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“At the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us – is suffering”

Last week in our inaugural study in the book of James I briefly suggested that the primary theme of this epistle is that Christianity is not just a body of doctrines to believe but also a life to be pursued in the power of a living faith. In other words, James, perhaps more so than any other NT book, calls on us to put into practice on a daily basis what we profess to believe. In fact, James will go so far as to say that a work-less faith is a worth-less faith. In true, genuine Christianity, that experience of the soul that we call “faith” is alive and energetic and fruitful and productive. When we get to chapter two James will argue that whereas faith alone justifies us in the sight of God, such faith is never alone. It is always accompanied by or issues in the fruit of the Holy Spirit or obedience.

My dad was a banker for most of his professional working life. He was also a remarkable judge of character. I think this came from at least two sources. One was certainly the Holy Spirit. In other words, I think God uniquely gifted my dad with powers of discernment. He could see through the false fronts that people put up and was remarkably accurate when it came to looking beyond and behind actions to the motivation in people’s hearts.

It’s a refrain we’ve all heard countless times.

Now here’s a question for you, and yes it does have a purpose and it does have a direct relation to our passage this morning.

Let me come straight to the point. Our world, and sadly that often times includes the professing Christian church, is, contrary to James’ counsel, slow to hear, quick to speak, and has a hair trigger when it comes to anger. You can almost hear people justifying each of these:

My guess is that the majority of people here today have at one time or another throughout their educational experience audited a class or course, whether in high school or more likely in college. I certainly have. I loved the courses I audited. After I had graduated from Dallas Seminary in 1977 I returned a couple of years later and audited beginning Hebrew which was being taught by my good friend Jack Deere.

All of us know that some sins are more conspicuous and overt than others. Public drunkenness, for example, or profane speech are readily identifiable. It’s obvious to even the casual observer if someone is intoxicated. The same is true of obscene or profane speech. If you have eyes and ears you can know instantly whether such sins are being committed.

There simply is no more eternally important question that any man or woman can ask and then answer than this: “How might I, a hell-deserving sinner, be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?” Or we might pose the question in yet another way: “How might I, a man/woman who is undeniably unrighteous and thus deserving of eternal judgment, be made righteous in the sight of God?” Other questions might feel more pressing or more practical, but rest assured that nothing else in all of life matters much in comparison with the issue of how we can be made right with God and thus assured of eternal life in his presence.

I’m sorry for having to begin on something of a downer, but I want to draw your attention today to the many ways that human beings have distorted some of the most precious of God’s gifts to us.

I think all of you are familiar with the oft-heard statement that Christians are people who are “in” the world but not “of” the world. There isn’t a specific biblical text that says it in precisely those terms, but James 4:4 does describe followers of Jesus as people who should avoid developing a “friendship with the world.” In fact, James says that to be a “friend” of the world is to be at “enmity with God” (James 4:4b). The apostle John exhorts Christians, “do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a).

I don’t like oversimplification. I don’t typically give much credence to those who try to reduce complex problems to a single cause. But I’m going to make an exception to that this morning. And I’m making an exception because James does. Or I should say, God does through the writing of James.

There is a radio commercial that I hear several times a week here in OKC. If you don’t listen regularly to sports talk radio you probably aren’t aware of it. Quite honestly, I can’t even tell you what product or service is being promoted, but I do vividly remember the opening comments that are designed to grab the listener’s attention. The spokesman says something along the lines of: “Few have mastered the art of name-calling.” He then plays a recording of one particular local sports talk radio host who on occasion, when provoked, refers to people who call into his show as: “Sissies. Gutless Amoebas. Yard birds.” Now, to be fair to this man, he doesn’t describe all his listeners that way; just the ones who ask silly questions or attack him without reason.

Perhaps the greatest sound and light show in the history of God’s people took place in conjunction with the giving of the Ten Commandments. We are told in Exodus 20:18ff. that after God had spoken what are known as the Ten Words that “all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” (Exod. 20:18a). Their response was anything but surprising: “the people were afraid and trembled and they stood far off” (Exod. 20:18b).

Is it possible for a Christian to live like an atheist? I don’t mean “live like an atheist” in the sense that one actually denies the existence of God or commits sin repeatedly and feels no conviction or experiences no repentance. That person would have no basis for claiming to be a Christian in the first place. What I have in mind is a person who is born again going about his or her business and daily affairs without the slightest regard for God’s intimate personal involvement in what happens. I have in mind the person who gets up each day and pursues whatever responsibilities they have all the while presumptuously taking for granted that they are alive. I have in mind the person, born-again mind you, who rarely if ever pauses to consider that whether or not they live another 10 seconds or another 10 years is dependent on the sovereign will of God.

I’d like to see a show of hands. How many of you here today are by nature patient? Is there anyone who finds patience as natural as breathing? Anyone? Anyone? I’m looking for that man or woman, young or old, who instinctively responds to irritating people and aggravating circumstances with a calm and controlled spirit. Anyone? Anyone? Hmmm. I didn’t think so.

Truth, or integrity in our speech, that sense of moral obligation to God according to which we represent things as they really are, both in word and deed, has gradually eroded in many segments of our society. This shouldn’t come as a total surprise insofar as the first sin in the Garden of Eden was an attack upon the veracity or truthfulness of what God himself had said. Recall the statement: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Man’s test consisted in his trust of the veracity of the God who uttered those words. Satan spoke to Eve: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4b). Satan does not deny that God could inflict the punishment of death, as if to say that God’s power were at issue. Neither is it an impeachment of God’s knowledge, as if to suggest that Satan questioned God’s ability to anticipate the outcome of the whole affair. Rather, as John Murray makes clear:“He directly assails God’s veracity. ‘God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). He accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!” (Principles of Conduct, 126).

So, let’s be honest with each other this morning about why we don’t pray as much as we know we should. When I talk with Christians of all ages and both genders, I hear comments like these:

Many of you are new to Bridgeway and may not as yet fully understand what we mean when we say we are a church committed to both the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Or, upon hearing that, you may respond by saying: “Big deal. All churches believe in the importance of the Bible, and all churches believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit.” That may be true, but that’s not what we mean here at Bridgeway.

The responses I hear when I ask someone to pray for the sick that they might be healed are varied:

In July of last year, when we began this series of studies in the epistle of James, I pointed out in the first message that most scholars agree that the “James” who wrote this letter was in fact the half-brother of Jesus (see Mark 6:3-6). That is to say, he was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary. Like his other siblings, he was initially opposed to the ministry of Jesus, but after the resurrection he became a committed and loyal disciple of his older half-brother (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

If every Christian isn’t familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16-17, every Christian should be. There the Apostle Paul made what most believe is the most important statement in the Bible about the Bible. He said: