‘Christian atheists’

We are now up to James 4:13-17(NLT), in terms of the verses, Selwyn is using throughout these studies (as follows).

‘Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.’

I think the message in James’ verses are covered in Selwyn’s introductory remarks:“James now focuses on those believers who live their lives as if God were not interested in their daily walk through the world. Someone has described such people as ‘Christian atheists’. They are Christian because they claim to believe in Jesus; they are atheists because they plan their days as if God did not exist. … We must understand that James is not against Christians making plans, but against them making plans without God”

It’s really very simple, we pray before making our plans, inviting God to guide us.

The challenging verse (for me) in today’s text, is not mentioned by Selwyn, it’s this one: “… it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” It’s a challenge because it reminds us that to be holy, is not only to live a life free of evil actions, but also to do the good things – the option, to do ‘nothing’, is not available to us.  It’s a painful challenge to us because we know that there are many times when we fail this test. Do you disagree?




Cutting deeper still

Today, Selwyn continues to look at the verses James 4:7-12; yesterday, he look at four points covered in these verses and today he examines another three points.

The fifth point (continuing on from yesterday), is that we should grieve and mourn over our sins to the extent that we hurry to God, in repentance. Next, Selwyn looks at James 4:10, and writes: “To humble ourselves is to deliberately trample on our pride and take any action needed to break the egocentricity that is at the core of our personality.”  His words sound a touch extreme, and in one sense they are, we must take deliberate action to eradicate our pride.

Lastly, Selwyn comments on verse 11, ‘Brothers and sisters do not slander each other … ‘. He says: ‘The problem of one member slandering another is probably one of the most damaging that cam arise in any church.’ It’s damaging because it usually means that the relationship between Christians, which should be based on love, has broken down within the church community. It may also indicate that the Spirit of Christ is no longer operating freely within the hearts of each member. It’s my view that when this happens – two other forces take up residency in our hearts – pride and Satan. Division and anger, are always the symptoms of this type of lethal spiritual disease. Do you agree?

A seven-point sermon

The scripture [James 4:7-12, NLT] set for reading and meditation contains important advice which all Christians must act upon. Selwyn does a great job in listing the relevant points for us. (Four points in today’s study, and tomorrow, he looks at the remaining three.)

First off, the verses: “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge (in regard to their spiritual relationship with God) each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? [Again, James is referring to judgments concerning a person’s salvation – we must make judgments about actions but we should never make judgments about the spiritual status of a person – there is a huge difference!] 

These are the first four points which Selwyn deals with: “The first one is this: submit yourself (100%) to God. This means placing your life completely under God’s control – letting Jesus be your Saviour and Lord. [It’s a full 24 x 7 relationship – not something we reserve for a Sunday.] The second command is: resist the devil. [We can’t resist the devil by using our own power – the only way is to call on Jesus for His help; and, the Holy Spirit will provide the appropriate Word(s).]

The third is: draw near to God. This means spending time with Him in personal prayer, praise, worship and meditation on His Word.

The fourth is: cleanse and purify yourself. This involves confession of any known sin, putting right any wrongs, and making sure that every violation of Scripture has been corrected, It means also taking a definite decision ” to purposefully keep our lives free from sin –  that must be our aim, even if we fail from time to time.

The fourth point above, is one, where many Christians appear to lose their way. Jesus loves us too much to leave us as He found us – a slave to sin. He wants us to be free from the destructive forces of our sinful nature – to be transformed fully into His image, as we follow Him. Do you agree?

‘Give all – take all’

John 4:4-6 (NLT): ‘You adulterers!  [Adultery here, is used in the same sense as when used by Jesus – our relationship with God is like a marriage relationship. We commit adultery when unfaithful to our partner; likewise, God (James) calls us adulterers – when we are unfaithful to God]. Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? [Alternative translations – that God longs jealously for the human spirit he has placed within us?’ or ‘that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, opposes our envy?’] But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” ‘

Selwyn makes the comment: ” … anyone who deliberately adopts a worldly attitude (for example – sex outside of marriage), and cultivates rather than curbs selfish desire, is an enemy of the Almighty. …

God never asks us to obey His commands without first supplying us with the strength we need to live up to them.”

God’s love does not stop Him from making judgments about our actions (or lack of action). He will cause the proud to stumble – and, that aspect of His nature should be considered by those who choose to live their lives in opposition to His will.

‘A bottomless pit’

I thought that Selwyn made two good points in today’s study, one: “The quickest way to get out of fellowship with anyone is to get out of fellowship with God, and the quickest way to get out of fellowship with God is to neglect is to neglect to pray.” 

The second point, being: “If what we want in life is based on comparisons, envy and greed, we will never be satisfied, no matter how much we get. There will always be someone else to envy, something else to possess, some other objective to be gained. This kind of desire is like a bottomless pit – it can never be filled up.”

As James mention in his letter it’s this type of desire which leads to disunity within our Christian fellowship – it’s a desire born out of our self-centred pride.

James 4:1-3 (NLT): What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill (anyone, who hates another – is a murderer) to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask (God), you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure.”

Church fights!

On a personal note, I find it a very difficult time when the church you are going to, is in the middle of a fight, (which is the situation I find myself in, at the present time).

I agree with Selwyn when he draws our attention for the need to examine ourselves (our motives and desires) in the light of the teaching in God’s Word.

He goes onto say: “What, then, causes Christians to fight? James identifies the basic cause as inordinate desire: ‘You want something (e.g. – your view to be recognised as the ‘correct’ view), but don’t get it. … It is not wrong to desire health, food, education, a good job, and so on. The trouble begins when we desire something more than we desire the will of God.”

James 4:1-2 (NLT): “What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”

Here, I think James is talking about extreme cases –  in regard to people plotting murder – but it can often reach the point where various people start making judgments about the spiritual standing of another person’s relationship with God.  We are told not to judge people in this way – but we can and must judge (discern) the actions of others based on God’s Word as revealed to us by His Holy Spirit. Indeed, James’ words in his letter are a series of judgments concerning the actions of his Christian brothers and sisters. Do you agree?

Divine wisdom

James 3:17-18 (NLT): “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

The one thing I look for when trying to discern the will of God is a sense of peace. (It’s taken as a given that His will is pure and holy – God will never ask us to do anything which is in conflict with His Word; or, if you like, His two great commandments.) The other aspects of divine wisdom can often be seen in the fruit that we produce when we sacrifice our own ways, to follow the way of Jesus to the cross.  God’s gifts of mercy and forgiveness are nourishment for seeds of peace; we can seek God’s wisdom through prayer, and by doing so – we can reflect God’s glory to others, especially when we faithfully follow His Word.

The prayer for today, says something similar: “My Father and my God, I want this wisdom that comes from above to dwell in me, and dwell in me deeply. Make me a truly wise person so that I may bring glory to your name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”