“James: Practical Christianity”
Do you ever feel as if the Bible is a little bit overwhelming? There is so much to know and understand. You wonder where to start and what are the most important things to apply. Many view the Bible that way and are tempted to not spend any time reading or studying it. They want to be better Christians, but don't know for sure where to start or what to do. Today's lesson offers some easy-to-follow instruction. In a short letter written by James, who was a brother to Jesus, we find some very practical teaching concerning what it means to live as a Christian. Faced with criticism and even persecution, at times we may struggle to live out our faith; yet, James's message helps us to do just that. One's faith in Christ is to be living and active. It is to be at the core of who we are and what we do. It provides the stability needed when trying times come. In other words, one's faith in Jesus is practiced every day. That is what James wants us to know. He offers short and easy to remember statements and advice that really makes a difference. For the next few minutes, we will focus on some of those statements and explore how we can put them into practice. As we do, consider what they can look like in your own life. Think about some adjustments or changes you may need to make in order to look more like Jesus. I am thankful you have chosen to join us for today's message. I trust you will benefit from it. Open your Bible to the letter of James as we now study together.
It is hard for me to imagine what it was like to live some 100 years ago. With all of the modern conveniences we enjoy today, life seems to be much simpler. For many, with all of the conveniences, from modern travel to our homes, even our cooking, life seems to make much more sense. It is a practical way to live. Well, the letter called James, found in the New Testament part of the Bible, just makes sense. In fact, it may be the most practical letter found in God's Word. It was perhaps the very first letter or book that was written, as James wrote it just a few years after his half-brother Jesus ascended into heaven. He does not address a specific church nor does he address a specific group of people; rather, his message is quite general as it addresses a number of people who follow Jesus Christ. He addresses many different topics. In fact, it might be the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament book called Proverbs. In just 108 verses, James gives 50 different commands. He uses a variety of metaphors and figures of speech. Examples of Jesus' teaching found in the Sermon on the Mount are scattered throughout these five chapters. However, one of the major issues people have with the letter of James is that it seems to contradict the apostle Paul's teaching concerning the matter of salvation. We know from Paul's writings, over and over again, he emphasizes one's faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that come from God, which leads to one's salvation. James appears to suggest that our good works is what leads to one's salvation, and that through the good deeds we do and the good life we live, we are able to receive that promise from God. Well, there are at least a couple of explanations for that. First of all, James probably had not met Paul prior to him writing this letter called James. And then secondly, James addresses a different group of people than does the apostle Paul. As Paul writes, he addresses people who do not know Jesus Christ, who have not become His follower. He also addresses those who are new and young in the faith. James, on the other hand, addresses Christians and he simply shares with them some practical ways to live, that follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. James and Paul have a different audience to whom they are writing. In fact, we might say it like this. Paul emphasizes the foundation of one's salvation; while James emphasizes one's demonstration of that salvation. Now, there's one more thing I want to mention in regards to James before we jump into a study of the text. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 3 verse 21, we find that Jesus' family goes out to where Jesus is ministering, and they hear and see what is going on. They announce that Jesus is out of His mind or that He is crazy and they take Him away. We don't know for sure, the Scriptures do not tell us, however, James may have been in that number. He may have been one of the family members who did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Now, fast forward several years to Acts chapter 15. There we find this very same James in the city of Jerusalem as one of the leaders or the elders of the church, and he is teaching and addressing people on how they can better follow in the footsteps of the Lord. And so, from Mark 3 to Acts chapter 15, James travels a long way. He makes a spiritual journey from denying Jesus as God's Son to encouraging other people to follow Him and how best they can represent Him. Like James, many of us are on a spiritual journey. We are moving from where we are to where God would want us to be. It's a spiritual journey that we travel each and every day. Oh, we may know quite a bit about the Bible. We may have committed many passages of Scripture to memory. And yet, the task is to move from that to incorporating those things into our daily life. We might say that it is a spiritual journey from head knowledge to heart knowledge, and it is the longest journey any of us will ever make. Well, the letter of James identifies some of the trials Christians deal with in order to be God's people. Throughout his letter, James presents several tests we encounter every day, and then he offers a lesson that we can learn from those trials of life. Ultimately, James points out that one's faith in Jesus is demonstrated by the way we live. It is measured by our conduct and the way we look at people. It is evaluated by the works we do and the words we say. Even our choice of friends and the way we plan out our life demonstrates whether or not we are true disciples of Jesus Christ. Now, each of these five chapters presents a different challenge and also a lesson to learn. So, for the next few minutes, I want us to look at each challenge and each lesson from each of these five chapters. We begin in chapter 1. The challenge is this: The greatest lessons in life come from our struggles. Notice the words in James chapter 1 beginning with verse 2 going through verse 4, then also verse 12. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (then verse 12) “Blessed it is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James immediately gets to the heart of the matter. He addresses the issues of trials and tests. He mentions both the word trial and test two different times in these four verses. There is a big difference between the two. For example, a trial represents the struggle or the stress or the strain of life; that, through the pain of living in a sin-filled world and enduring the hurts and the suffering, the unfair treatment of other people, that is a trial. No doubt all of us have experienced those trials at one time or another. A test on the other hand is different. A test is the proving process by which a person is sifted and refined. It is what happens to us when we confront and handle the trials that life presents to us. In other words, it is how we respond to the trials we encounter every single day. As we experience those trials, we either become more like the people God wants us to be, or, on the other hand, it demonstrates the emptiness of our faith. And therein lies the test, therein also lies the joy. James mentions the joy of the testing back in verse 2. It is not the joy that says “Oh boy, here are some more trials in life. I can't wait to experience them.” No, that is not what he has in mind; rather, it is the joy that comes in growing and maturing as a Christian. The joy comes in passing the test that the trials of life present. Whatever they might be, joy can be found in the midst of those trials as we are molded and shaped into the image of His dear Son. God's children develop their faith through the trials of life. If that faith is not developing, then we may not be passing the test that life presents to us. Now, on the other hand, those who endure the struggles of life and pass the test and prove they belong to God will receive a great reward. That reward, according to verse 12, is eternal life. So, the first lesson that we learn from chapter 1 is this: Joy is found in how God changes us through the trials of life. Here's challenge two, and that challenge is found in the 2nd chapter. Our struggles teach us to practice God's Word. Notice with me these words that are found in chapter 2 verses 14 through 17. “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James presents a person who has few clothes and little food. We see that person, we express our concern, but then we turn and go away. And James says that does not do any good because nothing has changed concerning that person's need. That person still has few clothes and little food. They are still in need of someone to offer something to help them. Now, to illustrate that, we find these words in verse 19. “Look at the demons, they believe and tremble.” Yes, the demons believe in God. They know who He is and they tremble or they shake in His presence; yet, nothing changes concerning the demons. They are still demons. They don't change and draw close to the Lord. The point is this. Real faith begins when our belief in God causes some sort of change in our life, to do something different. That is important. And so, lesson number two, our faith is demonstrated by our good deeds. Here's challenge number three. Godly wisdom replaces worldliness. Notice the words in chapter 3 beginning with verse 13 and reading through verse 17. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For when you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James identifies two different kinds of relationships, those based on envy and bitterness and those based upon godly insight and holy living. Well, one comes from an attitude of selfishness and pride, and that was not learned from God, but the other comes from a life of wisdom, which is learned from God. When we possess a humble spirit and a pure heart, it will be demonstrated in our conversations. It makes no difference what the situation is or what we have to say, when we speak with a humble spirit then our words will be full of grace, and be pure, and bless other people. And all of that goes back to what James wrote earlier in verses 1 through 12 here in the 3rd chapter. He addresses the issue of the tongue for 12 verses; that even though it is a very small member in our mouth, it can do a great deal of damage. Sometimes, it does, doesn't it? It's oftentimes hard to control our tongue, where in stressful situations our emotions tend to take over. We even allow Satan to get a foothold right here in our mouth. We say and do things that we should not. We say things that hurt other people and that cause a great deal of damage. And so the lesson that we learned from the 3rd chapter is our words and our actions are to demonstrate a holy relationship with God. Here is challenge number four from the 4th chapter. Pride and selfishness must be eliminated. Notice these words in chapter 4 beginning with verse 7. “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.” A number of years ago, a dear Christian lady told me that she believed that the root of every sin or evil in this world revolves around one or two things, either pride or selfishness. I have thought about her statement a number of times, and I believe that to be true; that pride and selfishness is at the root of every sin, and those two things go hand in hand. That is what James seems to be addressing, that bitterness and bad relationships and evil talk all come from conforming to the world, and the answer is to not allow the world to get in the way of our friendship with God. James suggests that we do ten things that we just read there in verses 7 through 10. Perhaps the one that jumps out at me more than the others is that we humble ourselves in the sight of God; then, He will lift us up. Yes, we are to eliminate pride. We are not to do things out of selfishness or selfish ambition, but rather we become unselfish. We say no to becoming friends with the world, and we align ourselves with the Lord. And so the fourth lesson we learned from James here in the 4th chapter is that if God is not in control of our life, then we are out of control. Here's another lesson, chapter 5. The fifth challenge, wealth cannot give life. Notice the words in chapter 5 beginning with verse 1. “Now, listen you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroding. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look, the wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvester have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” James concludes his thoughts about wealth, which began back in chapter 4. Those thoughts were these: Everyone faces the test of how we spend our money and what we want to accomplish and how we want to plan our life. And some of the people James addresses believed that because they had wealth they had power and control over everybody else, and so they did not pay their workers. And James says God sees what is going on with that. We face the very same test, don't we? Oftentimes money and wealth creates power in our lives and we believe that we control other people because we are wealthier than they are. But instead of saying the money controls us, James wants us to control our money. He wants us to control our wealth. Oftentimes, our wealth does not even accomplish what we hope. Many times, it will bring pain instead of pleasure. That happens when we fail the test of generosity. We are always to keep in mind, we can never take our wealth with us when we leave this earth. It stays here. We can never take it on to the next life. That should inspire us to be generous. That should inspire us to lift up our eyes and see the needs of the people around us and do what we can to share the blessings that God has given to us with them. That is one reason why God gives us so much wealth and so many things, so they won't be terminal with us, but we can bless those who are less fortunate. That is lesson number five that we learned from James: Money is temporary, just like us. James is a very practical letter and we find a number of challenges and lessons here in these five chapters. We've taken time only to look at five. There is, however, one more lesson that seems to be most important, and it is with this that we end our lesson: God is forever the teacher and we are forever to be the student. Yes, God teaches us a variety of things through the trials of life. That is the way it is. Those challenges come our way each and every day. And as we embrace those challenges, we are either going to pass or fail the test that God presents. We are continually learning through these challenges and trials of how we need to respond. Hopefully, we will respond in a way that draws us closer to the Lord and we don't drift farther away from Him. As we consider the letter of James, I trust that we will take the challenges that it presents to us, recognizing that James is perhaps the most practical letter in the Bible. And these practical challenges, these practical trials of life demonstrate whether or not we belong to God.
One of the most practical messages in the Bible is found in the letter of James. The writer identifies some of the trials Christians deal with and seek to overcome. As we daily confront these challenges, James encourages us to pass the various tests life presents. He reminds us that our faith in Jesus is demonstrated by the way we live. It is measured by such things as the good works we do, the words we say, our choice of friends, our patience, and even our prayer life. As a brother of Jesus, James seems to recall many of the things He addressed in His Sermon on the Mount. This letter serves as a basic reminder of what our lives as followers of Jesus are to look like, not only to Him, but also to the world.
Thank you for joining us for today's lesson on “Key to the Kingdom.” We need letters like James to remind us to put into practice the faith we have in Christ Jesus. It does not do us much good if we know the teachings of the Bible yet fail to apply them to daily life. Hopefully, we will spend even more time studying this most practical message. This lesson, along with many others, is available to download in a variety of formats on our website. Please go to keytothekingdom.com where you can access any that might be of interest. Other information is there as well, including a free Bible study. You can download and work through it at your own pace. If you have any questions or comments about this message or this ministry, I would love to hear from you. Please send me an email and I will be happy to respond. You might want to receive the same free Bible study by mail. If so, please call the number on the screen and leave your name and address. We'll be happy to send the six series lesson to you as soon as possible. There is no cost for it, and it requires no commitment of any kind. Remember, as we study through the New Testament, we are uploading each lesson on keytothekingdom.com. Our goal is to offer a number of resources that might help you in your own personal study of God's Word. Feel free to take advantage of these opportunities to learn more of and to apply the Bible's message. Thank you for spending time watching today's episode. I invite you to join us again next week as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”