James 5

Today read James 5.

Are you a man or woman of your word? If you tell someone you will do something or be somewhere or arrive at a certain time, can that person count on you? Or, do you have to preface or follow something you’ve said with the statement, “I swear!” or “I promise!” Those phrases are necessary when we know we can’t be trusted. When we’ve just failed to keep a commitment or have a habit of being undependable, we have to resort to saying, “I swear” or “I promise” to manufacture a little bit of credibility for ourselves.

Jesus commanded us, his followers, not to say these things. James repeats those words of Jesus here in James 5:12: “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” The point of saying “a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” is that you will do what you agree to do or you will be honest if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do it. Because we want people to like us, we all have a tendency to say “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do. James reminds us that following Jesus means being upfront and honest with others. A person who is consistently honest and keeps his or her word is someone who can be trusted in the future. That kind of person, so rare in our world, never needs to say, “I swear” or “I promise.”

Look, life happens sometimes and prevents us from keeping our word when we had every intention of doing so. When that happens, the best thing to do is go to the person who was counting on you and apologize, taking responsibility and explaining--truthfully--what happened. These days, of course, everyone has a cellphone on them, so missed commitments can be renegotiated. A renegotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. A person who keeps his commitments will keep his commitments or he’ll contact you to explain or apologize as soon as possible.

Today you will be asked for things--to show up at a meeting, to take on a responsibility, to come for an appointment, to bake cookies for your kids’ bake sale--whatever. Being Christians means being people of truth; if you can’t do what is being asked of you, there is absolutely no shame in saying, “No.” Remember that is one of the options James said we could say in verse 12. As followers of Christ, let’s make our commitments slowly, carefully, and with every intention of fulfilling them. Do this day after day, week after week, and people will learn that you can be trusted. That is a character quality that pleases the Lord.

James 4

James 4 Today we’re reading James 4.

Do you tend to focus on the past or think about the future? That can be good thing if the good stuff in our past causes us to be thankful for people and opportunities and memories that God has allowed into our lives. Reflecting sometimes on the bad stuff in our past can be good, too, if we think about lessons we’ve learned from it rather than focusing on the hurt or shame or whatever other negative consequences came.

Focusing too much on the past, however, can be unhealthy. The past cannot be changed so the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” that sometimes accompanies thinking about the past only makes you feel bad in the present. Likewise, if you think your best days are behind you and think about the good times too much, it can take away your motivation to use the time you have today.

So, while some thinking about the past can be helpful, it is usually best to focus on the present and the future. Verse 13-17 here in James 4 give us some guidance in that area. Verse 13 raises the issue of the future and how we tend to make plans for the future optimistically. When we make plans for the future we often assume that the future will be exactly as we envision it with very little thought about what might disrupt our plans. Verse 15 reminds us, however, that we can’t be certain about what will happen tomorrow. The reason is that we are finite; someday our days will come to an end. Somewhere someone driving to work this morning was thinking about closing a big deal that would pay a large commission. That person was counting the money in his or her mind and what could be done with it once the check was safely cashed. Maybe that person had fun plans for the weekend, too, so they were smiling about the prospects for today and tomorrow. But that person’s life was cut short by a traffic accident or a heart attack or some other emergency that landed them in the hospital or at the bedside of someone they loved. We make plans quite naturally, but we cannot control the variables.

James does not discourage us from planning or looking forward to events in the future. Instead, according to verse 15, he encouraged us to remember that God’s will is bigger than our will and that His will may disrupt the plans we have for ourselves in the future. His command to us, then, is to plan while also submitting our plans to the sovereign will of God. This saves us from arrogance (v. 16); it also prepares us not to be overly disappointed when “life happens” and interrupts our plans.

Maybe you’re dealing with an unplanned setback in your life and struggling with the disappointment that quite naturally flows from a setback. Can you believe that God has a will for your life that is bigger than your plans? Do you trust that setbacks he allows in your life are for your good--to make you holy, to teach you to trust him, to prepare you to do good rather than living for yourself (see v. 17)? If you face an interrupted plan soon, remember this truth about God and his good will for your life. Finally, whenever you make plans, remember that God may have something else in mind for you. Some Christians actually add the phrase, “If the Lord wills...” to the things that they say about the future. There is nothing wrong with that but that’s not the point of James instruction in verse 15. Instead, James wants us to remember to submit our plans to the good will of God. If he disposes of our plans, then we hope in him. If he allows them to happen, then we thank him. This is the attitude God calls us to take into our daily lives because it is an attitude and an approach to life that glorifies him.

So...., got any plans for the weekend?

James 3

James 3 Today let’s read James 3.

This chapter in scripture tackles one of the hardest sins to overcome which is the sinful use of words. James himself acknowledged how hard it is to control what we say in verse 2 where he wrote, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check” and in verse 8 where he wrote, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

This passage exists to explain James’ statement in verse 1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” That verse told us that teachers will be held to greater accountability by God for how we live our lives. It warns anyone thinking about teaching about the extra layer of accountability God will hold teachers to. Verse 2 gives one of the major ways in which God will evaluate our lives and our teaching. If we teach God’s truth but don’t have a tamed-tongue, we will answer to God for that.

The reason that words are brought up in this context is that what someone says reflects what is in his heart. Jesus said that in Luke 6:45. So if God changes hearts which then changes lives, how a person speaks to other people is one of the clearest evidences of that status of that person’s growth in the Christian life as we see here James 3:2. Verses 3-6 describe how very large things (horses in verse 3, ships in verse 4) can be controlled by something very small. Likewise, the tongue is very small but has power to do great damage (vv. 5-6). Despite humanity’s ability to tame all kinds of animals, no man or woman has the power to tame the tongue (vv. 7-8); only God can do that (v.v 13-18).

We’ve all been hurt by the words of others and each of us has hurt others with things that we’ve said. Let’s not dwell on that today; instead, let’s focus on this thought in verse 18: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” This verse is connected to the idea of the power of the tongue. When God’s truth makes us wise (vv. 13, 17), we seek to become peacemakers with our words. Who in your life do you need to speak to in order to make peace, as God wants? Or, are there some conflicts between others in your life that you can use God’s wisdom and good words to help solve? These are good ways to put today’s truth into practice in your life today.

James 2

Today read James 2.

James 2 is a chapter about favoritism. Verses 1-13 speak to the issue of favoritism directly; verses 14-25 speak more generally about the need for a faith that works. Verses 14-25, of course, can stand on their own and contribute quite a bit to our understanding of faith and works, but in context they are related to the issue of favoritism.

Favoritism is a very natural human attitude. It is impossible for you to be friends with everyone you ever meet in your life but you need friends, so your mind will inevitably apply some kind of filter to the people you meet to separate those who look like they are worth being friends with from those who don’t look like they are worthy of your friendship. But verse 1 confronts our natural human tendency directly and commands us not to show favoritism toward others. Verses 2-3 give a hypothetical example of the kind of favoritism that believers in their era could be tempted to show. We give the best treatment to someone who comes to church looking wealthy and important while disrespecting someone who looks poor. Verse 4 exposes why we do this so naturally, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” Verses 5-7 explain why this kind of favoritism is ungodly (as in “un-God-like”) and verses 8-11 remind us that God’s word commands us to love others--including the unlovely.

Here at Calvary we send our first time guests an online survey that asks them 4 questions, 3 of them about their experience worshipping here the first time. We consistently get high marks for being friendly and caring. I praise the Lord for that.

However, some people who start attending our church regularly have told me that they’ve found it hard to make new friends here. They are very nice about it and don’t accuse us of deliberately excluding others but I have heard some very regular attenders say that there are a lot of deep networks already existing among the families in our church and that they are cautious about trying to get included in those networks. I do not think anyone is deliberately avoiding newer people and families, but I do wonder how often we think about deliberately INCLUDING newcomers to our church. This is a more subtle form of favoritism; it favors not the rich over the poor but the familiar over the unknown. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 8) applies here. Wouldn’t you want people in a new church to make a point of deliberately including you? Wouldn’t you enjoy being invited over after church or having your kids invited to a birthday party for a child in the church?

Think about some ways in which we as God’s people can be more loving in how we treat those who come to worship with us. This is one way in which we evidence our faith by our works (v. 18).

James 1

Today let’s read James 1.

James is one of the most immediately practical books of the Bible. Every verse, it seems, speaks directly to everyday issues in life. The first paragraph here in 1:2-12 tells us why God allows any kind of problem into our lives as believers. It is because “the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (v. 3).

Verses 13-18 tells us how to handle temptation to sin. Verses 19-27 address how God’s word seeks to change us in every day life. When we listen to the word and obey what it says, it teaches us to control our anger (vv. 19-21) our tongue (vv. 22-26) and to care for the weak and defenseless (v. 27). All of these things are hard to do so they demonstrate real spiritual growth in a person.

The core of this passage is in verses 22-25 and verse 22 states the main truth: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” This is ever-present temptation for any Christian who reads the Bible daily and attends church regularly. Whenever we are consistently taking in God’s word, part of us will think that is good enough. But verses 23-25 addressed that tendency by telling us how foolish it is to learn God’s word without applying it to our lives. It is as foolish as looking in the mirror, seeing messed up hair or smeared makeup or a big coffee stain on your shirt but doing nothing about these things and going on your day as if everything is perfect. God’s blessing, according to verse 25, is given to those who consistently read God’s word and do their best to remember and apply it to their lives.

So keep this in mind as we go forward in these daily devotions. God wants to inform your mind so that he can change your life. Knowing God’s truth is essential because transformation never bypasses the mind. But knowing the truth is only the first step; obeying the truth is the true end goal of Bible reading, Bible teaching and preaching. The Bible’s truth should always be life-altering.

Maybe this discussion has reminded you of something in your life that you know needs changing but you haven’t made that change yet. Take a few minutes to ask for God’s help in that area and think about one or two action steps you can take today or this week to move you closer to obedience.

Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read James 4.

Conflict is part of the atmosphere around us, whether through sibling rivalry, office politics, presidential campaigns, or first degree murder, someone is always struggling with someone else. James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer. It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us. But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine—prayer in, goodies out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b). Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism. James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4; we made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5). But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether or desire for those things come from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.

Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read James 1.

James says so much in such a few verses. He moves swiftly from one topic to another and it is sometimes difficult to see whether the topics are supposed to be related in some way or not. His opening words in verse 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” are provocative. Most people do not get joy from different kinds of trials. We do not perceive it as a reason to rejoice nor do we rejoice instinctively when life gets hard. That’s why James commands us to “consider it pure joy.” It is an act of deliberate mental decision; instead of instinctively getting sad or angry when we face trials, James tells us to consciously choose to consider our trials something to rejoice over. Why? Verse 2: “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Since verse 1 called these “trials of many kinds,” we know that he is not only speaking of persecution but, in addition to persecution, he means any problem in life that offers a choice between faith and unbelief. It might be spiritual, physical, financial, relational, intellectual, or whatever; if it is something that would usually make someone question God and why they trust in him, it is a trial like the one James is discussing. And why should we consider the trials of our faith to be “pure joy?” Because, verse 3b says that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In other words, things that do not wreck our faith only make it stronger. When we face trials, then, we should rejoice because God is growing us. He is strengthening our faith so that we learn to trust and love Christ more and become better equipped to serve him on the other side of the trial. The end of all this perseverance through trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4b). God places us through trials to compete us spiritually and morally. In those moments where faith is called for, God is building us, refining us, making us more like Christ and more effective for him. Whatever trial you find yourself in today, learn to thank God for it. When it comes to mind, thank God for what he is teaching you. When you are looking for the easy way out, thank God for how he is completing you as a Christian. When your faith in God’s character is shaking, thank God for the trial and don’t give up your faith! 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.