Foundation of Wisdom, Part 1

James 3:13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Over the next several blogs, we are going to be examining wisdom. In James 3:13-28, James describes two types of wisdom: Earthly and heavenly. 

If you truly grasp what James is saying in this passage, your life will never be the same. Not just because God’s Word can do that, but because the principles that James lays forward in this passage are so foundational to our lives. If we are off a little bit here, it can send us on a trajectory that will lead to heartache, pain, sorrow, bitterness, and unhappiness. 

I’m going to ask you to take an inventory of yourself. Self-reflection is never fun, especially when you are using Scripture as a mirror. The fundamental question I am going to have you ask yourself today is this: WHAT KIND OF WISDOM IS GUIDING YOUR LIFE?

We all need wisdom, some more than others.

There is more to wisdom than mere knowledge. Knowledge involves the possession of facts or information. Wisdom is the proper application of that knowledge or the skillful use of knowledge. There are educated fools! Put another way: Wisdom is how we negotiate the highway of life. So, if you are unhappy with your life’s direction, listen to God’s Word, learn it, and obey!

Numerous biblical passages deal with wisdom, and we are going to get to James, but first, I’d like to go to one of the books of Wisdom from the Bible, Proverbs.

Proverbs 1:1-7:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight;

for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair;

for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—

let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—

for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

What is contained in the book of Proverbs is wisdom, or rather, opportunities to display wisdom. Christian, start reading a chapter from Proverbs every day. Soak your life in them. Listen to them, obey them, and you will save yourself a lot of trouble down the road. Today is September 1, so read Proverbs 1 today, Proverbs 2 tomorrow; you see where this is going?

We will get to James 3:13 next time. 

Some questions to consider:

-What kind of wisdom is guiding your life?

-When you are trying to make an important life decision, do you go to the Bible for help?

-What happens when you start listening to the timeless truth of Scripture instead of the world’s systems?

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Power to Delight, Part 2

James 3:10-12: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

James is pretty blunt. He says you use your mouth to praise and curse and then simply states, “This should not be.” 

I remember hanging out with a bunch of marines one day. They used all sorts of curse words. Some I had never heard before. I asked them to clean it up. They said they couldn’t. They were issued those words and had to use them. Then a female Colonel walked in. Guess what, they stopped cursing! It was interesting to see how they could turn it on and off depending on who was around. Christian, what about you?

The cursing that comes from our mouth is usually the result of what’s in our heart. We curse and criticize because of the wickedness that comes from within.

You will have to give an account for every word you have spoken. Let that sink in a minute…

Don’t be inconsistent with your tongue. It has the power to delight God through praise and worship. It has the power to bring delight to those around you by encouraging words and speaking life.  The person sitting next to you at church, the person you share a cubicle with at work, the student you sit beside at school, they are made in God’s image! Treat them as such.

Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish tremendous tasks, yet we take this ability for granted.

Proverbs 18:21-“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Warren Wiersbe talks about 12 words that can transform your life:

   *Please, Thank you

   *I’m sorry

   *I love you

   *I’m praying for you

Some questions to consider:

-Why should we not curse? How is worship connected to cursing?

-Do you talk differently based upon who is around? Why?

-How can you season your speech with salt and grace?

-Memorize and pray each morning: Psalm 141:3-“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

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Power to Delight, Part 1

James 3:9: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”

Our speech should be consistently glorifying to God.

In our #JournalingJames lately, we have seen the power of the tongue. Our language can direct our lives, and it has the power to destroy. Today, we begin to see how our tongue has the ability to delight.

We use our tongue to praise our Lord and Father. Webster defines praise as “Commendation bestowed on a person for his personal virtues or worthy actions, on meritorious actions themselves, or on anything valuable; approbation expressed in words or song.”

Praise is primarily a vocal activity. Let’s use our language to praise God, not curse man.

Jesus shows how we speak to others impacts our relationship with God. He says in Matthew 12:34-37: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Out of the heart, the mouth speaks. When we are in constant praise, worship, and adoration of God, it penetrates to the depth of our hearts, to our soul. When we have praise on our lips, it is hard to curse.

Some questions to consider:

-Are you using your tongue to praise God or curse man?

-How can you spend more time in praise and worship of our Creator and King?

-Why is it essential to see all humans as being made in the image of God?

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Power to Destroy, Part 2

James 3:7-8: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Finish this sentence: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will _________.”

If you said, “never hurt me,” not only are you older than a teenager, but you’ve been lied to. And you know it. Words do hurt. We all have friends or family that has something to us that hurt us deeply. Even sarcasm is said to be death by a thousand cuts.

We need to learn how to control our tongue. But wait, the text says, “no human being can tame the tongue.” So what’s the point of trying? 

Should we just take a life-long vow of silence? Not at all. This would be like keeping a horse in the barn or a ship docked in the harbor. The tongue not only has the power to destroy, but to bring life (more on that later).

Notice it says no “human being” can tame the tongue, but what man can’t do, God can! Daily yield your tongue to the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are many outworking’s of an untamed tongue: Gossip, putting down others, bragging, manipulating, false teaching, exaggeration, complaining, flattery, and lying.

Morgan Blake, a writer with The Atlanta Journal, said, “I am more deadly than the screaming shell from the howitzer. I win without killing. I tear down homes, break hearts, and wreck lives. I travel on the wings of the wind. No innocence is strong enough to intimidate me, no purity pure enough to daunt me. I have no regard for truth, no respect for justice, no mercy for the defenseless. My victims are as numerous as the sands of the sea, and often as innocent. I never forget and seldom forgive. My name is Gossip.”

Dr. Tony Evans adds, “Anyone who will gossip to you will gossip about you.”

The Bible concludes, “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down” (Proverbs 26:20).

The tongue has the power to destroy. But, we have the power to yield our language to a power greater than the bit in a horse’s mouth, the rudder on a large ship, or the spark that starts a fire. Choose wisely.

Some questions to consider:

-When was the last time you were a gossip? Who do you need to apologize to? Who do you need to confess to?

-What are some practical ways to avoid being a gossip or slanderer?-How have you seen your language destroy others?

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Power to Destroy, Part 1

James 3:5-6: “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

As I sit down to write this, there are currently four wildfires raging across Colorado: The Pine Gulch Fire (87k acres), The Grizzly Creek Fire (25k acres); Williams Fork Fire (6k acres), and the Cameron Peak Fire (12k acres).

Of course, I was also here during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 that burned 18+ acres, destroyed 346 homes, and caused the evacuation of 32k people. The damage totaled over $450 million, all from what started as a brush fire.

Then there was the Black Forest fire in 2013 that burned over 22 square miles and consumed more than 500 homes. 38k people were evacuated, and two souls were lost. This fire started with a small structure fire.

When I was in the military and stationed in Northern California, the fire department tried to do a controlled burn. It wasn’t controlled for very long.

James makes it pretty clear that a person’s tongue can set their life on fire. There are devastating consequences to this. 

The tongue can cause a world of evil for the entire body. The biblical term is unrighteousness or failure to adhere to moral principles, commands, or laws. When our language does not reflect any sense of morality, our body is doomed.

The tongue can also corrupt the entire body—corrupt means to stain or defile. Language is powerful enough to influence and discolor our bodies.

If the tongue is so powerful, what is our hope for righteous living? Can this fire-starter be controlled? Find out in the next blog. 

Some questions to consider:

-What are some fires you have set with your language? How can you extinguish them?

-How is your language leading you to unrighteousness or corruption?

1 According to the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay 

Power to Direct

James 3:3-4: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.”

I haven’t ridden a horse since Thanksgiving of 2003. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though 17 years have passed. I am not a very good rider, and the people I went with were excellent. They grew up on horses, and I didn’t. Since I was following their lead, they took it easy the first few miles. I guess they got bored because they decided to pick up the pace. The horse I was riding decided it would be good to go faster. Despite my best attempts to reign in this beast, which I thought was my friend, I lost control. I realized at this moment I was just along for the ride. I’m surprised I stayed on the horse and survived. 

Had I known how to work the bit in the horse’s mouth, the ride may have been more enjoyable. Bits are super small compared to the size of the horse, but they can exert control over the horse.

Similarly, rudders are also very small yet powerful. They can guide and direct a boat, regardless of its size. 

James uses these two word-pictures to show how the tongue has the power to direct our lives.

Our words have consequences.

The words we speak affect the lives of others in ways we can’t imagine. 

The words we speak can direct our life towards God or keep us away from Him.

Choose your words wisely.

Some questions to consider:

-How is your tongue directing your life? Towards God or away from Him?

-How can you work with God to better control your language?-Who do you need to apologize to for losing control of your tongue?

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Watch your mouth!

James 3:2: “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

When I was a kid, I did not have the cleanest, most wholesome mouth. I grew up with a lot of kids around, most of whom did not attend church. They picked up colorful language and were all too eager to share it with me. I still remember the first time I cursed in front of my mother. I had dropped something coming up the stairs and let it fly. My parents kept special soap by the sink for precisely this purpose. It was not the good soap we have today that has essential oils and smells nice. This was lava soap. It was gritty, sandy, and disgusting. I was a frequent taster of that soap.  

The Bible uses many words to describe our tongue: wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, gossiping (“Spiritual Concern”), blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile.

One of the main themes in the book of James is maturity. We see our faith being tested and stretched and pulled in all sorts of directions. The tongue is a potent tool. Some have joked that there is a reason our tongue is behind bars (our teeth) and locked in a cage (our mouth).

We all stumble in many ways. Nobody is perfect. This means to trip up, miss a step, or hinder your walk toward and with the Lord.

This verse has profound implications. Our tongue sets the course for our lives! Over the next several blog posts, we are going to see how James describes the use of the tongue with several powerful word pictures: bits in horse’s mouths, rudders on boats, fires in a forest, and so on.

Some questions to consider:

-How careful are you with your speech?

-When was the last time your words hurt someone? Encouraged someone?

-How does your language reflect that you are a Christ-follower?

-Would people know you are a Christian based solely upon your words?

-How is your language hindering your walk with Jesus?

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A Teacher’s Judgement

James 3:1: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

This is one of the verses in the Bible that causes me to pause each time I read it. It takes my breath away because of the weightiness of it. Not only am I a college professor, but I teach the Word of God every week. The significance of what I do is not lost on me. The fact that I’m going to be judged more strictly because of my vocation makes me spend more time in study, more time in prayer, and more time listening to other teachers. I want to get it right every time. And lest you think this post doesn’t apply to you, listen to the biblical definition of a teacher:

A teacher is one who instructs others by imparting skills or knowledge.

Have you ever instructed someone else? About anything? Do you have kids around that look to you for skills and knowledge? Right not, we are teaching our youngest how to use a spoon and fork. A simple task that most adults don’t give a second thought to. We just do it. But trying to teach someone how to pick up a spoon without spilling the soup, not an easy task! But what about the weightier matters? How do you teach a kid how to discern the voice of God? How do you teach a kid the importance of always telling the truth, regardless of what your friends are doing? Of course, the best lesson plan is modeling. You must set the example in word, thought, and deed. 

Do you see how important it is to be a good teacher? 

You can also start to see why teachers are judged more strictly.

Some questions to consider:

-When you teach, are you giving it your best?

-Does the idea of stricter judgment scare you?

-What can you do to encourage the teachers in your life?

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Dead Faith – Part 2

James 2:26: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

When we looked at James 2:17, we distinguished between dead faith and no faith. No faith means that a person has never trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. A dead faith is simply a faith that isn’t breathing, isn’t working.

Keep in mind there are two incorrect views of the interplay between faith and works. The first puts a person’s works on a scale and if the good outweighs the bad, they are acceptable in God’s eyes. The second incorrect view wants to avoid any perception of trying to earn salvation, so they avoid works altogether or project a false humility. Both views are incorrect. 

The correct view sees deeds as a natural product of faith.

Some questions to consider:

-How are your works for God keeping your faith in Jesus alive and active?-What are some keys to keeping your faith vibrant?

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Example #2 of Dynamic Faith: Rehab the Prostitute

James 2:25: “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” 

Dynamic faith is when intellect, emotion, and will are all operating together. Combining faith and works leads to growth. 

James provides two examples: Abraham and Rahab. Both of them demonstrated how the right action proceeds from correct belief. The two couldn’t be more different. Abraham was Jewish, the patriarch of the Jewish faith, a significant figure in the Old Testament; Rahab was a Gentile, a prostitute, and a minor character in the Old Testament.

Today, we learn about Rahab. She is in the genealogy of Christ. Matthew 1:5-6 explains: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz, the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse, the father of King David.”

Rahab’s story is told in Joshua 2 and 6. After Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, they are poised to enter the promised land. The leader of Israel, Joshua, sends in two spies to look over the land. The King of Jericho, the first city to be conquered by Israel, finds out about the spies and sends soldiers to arrest them. The spies are hidden by Rahab, and Rahab lies to the authorities to protect the spies. She then tells the spies, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you” (Joshua 2:10). Even though Rahab was not an Israelite, she feared God and acted on that fear. Because of this, her household was the only survivor in Jericho (Joshua 6:22-25). One detail about Rahab: she was a prostitute. And she is part of Christ’s lineage. Almost every time Rahab is mentioned in Scripture, her profession is included. God can genuinely redeem any person and any situation and use them for His glory. The worst of sinners can be forgiven and justified before God. Hebrews 11:31 states: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

Rahab was willing to risk her life for God. Her life was “saved” because of the works she did for God and His people. Her works vindicated her faith.

Some questions to consider:

-How are your works vindicating you before men?

-Have you ever said, “If God only knew ______ about me, He couldn’t forgive/love me?” If so, stop! God does know, and He loves you, He is ready to forgive you.-How can you cooperate with God to have a more vibrant life of faith?

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