Mark Twain is reported to have said that “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes”
Twain took a saying, that was worn out even then, over a hundred years ago and gave it a twist.
If we look for history to repeat in very blunt and obvious ways we will miss the way that history rhymes.
So we must ask, how is what is happening now…while not exactly like what happened before…so similar that we should pay attention?
In the 1940’s CS Lewis debated his friend, Owen Barfield over the issue of what he called “Chronological snobbery”
Barfield failed to see how an ancient religion (Christianity) could speak to the present.
Lewis called this the “Uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.”
It is the idea that we are now smarter than all those who have gone before.
And what was believed in the past is now wrong…even though no one as has actually proven it to be wrong….this was Lewis’ argument…and part of him coming to faith.
Intellectuals of his day (1920-40ish) assumed historic Christianity had been discredited but as he did his own research…he found that this was not true…no one actually had been able to do that.
At the conference I attended on Violence and Trauma in SD in August…several presenters spoke of the “old science” of trauma versus what we now know.
By old science I expected them be referring to fifty years ago or more…I was surprised to then hear them speak of the old science, as being ideas they themselves held not that long ago.
Yet, though we continue to prove ourselves wrong…we continue to believe that what we believe now…is true and surpasses what others believed in the past.
So, I’m going to make a few statements that we will circle back around to at the conclusion.
There is no new (or old) evidence to refute the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.
There is nothing that has been discovered by modern science that disproves or discredits Scripture…there have been discoveries that point more clearly to the truth of Scripture.
There is nothing happening in society today…that at least doesn’t rhyme…with what has happened in other times and places…where Christians have lived out their faith by being in the world but not of the world.
So, let’s dispense with chronologically snobbery and go to the Word of God, James 1.
Last week we saw that verse 12 served as the connecting tissue between the passage from the week before.
This week verse 18 serves that purpose…we ended in verse 18 last week, we will begin there this week
18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.
The phrase translated “Word of truth” is used four other times in the New Testament and always refers to the content of the gospel…the good news of Jesus.
This word of truth is the instrument through which God brings people to life.
The word of truth, the gospel, includes the entire Bible.
We call Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…the four gospels, because they specifically tell the good news of Jesus.
However, from Genesis to Revelation the Bible is the single story of the work of God in Jesus to redeem humanity…it is all good news, gospel.
Romans 1 Paul wrote that he was set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son (Jesus).
For Paul, the Old Testament is fundamentally, the gospel promised beforehand.
So, the entire Word of God, is the Gospel of Christ.
It is the good news of Jesus to bring us into relationship with God…then, how we are to live out that relationship.
James moves from the power of the Gospel to bring us into new birth…to the practical implications for the power of the Gospel to transform us inside and out.
He uses an example he will come back to again…that of controlling our tongues and our hearts (represented by the heart reaction of being “quick anger”)
I think he inserts this example here because this struggle is universal…it applies to everyone.
And it is a great example of his expectation regarding the power of the gospel to bring real change…head, heart, habits.
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Quick to listen
Slow to speak
Slow to anger
Good advice…virtually every marriage book, leadership book, offers the same good advice.
Similar advice hangs on elementary school walls.
But is this just James’ handing out good advice or is James casting vision for the power of the gospel to change us inside and out?
First, let’s look at why this is nearly universally seen as good advice and why it is so difficult to consistently pull off.
Quick to listen
Slow to speak
Slow to anger
These are not just techniques to learn, they involve the whole person…heart and habits.
They speak to who we are on the inside and what we do on the outside.
To be quick to listen and slow to speak means we must:
-Stop formulating our response but really hear what someone is saying.
-Stop making this conversation just about ourselves
-Actually care about the person, put their interests first
-Ask clarifying questions, seek to understand
To be slow to anger
-Give people the benefit of the doubt
-Forgive, when they are wrong
-You have to throttle back our bodies responses to “threat”
*In Scripture there is a time and place for appropriate anger…thus he says be “slow to anger” not “never be angry”
*Usually, our anger, ought to be treated with suspicion.
This is all super helpful advice…words can do terrible harm.
In fact, it is terrifying the amount of harm words can do…we can think an angry thought in a millisecond….breath out angry sound waves in few more seconds…and do years of damage in that short time.
*Just that reality alone ought to cause us to stop in our tracks…”Wait, say that again James.”
“Okay…everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to became anger.”
“Okay, I agree…but HOW?”
Where do you see this happening? Not among politicians, or other societal leaders.
Do you see this happening consistently in your workplace, online…where?
In fact, people are becoming quicker to anger…and to act on it.
Is James being out of touch with reality…I mean, who does this, who can do this consistently?
Angry words (actions) can fly from our emotions and we all know we can’t help what we feel right?
Well, that’s not true.
Think of emotions like a puppy…if you have not trained that dog, it is going to do whatever crosses it’s doggy mind in the moment.
Run, bark, bite.
You can try in the moment to get it to comply, but it will not respond to anything but instinct…unless you train it otherwise.
If you watch a well-trained dog, it can act against its instincts in the moment.
It is impressive to see this happen…and I would say this training has exponentially increased the joy of both dog and master.
James will later use the example of trained animals to address the tongue.
He will say that all kinds of animals have trained by humans, but no human can train their own tongue.
Here is where we come to that great biblical principle of: God’s power and human responsibility at work together.
We are to train for godliness by the power of God.
Godliness, according to James is not just knowing stuff about God…but becoming like Christ and doing what pleases God.
We often believe that emotions are beyond our control.
It is believed to be harmful to even try and control them because it only leads to surprising or ignoring them.
The Bible presumes differently. Emotions are the product of the entire person.
We are not to become machines, void of emotion…this is not healthy.
James doesn’t say “shut down emotions”…he says simply, “Be slow to anger”
Because we can…if we will.
Who doesn’t think that’s a good idea?
By God’s grace, the work of the Spirit, and training…our emotions can be transformed.
So, to the common idea… “I can’t help how I feel.”
Is this accurate? Is this what scripture teaches when it says we are to take “thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ?”
“Well thoughts and emotions are different?”
That’s slicing things pretty thin.
If someone says something unkind to me…I have a thought…that quickly becomes an emotion…that then becomes a response.
We are to train our whole selves to honor God.
We have all learned how to manage our thinking and feeling and responding to a point.
There are a thousand ways we are different now as opposed to when we were children in regards to being controlled by emotions.
And adults who do not learn to do this do not do well in adult life.
But, we can take this change only so far on our own steam.
So, we train our hearts and responses to an acceptable point…but then we get to the place where we say…”This is who I am.” “This is as good as it gets.”
Enough, maybe to function in society…acceptable amounts of anger and other kinds of folly…we learn to control our appearances at least.
When we are pushed beyond our limits…when the cup is shaken, what’s inside comes out.
Christy and I have watched a TV series where professional, smart characters…have parts that are written to make them appear smart, wise, good, squared away…until, some petty thing happens…then they act like children.
And this is not presented as a bad thing but a normal thing.
“Its just a show”…yea, written by people who think this is the way things actually are.
So…we think… “I can’t help it if I get angry”…this is just who I am.
You can go with that if you want…and that’s a common belief…but that is not your birthright as a Christian.
Your birthright as a Christian…is increasing Christlikness over the entire course of your life.
This training will be lifelong…but we are never to get to the place where we say… “This is me, this is as good as it gets.”
*If we get to the place where we stop believing in the power of God to change us…
and in the reality of training for godliness as a good and necessary thing…
we will soon get to that point of…”this is as good as it (I) get.”
Often, what is true…”This is as good as I’m WILLING to get. I’m not willing to pay the price to let God’s word shape me further.”
By price I mean…I cannot stay where I am, and go where God is going next…the cost is to follow God into the uncomfortable…to follow God into and through the trials James wrote about.
This partly explains the phenomenon of a person being a Christian for a long time and yet not growing in Christlikeness in their hearts and habits.
Instead of a twenty-year old Christian (who has grown incrementally), they are a one-year old Christian, twenty times.
James is all about “grace and choice”… “believing and doing”…they are friends not enemies to him.
Since, Human anger, James writes…doesn’t bring about the righteous life that God desires (a God pleasing life)
We must be becoming people whose hearts and habits align with the gospel… and we can be this kind of person…because of the power of the gospel.
So we must and we can…it is both responsibility and privilege.
21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
The opening word, “therefore” ties this backward as we move forward.
“Your anger doesn’t lead to a life that pleases God…therefore…get rid of all that ‘old life’ stuff.”
“Get rid of” translates a phrase that means to “take something off” and coupled with “moral filth and evil “…
Becomes the word picture of “taking off nasty, dirty clothes”
Followed by…”humbly accept the word planted in you.”
This is putting on the new clothes of the new life.
Here again…God’s gracious power and our grateful response are coupled together.
We are to turn from the old life and turn to God.
When we are born again, we accept the Word of God, the gospel as the authority for our lives.
We bow our knees to the true King and pledge our allegiance to him.
Then as we continually accept the Word of God humbly into our hearts…we are yielding our lives to the God of the word.
We continually, pledge our allegiance to him…as we yield to his word, Scriptures.
In verse 22 James specifies what it means to “accept” the word of God…”we are to do what it says.”
The word of God…saves us and sanctifies us (makes us more like Christ)…when we humbly accept it.
Accept it…means not merely to acknowledge it as true…but to yield our lives to it.
To do it.
He uses an example from everyday life to help describe this process.
If you listen to the word but don’t do it…it’s like looking in a mirror and immediately forgetting what you look like.
You look in the mirror, generally, to see what is true about yourself…is my hair combed, face clean, is my makeup squared away (I don’t think Christy uses that phrase, but that’s my version of things)
But when we see the “truth” in the mirror…we don’t walk away and forget what we saw…we do something about it…that is the point of looking in the mirror.
It’s crazy, using James’ illustration…to look in the mirror and then straightaway forget what you just saw there.
Likewise, its crazy to look into the very truth of God…then walk away and do nothing about it.
On the other hand…
…the person who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—that person will be blessed in what they do.
Look at two sets of words and phrases here: One set represents our responsibility, the other our privilege.
-Continue to do
-Not forgetting but doing
-Will be blessed in what they do
There is a common tendency to focus on one set as opposed to the other.
A responsibility without privilege focus leads to negativity:
-This is all about rules
-This is all about effort and work
-This is all trying and often failing
-This is all about God stifling me, taking my freedoms
A privilege without responsibility focus leads to unreality:
-God has promised me freedom (Yes, but only “if”)
-God has promised to bless me (Yes, but only “if”)
Yes, there are rules and effort and trying…because to live in freedom, to experience God’s blessings…you must live in the world as God has made it…you have to obey him.
To focus on the “doing of the will of God” and forget that this leads to the “freedom of God” is a terrible mistake.
To focus on the “freedom of God” and not on “doing the will of God” is likewise a terrible mistake.
One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is: “The truth shall set you free.”
That one phrase is snatched out of context and hung in mid-air.
So, it’s applied to personal choices to be “true to yourself” even if that means to disobey God.
Its even on the wall of the original CIA headquarters.
I’m pretty sure the government didn’t have obeying Jesus in mind…when it set up that agency.
Let’s look at it in context:
John 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Here’s the line of logic.
- If you hold to my teaching (obey)
- Then you are really my followers
- Then you will know the truth
- Then the truth will make you free
So, “If A” (obey) then “D”(truth will make you free)
“If not A” then “Not D”…no obedience, no freedom.
In fact…look further…
33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
- Continue in sin
- Remain a slave to sin
My goal here is to reframe, if need be…what obedience to God’s word leads to.
Freedom and thriving (blessing)
Now, don’t think of this in isolation from the last two weeks:
Because James is a single letter written to be read in a single reading…so we want to keep his thread of thought. going.
-Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds…trials when endured in faith and faithfulness, bring maturity.
-Freedom and blessing does not mean rescue from trials and troubles…but God will not tempt you to turn from him in those trials.
If this freedom and blessing is not an escape from trials and troubles…then what is it?
Good and important question:
The answer is: Relationship with God.
The freedom and blessing of the gospel is relationship with God.
Often, sadly, this isn’t enough for me…I want a different kind of blessing from God
There is a tension here…because as we obey God…we are living in line with how the world is made.
So, there will be increased health of all kinds…mental, physical, relational, spiritual.
But we are not automatically protected from the effects of sin in this life.
So, I’ve seen people turn to Christ…and he frees them from addictions and harmful habits and their health turns around…but then, they eventual die…maybe from the lasting effects of earlier choices.
I’ve known people who have had marriages transformed by living in obedience to Christ…but that marriage ended when a spouse died.
Obedience to Christ maximizes mental health…because we are spiritual beings…but it doesn’t guarantee freedom from depression or anxiety…because we are physical beings as well…we have brains and they are physical organs.
Minds reside in brains.
I don’t want to minimize the blessings of obedience that are real and tangible…they are there…following Christ makes a difference in how our lives go.
But I want to maximize what the Bible presents as the ultimate blessing of the gospel.
Relationship with God.
Again…my largest ongoing challenge is to remember this is true.
This is key to being able to “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”
How in the world are we going to do that, unless our view of life sees increasing maturity in relationship with God as being our highest good.
Trials turn to temptation turn to sin that turn us from God…when we think trials are taking our greatest good…rather than a part of it.
Let’s finish up chapter 1
26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I’ve heard it said that “Christianity is about relationship not religion.”
Or, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
Religion is just faith put into practice.
A print edition of Websters dictionary said that “Religion is a strongly held belief system”
-Followed by this as an example: “Atheism as a religion.”
Everyone, who does anything in line with their faith (which is everyone)…is religious…all humans are religious.
A relationship with Christ that involves life choices and evidences of faith in practice is a religion.
Same with someone who says they are spiritual but not religious…they have their own personalized religion.
James is probably using the rare(in the NT) and broader more generic word “religion” here to make his point more direct.
Anyone who has a claim to religious experience must put those claims to these tests:
“Okay, show me what you got!”
- Do you keep a tight reign on the tongue?
Little good your “faith” is if it doesn’t even impact the words that come from your mouth (that come from your heart and mind)
- Do you look after widows and orphans in their distress
James wrote from a cultural setting without any kind of social welfare or even real money-making opportunities for widows and orphans.
This eye for the lowly was a mark of Israel’s obedience in the Old testament.
So, the second key evidence of faith that works is to look to the needs of others…especially those who are neglected.
- Do you keep oneself from being polluted by the world
Or do you live largely like everyone else does.
So, now Jesus often did…he goes to the inward life.
It’s not just…watch your mouth, and be benevolent…it’s guard your heart.
This is not a checklist.
This is a representative list…here is what it means to humbly accept the word of God planted in you.
The applications are practical and universal (touching your entire life): Inward, outward, “othersward”
James is continually casting a vision for faith that works…but to catch that vision we must have confidence.
Confidence in God and in his word.
We began with History doesn’t repeat but it rhymes.
The writer of Eccl says it more poetically…there is nothing new under the sun.
There are podcasts, books, articles, that propose to prove that Scripture is not reliable…they are just new versions of old ideas…very old ideas.
Whether it is an attack on the authority of the Bible as God’s word…”Its’ full of errors.”
-No, its not
Or an attack on the exclusivity of Christ. “You are arrogant and mean in your claims that Christ is the only way.”
-No, we are not, we are simply following Christ who said this is true
-Everyone believes in some form of absolutes…the one who denies the exclusivity of Christ…believes in their denial, absolutely.
We say “Christ is absolutely the one way”
They say “He is absolutely not the only way.”
Everyone who believes anything, disbelieves in the opposite of that thing.
You will hear things like….
“Times have changed such that we now know these old ideas are no longer true or useful…in fact never have been”.
And ideas about gender and sexuality and what makes people whole and happy.
-Times have changed, but reality has not…God does not change with time, neither does the truth of his Word.
I am finishing like this because if you lack confidence in the truth of the Bible, God’s word…then it will prove to be impossible to sustain costly obedience to his word.
*But no smart person out there has disproven God’s word…you don’t have to put your head under a blanket and hide from the truth…afraid, “What if this is wrong?”
God’s word is truth…it remains for you and for me to believe it and apply it.
When we do…we will be free and we will thrive under God’s blessings…and this freedom and blessing cannot be taken by anything…even death itself.
Keep to the good path…don’t follow others off of it.
Don’t be dismayed or swayed by the confident claims of those who have not yet suffered the consequences for thinking they are smarter than God.
Are you worried that someone out there somewhere has discovered something that undermines the truth of the Bible and the Christian faith?
You may have heard rumors or read articles that “they” have found “this” and “that” means the end of confident faith. Nonsense.
Who are “they” and what have they found? Nothing.
There is nothing to be found that would undermine God and his word.
How could there be, God is there and his word is true.
What has happened over and over is someone “smart” person has presumed to have discovered something but soon that smart person becomes a dead person and their theories die with them.
Many times over the years I’ve seen people…important to obey speed limits…go flying by me on highways.
The best case scenarios is that they get caught…and it costs them money.
The worse case scenario, and I’ve seen this more than once…they crash and die.
Don’t be deceived by those speeding by you, car shining, music blaring, looking healthy, happy, confident…God’s laws don’t apply to them…they are free.
Wait…Time will Tell…and what time will tell is that God’s word is true and everyone will prove it true one way or another.
Now, as you live a life of faith inspired faithfulness…keeping a reign on your heart and mind…keep doing the good work of remembering that relationship with God is your greatest good.