Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pride vs. Humility

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6b

The last two chapters of the book of James offer yet another contrast; that of proud boasting and planning pitted against a person who has bowed their hearts in humble submission and prayer. There is a sense that God uses the difficult things in life, or the circumstances that we strive to avoid, to produce Christ-likeness in our lives.

Chapter 4 speaks of submission to God. There are many things that can take the place of trusting in God. We are warned of “friendship with the world and its ways” as a source of intense envy on God’s part (See James 4:4-5), and is one way that we break the first commandment by placing other things in the place of God (Exodus 20:2). Our self-sufficiency is another way that we can let things slip in and take the place of God, as are good planning (James 4:12-17) or our trust in riches (James 5:1-6). God opposes these things.

Chapter 5 speaks of ways and circumstances that God uses to work in our lives, often bringing us to our knees in prayer. Suffering and sickness can do this. Shifting circumstances and situations where we know we are not in control magnifies our need for God’s presence in the hard stuff of life. They all show us that we are not masters of our own destiny and that our times are in God’s hands.

The interesting thing is that the things God uses to bring us close to Him can also run the risk of leading us away. They drive us to a prayer of Moses recorded in Psalm 90:12; a prayer from a man in the midst of changing, seemingly uncontrolled circumstances:

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heavenly vs. Earthly Wisdom

The book of James is a collection of contrasting faith themes; an opportunity to know true faith in the contrast to the false or phoney practices of people who do not live out a life of faith in God. James speaks of godly wisdom that goes beyond head knowledge. He speaks of humble works of service that draw attention to the Creator and not the creature. The third chapter of the book of James reveals another such comparison.

James tells us that there are two kinds of wisdom: a false or earthly wisdom that flows from a heart of envy and selfish ambition, and a true or heavenly wisdom that comes from a humble, serving heart.

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

The two kinds of wisdom are prefaced by a question and a statement:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

The contrast is striking. Godly wisdom is learned in the school of humility and suffering. While the world looks for pedigree and titles, God looks for brokenness and submission to reveal heavenly wisdom. God looks for the ordinary person who understands the truth and contrast of 2 Corinthians 4:7:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Faith vs. Works

You see that his (Abraham’s) faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. (James 2:22-23)

Why is it that we Evangelical Christians are unable to put two things together that are natural partners? The argument that has circulated in our circles for years – salvation by faith versus a salvation borne from works of goodness – has at its root a flaw. The two do not conflict with each other, but walk hand-in-hand, not in a tug-of-war of opposition.

Faith that does not show itself in a changed life and works of righteousness deceives no one. Faith in God changes the character and actions of a person, causing him or her to look to the needs of others, not just their selfish ambitions. James put it this way: But someone will say, “You have faith, I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do (James 2:19). It is ridiculous to think that a life changed by the saving grace of God will not be reflected in words and deeds that reveal the character of our Saviour.

In the same way, works that does not express itself in words of faith becomes selfish, seeking its own gain or fame. The author of Hebrews reminds us that: Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and good works alone do not save a person. All of our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and it is by faith that you are saved, not of works, lest no man can boast (Eph. 2:8-9). It is equally audacious to think that salvation can be gained without taking the step of faith and trusting in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

The arguments over history – which did not just start with Martin Luther or the onset of Protestantism or Evangelicalism – have polarized and made either faith or works the central point of salvation. But the point is this: Salvation is not an either / or proposition. This is just as true for Paul as it was for James, the two biblical authors most often quoted in the debate. Faith will produce works of righteousness, and the good done in the name of Jesus will result in greater faith in the One who works in us and through us. The question of faith versus works is a both / and proposition, and must be seen working together, not in opposition.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wisdom vs. Knowledge

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

After reading through the book of Proverbs in the month of October, it was refreshing to read through the book of James a number of times this week. The five chapters present a faith that is lived in such a way that comes from a person who lives what they say they believe.

This is better understood the Greek word used in this passage. James had two Greek word he could chose from: the word gnosis or sophia. Gnosis is a word refering to special knowledge, and is the root from comes from which we get the word knowledge and the term use to describe the mystical ancient Greek philosophy known as Gnosticism. The word James chose was sopia, the same word that we get our English word sophisiticed. It impies applied knowlegde, and not just intellectual consent.

Our understanding of God's type of wisdom is enriched when we remember that James wrote from a Hebrew-Aramaic cultural background. He would have understood the Hebrew meaning of the word wisdom, which is best translated "know-how" versus knowledge. The wisdom God gives is applied knowledge; a faith that is lived out in each and every situation we face.

This basic understanding helps us to appreciate the highly practical nature of the five chapter book of the new testament. It helps us to understand that faith that is mere intellectual assent, is not faith at all. Faith must be worked out in the way we live, treat others, and the ways we seek to please God. If any of us lacks wisdom, or that power to live out that which we believe, he or she should ask God and He will give liberally to those who seek Him.