James 3:1-12 (Devotional Thought)

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

My father-in-law likes to keep a fire going in his fireplace in the winter. I enjoy going over to his house and splitting the firewood for him. Apparently it’s a huge event in our family because the last time I set out to split wood my children and nieces were watching me… By watching me I mean they sat on top of a blanket eating snacks and drinking hot chocolate. On this particular occasion I was working on a rough log and had to get out a wedge and sledgehammer to free my ax. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit uncoordinated and I hit my thumb with the full force of the sledge hammer. I yelled out at the top of my lungs, “Praise God!”

I’m sure there were lots of other words I could have used, but I’m thankful that on this day I chose to shout out praise to our Maker rather than to shout out curses. James says that being a teacher is a big deal because what is in your heart will come out of your mouth. Teachers are models and examples for us to imitate and follow. Teachers have a great capacity to lead others towards growth in Christ and also lead others away from Christ. We should all aspire to control our tongues and be great Christ followers. We should also be willing to learn in humble submission before we become teachers.

James 2:14-26 (Devotional Thought)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)

I like fruit. I especially like blueberries (My all time favorite fruit). So I planted a blueberry tree in my back yard. I put fertilizer around it. I water it. I made sure that I planted it in a place where it can get plenty of sunshine and when it gets cold outside, it is the only plant in my yard that I put a blanket or sheet on to keep it from getting damaged by the frost. I cannot wait to taste the blueberries that it produces. You see that is the point. Blueberry trees produce blueberries.

Faith and works look like that. Faith is what we believe about God to be true. True faith produces the fruit of works. Just like a blueberry tree produces blueberries. James says that if you believe that everyone is made in the image of God and then you respect them by taking care of people who do not have the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, etc.). The evidence of our faith is how we respond (works).

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James 2:8-13 (Devotoinal Thought)

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:8-13 ESV)

I like omelets. There is just something about scrambled eggs, cheese, ham, a few select veggies and bacon that make breakfast worth having. But can you imagine making an omelet with just one rotten ingredient? What if I served you an omelet with rotten eggs? Or perhaps I made one with completely fresh ingredients but threw in rancid bacon? What if it were just one rotten egg or just a few pieces of rancid bacon? Just a little rottenness really ruins the whole omelet experience.

James writes that if you keep the whole law and break it at one point, you are guilty of breaking all of it. Sometimes we are tempted to think of our sins in different categories like big sins and little sins. Conveniently the little sins are sin that we are guilty of like showing partiality. The big sins tend to be ones that we don’t do like murder. The writer of James says that showing partiality is just like murder. An omelet with a little rottenness is a rotten omelet. A person who breaks the law just a little is a law breaker.

We should be merciful to others because God in Christ has been merciful to us. We should not show partiality to people based on whether they are rich or poor. God doesn’t show partiality to us. We need to remember that there is a judge of our actions and it isn’t us. Jesus will judge

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James 2:1-7 (Devotional Thought)

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:1-7 ESV)

Have you ever been the new kid at school? I still remember when my family moved from Montana to Alabama (from the North-West to the South-East) and I started eighth grade in a new school. It was different. I was different than everyone and for the first several weeks of school it seemed like I did not have any friends. Not many people were willing to take a risk on me because I came from a different background. I tried hard to fit in but everyone else knew each other and to be honest my accent was different (think Canadian). It wasn’t until I learned that some other guys liked to play basketball and I tried out for the team that I finally found a group of friends.

James reminds us that we are not to treat some people better than others because they are rich but that we are to show hospitality to everyone, even those who cannot repay us. We are all made in the image of God. Just because someone is poor, new, or sounds funny it doesn’t give you the right in God’s eyes to make fun of them, be mean to them, or even treat them differently.

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James 1:22-27 (Devotional Thought)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:22-27 ESV)

Imagine that you are dressed up in nice clothes. Nicer clothes than you have ever worn before and then a friend comes by and invites you to a food fight. You forget you are wearing nice clothes and so you go and end up staining everything. The food fight is over and so are your clothes because even with the best of cleaners your nice clothes are left in such bad shape that they now have become the clothes that you wear to paint in… all because you forgot what you were wearing.

Now it may be hard to forget what you are wearing, but James warns us that it is easy to forget who we are in Christ. When we trust in Christ the bible says that we are a “New Creation” the “old is gone and the new has come.” We are growing to be more and more like Christ. But sometimes we can hear God’s word (Which tells us who we are in Christ) and then go live like we haven’t heard it. We act just like we did before we trusted Christ. But those who “Do” God’s word are those who remember who they are in Christ. Temptation comes and they flee. The opportunity to serve others occurs and they represent Christ. They remember that they were bought with a price. They remember who they are in Jesus.

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James 1:19-21

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21 ESV)

I had a friend that I used to play basketball with, but he was extremely competitive. There is nothing wrong with being competitive but my friend’s competitive nature lead him to get angry about a lot of things. He would often blow up and get mad on the basketball court. He would call fouls on other people when he missed a shot or he would deny that he even touched a guy when the referee called a foul on him. He would get extremely upset over a bad call and on more than one occasion was ejected from a game. The one thing my friend kept missing was that it was the referee’s job to call the fouls, not his.

Like my friend when we are angry we feel confident that we are in the right. Our anger flares up and we do things and say things we wouldn’t ordinarily say. We don’t take time to hear from others because we think we have all the answers. We make bold declarations, we call people names, and in our hearts we feel justified or we feel right about doing it. But the author of James reminds us to pause and listen. We should be, “quick to hear and slow to speak.” Feeling justified in our anger doesn’t make us right. He says, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” In other words when we feel cheated, hurt or betrayed we need to submit our anger to God. God is the one who judges everything rightly. We need to be quick to listen, not quick to blow our lid. We need to be slow to speak, not slow to hear. The key to overcoming anger is to trust God more than you trust yourself.

James 1:16-18 (Devotional)

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(James 1:16-18 ESV)
When you get into a small boat and go out on the ocean it can seem like the whole world is moving. Or when you are little and you stretch out your arms and spin around until you become dizzy it seems like the world around you is still moving… But deep down you know that the world isn’t spinning, you are… and it is that simple knowledge that brings everything back into order. You just have to find dry land or stop spinning long enough for the world to look normal again.

The writer James reminds us not to be deceived. He keeps pointing us back to the character of God. Even though our circumstances have changed, God has not changed. The God of the mountaintops is still God in the valleys. He still loves you. He still watches over you. He still cares for you. Our trials are temporary. One day soon we will see things the way they really are.

James 1:12-15 (Devotional)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12-15 ESV)

I was blessed to know my great-grandfather growing up. I remember on one occasion fishing in a clear water stream in Montana. My great-grandfather was hoping to catch a big trout for dinner. The problem was that even when he put his hook and bait seemingly in front of a large fish, they would not bite. Finally he got fed up and packed his pole to leave. I had the crust left over from my PB and J sandwich and I threw it into the stream. Suddenly fish darted from everywhere and started fighting each other for a bite of my crust. Apparently trout love discarded bread crust from a little boy’s lunch a lot better than the bait my grandfather used…I learned from my grandfather that the secret to fishing is to use bait that appeals to a fish’s appetite. You do not catch fish using just any kind of bait. You have to use bait they like. The fish’s appetite is ultimately what makes them bite into a hook.

Sometimes in the midst of a trial we are tempted to think that God does not have our best interest at heart. We can think that God is “tempting” us to sin. Like God is the one baiting the hook for us. But that is not true. The writer of the book of James reminds us that God does not tempt us, but that temptation comes internally from our own brokenness and desire to sin. Just like a fish biting into a hook we become a victim to our own desires. We can actually trust God in the midst of our temptations. The bible says in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was tempted just like we are, but that He was without sin. That means that we can run to Jesus when we are tempted and He knows exactly how to help us and how to encourage us to overcome our temptation because He has overcome.

James 1:9-11 (Devotional)

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(James 1:9-11 ESV)
Not long ago I watched an old cartoon of one of Aesop’s fables entitled “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The fable shares about a race between a very fast rabbit and a very slow turtle. The turtle slowly, but consistently presses on towards the finish line while the rabbit runs ahead and takes a nap, wakes up after the turtle passes him and runs ahead only to stop by a school and impress the students with his speed. While the rabbit is showing off his speed he realizes that the turtle has almost finished the race, but no matter how fast he runs he still ends up coming in second behind the turtle. He had forgotten that the race wasn’t about pure speed, but on who finishes first.

The writer James reminds us that sometimes if we are not careful we can lose our focus on what life is really about. Life is not about becoming wealthy and stacking up possessions. While those things are not evil, they are not eternal. (James compares earthly riches to the fading of the grass.) James says the poor man can boast that Jesus has made him truly rich by bringing him into the Kingdom of God. Sometimes our trials and tough times make it seem like we are losing in life, James reminds us that as long as our focus is on Christ that we are indeed winning.

James 1:5-8 (Devotional)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8 ESV)

I love the beach. One of my favorite things to do is take my children out into the shallow water, pick up my feet and let the waves gently rock us. That is what waves do. They pick you up and let you down. They go from high to low. I remember one day several years ago my wife and I went to the beach before we had kids and the waves were particularly strong that day. They would knock us down and throw us toward the shore and slowly pull on us back into the water. The force of the wave was powerful. We would wade out into the tide and try and stand against the waves as they would come rushing in toward shore.

The writer, James, warns us that when we ask God for wisdom we are not supposed to be like waves. Waves are never steady. They go from highpoint to low point in just a few moments. A person who is like a wave asks God for wisdom and then immediately doubts that God will even answer their prayer. They are unsteady. James says they are double minded. One moment they have faith that God will answer. The next moment they are uncertain if God could even care for them. James says that God is not like that. God is generous and he gives wisdom to those who ask. God gives wisdom “without reproach,” which means that God is not there waiting to tell you how dumb you are or to make fun of you for being weak. He just simply gives you wisdom… when you ask. Faith in the bible is not blindly believing that something will happen. Faith is trusting God to be exactly who God is and not doubting His character.