Sermon from the “Living Like Christ” series.
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.
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!
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 culture, lying 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.