. This way to purpose. This way to the fullest life possible.”
“I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly. You have made known to me the path of life. You have filled me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand. The thief comes to kill, to steal, and to destroy. But I have come that they might have life more abundantly.” That’s the invitation from God through our brother James. For the next 12 weeks, we’ll dive in. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you. Thank you we could just sit here and for 16 minutes just have your Word read over us, just trusting, Holy Spirit, that different sentences hit different people in different places. We have questions and confusions. I thank you that in time you will answer those.
I pray this week we might be driven back to the book of James, to look at those sentences again, to consider, to prayerfully look through, to go to our Home Groups and begin to discuss and ask questions about. I pray you would root us in your Word in this season. We need you. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.
We’ll dismiss here in about three or four minutes. We’re not dismissed yet. Really the whole service is built to kind of move us to this moment, that moment we celebrate the thing we really need to celebrate and that our hearts are desperate to celebrate. We provide Communion, the Lord’s Supper, primarily for our covenant members, but if you’re a guest with us this morning who is a believer in Christ in good standing with the church you’re visiting us from, we’d be fools not to celebrate the Table together. Let’s take and rejoice in what Christ has done for us.
I would like to ask this. If you’re here and you’re not a believer… You don’t quite believe that Christ is Lord. I’m not asking if you believe in the historical figure Jesus. That’s not what we’re doing here. If you are not quite sure that Christ is your Lord, have no intent really of following him, will you just abstain? Will you just let the plate pass? Again, I’m not trying to make you feel like an outsider. If anything…
By the way, we’re going to take together as a family. Don’t just slam that really quickly. Give us a second to get all the elements out, and we’ll take as the family we are. If you’re not a believer, just let the plate pass. Again, this is not going to give you good luck. It doesn’t forgive your sins. It’s a cracker and some grape juice. Those of us who are Christians, we’re remembering right now a really significant piece of our faith. In fact, the piece of our faith.
As we read over the book of James everyone in here, loves the Lord or doesn’t, was exposed as falling short of the glory of God. No one heard me read through the book of James and went, “Nailed it! Nailed it again! Crushing that! I should probably teach here.” We got exposed. We read the Word of God, and it bore its weight on us, and we saw, “I fell short here. I’m not as far along as I thought I was. Gosh!”
This is that moment where we just stop for a second, this kind of holy little second God gives us where we celebrate our union with Christ. When I run around the backyard with my children, Reid in particular and now Norah (because Reid does) like to hop on my back. We run around. I’m in decent shape (not great shape), which means every once in a while, I have to put a kid down and catch a breather.
What we’re celebrating here is that the Son of God never cramps up, never gets a stitch in his side, never is like, “How long do I have to carry you?” With nothing but delight in bringing glory to the Father, he carries us all the way home. There is no sin past, present, and future that has more power than the cross of Jesus Christ. We need to remember! We need to remember that today. We need to remember there is no stitch in his side. He is not weary of carrying us home, and he cannot fail in getting us there. We need only trust, need only hold tight.
That’s what we celebrate in Communion. It is the Lord who does not grow weary. We’re not celebrating that we don’t grow weary, because I grow weary. But the Lord doesn’t. I’ll struggle with doubt. The Lord doesn’t. I’ll run out of steam. The Lord doesn’t. I’ll have my mind scrambled at his unbelievable patience with me. God doesn’t feel patient; he just is. He is longsuffering. He is not deciding to be, like, “Oh gosh! In eternity this guy is going to be legit, but right now he is killing me.” That’s not how he works.
With a heart full of delight, he carries us home. We’ll drag our tired tails busted and broken across that line only to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I just need to remember that, just need to remember that I will crawl across that line weary, not as far along as I was hoping. The scales don’t exist so they won’t be tilted in my favor, but rather it will be Christ there having carried me home, saying, “This is mine.”
On the night Jesus was arrested, he took the bread, and he broke it. He said, “…this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” In the same way, the Bible told us, after dinner, he grabbed the cup. He said, “…this is My blood of the new covenant…” I always loved that language (“the blood of the new covenant”) because the old covenant was that sacrifices had to be made for our sins.
The book of Hebrews argued that the altar was never closed because you could hardly get out of the temple before you screwed up again and had to go back in and make another sacrifice. We’re just working our way through all the animals in Israel. But the book of Hebrews says the altar has been closed, and Christ died once and for all. So really the cup, the blood of the new covenant, is that the bill has been paid in full.
If you have a background that’s prone to penance (“Well, I screwed up, so I’m going to give God nine days of this and six days of this. I’m never going to do this. I’m going to stop doing this.”), listen. God doesn’t even know what you’re talking about. He is like, “The altar is closed. Get this thing off. My Son has already paid the bill in full.” That’s the blood of the new covenant. Surrounded by his disciples knowing it would go to the ends of the earth, he said, “This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Father, never once have you left us on our own, have you betrayed us. You have walked beside us. Every step we have taken, Father, you have been there in the valley, up onto the mountain. Good and bad, you’ve been there. You are ever present. Teach our hearts to celebrate it. It’s for your beautiful name, amen.
Love you guys so much.