MATH Advice (James 1)

Brotherly Advice:  A Study Through the Book of James

There are times in life when we could all use a little advice.  I pray that you have people in your life that you can go to for wise, godly counsel when your way seems uncertain.  Many times we have a brother or sister, whether biological or spiritual, that has already been down the road we’re travelling and is equipped to help us along our journey.

For me, the book of James is one of those methods God uses to pass along some brotherly advice.  Most scholars seem to be in agreement that the person writing down the words in the book of James is James, the brother of Jesus.  Here’s a guy that grew up around Jesus yet did not believe through most, if not all, of the life of Jesus on earth.  Yet eventually James came around and believed that Jesus was more than a brother, He was the Son of God! 

What do you do when life doesn’t seem to add up?  Who do you turn to?  James is a great place to turn for some brotherly advice in those circumstances.  In the first chapter, we find what I will call some MATH Advice to be used when life doesn’t add up for you.  Let’s take a look at the four elements of this advice. 

  • Maturity Advice:  When life doesn’t add up and we turn to God for some MATH Advice, we often need a good dose of Maturity advice to begin with!  James opens with this incredible equation that at first glance may not make much sense.  He says we ought to consider trials of many kinds to equal pure joy.  The laws of mathematics state that what is on one side of the equation has to equal what is on the other side for the statement to be true.  While this one may seem difficult at first, it is a fun “proof problem”  to go through the steps God shows us are necessary for this equation to be true.  The end result of the trials of many kinds is maturity that makes us complete and equipped with everything we need.  When life doesn’t add up, it is important to hear the brotherly advice passed along by James that God wants to use everything to bring you to a greater maturity.  He also want to use the trials and hardships of life that you go through to help others reach a greater maturity as well.  Your story of faithfulness can be a great encouragement to others if you are willing to share it.  As God moves you along in your journey with Him, take time to listen to some MATH Advice and consider the greater Maturity He is calling you to. 
  • Attitude Advice:  As we continue to look to our brother James for some MATH Advice when life doesn’t add up, he turns to giving us some Attitude advice.  Sometimes life doesn’t seem to add up for us because we need a serious look at our attitude.  James addresses two extremes that we tend to gravitate toward and they both need corrected.  He says the person in humble circumstances needs to take pride in our high position while the one in rich circumstances should take pride in their low position.  While that may sound like some upside down math advice, it is just the advice we need when our attitude seems to be upside down.  When our attitude is down in the dumps and we begin to believe we can’t be useful to God, James would give us some brotherly advice to look up and recognize the value we have in God’s sight.  As much as that attitude advice is needed, many times we have problems with the other side of thinking too highly of ourself.  It is in those circumstances that James passes long some brotherly advice to remember where we came from and that without Jesus we are hopelessly lost.  We are able to grow in the MATH Advice that James wants us to learn when we allow God to examine, and adjust, our Attitude.
  • Temptation Advice: One of the reasons that life doesn’t seem to add up for us is because we need to spend more time listening to the MATH Advice that James gives us in the area of Temptation.  James begins this advice with a reminder that God is not the author of temptation.  While we would rarely claim that God tempted us, many times we live as though we believe just that!  James makes it clear that it is our lusts and desires that carries us down the path of giving in to temptation.  When we excuse our behavior and act like God doesn’t care, or we even blame God for putting us in a position where we feel we have not choice, we live as if God has tempted us.  James tells us how the seeds of temptation are planted through desire and we allow it to grow by keeping it fed and watered rather than rejecting it completely.  The advice James gives us in dealing with temptation is to always remember that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  God does not tempt us, He has promised to provide a way of escape — a way to overcome the temptation — if we look to Him and trust His Word.  As we live life that doesn’t seem to add up, let’s take some MATH Advice from James and learn how to recognize and deal with Temptation.
  • Hearing Advice:  James closes out his MATH Advice in chapter one with some much-needed Hearing advice.  Sometimes life seems to not add up because we are in the midst of learning a lesson that brings us to a greater maturity.  Sometimes it is because God is adjusting our attitude.  Other times we are in need of greater strength in rejecting temptation.  Many times though, our life seems upside down because we are not doing what God’s Word says!  We attend church, we may even read the Bible and pray, but if the Word isn’t getting into our actions then we really do need some hearing advice from James.  Our time with God ought to call us to action.  If we are really hearing the Word of God, people ought to notice it coming out in our lives.  And in case you’re wondering what that means or looks like, James gives a very clear picture in his hearing advice — look after orphans and widows and keep yourself from being polluted.  If you are in fact taking in the Word of God, how is it being displayed in your life?  In what ways do you care for those that are helpless or without care?  How diligent are you in keeping your mind, body, and spirit free from the pollution of the world?  If you are not sure how to answer those questions, then perhaps it is time to sit at the feet of James for some brotherly advice!    As we grow in the MATH Advice James gives us, it is important to understand that real Hearing involves real doing.

So, how are you doing with the brotherly MATH Advice that James would pass along?  As you move from where you are to where God wants you to be, do you listen to the Maturity Advice?  Are you open to recognizing, and responding to, the Attitude Advice that God would give?  Are you living your life in such a way that you have taken the Temptation Advice and set your path far from evil?  Are you spending regular time with God to understand that His Hearing Advice is as much about the rest of your body as it is your ears?  I pray that you will pay close attention to the brotherly advice James wants you to hear so that when life doesn’t seem to add up, you can turn to his MATH Advice to have a better understanding of God’s perspective!

I Would Never . . .

Have you ever observed someone in the midst of some activity and say to yourself, “I would never do that!“?  Perhaps it was something that you just thought was ridiculous or silly.  Or maybe it was something wrong, an obvious sin that becomes visible and known in another person’s life and you conclude that there is no way that would ever happen to you.

But things do happen.  Choices are made.  Decisions are reached.  Options are discarded.  Desperation sets in.  And “all of a sudden” a person is in the midst of an affair, stealing from an employer, involved in a drug culturelying about their activities and work accomplishments, gossiping about others, meddling in the lives of friends and strangers, harboring greed in their thoughts and actions, filled with pride and self-promotion, and on the list could go.  Very few people, if any, set out to do such actions.  Most Christians, when caught in sin that becomes public state, “I never thought it could happen to me.”  But it does.  Time and time again, it does.  But not just in public figures and newspaper headlines, but in you and me and in countless Christian lives in churches around the world.  We are tempted and we sin.  We think, “I never saw that coming.”  We feel blind-sided and wonder why we so easily give in to temptation at times.

If this describes you, as it does me, Paul has some words of warning and encouragement for us in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13:

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

God’s warning is clear.  If you think that sin has no appeal to you; look out!  It is when we think that we are untouchable that we drop our guard and relax.  Every job that I have had involved an element that if you became completely comfortable with it, you had better get out.  My first job “away from home” was in my uncle’s sawmill.  You learned quickly to respect the equipment, the stacks of logs and lumber, and the entire work environment if you wanted to avoid serious injury.  My next two jobs involved heights — roofing and TV tower and antenna installation and repair.  While I learned to trust my safety equipment, I also learned to have a respect for each environment that I was in.  To be observant and recognize the potential dangers.  To look for a bowed or sagging roof that might indicate a weakened support structure.  To pay attention to guy wires and tower legs that might be frayed or rusted to the point of weakness or failure.  It was never a given that just because every roof I had been on or every tower I had climbed had supported me so far that this one would as well.  I remember times during both of those jobs where I would hear or read of someone who became comfortable in a similar situation as mine and did not take heed to the potential danger.  Stories of people being seriously injured or even dying because they thought they knew what they were doing and therefore nothing could happen to them.

The same things happen in our spiritual life.  We get comfortable.  We think we know what we are doing.  Our confidence in our self takes us to the very edge.  We are so sure we know our “limit” that we continue to push it — to test it, saying, “I’ll never step over the line.  I’m not that stupid!”  And so we let the seeds of greed, lust, envy, pride, jealously, anger, hatred, etc., into our life and somehow think that we can control it.  Paul says that if you think you can handle this on your own, watch out because you are about to fall.

While the warning is clear, the promise is equally obvious.  God says that there is no temptation that is trying to overthrow you but what has already been tried.  Nothing will catch Him off guard.  Nothing will have Him scratching His head wondering, “What am I going to do now.  I don’t know how to get this person beyond this situation.”  We have a God who says that no temptation has to be given in to.  God knows every temptation that you and I will face and through His Word and His Spirit, He has given us a way out of each one.  A way that He says allows us to “stand up under it”, not necessarily avoid it.  A way that keeps the temptation from “giving birth to sin”, even while the temptation may remain present. 

Are we listening to God closely enough to hear His way out?  Are we spending consistent time in His Word, allowing His Spirit to teach us and to convict us of “sin, righteousness, and judgment”?  Jesus gave us the example of warding off temptation with Scripture.  Do we know the Scriptures well enough to use it as our “way of escape”?  Or do we play with God’s Word, sorting out verses that seem to justify our actions while ignoring the context and the principles that say the path we are headed down is leading to destruction?  I’ve known a number of Christian individuals, some very well known speakers, who have used the creation account as justification for “admiring” a woman’s beauty and even make suggestive comments about her because they are “praising God for His incredible handiwork”.  I’ve also seen some of these same individuals play with the fire of lust and end up burnt because they learned too late that they didn’t have the strength that they thought they did to control the temptation.  Their influence, their character, their witness for God goes down the drain because they were satisfying their desires rather than listening to God’s Word that says that a man who looks lustfully upon a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  The way out — the truth of Scripture — was there all the time.  It just didn’t seem necessary because, “I can handle this!”

I don’t know what areas of life and the temptations of life that you think you are standing firm in.  Whatever it is, God’s warning still holds true for you and me today; “be careful that you don’t fall!”  If you are saying in your mind, “I would never . . . “; look out!  Look to God and He will show you how close to the edge you already are and how you can escape the results of the temptation and stand up under it.

May you and I reject a prideful thinking that says, “I would never . . .”.  May we rely on the faithfulness of God to provide us a way of escape from every temptation through His Word and the power of His Spirit working in us.