THINGS TO AVOID

James 4:1 – What is the source of quarrels and conflict among you?

James proceeds to answer his own question by identifying numerous sources of conflict. He begins with “pleasures that wage war in your members” (James 4:1b). Pleasures speak of lust. Lust can be manifested in numerous ways. Sexual sins, material wants manifested in things, and any other worldly possessions that come from fleshly desires. These things produce jealousy, competition, and covetousness. This is contrary to the exhortation of learning to be content in whatever state we are in.

Quarrels and conflicts, for the most part, are rooted in the attitude of insisting on having things my way. It is really the same root that is found in lusts. James continues his thoughts by saying, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder” (James 4:2a). James is giving a tough message to the church. A familiar saying is, “I would kill for that.” Can you recognize the source of James’ comment in the more modern day expression?

“You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:2b). No wonder James deals with the subject of faith and works. It sounds like those to whom he is writing are not living the life of faith, but still living by the lust of the flesh from which they had been redeemed. The life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit are in direct enmity. James goes on to deal with the subject of wrong motivations of prayer. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). James likens this motive to “adultery.” He calls it “friendship with the world.” Friendship with the world is hostility toward God. If one wishes to be a friend of the world, then that one becomes an enemy of God.

These are rough Scriptures to wrestle with, but important ones. At this time of the year, the world begins to put pressure on consumers to spend, spend, and spend. The world will make you feel guilty when you don’t spend a lot of money on gifts and other things at Christmas time. The world does not have our best interest in view. The world appeals to our lusts and pleasures. The Spirit of God in us is jealous for our life to not be drawn to worldliness. He wants to give us great grace as we humble ourselves before God. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

Avoid lusts, pleasures, envy, and jealousness. Avoid quarrels and conflicts. Draw close to God. Learn to be content with what you have. Give away and bless others, especially those who are lacking the basics. Nurture the presence of the Spirit of God who has come to indwell your life with His gracious presence. Long for fellowship with God, and not the friendship of the world.

Father, I ask You to help me avoid those things that are not pleasing to You. I ask for the Holy Spirit to show me when I am demanding my own way, so that I can repent. I desire to draw near to You, Father, and I thank You for Your promise to draw near to me.

James 3:13 – Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

As you begin to read the third chapter of James’ letter to the church, you read of comparing the gentleness of God’s wisdom to bitter jealousy and selfish ambition of the heart. The old nature can easily become filled with jealousy and selfish ambition. Both jealousy and ambition are products of the sin nature and represent the old self. They are focused on self-serving as opposed to serving others. Certainly this is a great contrast to the life of Christ, which was filled with gentle wisdom as He served the needs of others around Him.

Through faith in the power of Christ’s resurrection and His life-giving Spirit we too can be filled with gentle wisdom. Conversion, as it relates to Christianity, is about drawing our life from Christ’s life which has been given to the believer by the Holy Spirit. Many Christians continue to live from the old life and habits rather than the new life contained in the new birth. Jealousy and selfish bitterness can be entangled with many other sins. The danger of these sins is that they create arrogance and lies. The world system is filled with this type of arrogance and deceit. The world sees this type of nature as wisdom. It is not a wisdom that comes from God. James calls it “earthly, natural, and demonic (James 3:15). Where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you find disorder and evil.

God’s wisdom is pure. It has no hidden motives, just a desire to relate and help others. It is peaceable. It is filled with desire to produce peace in the life of believers. It is gentle. God’s wisdom seeks to help resolve problems with a gentle voice and a gentle hand. God’s wisdom is reasonable. The wisdom of God does not reason from emotions, but rather from truth. The wisdom of God is filled with mercy and good fruits. When God’s wisdom is administered and received, it is productive. God’s wisdom is neither double-minded nor filled with hypocrisy. It is unwavering in its nature and always has the best interests of others in view.

As we celebrate the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” make it your ambition to sow peace into the lives of others. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with the wisdom of God. Ask Him for the life of Christ to be manifested in all you do. Seek His life of peace, gentleness, mercy, and good fruits. Make it your ambition to be known as a person of wisdom because of your relationship with the “God of wisdom” through His Son, Jesus Christ. Develop a more intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit by listening carefully for His promptings and knowing His word through the Scriptures.

Father, I ask for the help of the Holy Spirit in drawing my life from the new birth and not the old natural life I had before Christ. I pray for Your gentle wisdom to control me and to produce good behavior that is pure and peaceable. Help me, Your servant, to be unwavering without hypocrisy in all I say and do.

FAITH AND WORKS

James 2:14 – What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

Some have thought James preached a different Gospel than that of Paul. Paul laid the foundation of believing faith throughout his letters. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). How do we reconcile what James says with Paul’s teaching?

There is a difference between saying you have faith and actually demonstrating that faith. I knew a man some years ago that evidenced a knowledge of Scripture. He told me he believed the Bible, but his life did not demonstrate a “believing faith.” Saying “I have faith” is one thing, but living that faith is totally another. The evidence of faith should be expected from one who says “I have faith.” As we grow in faith a greater demonstration of our faith will be evidenced.

Paul taught, “God saved us, not on the basis of works which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5). Redemption came through Jesus Christ and His sacrificial work. We had nothing whatsoever to do with that work. He went to the cross for you and me while we were dead in our trespasses and sins. All that is required of us is to receive what Christ has accomplished. What James is addressing in his letter is the attitude that all I need to do is to say “I have faith.” Saying it and believing it are two totally different spheres. Believing what Christ has done will produce a demonstration of faith. Do others know your faith by what you say or by what you do?

It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to believe. He grants the gift of repentance. He reveals to us the need for the work of Christ to be applied to our lives. He regenerates us, causing the life of Christ to be lived out through us. Through believing faith, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit daily and live out Christ’s life, demonstrating faith by our works. Trust Christ totally for your salvation through the work of His cross. Don’t talk about your faith; demonstrate your faith by allowing the Holy Spirit to work through you in serving others.

In this season of the year, there will be many works of good deeds toward others. It is the “Spirit of Christmas” to give! All that giving is not related to personal salvation. On the other hand, the true believer should be in the forefront of giving. There are many opportunities to allow your faith to operate in the Christmas season. Some examples are to help feed the homeless, taking gifts to the children of prisoners through Angel Tree Ministry, and sharing thoughtful gifts with your neighbors. Perhaps you will also be able to speak of your faith and help another receive the greatest gift in their life, Christ the Lord.

Father, I thank You for sending Your Son to die in my place. My faith is centered in all You have done in Christ. I ask for the Holy Spirit to fill me with Your life. Cause me to demonstrate saving faith by works pleasing to You.

DEMONSTRATING LOVE, ACCEPTANCE, AND FORGIVENESS

1Timothy 1:15-16 – It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

The Kingdom of God is all about love, acceptance, and forgiveness. In the kingdom of God, we first love, and then move into acquaintance. This is different than the world’s perspective where we get acquainted then we move toward love. Usually people have many acquaintances; they have some friends, but are in need of real love and acceptance.

The love of God is not based on what I do or what I feel. His love is rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ who died freely before anyone sought Him out. God’s love is commitment and is independent of feelings or knowledge of what another has or has not done. By God’s grace, we should be able to love and accept people before we really know them. Once we come to know a person, God wants to supply the necessary grace to love and accept them in spite of what we have come to learn about them. This is not by human effort, but through the grace that God supplies.

Consider how the Lord Jesus spent His time. He hung out with the outcasts of His society. He ate with sinners who had robbed their own people to become rich. He ministered to prostitutes and tax collectors. He was known as a friend of sinners.

Today, the church is filled with broken people, people who need to be loved and accepted. Some of these believers have come from heavily damaged pasts. Some have had a life of trauma beginning in their childhood. Others have had marriages that produced severe wounds and have left many scars. Others brought injuries upon themselves through addictions and poor choices relating to sexual involvements. Each person is precious in the Lord’s sight. The blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to cleanse and heal broken lives. The other healing factor is people, who themselves have experienced God’s grace in their life, reaching out in the spirit of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to those in need.

The Christmas season is the ideal time to express love. It is that special time of the year to demonstrate real acceptance. Examine your heart and see if there is anyone you have failed to forgive from your heart this past year. If so, choose to forgive that one now. If appropriate, let them know how you have chosen to forgive and accept them in your heart as one you love and care about. Ask them how you can pray for them in the New Year.

Father, I ask You to help me to be a person that lives in Your power to love, accept, and forgive with my whole heart. Fill me with the Holy Spirit to demonstrate Your power by extending my life to serve another who is in need.

KEEP ME FROM PERSONAL FAVORTISM

James 2:1 – My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.

Favoritism was a problem in the early church, especially as it related to social class. It is a basic human problem that has followed man down through the centuries. As a pastor, one of the complaints I would hear from individuals is that people in the congregation are “cliquish.” As believers, we must guard ourselves from isolating others. We are called to be a family built together in community. Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

It is not wrong to have some people you count as favorite friends. There is a difference between “favorite” and “favoritism.” Favorite could relate to an individual’s personality, their upbeat attitude, and general likability. Favoritism addresses paying more attention to one person over another where there should be equality. Paul experienced this with Peter as recorded in Galatians 2. Peter knew that the Lord had accepted the Gentiles as equal to the Jews. Peter was having fellowship with a number of Gentiles until a group of Jewish believers arrived from Jerusalem. Peter separated himself from the Gentiles to gain favor with the Jewish brothers. Paul, observing this, rebuked Peter openly for his hypocrisy.

Part of our development as followers of Christ is to learn how to accept others in spite of personality oddities or even distasteful language. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are goals for each believer. The Lord wants to equip His church to be truly Christian in a non-Christian world. Many attitudes held by church-going people are counter to the attitude of Christ who “so loved the world that He laid down His life for the most offensive among us.

In this Christmas season, let us not only remember the babe in a manger, but the risen Christ who desires all men be saved. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Make sure, when you are out in the world shopping or just enjoying the season, that your life gives witness of the risen Christ.

Father, I pray to be filled with the love of Christ during this Christmas season. Especially help me in regard to those who are not filled with Your love. Help me grow toward others in a way that is pleasing to You. I pray for the Holy Spirit to remove all manner of favoritism from my life. Help me be respectful toward all, even those who do not respect me.

BEING QUICK AND SLOW AT THE SAME TIME

James 1:19 – You know this, my beloved brethren. Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

What a great word from James, the brother of Jesus! Every believer should know this principle of truth, but at the same time we all need to be reminded. The principle of quick hearing and slow speaking is especially needed this season of the year. Most will spend time with close friends and family members as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever we spend close time with others, sharing responsibilities and conversation, there is opportunity for misunderstandings to occur.

The saying, “think before you speak” is especially helpful in preserving peace. Listening carefully to another not only provides one with information about their reasoning or opinion, but an opportunity to keep one’s emotions under control. It is important to respond to differing views with respect and as few words as possible. Well thought out responses can provide for interesting and stimulating conversation. I have determined not to be pulled into emotionally driven political talk. If the discussion is not supported by an educated view, I am not interested in plunging into heated emotional opinions.

When I first began secular work, I realized I would see my follow workers daily. I did not need to reveal everything I thought at one setting. I prayed daily for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my conversation with my fellow employees. I can testify that God was faithful. Over the years, I had opportunity to lead some to Christ. Others were interested in what I had to offer and would seek me out in conversation; there are always those who reject your views no matter how you approach the conversation.

As believers, we need to give a listening ear for the voice of the Holy Spirit. He knows both how to nudge us forward and to hold us back from quick responses that could lead to anger. It takes discipline to stop and pay attention to His impressions. I have found more times than not, the Holy Spirit will have us listen a great deal more than having us speak. Early in my ministry life as I began to relate with pastors from many different streams and traditions, I practiced being the last one to speak. I wanted to hear what the others had to say and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit to instruct me in what I should bring to the conversation. It was a difficult challenge, but it proved to be helpful.

As we celebrate the Prince of Peace and His birth, let us take the lead in peaceful conversation and helpful participation in activities of the day. As James instructs, “Be slow to speak and slow to anger,” celebrating, not only Christ, but others and their life in relationship with you. You are Christ’s servant and a representative of His kingdom.

Father, I thank You for this season of the year. I ask for this to be the most peaceful and enjoyable Christmas my family has ever known. I pray for the Holy Spirit to be my constant guide and helper as I relate with others in this season. I pray for Your presence in all my holiday activities, all for Your glory.