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We are generally critical people. We look at other people and make judgment calls. All the time.

A lot of it is just people-watching. We try to peg someone by the way they dress, where they live, what type of language they use, or what they post on facebook. While we may be wrong in our conclusions, we aren’t intentionally aiming to harm that person.

Other times we are critical of people because we want to make ourselves look better. We tend to think of ourselves as the norm, and any variation from that is wrong. “There must be a reason why they are richer/poorer, heavier/skinnier, happier/sadder, etc. than I am. And I am certain it’s not because of my choices.”

Or we become critical to make someone else look bad, to ruin their reputation, to get them in trouble. That’s pretty close to making ourselves look better, because usually our intention in making them look worse is to make ourselves look better.

The root intent is pride.

11 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. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Because the risk is so great, James writes that it’s not our job to be the judge of others.

Our passing of judgment on others puts us in the position of the true judge, God.

He knows the law – the right standards which we tend to bend to do what we want to do.

He knows the heart of the other person – which we can not understand.

He can do something about it – He is able to save and to destroy. Reward or punish. He has to power to do it.

So we can leave it in God’s hands.

 

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Upside-down logic

Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!

Toot your own horn!

Stand up for your rights!

Follow your dreams!

The list could go on, filled with messages of empowerment and self-motivation. It seems that is the message we hear all around us. We have to do what’s right for us, say what makes us look good, and fight to get our way.

Look what James proposes:

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. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:6-10).

  • Instead of being proud, be humble.
  • Instead of fighting for your rights, submit to God.
  • Instead of going your own way, go toward God.
  • Instead of doing bad things, clean up your act.
  • Instead of laughing off the problems, mourn and weep over your sins.

Those things may not get you very far in the world’s view of success. But look what it does for your spiritual life.

  • God gives you more grace.
  • God draws near to you.
  • Satan flees from you.
  • God exalts you.

So, if you want the world’s praise, follow the world’s ways.

if you want the blessing of God, follow God’s ways.

Don’t be a two-timer

No one likes to find out that he’s been cheated on. Whether it’s a girlfriend, a spouse, or a business partner, we don’t like to be double-crossed. We pour ourselves into the relationship, devote ourselves to that person, but find out that they have been only half-hearted, or putting on a front.

When the truth is revealed, the emotions rise to the surface. Rejection. Disappointment. Fear. Bitterness. Hatred. Anger.

It hurts and sometimes it takes a long time to heal.

The more that we’ve invested in relationship, the greater the pain.

And we’ve all been there at one time. The first love. The best friend. The spouse. The child. The parent. Everyone has had someone walk out the door on them, choosing someone or something else as a priority.

Knowing that pain, how do you think it effects God when we choose to turn from Him?

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”? (James 4:4-5).

Like in the Old Testament prophets, James uses the picture of marriage to reflect the relationship that God has with His people.

When we choose to turn our backs on God and follow the world, we are stepping outside of the bounds of marriage. James calls it adultery and hatred.

The loving husband gives everything for his bride. He provides for all of her needs. He offers a new identity. He satisfies every want. But she turns her back on him. (See the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament).

But look at the heart of God revealed in verse 5: “He yearns jealously.”

His jealousy is not a psycho-pathic jealousy that hunts down and kills anyone who stands in the way.

His jealousy is rooted in love. He loved us so much that He allowed His Son to die in our place. He loves us so much that He provides for all our needs. He loves us so much that it hurts Him when we turn against Him, choosing the pleasures of sin over the delight of His presence.

Not because He is trying to control our every movement, but because He loves us so much. He knows that what He will give us is so much better than anything those false lovers might provide. He wants the best for us. He knows what that is. He is the only one that can give it to us.

Turning away from that satisfaction not only hurts God; it hurts us.

I’m right!

When was the last time you had an argument? Maybe it’s just been a few minutes ago, so it’s pretty fresh in your mind. Or maybe it’s been a few days ago, so you’ve had time to reflect.

Look back on the words that you said. Where was the weight of your argument? Were you arguing because you were certain that you were right and didn’t want to back down? And then you had to keep arguing from that point, because you didn’t want to admit that you were wrong?

Been there. Done that.

Look what James wrote about arguing:

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 (James 4:1-3).

What’s the cause of arguments?

Selfishness.

Your own passions, or desires, are fighting within you. What you want becomes more important than a resolution to the conflict, or a peaceable solution.

You are going to do what needs to be done to get what you want. Murder. Fight. Quarrel.

Whatever it takes to get your way. Silent treatment. Crying. Lying. Cheating. Lavishing with gifts and praise. Brooding. Backbiting. Gossip. Slander.

Isn’t it amazing that we aren’t involved in more arguments? When we look at our motivation for so much of what we want to do, don’t we realize that we are terribly selfish?

James even ties it into our prayer lives. You don’t get what you ask for, because you’re asking for something to satisfy your own selfish desires.

When we follow our selfish desires, it messes up our human relationships and our spiritual relationship with God. And God is the one who can meet our needs and satisfy our desires – yet, we are so focused on our own desires, that we don’t ask for what He wants us to have.

The conclusion would be that we need to ask God to give us what He thinks we need.

Submit ourselves to His will and plan for our lives, then we don’t have to fight and argue with others. We know that God is going to take care of us. We know that the other person can’t give us what we really need. Only God can satisfy – and He wants to!

Foolish or wise?

The book of James is often compared to the book of Proverbs. Both share principles for righteous living and both contrast wisdom and foolishness.

Chapter three ends like this:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).

It might be easiest to understand by listing the characteristics of the wise man and the foolish man.

The wise man…

  • reveals his character through is behavior
  • does not brag about his good works
  • reflects purity
  • is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits
  • is impartial and sincere
  • harvests righteousness through peace

The foolish man…

  • is controlled by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition
  • brags
  • is deceptive
  • displays earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom through his actions
  • is surrounded by disorder and vile practices

Wisdom is not being smarter than others. Wisdom is applying godly principles to life, which result in peaceful relationships, purity, and sincerity. A wise person is someone that others enjoy being around. Not because they are the life of the party, but because they exude life to its fullest.

Foolishness is not being dumb. It’s choosing to ignore the teachings of godly principles and live for self. Anything and anyone that stands in the way of personal satisfaction is manipulated or degraded. As long as the fool gets what he wants, it doesn’t matter who is in the way. Fools are usually surrounded by other fools, combining their follies to their mutual destruction.

Which one describes you? What is your motivation? What does your environment reveal? What do your words reveal? What do your actions reveal? How do you treat others?

What needs to change?

Zip your lips!

Yeah, my mom used to say that. And I’ve probably said it to my kids, too.

We so easily forget how easily words just roll out of our mouths. Too fast. Uncontrolled. Causing harm. Ruining relationships.

In James 3, the tongue is described in some unpleasant ways:

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 (James 3:5-6).

Like a bridle in a horse’s mouth, or a rudder on a ship – small things that control big, powerful things – the tongue is small, but can cause great damage.

  • It’s small.
  • It’s a fire.
  • It’s a world of unrighteousness.
  • It stains the whole body.
  • It sets the entire course of life on fire.
  • It is set on fire by hell.

That’s not very pleasant, is it?

And we know this from experience, too. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Who came up with that lie anyway?

And it gets worse:

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. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so (James 3:7-10).

  • It can’t be tamed.
  • It’s a restless evil.
  • It’s full of deadly poison.
  • We bless God and curse His creation with it.

And James ends the description with a simple injunction: “These things ought not to be so!”

We as children of God should be different from those around us. We should have control over our tongues. We should watch what we say.

Zip your lips!

The risks of being a teacher

I like to teach. Classroom settings. Conversations in the living room. Sitting around the table at a meal.

Sometimes I realize that I just like to show off about what I know – honest confession.

But over the years, I’ve been encouraged to see former students who are applying the principles of things that I’ve taught. And it doesn’t even matter if they remember that I was the one that taught it to them. Usually, they’ve heard the same principles from many different people, not just me.

James gives a warning for teachers:

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 (James 3:1-2).

I certainly have stumbled in what I’ve said. Words that weren’t true, kind, helpful, or necessary have too often rolled over my lips.

I find it interesting that James wrote, “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

Because the tongue is so hard to control, if we control that, we’ve got the rest of our lives under control. Think how easy it is to let an unkind word blurt out of your mouth. Or how easy it is to start an argument by saying something that is unnecessary. Or how easy to ruin trust by spitting out a little white lie.

Somehow, we manage to control our fists from hitting others. We don’t stomp out of the room in anger. We don’t pick up a weapon to end someone’s life. We can control those reactions and the nerves, muscles, and joints that cause those actions.

Yet, we find it so hard to control our tongues.

Jesus gives a similar warning in Matthew 15:8.

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.

The words that come out of our mouths reveal what is in our hearts.

Conclusion: if we are having trouble controlling our tongues, it’s because our hearts are not under God’s control.

And that’s why we as teachers – which in reality, is everyone who opens his mouth – will be judged by what we say. It reveals what’s in our hearts.