James 1 – A Lesson from Bill Cosby

v1: “The dispersion” refers to Jews who remained settled in foreign countries after the return from the Babylonian exile.

v2-4: We really need Jesus at the center of our hearts to experience this one – When we encounter trials or temptations, be joyful because these tests produce endurance and steadfastness. We struggle with this verse because we usually do not look at the big picture. God does. He sees the completed jigsaw puzzle while we see only the edges of the one piece that is us, and we probably do not see too much of the pictured side of that piece either. Those who are strong in God do, but again, it is only in part. We can trust God for the big picture. One Day we will see it and be in awe of our Lord. When negative things happen to us there are many good things to be gained. For example, patience. How does one obtain more patience? By demanding that God gives it to us NOW? Not. God is not some Santa Claus up in the sky, but He does work patience in us by giving us situations that can cause us to be impatient. How else can we develop it? Do we need to curb our tongue? God will give us ample opportunities to practice that skill. The examples are endless. With God we can always gain no matter what happens to us.

v5: This is a great promise – if we lack wisdom (and who doesn’t?) just ask God and it will be given. All parents will relate to this. God gets excited when we depend on Him rather than ourselves. When our pride takes a back seat, God can then drive the car…and I’d rather have Him driving than me. And what is the first step in having wisdom? The fear (respect) of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). This is why we must let Him drive. This step is also essential to “walk in the Spirit.”

v6: The only requirement for the above mentioned things – faith with no doubting.

v9-11: Compares a rich man’s life to a poorer man’s life. The rich man’s efforts and wealth fade away quickly. This is life in the sin-cursed world. In spite of this powerful truth, the spirit of this world continually preaches that worldly wealth should be groped for because it will make us happy. All the money Americans spend just on “outer beauty” is astronomical. This world tells us that those things are important, but outer beauty is such a quickly fading flower. Life is not about outer beauty but inner beauty. Inner beauty will last forever in God’s Kingdom.

v13-16: If you are old enough, you’ll remember comedian Flip Wilson saying, “The Devil made me do it!” Well, Eve said a similar thing to God after she sinned, then Adam kind of blamed God and Eve for his sin. I’d say because we are all sinners, we are natural-born blamers. Think about how we do not have to be taught how to blame, or to lie, or to lust. We’ll never see a health class entitled, “How to Lust.” I recall a great story shared by comedian Bill Cosby when his daughter was just 2+ years old. She had been taking cookies out of the cookie jar on her own too often, so Bill and his wife made a rule that she couldn’t have a cookie unless a parent said okay. That failed. So in all their educated wisdom, they moved the jar high above the kitchen counter well out of reach for their little one. One day Bill heard some noise out in the kitchen. Being curious, he sneaked a peak and saw that she was building a stairway out of various objects up to where the cookie jar was located. She reached the top and opened the jar, reached in and grabbed a cookie. Bill thought it would be a good time to make his presence known so he burst into the kitchen catching his daughter red-handed! What did this little 2+ year-old immediately say? “Daddy, I was getting one for you.” If this doesn’t prove that we are natural born liars, I don’t know what does.

The Bible says that we are born into sin. Sin reigns in us. We all sin naturally. Here, the Word says that God does not tempt us. Furthermore, we cannot blame the Devil either, although he takes advantage of our sinful natures. But it is the sin inside us that entices us, and this would be in our thought-life. If we lose the battle there, sin is conceived and we will carry it out from that point. When this occurs, death is the result. Now, obviously we do not instantly drop dead, neither did Adam or Eve. But we will die, and that’s because we have sinned. When we sin, it also hinders our relationship with God, and, sometimes with other people. Our lives on earth never improve from sinning. It sometimes may seem as though we’ve gotten away with something, but sooner or later, it comes back to haunt us. God is not fooled, we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Over the time this takes, we may never put 2 and 2 together and perceive sin’s total effect.

v17: If anyone has abilities (gifts), they all come from God. It is up to us how we use them. We can use them selfishly or for God and others.

v19-20: Be slow to speak and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. I’ve met many angry people in my life. Some have poor causes while others, at least on the surface, have good causes. But whatever the cause, God does not want us to stay angry long (Ephesians 4:26). If we allow anger alone to guide or motivate us rather than the Holy Spirit, we will run afoul. Sometimes anger can motivate us to do something right, but let us not leap from riding in the “shotgun” position of our car into the driver’s seat while tossing God into the back seat. God’s righteousness will not shine through this sort of anger. This is a difficult concept and there are many examples that we could discuss. But I think the general principal of putting God in that driver’s seat is paramount if we’re going to do anything that will count for eternity.

Comment on anger: I’ve known Christians who get so angry at so many things in this world that it burned them out. They lose the joy of the Lord. They get depressed. They dwelt on negative things rather than living out Philippians Chapter 4:8. They failed to see the work of the enemy against their life. So they had no spiritual strength to do His bidding (see Nehemiah 8:10). In cases such as these, we must cede that anger (burden) to God (Matthew 11:29-30).

v22: Be doers of the Word not merely hearers. Have you ever met a “fat-cat” Christian? They know Scripture better than most but are not doing anything for God. Receiving great teaching is a very good thing, but let’s not allow it to stop there.

v26: Ahhh, the tongue! Most difficult thing to tame, including any wild beast. It’s just such a small anatomical feature of our bodies, but like the tiny rudder on a huge ship, it steers and determines the direction. Chapter 3 goes into more detail. Countless times the Holy Spirit has told me to not say something (usually about someone who is not present) and countless times my tongue just kept on going. Shame on me. I wonder what my week would be like if I perfectly obeyed my “tongue’s conscience?” This verse says that if we do not bridle our tongue our religion is worthless…ouch! Bridling takes lots of practice, but fret not, God provides us with ample opportunities for practice!

v27: Pure and undefiled religion = visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself unstained by the world. The first two should be easy, but that last one is tough, but all things are possible with God (Matthew 19;26).

James 2:

v1-8: We are not to be like this world favoring rich people over poor people. Few rich people become children of God whereas many poor ones do. So treat poor people with love and respect and show them kindness and rejoice if they come to your church.

v10-11: Determining whether or not we are Lawbreakers does not matter how many Commandments we have never broken. If we have broken only one, that makes us a lawbreaker and therefore necessitates a sinless Savior to shed innocent blood on our behalf to satisfy the breach caused by the sinner. And I dare say we have broken more than one…several times over. But the point is this: Have I ever lied? Yes. That makes me a liar. Have I ever stolen (no matter what the value)? Yes. This makes me a thief. And so it goes on (hey, this ain’t “True Confessions, folks! I’m not telling all…I got your attention for a bit anyway, didn’t I 🙂 ). If we have sinned only once, that is enough evil to separate us from God until we die. Thank God He has provided an escape from eternal death.

v13: If we do not show mercy to others, God will not have mercy on us…and we all need lots of mercy on Judgment Day. So be merciful. In God’s huge perspective, it is His great mercy that triumphs over judgment. In other words, it would be fair and right for God to condemn all mankind to eternal destruction because of sin. But He desired to perfect His love through us by loving us, the unlovely (1 John 4:12-17).

Noah’s Flood was God’s judgment, but His mercy was demonstrated to Noah and his family, and eventually to all of us. All the striated rock layers seen along sides of highways that mankind has blasted its way through a mountain were laid down via hydrological sorting during Noah’s Flood. Those layers did NOT take millions of years of mini-flooding to form. The Flood lasted about one year on the planet which gives plenty of time for the layers to form as sediments settled. Scientists find millions of dead things buried in rock layers that were laid down by water all over the earth. All of it was God’s judgment, not eons of evolution in action. Satan has masked God’s Word and history (HIS-Story) that God has told us about with “unquestioned dogma” of evolution in scientific circles (despite mounting evidence against it). The fact that we exist at all today and that the Messiah has come and completed His mission attests to the great mercy of God that has indeed triumphed over His judgment. Thank you Lord!

v14-25: Faith vs. works for salvation – Does James contradict what many Scriptures state plainly that we are saved by faith (mercy, grace) not by works (good deeds)? No. The Word of God via James is trying to combat what many people think when they hear salvation is by faith. They think that they therefore can do anything and still go to Heaven. First of all, if that is their mentality, their heart is far from God and they are not saved. For when we are saved, we love the Father and want to do the things that are pleasing to Him, though we will stumble at times. Second, James is saying that real faith will have automatic demonstrations of good deeds as an overflow of love for God. In other words, works are an automatic result of true faith and you cannot have one without the other. So even though v24 seems to be saying that we are saved by works, the context is that the works will be evident from saving faith.

v26: In a completed soul (saved) you cannot separate works from faith – if you have faith, you will have works evident. Just as if you have the spirit in a physical body, that person will be still alive. But once that spirit leaves the body, the body is dead. So faith without works is dead (never was real). In the born-again experience, we are changed inwardly and there will be some evidence of those changes. For me, I started to love Jesus and other people. Even if they were strangers I suddenly cared about them. I never did before. Old friends could see a change.

James 3 – B.I.B.L.E. = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth

v1: Teachers of God’s Word will incur a stricter judgment (not one of my favorite verses). This is one reason why I will identify an idea as “my opinion” (meaning it could be wrong) rather than making opiniated statements as though the Bible says so.

v2-12: Tongue damage from too much boasting is like a great forest destruction from one little spark. Many animal species can be tamed by humans but humans cannot tame their own tongues. An undisciplined tongue is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

v14-16: Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition is described as earthly (not spiritual) and even demonic because together they will produce disorder and every evil thing. Companies and families would be more successful if they would heed the Bible. God tells us all how to live. B.I.B.L.E. = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

v17: God’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield (reasonable), full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

James 4:

v1-2: Describes the plight in which sinful humans find themselves. Selfish pleasure leads to wrong actions that hurt others and society. People who lust, for example, do not have, nor will they ever have satisfaction because, by its very nature, lust always demands more. If we lust for money, money will never satisfy, we will want more the more we get. If we lust for fame, the more we get the more we want. Same with drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever. Worst still, lust can cause us to murder, fight, lie, cheat, steal, etc.

v3: The reason some folks do not have what they really need is because they have not asked God with the correct motives. Again, God is not some “Santa Claus” up in the sky ready on demand to spoil His kids. Plus, sometimes what we want will hurt us. God knows best and will not withhold any good thing from us (Psalms 84:11).

v4: Loving and wanting earthly things is like committing adultery in God’s eyes. The world lover cares not for God, therefore cannot be faithful to God. If we want to please the world and its system, we become enemies of God. We must face reality. There are only two kingdoms: God’s and this world (ruled by Satan since the Fall of man), and these will be at war with each other until Christ puts His final enemy under His feet.

v5: Understanding and believing in the above verses helps us to appreciate that the Holy Spirit guards us with tender jealousy. This world, and all it offers, is vying for our affections. So let us not play the harlot here. Let’s stay close to the One who really loves us.

v6: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Nuff said.

v7-8: When temptation comes, God’s instructions for us are: 1) Submit to Him (turn to Him, pray to Him, yield our thoughts to Him acknowledging His Lordship over our heart, draw near to Him and He will draw near to us, 2) Resist the Devil (quote Scripture to that demon just like Jesus did when He was tempted those three times in the wilderness), 3) Result every time = the temptation will flee from us! What a promise. How can critics claim that the Bible is antiquated? This stuff is more relevant to us than the daily newspaper.

v13-16: Instead of saying “if the Lord wills I will do this or that,” worldly and arrogant people just make plans to make more money. They do not see the real perspective, namely that life is short and they could die and any time. Also, money and being materialistically successful should not be our goal in life. Our goal needs to be maintaining a good relationship with the Lord and have that carry over to others.

v17: If we know the right thing to do and yet do not do it, we have sinned.

James 5:

v1-8: Announces the deep trouble evil, rich people will face. Bottom line: don’t be too upset when you see or hear of people doing wrong and not getting caught by the law because God knows all and no one gets away with anything. So we can be patient and not let this world get us down.

v9-12: Do not complain, many people have had it tougher than us and suffered patiently and are going to be richly rewarded by God on that Day. And do not make a “swearing statement” such as “By Jerusalem” (see also Matt.5:34) or by anything in heaven or on earth. Just say “yes” or “no.” For a person with great character and reputation, that is all that will be needed. God wants His kids to have that kind of reputation. When we swear an oath by something higher than our “yes or no,” it reveals that we are not confident in our reputation. There is agreement among commentators that the basic point is to ensure the integrity of one’s speech without having to rely on oaths. This instruction is one of James’ clearest references to the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:33-37). James and Matthew recall Jesus’ teaching with the same terms and order. In that teaching, Jesus confronted the Pharisaic practice of using various formulas to create different levels of oaths, some of which were considered less binding than others (Mt 23:16-22). The Pharisees could thereby bind themselves to their promises in various degrees and so excuse themselves from keeping commitments they had made with lesser oaths. They could use their oaths to sound exceedingly pious and to justify themselves as deeply religious, while being in fact hypocritical. Jesus commanded his followers therefore not to swear but to invest their simple words of yes or no with complete integrity. So I think the Scripture is simply prescribing honesty in speech. (source: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Jas/Do-Not-Swear)

v13-16: Describes what people within a church should be doing for each other. It deals with suffering, sickness, and confession to one another.

v19-20: It is great for us to turn back someone who is straying from the truth.