God has been gracious to me these last two months. He led our Sunday School teacher to study the book of James while simultaneously leading me through an object lesson that hurt while it taught. It has been one of the most powerful, heart-changing lessons I’ve participated in in awhile. When your daily life mirrors the admonishment of God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit pricks your ears to hear and obey, you can be assured that your Father truly loves you.
As the Apostle James delineated the sins that were prevalent in the early church, I found all of them alive and well in my own heart. While fighting anger at someone else, I found myself in desperate need of repentance and God’s healing grace. The last month and a half have been ripe with the nitty-gritty of “working out my salvation.” Working out what I really believe and allowing that belief to determine my actions.
The lessons were personal, but common to all of us as we walk alongside other irritating sinners such as ourselves, so I’m sharing them with you in hopes that you need just this word at just this time. I’ll highlight some of the key verses that lept off the pages at me each week in Sunday School and what God was showing me through them.
James 1:2-5 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
The trial I faced last month knocked the wind out of me. It also, God be praised, knocked me to my knees. Because of God’s great grace at work in my heart, when offense and anger struck a tender blow, I sought the Lord. I went to His word, over and over, several times a day for many days.
And oh, how He answered.
Each Psalm, each Proverb, each apostolic letter, and even each email devotional I opened, they were like hand-written love notes from the Lord. Daily, there were timely, much needed words from my Father about exactly what I was going through.
Encouragement to love when wronged.
Exhortation to be patient and not seek my own vindication.
The Holy Spirit’s call to humble myself and search out my own sins.
God gently asking if I was willing (oh, this was the most painful) to see only my own faults and take all the blame and leave none for the person who offended me.
At the end of the trial, I was so full. Full of the assurance of God’s love. Full of trust in the One who allowed this trial to come for my much needed refinement. Full of new wisdom because I had asked for it and He, like He promised, gave it GENEROUSLY. If the trial hadn’t come, I’d have missed out on all of that; and, I can say honestly, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I was able to “Count it all joy” that I had been in pain. Because the pain drew me to the throne, and my Father met me there.
When something external gives you the opportunity to hear God’s loving whispers—clear as day—inside your heart, could you really pass that up? To hear God speaking directly to you is worth the storm that brings His still, small voice. He doesn’t speak to me nearly as much on easy carefree days.
James 1:19-22 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, 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. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
These instructions were full of conviction. Much of why I was in the trial had to do with being quick to speak and quick to become angry. And James is right, human anger—even at someone or something that wasn’t fair or right—doesn’t produce the righteousness God desires.
When I’m angry, the fruit that is produced is self-righteous (I don’t deserve this!) self-absorbed (poor me!) and self-consuming (practicing the wrong that was done to me over and over and over ad nausea) None of those are the fruit of the spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Next time you are “rightly angry” at someone, check your fruit. Is it producing love in you for that person? Is it producing gentleness and acts of kindness? If not, the Bible is clear that our anger is just more sin. And James says we’re supposed to get rid of that “moral filth and the evil that is so common in us.” God says in James, if we read these words and don’t do them, we are double-minded, fickle, adulterous, and deceived. I don’t want that! Do you?
James 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
My Bible notes say “the royal law” is the law of our Great King Jesus Christ who said, “Love each other as I have loved you.”
And how did He love us? I know you know. It was by DYING for us, while we were still enemies. In that song by Sidewalk Prophets called “You Love Me Anyway”, I always cry when he sings this part near the end:
See now, I am the man who yelled out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then I turned away with the smile on my face
With this sin in my heart, tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life, my life, my life.
BUT YOU LOVE ME ANYWAY
If God loved me this way and called me to follow His royal law, what will that look like for my enemies? Or my husband who is acting a little selfish, or my teenager who is struggling with hormones and attitudes, or my boss who doesn’t appreciate me or my friend who turned her back on me? None of them cried out for my blood, and I’m called to love them all the way to that point. And love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrong….
James 2:12-13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Didn’t it? Didn’t Christ’s great mercy triumph over the judgement I deserved? In church this morning as I prepared my heart to worship, I said in my heart, “Lord, I really am wicked. Impatient with my family, easily irritated, quick to judge, full of pride, I really do deserve hell.” And it was almost a new revelation to me. I don’t think I think about that nearly enough. I usually operate under the false assumption that I don’t deserve hell. How much humbling I still need.
James 3:9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Wow. This one really stung. Where’s the exception verse? Where is the verse that says, “Except when you’re talking to your husband, your mom, your sister, and your best friend. Go ahead and talk bad about someone in private to them….” That verse isn’t there, and I did that. In confusion and anger and a deep down need to hear someone say, “You were right and that other person was wrong” I spoke poorly of someone who was made in God’s image. Sometimes we Christians think this verse is tough enough to follow if we only apply it to other Christians. But James says here “we curse MEN, who have been made in God’s image.” That covers all the humans.
Colossians 3:12-13 says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
There are lots of verses where God tells us to “clothe” ourselves, or “put on” His nature. It’s because these qualities only come to us when we get up and DRESS OURSELVES in His Word every day. If we don’t, we walk around “naked” all day long and we can be sure that what flows out of us won’t look like His clothes. If you find yourself often angry, often hurt, often irritated, I beg you to prioritize “dressing” yourself in the morning. The irritations of life will never stop coming. You’re only recourse is to be “dressed” in His righteousness.
James 4:11-12 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Finally, today we started into James chapter four. You’d think weeks later I’d be done learning lessons about last months trials, but there was another amazing “lightbulb” moment for me this morning.
One of the guys in our class said, “God gave the Ten Commandments ‘Thou shalt not..’ and spoke directly to each of us. He didn’t say, ‘Watch over your wife or sister or neighbor…’ Each command was given personally to each of us as though no one but God and me were a part of this holy conversation. Through James, God paints a legal picture. When I judge someone for their words or their behavior, I’ve sat myself down in The Judge’s seat where only God may sit!
In deciding someone isn’t “acting like a Christian” I say in my heart—whether I realize it or not—I have the right to judge the law.
Ooooh. Do you? Do I have the right to sit in judgement of GOD’S law? I surely don’t. Next time my sinful heart wants to decide how my brother or sister “should” behave, may I remember—Dear God, help me remember!—to stand back up from that chair that I have no business sitting in.
James 4:7-10 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Are you low? Beat up by life? Exhausted with the fellow sinners who share your home and workplace? God has laid out steps for you that will lead to HIM LIFTING YOU UP.
- Submit to Him. He chose your trials, your mate, your kids, your job, your circumstances. Submit to the One who promised to “work all things together for your good.”
- Resist Satan. Resist the whispers that say, “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better. This is unfair. If I don’t stand up for myself, no one will.” Those are lies. God promises that if you resist the lies, Satan will run away from the light of the Holy Spirit in your heart.
- Wash your hands and purify your hearts. Resolve now to not be “stained by the world” (James 1:27) If tv, books, food, hobbies, clothes, make-up, vacations, house decorating, kids, husband, or friendships are all getting the lion’s share of your time and leaving little time for “clothing yourself in God’s word”, perhaps you have some repenting and prioritizing to do. We are called to be set apart. Be irritated with me if you want, but if you look and act like the rest of the world, something is wrong. Double-minded people think, “I can love the world and love God.”
- Grieve, mourn and wail. Have you lately? Mourned your sinful heart before God? Recognized the depth of your depravity? One thing I have always noticed about godly people is they humbly admit they are the “worst sinners.” I’ve always been like, “Puh-lease. You are obviously a godly person and that is just false modesty.” But, as I’ve dug deeper with Jesus this year, I’ve found a bumper crop of sin in my own heart that I never realized was there (or never had the humility to call SIN) But there it is. Lots more junk to clean. Lot’s more trash to toss into the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns in the altar of my heart.
After all of this necessary humbling, God will be faithful to lift you up. But you’ll probably want to keep kneeling before Him, because His love is unfathomable and His grace is incomprehensible.
Our class still has a chapter and a half left of James. I’m looking forward to next week’s lesson even though it will mean looking hard at more of the crap I have that needs to be laid on that altar. Because I’m learning to count these trials joy. If I’m learning, then God is speaking and moving. What a privilege!