The True Wisdom of Real Faith (James 3:13-18)

We call someone who’s good at school SMART. What do we call someone who’s good at life? WISE. Biblically speaking, wisdom being good at life as God created it to be. Theologians say it this way:

Wisdom is skillful living.

Wisdom is not just knowing important stuff but it’s knowing how and when and why to apply it to real life. What kind of job should I pursue? How much money should I spend and save? What kind of person should I marry? How should I raise my kids? How should I cast my votes? How should I handle conflict? How should I handle disagreements in my church family?

We’re studying the New Testament book written by James, which is overflowing with wisdom. This is likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother. Imagine the cloud that would have been over James and Jesus’ family growing up–neighborhood gossip, family tension, sibling rivalry, everyday mess all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother. And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! For James, real faith is life-changing. In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. For James, real faith is also relationally-driven. He calls fellow church members “brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” It’s life-changing wisdom for a life-changing family. This is relational spiritual formation.

Relational spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, missional initiatives, missional neighboring, and relational spiritual formation. Relational spiritual formation is described in our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

 

Relational spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups–like kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups–in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. My prayer during this series “Real Faith for Real People” on James’ letter to the churches called “Real Faith for Real People” is that those of you who have discipling relationships would grow wiser and deeper and that those of you who don’t would make finding them a priority (talk to me if you need help!). Because following Jesus together should change our life.

Here’s today’s big idea from James:

Real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.

James is a book of wisdom, so, in this passage, he gets right to the heart of wisdom.

James 3:13-18 NIV
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.

You know someone is wise not by their claims but by their life. The hallmark of true wisdom is a good life characterized by humble deeds. If you think you’re wise but don’t show it through deeds, something is off. James has been emphasizing this throughout his letter. You can’t have hearing God’s word without doing God’s word. You can’t have faith in God without works for God. So here, you can’t have godly wisdom without godly deeds.

James will take us on a tour of true wisdom and false wisdom in this passage, and we’ll be asking three questions of the text to understand both types of wisdom: Where does it come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to?

14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Remember three questions: Where does false wisdom come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to? First question…

Where does false wisdom come from?

15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

James lists three sources of false wisdom: “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” “Earthly” refers to the wisdom of the world: news, social media, the buzz, mass opinions. You don’t get wise watching Fox News. You don’t get wise watching CNN. You don’t get wise by scrolling through social media. You don’t get wise off the latest in the coffee shop or the local diner. As Christians, we have a source from wisdom that comes from outside of this world.

“Unspiritual” refers to the wisdom of self. Postmodernism, a common mindset in our day, holds that we each can figure it out on our own, it automatically distrusts any authoritative voice speaking into one’s life. It’s the wisdom I make up on my own. That’s ridiculous. To be sure, critical thinking is important, and thinking “for yourself” is important. But at the end of the day, we must humbly admit that we can’t figure out life on our own. We all have to go somewhere. Moreover, as Christians, we have a source for wisdom that comes from outside of ourselves.

“Demonic” refers to the wisdom of Satan. Satan gets a lot of buzz in terms of demon possession, especially in pop culture, movies, etc. But did you know that the most prominent way evil powers work is to spread lies and temptations that influence people and cultures to rebel against God? He’s not so much interested in making people crawl on ceilings as he is in subtly pitting human beings against God and one another. As Christians, we have a source for wisdom that definitely does not come from hell.

What does false wisdom look like?

14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

Bitter envy desperately wants what someone else has, and selfish ambition will go after whatever you want at whatever expense to others. This is the wisdom of this world, isn’t it? It’s an every-man-for-himself, free-for-all that begins in dysfunctional families and culminates in world wars. It’s all around us, even in our churches. And Satan loves that we’re following his playbook.

What does false wisdom lead to?

16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Wisdom from hell makes life a little like hell. When we embrace demonic wisdom and harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition, we leave a trail of broken relationships with God and others in our wake.

In a world full of demonic, deceptive, destructive “wisdom,” I want wisdom that is true and good, don’t you? Thanks be to God, James tells us about it…

17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Now for those three questions again: Where does true wisdom come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to? First question…

Where does true wisdom come from?

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven…

We had a conversation like this in LIFEgroup last week. Nobody just wakes up one day wise. Nobody faces one of the biggest decisions of their life and suddenly gets wise for it. If we don’t work to acquire wisdom from God, we will end up with the false kind of “wisdom.” True wisdom is from heaven, from God! Proverbs 9:10 says…

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,

   and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

This is real faith. Real faith gets enough of who God is to live in awe and fear of Him. So what are you doing in order to know and fear this God? Coming to worship gatherings like this one is a great start. Well done! Do you read or listen to your Bible every day? Do you stop and pray throughout the day to embrace the greatness and goodness of God? Do you make yourself available and accountable to Christians, maybe in a LIFegroup?

Gimme that true wisdom! I love how the Old Testament book of Proverbs compare wisdom to money and candy. Every kid wants candy. Every adult wants money. Kids and adults, go after wisdom like you go after candy and money!

What does true wisdom look like?

17 …first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere…

James lists eight characteristics of a wise person…

  1. A pure person is the opposite of a hypocrite, which James has been railing at (hearing without doing, being merciless while expecting mercy, having faith without works, praising God while bad-mouthing people made in God’s image). A pure person can draw a straight line from what they think and feel to what they say and do. Are you pure? If so, you might be wise!
  2. A peace-loving person is always pursuing biblical reconciliation. We did a teaching series called “Enemies No More” on biblical reconciliation last spring, which you can check out at calvarymuskegon.com, but the process goes like this: “confront, repent, forgive, restore, and when all else fails, love your enemy.” A peace-loving person is always pursuing biblical reconciliation. Are you peace-loving? If so, you might be wise!
  3. A considerate person is gentle–not–rough–with people. Tim George, one of our missionary partners, once counseled me, “Keith, it is a terrible thing to be right only.” Right AND loving is the goal. A considerate person speaks and acts with grace toward others, even when rebuking. Are you considerate? If so, you might be wise!
  4. A submissive person is not someone who makes themselves a doormat for others to walk on. Other translations use “reasonable” or “open to reason.” Being a submissive person then is being approachable, willing to admit that you could be wrong, willing to look at things from another perspective. Are you submissive? If so, you might be wise!
  5. A merciful person assumes the best–not the worst–in others and is quick to forgive. Are you merciful? If so, you might be wise!
  6. A fruitful person could, if they wanted to, point to concrete examples of  their faith-in-action. In fact, other people would be noticing the fruit too! Would others say they see the fruit of God’s work in your life? Are you fruitful? If so, you might be wise!
  7. An impartial person treats everyone with equal respect regardless of what they look like, how much money they make, etc. Are you impartial? If so, you might be wise!
  8. A sincere person is someone with integrity. If every secret a sincere person had was suddenly published on Mlive, they wouldn’t be worried, and it wouldn’t damage their reputation. Are you sincere? If so, you might be wise!

Now, what do you think: is anyone wise and understanding among us? Frankly, this list doesn’t remind me of anyone except Jesus. Colossians 2:3 says that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Isn’t that delicious? Want to be wise? Want to skillfully live out God’s rule? Look at Jesus.

I really hope wise people like this to step up and lead as elders and deacons and deaconesses here at Calvary. And, maybe if you can think of someone like this, you can encourage them and even mention their name to the elder team (elders@calvarymuskegon.com).

What does true wisdom lead to?

18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

If wisdom from hell makes life a little like hell, then wisdom from heaven makes life a little like heaven. A harvest of righteousness is a beautiful description of people having right relationships with God and others. Men and women, young and old, physical families, church families, neighborhoods and nations, becoming reconciled to God and one another, loving God and one another. What a beautiful picture. And it all began with wisdom from heaven.

What kind of legacy will you leave the people in your life? Disorder, chaos, evil practices…or a harvest of righteousness. What kind of legacy will Calvary leave the Muskegon area? Disorder, chaos, evil practices…or a harvest of righteousness.

Real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.

Simply put, true wisdom comes from Jesus, looks like Jesus, and leads to Jesus.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 10.13.2019 message “The True Wisdom of Real Faith (James 3:13-18).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Wisdom is skillful living, and real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.

  1. James 3:13 – How do wise people show their wisdom in the real world?
  2. James 3:14-18 – Contrast “wisdom from below” with “wisdom from above.” How are their sources, nature, and results differ?
  3. What advice would you give someone who wants to acquire “wisdom from above”?
  4. Which aspects of “wisdom from above” are most needed in your life? How will you get that wisdom?
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Real Faith and How We Talk (James 3:1-12)

Between the ages 1-2, human beings acquire one of their greatest superpowers: the power of speech. Moms and dads everywhere begin saying, “Use your words, sweetie, use your words!” I remember lamenting once to my parents that my kid was taking forever to talk. They chuckled and said, “Enjoy it now, because once they get the hang of it, they’ll never stop! It’s true! Researchers estimate that the average person speaks enough to fill two 300-page books per month. That would be about 24 books per year, about 2,000 books in a lifetime.

We’re studying the New Testament book written by James, likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother in Mary and Joseph’s home. Imagine the cloud that would have been over James and Jesus’ family growing up–neighborhood gossip, family tension, sibling rivalry, messy, everyday stuff all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother. And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. The inescapably relational nature of following Jesus jumps off the pages of James’ letter. He calls fellow church members “the brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” Life-changing wisdom for a life-changing family. This is community spiritual formation.

Community spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, missional initiatives, missional neighboring, and community spiritual formation.

 

Community spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups–like kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups–in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. I am praying that, through James’ letter to the churches in our series “Real Faith for Real People,” that these relationships would be so honest, so loving, and so life-changing that someone would be like, “Whoa, God is up to something here!” Following Jesus together should change our life.

A huge area of our life where we need to change, where we need God to grow us up is in how we talk. Earlier in his letter, James called an uncontrolled tongue “worthless religion.” A controlled tongue then is “worthwhile religion.”

James 3:1-12 NIV

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

James wants teachers and aspiring teachers (pastors, elders, deacons, deaconesses, LIFEgroup leaders) to beware: With great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great accountability.

How we talk is one of the greatest ways to influence someone else, for better or for worse, but it’s also perhaps the last frontier of sanctification. James suggests that the highest form of self-control is controlling your words…saying exactly what you should say when you need to say it OR refusing to say what you shouldn’t say when you shouldn’t say it.

God may take a sinner like you and me and transform so many areas of their life…sexual desires, work ethic, identity, relationships, etc…but one of the last things to come under control is speech. Once speech is controlled, the whole person has matured. Can you feel the truth of this? For so many Christians, God has cleaned up their act but the last beast to be conquered is how we talk!

In other words, using words for good is a hallmark of Christian maturity! It’s important that our church leaders be mature, which means they must be able to use their words for good. We’ve been asking for nominations for servant leaders, by the way, and consider this part of the test for whether you should nominate someone. If they misuse words, don’t nominate them. If they gossip or tear people down or speak before they listen, we can’t have them, at least not yet. Sounds like there’s some growing to do. Words are a big deal!

And words are a really big deal because…

Words have disproportionate power.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 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. 5 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.

Words may seem like fleeting, inconsequential things. You say a word and it’s gone. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. But we all know that a word spoken and remembered can have a profound impact on one’s life. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth, a rudder on a sailboat, and a spark that starts a wildfire, the word holds a power beyond its apparent size.

Words really are a human superpower that no other creature comes close to matching. Think about it. Words can make us cry by breaking our heart or it can make us laugh so hard that we cry. A word can bring us hope on the worst day of our life or it can destroy the best day of our life. One theologian writes, “The right words, spoken at the right time with the right attitude, bring life, while the wrong words, spoken at the wrong time with the wrong attitude, bring death.” (Samra)

Words have POWER but to make matters worse…

Words have a tendency to destroy.

6 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. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

The problem with words is that we’re the problem. We’re all sinners. That’s what the authors of the Bible observed and what God inspired them to write. The testimony is clear. Human beings will always end up, at some point, using their words to destroy. This happens whenever nations threaten or manipulate other nations, and this happens whenever a husband and wife exchange insults out of frustration.

I have this trick to help us tame our tongues. You ready?

  • Let’s say you’re about to gossip about someone else. Just stop what you’re saying and slowly back away and hide.
  • Or you’re about to text or post something destructive. Just throw your phone against the wall. The harder the better.
  • Or carry around a big book and, the next time you’re about to blow up at a family member who’s disappointed you, smack yourself.

Obviously, I’m kidding. There is, according to James, nothing you can do to tame your tongue. NO HUMAN BEING CAN. You can tame horses and dogs and even cats and king cobras. But you’ll never tame your tongue on your own.

Here’s a better idea we read from our church-wide Bible reading plan this week…

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

What if we let the infinite glory, righteousness, and goodness of God keep our mouths shut? What if we become speechless at the thought of the Creator and Savior and Lord? If every day He brings our use of words to an end, He can fill our mouths with the words He wants us to use…rooted in the Scriptures, submitted in prayer. In order for our tongues to be tamed, we need to cry out to King Jesus, who is so, so good, for new hearts, new perspectives, new desires and dreams and hopes! That’s where James goes next…

Words have a potential to bless.

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. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Words make hypocrisy so easy. We sing about God on Sunday morning and become a jerk on Sunday night. In the classic Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, the main characters Christian and Faithful met a character named “Talkative.” At first, Faithful and Talkative hit it off, so Talkative accompanied the pilgrims on their journey. Talkative liked to talk a lot about God, so he was welcome on the journey. But then Faithful noticed that Christian had fallen back and was walking by himself. Faithful asked him what was wrong and Christian explained that he knew Talkative from his hometown and he didn’t trust the man. Talkative was, in Christian’s words, “a saint abroad and a devil at home.” Talkative talked about the Bible and theology, but he was a jerk to his children and known as a scoundrel in his hometown. When Faithful, Christian’s companion, confronted Talkative and tried to hold Talkative accountable for this hypocrisy, Talkative replies basically with, “Who made you judge over me? I’m out!”

What makes me so sick and so sad about this little story is that I have played this out more times than I can remember. I try to hold someone accountable and they just brush it off or worst they just take off. We have got to hold one another accountable and be willing to be held accountable. How else will we ever grow as followers of Jesus? How else will we ever be the body of Christ?

The most important thing we can do with our words is praise God. The second most important things we can do with our words is to bless people. What do I mean by bless? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Speak to your neighbor as you would want to be spoken to.” Bring life. Encourage, correct, advise, greet, teach. Words that praise God and bless others are words that come from a heart saved and transformed by God’s grace.

Real faith in a good God compels us to praise Him and bless others.

I think for a lot of us guys and probably some ladies too, we struggle not only with using words but using them for good. But there are several guys–brothers-in-Christ–that I get to be in a LIFEgroup with and they really know how to encourage me. They don’t sugarcoat or flatter me, but with a kind word or a quick text, they can make my week! A few sentences will be enough to lift my spirits for days.

Earlier I mentioned that we speak enough to fill two books a month. What do we spend all that time talking about? Apparently, not much is said about God! In a recent book called Learning to Speak God from Scratch, writer Jonathan Merritt looks at how we use spiritual and theological words today–words like lost and sin and grace and gospel.

Merritt surveyed over 1,000 people to see how frequently they were having spiritual conversations. 20% report they had not had a spiritual conversation at all in the last year. 60% had a spiritual conversation a few times a year. 14% had one a few times a month. Only 7% talk about religion and spirituality on a weekly basis. Now that stat included both religious people and non-religious people, both Christians and non-Christians, but here’s the real shocker: only 13% of practicing Christians had a spiritual conversation once per week. Sacred words, spiritual terminology, divine concepts are vanishing from our vocabulary. Let’s incorporate sacred conversations into our daily lives.

Worship gatherings are a fantastic place to learn and think about these words. LIFEgroups are a fantastic place to practice spiritual conversation. Practice among the church family and then spread it far and wide throughout the Muskegon area! Being a member of the body of Christ here at Calvary should also remind us of this important power and responsibility and accountability from our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 10.06.2019 message “Real Faith and How We Talk (James 3:1-12).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Real faith in a good God compels us to praise Him and bless others.

  1. Recall a time when someone’s words either really helped you or really hurt you.
  2. James 3:1-2: Why are words important to consider in the development of Christ-like character?
  3. James 3:3-5: Come up with some real-life scenarios where seemingly insignificant words can have a big impact on someone’s life.
  4. James 3:6-8: Do you agree that, if left unchecked, human beings will tend to use words for destructive purposes? Why/why not?
  5. James 3:9-12: What are the best uses of words and how can we better incorporate them into our lives?

Real Faith Acts (James 2:14-26)

When I was a kid, I was terrified about going to hell. I probably asked Jesus into my heart dozens of times. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when you say a prayer, often repeating someone wiser than you, and ask Jesus to forgive your sin and commit to obeying Him for the rest of your life. Every time the pastor or the Sunday school teacher would invite us to ask Jesus into our heart, I’d do it just to be safe. Can you relate to that?

I was never quite brave enough to do the altar call thing, where you walk up to the front of the church as a sort of symbol that you just accepted Jesus into your heart, but I was sometimes brave enough to raise my hand when they did that close-your-eyes-and-raise-your-hands invitation, until the one time some well-meaning usher made it all awkward by telling me he saw my hand up. Why weren’t your eyes closed, dude?!?!

I’m wondering if you’ve ever wrestled with these kinds of questions? What kind of faith saves us? What kind of faith saves our family members? What kind of faith saves our beloved church members and neighbors and coworkers and classmates? What kind of faith saves people in other countries?

I’m still terrified at the thought of suffering the eternal wrath of Almighty God because I’ve contributed to the brokenness and rebellion of the world through my sin. But I have since learned about the kind of faith that saves, and I really have today’s text from James to thank for helping me understand. In today’s passage, James tells us exactly the kind of faith needed to connect us to the life-saving death of Jesus Christ.

We’re studying the New Testament book written by James, likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother in Mary and Joseph’s home. Imagine the cloud that would have been over James and Jesus’ family growing up–neighborhood gossip, family tension, sibling rivalry, messy, everyday stuff all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. Wow. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother.

And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. The inescapably relational nature of following Jesus jumps off the pages of James’ letter. He calls fellow church members “the brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” Life-changing wisdom for a life-changing family. This is community spiritual formation.

Community spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, hospitality initiatives, missional partnerships, and community spiritual formation. Community spiritual formation is richly described in a paragraph from our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

 

Community spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups–like kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups–in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. I am praying that, through James’ letter to the churches in our series “Real Faith for Real People,” that these relationships would be so honest, so loving, and so life-changing that someone would be like, “Whoa, God is up to something here!” Following Jesus together should change our life.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

A claim without action is worthless. Let’s say Hypothetical Harry walks in wearing nothing but underwear–not because they’ve made an odd fashion choice–but because they literally have nothing else to wear. And imagine Hypothetical Harry says, “Man, Keith, I haven’t eaten in 3 days.” Then imagine I go up to Hypothetical Harry, slap him on the back, and say “Good luck with that, my friend!” You’d think I’m crazy. Or maybe just wildly selfish! What was the point of my words? They weren’t helpful in the least! In fact, instead of being an encouragement, my words would come off as an insult because I didn’t lift a finger to help.

So it is with faith, James says. Claiming to believe in God without having any change of heart or change of life is not only useless but also insulting to God.

Real faith–saving faith–is the kind of faith that acts.

Through the rest of the section, James will use examples to show us the difference between faith without action and faith with action.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

Demons have all the reasons in the world to believe in God, yet they hate Him with every ounce of their being. How many people who call themselves Christians have the demonic kind of faith? They believe in God like demons believe in God. They believe God exists but don’t obey Him.

How many people who claim to be Christians have even less than demonic faith? At least the demons shudder at the thought of God. How many of us have a kind of faith in God that causes even that much of a response? Demonic faith and less-than-demonic faith are precisely the kinds of faith that James says is not real faith…not saving faith…it’s a faith without action, faith without submission, faith without obedience.

Real faith–saving faith–is the kind of faith that acts.

So, using the demons, James has given an example of faith without works and now he is going to give two examples of faith with works…real faith…saving faith…faith that acts.

21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 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. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

First, some background on Abraham: Jews and Christians alike look to Abraham as an example of faith in God. In Genesis 12, after the whole world had essentially turned its back on God, God graciously called Abraham to leave his homeland and travel to a new place where God would commence His work to save the world.

Early on in his relationship with God, Abraham believed God’s promise that God would give childless Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age. James quotes this moment from Genesis 15:6 in 2:23: Abraham believes God, and God considers Abraham righteous. Abraham wasn’t actually righteous; he was a sinner. But God in His grace counted Abraham’s faith as if it were righteousness. Woohoo!

But, according to James, Abraham’s faith was not just any old kind of faith. The kind of faith Abraham had “was made complete by what he did.” Abraham’s greatest act of faith came toward the end of Abraham’s life when God tested Abraham by commanding him to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrificial offering…to kill his only son! Abraham passed the test! He almost went through with it because he trusted that God would somehow provide a substitute sacrifice. And God did. God stopped Abraham, knife in hand, and sent a ram for the sacrifice that had gotten caught in a bush nearby. This great act of obedience came from the kind of faith Abraham had.

The idea here is not that faith wasn’t enough and Abraham had to add works. The idea is that the kind of faith Abraham had realized its intended purpose whenever he obeyed God. It’s not that faith gets you 99% of the way to God and works make up the last 1%. It’s that the kind of faith that acts is what connects you to God, on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death and gift of righteousness.

Real faith–saving faith–is the kind of faith that acts.

If Abraham was the superstar example of faith in the Old Testament, James goes to the other end of the spectrum and highlight an unsung hero of faith…Rahab.

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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Rahab shows up in Joshua 2, right as Israel prepares to invade the Promised Land God was going to give them, beginning with the attack on Jericho. Two Israelites spies went ahead to scout out Jericho. Rahab, a citizen of Jericho who also happened to be a prostitute, let them stay at her place because she had heard about their God had feared Him. She had faith that moved her to action! When some of Jericho guards came looking for the Israelite spies, she hid them, covered for them, and helped them escape. She takes a great risk by trusting God and helping the spies.

Rahab, a heathen foreign woman who worked in the sex industry, put her faith in a God who absolutely changed her life! She became a hero and helps Israel conquer Jericho.

Real faith–saving faith–is the kind of faith that acts.

What kind of faith do you have? A faith that has never changed your heart, never changed your mind, never changed your life? A faith your parents or grandparents had? Or do you have a faith that acts? One theologian points out that the Greek word translated “spirit” in verse 26 could also be translated “breath” (Samra, Teach the Text Commentary Series: James). How does the average person know whether or not someone is alive? Are they breathing? How does the average person know whether or not you have faith? Are you obeying God?

An object lesson sometimes used to describe this kind of faith is sitting on a chair. If you trust a chair to hold you up, you’ll sit on it with all your weight! In the same way, if you really believe in God, you’ll fully rely on Him. The problem with that object lesson in my opinion is that sitting in a chair is about the most passive action in the world! Jesus used a different object lesson. “Whoever wants to follow Me,” He said, “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” The kind of faith that saves is the kind of faith picks up a cross.

It’s one thing to attend one of these gatherings, sing, and listen to a sermon. It’s another thing to put that faith into action. LIFEgroups, for one, are a great way to surround yourself with people who can encourage you to act out your faith. I had a very helpful time with my LIFEgroup last week as we discussed last week’s text from James 2 about showing hospitality with prejudice. We brainstormed all the ways we might intentionally or unintentionally show prejudice to people with our love, and I learned so many things from them that help my throughout life.

Just this week I had a chance to put my faith into action by refusing to show prejudice. I recently went to see a doctor named “Greg.” After waiting in the patient room for a few minutes, the door opened and in walked a medical professional who was clearly not “Greg.” This person was much younger than me, had a different skin color, was a different gender, and spoke with an accent that clearly placed her origin from outside the USA. For a hot minute, all my sinful, prejudicial bells were going off. Surely, this person wasn’t going to help me! I needed “Greg!” But then God’s Spirit reminded me that she was made in God’s image. He reminded me that she had all the gifts she needed to be a blessing in her profession, a blessing to me. So I gladly answered her questions and gratefully embraced her treatment. I was able to put my faith in action, although it almost went the other way.

We don’t want to be a dead church full of people with dead faith. The preaching of the Gospel must be accompanied by lives changed according to the Gospel. Cross-shaped! Isn’t that the kind of faith the world needs to see? Not just a bunch of people who say they believe in the crucified and risen Jesus but a bunch of people who live like the crucified and risen Jesus!

Our faith–even faith that acts–means nothing apart from the sacrifice of Christ. Our faith that acts connects us to Him so that we might be forgiven and find new life in Him. Give thanks to Jesus for being the firm foundation for our faith.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 09.29.2019 message “Real Faith Acts (James 2:14-26).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Real faith–saving faith–is the kind of faith that acts.

  1. Read James 2:14-17. What is the main point James will be arguing for in this section? What metaphor does he use in verses 15-16 and how does it connect to this main point?
  2. Read James 2:18-19. What kind of faith do demons have? How does this fit into James’ main point?
  3. Read James 2:20-26. What kind of faith Abraham and Rahab have? How does this fit into James’ main point?
  4. Now, let’s consider the relationship between our salvation and faith and works. Compare James 2:14-26 to Paul’s teaching on faith in Romans 4:1-5. At first glance, how do James and Paul seem to contradict one another? Now read more of Paul’s thoughts on faith in Romans 1:5 and Galatians 5:6. How is the kind of faith Paul talks about these passages similar to the kind of living faith James describes? In your opinion, how similar are James’ and Paul’s views on faith?

Hospitality without Prejudice (James 2:1-13)

It recently came to light that the agents of a popular American university were not only taking personal bribes from parents to admit their children but perhaps even taking into consideration each family’s potential to make large donations to the university.

Imagine this scenario. Suzie works her tail off to build a resume that should get her into this university, but she comes from a working class family. Johnnie, on the other hand, isn’t half the student Suzie is but gets in over her because his family could make huge donations. People are rightly upset over this practice. Not only is it illegal but it grates against the moral fabric of our society. It’s prejudice, discrimination, favoritism.

It seems to me that our culture is anti-prejudice due to a sense of innate equality and human rights, which is commendable, of course. Christians believe that all people are created in God’s image and have infinite value in God’s eyes and are to be treated equally. But Christians are anti-prejudice for another and, dare I say, more compelling reason: God’s mercy. This is what we’ll see today as we get into the book of James. How do Christians address the prejudice that so permeates our culture? What motivates us to treat all people well despite the mess we find ourselves in?

We’re studying the New Testament book written by James, likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother in Mary and Joseph’s home. Imagine the cloud that would have been over James and Jesus’ family growing up–the neighborhood gossip, the family tension, the sibling rivalry, the messy, everyday stuff all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. Wow. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother.

And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life. If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off.

If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. The inescapably relational nature of following Jesus jumps off the pages of James’ letter. He calls fellow church members “the brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” James gives life-changing wisdom to a life-changing family. This is community spiritual formation.

Community spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, hospitality initiatives, missional partnerships, and community spiritual formation. Community spiritual formation is richly described in a paragraph from our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

 

Community spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups–like kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups–in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. I am praying that, through James’ letter to the churches in our series “Real Faith for Real People,” that these relationships would be so honest, so loving, and so life-changing that someone would be like, “Whoa, God is up to something here!” Following Jesus together should change our life.

So, here’s James, writing on the very relevant issue of prejudice in church families…

James 2 NIV

1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

First of all, note that James is assuming that church families show radical hospitality to its guests. I love showing this passage to Calvary’s hospitality team because it shows the culture a church family should have. It’s externally-focused and grace-filled and relationally-driven. It welcomes outsiders with warmth and invites them to worship and learn from Jesus with the church. We have a hospitality team in order to make sure Calvary is a welcoming place, but frankly it takes more than the 60 or so people that shovel sidewalks and shakes hands and clean the kitchen. It takes a whole church! I’ve visited churches before that have very friendly, helpful hospitality teams but clearly no one else was interested in welcoming guests. We really hope that every member of the Calvary family shows hospitality to our guests. Keep your eyes and hearts open!

But note secondly that James is not only commending hospitality but is rebuking church families for being selective with it! James gives a hypothetical situation in which a church family “rolls out the red carpet” for a rich visitor while brushing off a poor visitor. It seems that this “hypothetical situation” occurred often enough to bring out James’ rebuke that…

Real faith shows radical hospitality without an ounce of prejudice.

In this scenario, money is the reason for prejudice, but the biblical testimony is that no kind of social status should ever cause prejudice: not culture, not language, not nationality, not sex, not age, not ability, not disability. All are welcome equally in the family of God.

What draws you to a person? There are so many ways we can even unintentionally show prejudice with our hospitality. We may choose friends and family over strangers because we can get more affirmation from them. We may choose people who fit out preferences over those that don’t look and act like the ideal friends we have in mind. We may choose “easy” people as opposed to needy people.

Why is this a problem? It’s more than just human equality. God wants to speak His mind into humanity, and James gives four reasons to show radical hospitality without evil prejudice.

#1 Hospitality without prejudice is in sync with God’s heart for the lowly.

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor.

In God’s infinite wisdom, He has chosen those who don’t amount to much in the standards of this world to be the recipients of the world to come. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” says Jesus in Luke 6:20. Proverbs 14:31 offers these words of wisdom: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for the Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” This has always been God’s heart. The stunning thing about our high and glorious Creator is that He has chosen to identify Himself with the poor!

#2 Hospitality without prejudice doesn’t favor those who suppress Jesus.

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

For the churches in James’ day, it was the rich and powerful who were persecuting them, just like it was with Jesus. They took advantage of the poor and had the upper hand in the courts and by targeting Christians were offending Christ directly! Yet these are the ones that the churches are favoring?!?! Doesn’t even make sense. It’s almost like they were hoping they could smooze their way into acceptance among the rich and the powerful, rather than trusting God.

Even today, the rich and the powerful tend to be the ones who suppress Jesus’ name and even misuse His name. In America, rich and powerful people might say they are Christians and yet carry out idolatrous and prejudiced practices. How confusing it must be for the world, especially the poor, to see wealthy people who claim to be Christians and yet do not live like Christ.

#3 Hospitality without prejudice honors King Jesus’s call to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

A Jewish teacher who lived around the same time as Jesus said, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” “Do no harm” is the mantra here, and frankly it’s a lower bar. It’s one thing to “do no harm.” It’s another thing to “love.” And it’s still another thing to “love your neighbor as yourself!” I can do no harm to you by refraining to push you out of your chair. I can love you by getting you a chair. I can love you as I love myself by offering you my chair.

To “love your neighbor as yourself” is the “royal law.” It has the full weight of the crucified and risen King behind it! Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and that the second is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:34-40) But Jesus doesn’t just give the command…He lives it out. He “gives us His chair. He trades places with us at the cross, dying for our sin in our place and offering us forgiveness and new life if we would just believe and begin following Him.

James anticipates the argument that showing favoritism is not  “that bad.” After all, they didn’t necessarily harm the poor man, they just favored the rich man. But that’s where the breakdown is. In failing to honor both image-bearers of God equally, they dishonored the poor man. Prejudice may not seem like a big deal but it is a direct affront to the law of King Jesus. Break one law and you break His whole law. Break one law and you break His heart.

#4 Hospitality without prejudice fits those who have received God’s mercy instead of God’s judgment.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Believers and followers of Jesus follow a law that sets them free! It is not a list of rules and expectations; it is the good news of salvation from death and sin that carries with it the responsibility to live like Jesus lived.

According to James, God will judge those who were not merciful to others. Our mercy then is evidence before the Cosmic Judge that we really do belong to Him, have been forgiven, have been made new in Christ. Hospitality with prejudice is high stakes! But we are not alone in this.

The three other times the term translated “favoritism” in verses 1 and 9 is used in the New Testament is to show that God does not show favoritism (Rom 2:11, Eph 6:9, Col 3:25). Our hatred for prejudice in our lives and churches and community is based on God’s hatred for it. God doesn’t show prejudice; He shows mercy! You and I are the poor man that the world told to sit on the floor. God is the dear, kind usher who found us the best seat in the house.

God has chosen not to show judgment to those who repent and believe in Him but to instead show that judgment to Jesus at the cross! Jesus was shown no mercy at the cross. Mercy triumphs over judgment only because His judgment triumphed over mercy for Jesus. This is who God is. This is who Jesus is. Will we learn from Him?

Let’s close with this challenge, Calvary family. Who do you spend time with among the Calvary family? Who do you want to spend time with among the Calvary family? When we dismiss in a few minutes, you are going to have an opportunity to show hospitality. Will you bolt for the exit or will you take time to be a blessing to someone? And, when you decide to show hospitality, how will you decide who to show it to? Will you calculate social status and go to those who benefit you? Or will you show hospitality without prejudice because God has shown it to you?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the 09.22.2019 message “Hospitality without Prejudice (James 2:1-13).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Real faith shows radical hospitality without an ounce of prejudice.

  1. Read James 2:1-4. What is the core problem James is rebuking here? What are the top three social categories discriminated against in churches today? What are some ways discrimination might take place among church families outside of the main weekend gathering?
  2. Read James 2:5-13. Identify at least four reasons why churches should not discriminate against those of low social status. Which reason is most compelling for you personally?
  3. What kinds of people do you need to stop discriminating against? How can the Gospel empower you to show radical love to these kinds of people?

Real Faith Listens and Obeys (James 1:19-27)

I’ll often say “we” when I’m talking about the University of Michigan football team, but the fact of the matter is there is really no sense in which I should consider myself “we.” I’m a poser. An imposter. Sure I watch the games…but that’s really the extent of it. I didn’t graduate from U of M. I certainly was never part of the football program. I’ve even lived closer to East Lansing (Michigan State University) than to Ann Arbor for my entire life. The shameful fact of the matter is I’m a poser Michigan fan, riding the coattails of the greatest college football program in history. 🙂

You know, there are a lot of poser Christians too. Poser Christians say they’re Christians, go to church, attend Bible studies, know a lot about the Bible, but fail to live like Jesus. I don’t want to be a poser Christian. I don’t want you to be a poser Christian. I don’t want Muskegon and the world to encounter poser Christians. I want us to be the true people of God, being transformed by Jesus to be like Jesus, living cross-shaped lives for the glory of God and the good of others.

That’s why we’re studying the New Testament book of James, likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother in Mary and Joseph’s home. Just think of the shadow that would have been cast over James and Jesus’ family growing up! Imagine the neighborhood gossip, the family tension, the sibling rivalry, the messy, everyday stuff all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. Wow. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother.

And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. This is abundantly clear in James’ letter, where the inescapably relational nature of following Jesus jumps off the pages. James calls fellow church members “the brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” James gives life-changing wisdom to a life-changing family. This is community spiritual formation.

Community spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, hospitality initiatives, missional partnerships, and community spiritual formation

 

Community spiritual formation is richly described in a paragraph from our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

Community spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. We do this at every age–kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups. I am praying that, through James’ letter to the churches in our series “Real Faith for Real People,” that these relationships would be so honest, so loving, and so life-changing that a guest would be like, “Whoa, God is up to something here!” Because following Jesus together should change our life.

This is James’ point in the second half of chapter 1:

James 1:19-27 NIV

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

I think what James is wanting people to listen to is when Christians are sharing God’s Word with one another. In verse 18, James references the word of truth that gives us new birth. In verse 21, he challenges us to humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. In verse 22, he calls us to not just listen to the word but to obey it! I think James has in mind here biblically-informed, Spirit-filled words Christians say to another. Could be a sermon. Could be a LIFEgroup discussion. Could be a one-on-one conversation. It’s community spiritual formation!

I’ve often caught myself skipping over things I don’t agree. I’ve fast forwarded through my podcast when they interview someone I don’t really agree with. I’ve skipped over books and unsubscribed from blogs I don’t agree with. Instead of being quick to listen, I’ve angrily made a judgment and asserted my own opinion. What’s worse is when I do this in actual relationships. Someone rebukes me and I immediately defend myself, my opinion, my actions, my intentions.

I need to learn the lesson Jesus’ little brother is teaching here: The holy pause. Keep my words and anger in check and listen to the word so that God might produce His righteousness in me. I wonder how often James saw his big brother Jesus do the holy pause, listening before reacting. Food for thought.

What do you do with Bible teaching and discussion you don’t like? Do you only listen to sermons and teachers and Christians you easily agree with? Do you only read authors and books who say what you want to hear? If you don’t like Bible teaching, it could be that it’s wrong. Perhaps you have studied and really are convicted that the teaching is false and to be rejected. But…do you really believe you’re right 100% of the time? Do you really believe that you’re so well-studied and so spiritually sanctified that you’ll agree with every sermon you hear?

Or could it be that “the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” is prevalent not just in the world but in us? What if there are Scriptures and books and sermons and spiritual conversations that God wants to use to confront us? What if I need to hear the teaching I don’t want to hear so that God can keep saving me from my sin?

Real faith listens to the God who saves.

James is talking to people who are already Christians so the salvation James refers to is not salvation from the penalty of sin–death–but salvation from the power of sin in your daily life. The more I study the Bible the more convinced I am that God is not only interested in saving people from hell. Obviously, that’s a big deal, but the God of the Bible is not fixated on that alone. God’s purpose is not only to save His people from death…but to save them from sin itself! God saves us from death by forgiving us of our sin through Jesus’ death on the cross (the theological word for this is “justification”). God saves us from sin by transforming us from the inside-out through the work of the Spirit and the Word in everyday life (the theological word for this is “progressive sanctification”). God has purposed to purify and grow people who reflect His character in the here and now. This second kind of salvation is NOT optional, though many “Christians” seem to think it is. The second kind of faith is, as we will see throughout James, the fruit of REAL FAITH. God is doing this work now through His word and through Christians speaking His word to one another…if we would only do what it says…

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James uses this fantastic comparison between looking into a mirror and forgetting what you look like and looking into God’s Word and doing what it says. A real mirror can show you how to fix wayward hair, that something in your nose, or food in your teeth. How silly would it be to look into a mirror, see something in your nose, but walk away and not take care of it! God’s Word is like a mirror–it reflects where we’ve gone wrong but it also reflects how we can be made right. It reflects a broken image but also a renewed image.

Merely listening to the word is dangerous, it’s self-deception. How so? Because…

Real faith obeys the God who blesses.

I’ve heard it said that many Christians are about 4,000 Bible verses overweight. So much knowledge about God and the Bible and living the Christian life but it has not translated into righteous living. People say they are Christians but live like atheists. They’re practical atheists. Atheists believe that God doesn’t exist, but practical atheists live like God doesn’t exist. They don’t trust God’s promises that, if we lose our life, we’ll find it. So we try to save our lives. But God is good and ready to bless those who do what He says.

James gives us three practical examples of what he’s talking about…

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

First, James highlights controlling our tongues. Words are a big deal. I know they seem fleeting, like you can just say whatever you want, and they’ll drift off on the wind, and no one will care. But every bit of gossip, every twisted “truth,” every hurtful insult, every careless promise, every thoughtless social media post impacts the hearts of those who hear it. The key isn’t to be silent but to use words for good. We can’t help but use words. We’re human beings! So we must take control of them and use them to help not hurt. James envisions the tongue as a bucking bronco; you’ve got to wrestle that thing into submission. Use it to bless and not curse…James will go deeper into this topic in chapter 3, so we’ll save it for then.

Jesus, of course, was the master of bridling His tongue. Every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth spread God’s love and truth. Jesus never gossiped, never insulted, never over-promised, never twisted the truth. Jesus always told the whole truth, always encouraged those who needed encouragement, always rebuked those who needed rebuking, always came through on his promises. I bet that made quite the impression on James.

Second, James highlights caring for the most needy. Widows and orphans were some of the most needy persons in the churches James was writing to. I mean, imagine being a widow. I was talking to a church member the other day whose grandpa recently died. His grandma is just lost now. They had been together for 66 years–since they were teenagers! The loneliness is unbearable. But frankly, in James’ day, the loneliness was only one piece of it. Poverty is what made widows so vulnerable. Today, many if not most widows are provided for through insurance, savings, and welfare programs. But in the ancient world, these safety nets were unheard of. A widow’s only hope for survival was her adult children…or her church family. Similarly, an orphan’s only hope was usually to beg or to sell yourself into slavery.

Jesus’ whole ministry was aimed at the needy. He intentionally lived among the poor and generously spent Himself on meeting needs He could meet. Always. I bet that made quite the impression on James.

Caring for the needy can be particularly overwhelming. There is so much brokenness in the world. It’s plastered all over the news and the internet. Thankfully, Jesus’ global  church is really, really big. Together, we CAN serve in virtually every corner of the world; we each just have to start somewhere. Start in your community. What needs do we see next door or in class or at work? Begin here. Then, think about what we can do together as a church. As a church, the elder team has identified what we see as some of the key needs in Muskegon and the world as well as missional partners who can help us make an impact. In other words, we are trying to help narrow things down for us. For example, Phil and Alana Carmichael, for example, serve at the Pines–a care center for children, whose families have been affected by AIDS and by poverty in South Africa.

The third Christian practice James talks about is avoiding worldliness like the plague. The churches James wrote to were constantly tempted and pressured to adopt Greco-Roman ways of thinking and living. The pursuit of wealth and honor were among the highest pursuits and sex and nationalism were also in the mix. Jesus wasn’t out for wealth or honor or sex or the Jewish nation or the Roman empire. He was out to love God and love others. I bet that made quite the impression on James.

Consider all the ways we can be polluted by the world:

  • Materialism calls us to prioritize temporary comforts over eternal joy.
  • Consumerism calls us to spend ourselves, no matter the cost to us or others, on those temporary comforts.
  • Humanism is the idea that human beings have what it takes to make the world a better place without the love and truth of God.
  • Ethnocentrism is the belief that my ethnicity is somehow more important than others.
  • Nationalism is the belief that my country is better and more deserving than others.
  • Hypersexualization is the movement that makes every about sex, sexual identity, sexual “freedom” as defined by creatures and not the Creator.
  • Modernism is the idea that science and reason are the best sources of authority–not the Creator.
  • Postmodernism is the idea that each individual is the best source of authority–not the Creator.

Think about James’ three hallmarks of true religion–controlling our tongues, caring for the most needy, and avoiding worldliness like the plague. These three practices along amount to a really compelling life. Imagine the blessing this kind of person is to their family, work, school, church, and neighborhood. Imagine the testimony that a whole church full of these kind of people would have! Let us LISTEN AND DO!

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Based on the September 15, 2019 message “Real Faith Listens and Obeys (James 1:19-27).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.

Big Idea: Real faith listens to and obeys God.

  1. Read James 1:19-21. Can you think of a time when you didn’t want to listen to biblical truth? How did you respond? What could it have looked like if you had responded more according to these verses? If James is writing to a bunch of Christians who already “saved” in one sense, what kind of salvation might accepting the word bring?
  2. Read James 1:22-25. Why does James consider “hearing without doing” self-deception? Where does the tendency to “hear without doing” come from?? Why must we make “doing” a priority?
  3. Read James 1:26-27. What three practices, according to James, are hallmark examples of true religion? In what ways are the three practices relevant for us today? Which one is most important for you to embrace right now and how can you better live it out in daily life?

Real Faith for Real Life (James 1:1-18)

Jesus grew up in a blended family. The Bible teaches that Jesus was born to Mary after God miraculously caused her to conceive and give birth to Jesus before she was ever married or even had sex. Oh the scandal that must have been in their family and community. You can read all about it in the opaening chapters of Matthew and Luke. Eventually, Mary and her husband Joseph had other kids, the oldest of which was a boy named James. This is likely the same James who wrote a letter that has been included in New Testament!

Just think of the shadow that would have been cast over Jesus’ and James’ blended family growing up! It’s not hard to imagine the gossip in the neighborhood, the tensions in the home, the confusion and jealousy, the old wounds, the messy, everyday stuff all families, especially blended families, have to work through.

But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life.

James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother and likely went on to write one of the books in the New Testament. In fact, in the opening verse of James, he identifies himself like this:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. (James 1:1 NIV)

Wow. A servant to big brother Jesus…who is the Lord, the King…and the Christ, the Messiah, God’s Chosen One. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother.

James wrote this letter to the people of God (twelve tribes is a reference to Israel, the Old Testament people of God). He’s writing to churches–communities of God’s people popping up throughout the 1st century Roman Empire. This letter has a powerful impact on these churches because James teaches how…

Real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others change, something’s off. This is abundantly clear in James, where the inescapably relational nature of following Jesus jumps off the pages. James, in his brief letter to the church, calls fellow church members “the brothers (and sisters)” 14 times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” James gives life-changing wisdom to a life-changing family. This is community spiritual formation.

At Calvary, community spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, hospitality initiatives, missional partnerships, community spiritual formation. Community spiritual formation is described nicely in a paragraph from our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”

 

Community spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. We do this at every age–kids ministry, youth ministry, men’s and women’s ministry, and LIFEgroups, and we pray that these relationships would be so honest, so loving, and so life-changing that a guest would be like, “Whoa, God is up to something here!” We pray that God would shape us as such through James’ letter to the churches in our series “Real Faith for Real People.” Following Jesus together should change our life.

Real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

Let’s look at James’ opening teaching to see how this rings true even in the messiness of life.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:2-4)

If suffering were random and pointless, there would be no possibility of joy. But because, for God’s people, suffering always has a point, there can be hope and joy even when we face a trial. God is not excited about our suffering but He does use it for our good because real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

Sometimes we look at our suffering hoping that it has an impact on someone else’s life, and that’s great. But James’ point here is that suffering can have an impact on MY life; it shapes my character and builds my endurance because real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If I really believe that God can redeem my suffering, make it useful in my personal growth, then I can have joy even in the hardest times. Coming up short when it’s time to pay rent is a huge trial, but it can also be a moment for growth…to work harder, to budget better, to get help, and to trust God with the results. Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend can be like a punch to the gut, but it’s also a chance to take stock of your own soul, to learn from the relationship, and to grow in order to be a blessing to a future partner. God wants to use every trial to grow your soul.

One of the awesome things about being in a LIFEgroup is that as the years go by you can support each other in trials AND watch how God grows each other in those trials.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (1:5-8)

Real faith enables teachability in confusion. Have you ever known you should have asked for help and then failed to do it? One of the most memorable pieces of advice Pastor Bill, our pastor emeritus, gave me in the year leading up to his retirement was something like, “If you don’t know, ask for advice. If you think you know, ask for advice.” Proverbs 20:18 says, “Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance.”

God gives wisdom generously and without discrimination. He wants to give it! So how does God give wisdom? He doesn’t just download from the cloud into your brain. No, He gives it to us in the Bible. The Bible is God’s trustworthy message for all people and has everything you need to live wisely in this world. So read it. Study it. Study it with other people who study it. And apply it!

Have you ever asked for wisdom only to not like what you hear and totally ignore it? That’s asking with doubt. One of the best pieces of advice I ever ignored was “don’t get a credit card, don’t spend money you don’t have.” I figured I had the self-control…but I didn’t. What’s really at the bottom of that is that I want what I want and am not content with what my good God has given me, but real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

To ask with faith is to ask trusting God’s greatness and His goodness and to do what He says. I should have cut up or locked up those credit cards and trusted that God would give me exactly what is best for me.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (1:9-11)

The idea of taking pride in humiliation just sounds crazy at first, but hear James out. The Gospel is a two-sided coin, it’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that I am so sinful that God Himself had to die for me; the good news is that I am so loved that He was glad to do it. The bad news is that I am far more sinful than I ever realized; the good news is that I am far more loved than I ever dreamed.

These two truths wash over people differently, especially depending on your social status. The Gospel elevates those who are low in social status yet humbles the rich and the powerful. A poor person doesn’t have much to lose in this world so the bad news doesn’t hit them as hard as it hits the rich. Instead, the good news fills the poor person with hope and confidence.

The rich person gets knocked off their high horse when they hear the bad news. The good news is still good to them, but the bad news “humiliates” them. If it wasn’t for God’s grace, they’d be nothing more than a wildflower: here today, gone tomorrow. Do you see how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

Real faith centers both the poor and the rich. Believing in a good God grounds the identities of the rich and the poor in their spiritual status–not in their worldly status.

James comes back to his original idea…persevering through trials…

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (1:12)

God doesn’t just use trials to grow us (see verse 2-4); God also rewards us at the end. James doesn’t go into detail on exactly how or when that reward comes. He might be referring to when we finally meet Jesus face-to-face when we die or when He returns. Regardless of the timing and nature of the reward, if I’m trusting in a good God, it’ll be worth it in the end!

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (1:13-15)

Every trial comes with a temptation. Your trial might be an unhappy marriage, so you’re tempted to get your affection elsewhere or even get a divorce. Your trial might be an illness, so you’re tempted to give up and get bitter. The trials are ruled over by God in order to grow us, but those temptations come from our own evil desires. God wants us to pass the test, but our evil desire wants us to give in to temptation. It is our own evil hearts that hijack the trials God means to grow us and turn them into temptations which lead to sin and death.

The metaphor James uses for giving into temptation is straight out of a horror movie. Our evil desires seduce us, and we get it pregnant a baby. The pregnancy holds all sorts of promise and we’re so excited about it, but what is born? Sin! Some grotesque demon-child, and that little baby grows up to have another baby–a “grandchild” named death–a serial killer who hunts us down.

So our evil desires are ultimately what we have to blame for temptation—not God…

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (1:16-18)

God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good. It is God’s very nature to be and do and give good. It is as constant as the sun, moon, and stars He created. Did the sun rise this morning? God is good. Did the moon stay on track? God is good. Did the same stars appear last night? God is good. Never forget the goodness of the God you believe in.

James picks one of the greatest gifts God has given: the new birth. Evil desire had given birth to sin whose baby death hunts us down, but thanks to God, we can be born into His brand new world, growing up and maturing and bearing fruit as we put His goodness in display.

If you aren’t part of God’s family, if you’re not a Christian, be born into God’s new family today through the word of truth. Jesus died to offer you forgiveness from sin and a whole new life. Pray, “God, have mercy on me. I’m a sinner and need Jesus to die in my place for my sins. I surrender my whole life to you. Please begin making me new!”

If you sincerely prayed that prayer today, let someone know so they can be helping you grow your understanding of the goodness of God because real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

If you have already surrendered your life to Jesus, remember and help others remember that real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Big Idea: Real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.

  1. What’s one of the most difficult situations you’ve ever been in?
  2. Read James 1:1-18 and take note of each time James mentions or implies the goodness of God.
  3. According to James, how does God’s goodness help us to persevere in hard times in each of these mentions?
  4. Which lesson is most important for you in your life right now and how can you better lean into our good, good God?

How good it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalms 133 & 134)

Do you like the end of summer? Probably depends on whether you like what comes next. The school year. Football! Autumn…and then winter. One of the certain things about this life is that every season must end so a new one can begin. For every single one of us, life itself will come to an end. How you feel about that probably depends on whether you look forward to what comes next.

This summer, we have studied the Songs of Ascent. The Songs of Ascent are a “playlist” of 15 psalms (Psalms 120-134) that ancient Israelites sang during their pilgrimage to worship God at the Temple in Jerusalem, three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). The journey was difficult and dangerous, and it became a metaphor for life in this broken world, which is difficult and dangerous. The songs of ascent put faithful language in the mouths of pilgrims for every season of life–whether good or bad. We’ve seen songs of trust for times of fear, songs of lament for times of heartbreak, songs of praise for times of joy, songs about wisdom, repentance, physical family, spiritual family, and even one that anticipates Jesus. And now we come to the end.

The goal of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem Temple was an encounter with the living God–where God’s love and truth breaks into our reality. At Calvary, our vision is to become an indispensable asset in the spiritual and cultural renewal of the Muskegon area–“a church for the community.”

We want to help people all across Muskegon love God like He deserves and love their neighbors like themselves, but in order to be that tool in God’s hand, we need spiritual and cultural renewal ourselves. It begins with us! And what does that renewal look like? The songs of ascent give us language for that journey.

The end of our journey together will be epic, and we get a taste now through God’s lavish blessing on His people.

Here’s Psalm 133:

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is

   when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,

   running down on the beard,

running down on Aaron’s beard,

   down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon

   were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing,

   even life forevermore. (Psalm 133 NIV)

It’s beautiful when God’s people live together in unity, but it’s tragic and ugly when they don’t. The background for verse 1 is a couple stories from Genesis where people who loved each other had to part ways because there wasn’t enough stuff to go around. One is the story of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13). The other is the story of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 36). Abraham and Lot and later Jacob and Esau decided NOT to live together in unity because there wasn’t enough water and pasture land to go around.

Relationships are at their best when there is abundance. For example, marriages are at their best when there is plenty of time and money to go around. But introduce a financial crisis or a busy season of life and even strong marriages can crumble. The assertion of Psalm 133 is that God provides a superabundance–not necessarily a superabundance of money or time but a superabundance of love–that enables relationships to flourish.

What’s the deal with verse 3? Mount Hermon is a mountain just north of Israel in modern-day Syria. Its snow-capped peaks are visible from the Sea of Galilee and other parts of Israel. The snow melt would create streams that make the surrounding area look more like the Swiss Alps than the Middle Eastern deserts nearby. Mount Zion is the dusty, rocky hill that Jerusalem sat on. On Mount Zion, water is scarce and green vegetation is sparse.

The idea here is “What if the waters of Mount Hermon suddenly fell on Mount Zion? What if all those life-giving streams and that green plant life showed up in our dry, dusty city? Wouldn’t that be amazing?” It’s like we’ll be saying in a few months, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be if Florida’s climate dropped on West Michigan?” This is another gift from above for the blessing of humanity…just like good relationships.

One theologian says, “True unity, like all good gifts, is from above: bestowed rather than contrived, a blessing far more than an achievement.” Think of it like this, in the terms of our church vision statement:

Spiritual renewal leads to cultural renewal.

Cultural renewal feeds spiritual renewal.

When God renews me and when God renews you, when we soak our souls in His love for us in Jesus Christ, when we lose our egos in the amazing grace of forgiveness from sin at the cross, we can live out of God’s lavish blessing. We no longer have to compete for or earn the love of others. Instead, God fills our love tank so that it overflows into others…cultural renewal.

This summer, Emily, my wife, led a LIFEgroup that went through a book called Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by author Lysa Terkeurst, and she told me about her favorite part: Lysa shared a story about a time she went to a gathering with a bunch of people who were strangers to her but apparently they all knew each other. They were all deep in conversation and she felt “alone in a crowded room.” She didn’t want to interrupt conversation but she wanted to look busy, pulled out her phone, went into her head, and started to get a little bitter. Lysa said she wished she would have prepared herself with the following thought: “I bring the fullness of God into this room with me. Therefore, I am on assignment to bring His acceptance and love into this room.” Even on their worst days, Christians can walk into a room–at work, at home, at church–as a giver. The idea is to be so full of and grounded in Christ’s love that you don’t wait for others to bless you but instead go first in blessing others. If you’re empty, you wait to be noticed. But if you’re full of Christ, you go out of your way to greet others.  If you’re empty, you wait for others to help or compliment you. If you’re full of Christ, you eagerly help and encourage others.

Here’s the thing: When this rich spiritual unity exists, the LORD renews more people more deeply! People not only hear the Gospel but they see cross-shaped people living out the Gospel, and that cultural renewal fans the flames of spiritual renewal.

We are in a season of abundance at Calvary. God’s blessings are clear, at least to me personally. We have been blessed by God by this amazing building and ministry location. We were able to get an elevator installed! We have many new members. Members are joining LIFEgroups, building deeper relationships with one another. Members excited about serving in ministries. Our giving this year has far exceeded expectations, and we have been able to keep spending under budget. Opportunities to share the Gospel hear in Muskegon and around the world abound so that we can get in on the action, get a piece of the joy of God’s work. All of these things are blessings from God.

But what happens when things get tough? When a recession hits. When tragedy strikes. When we struggle to make budget. When politics hit a boiling point. When people have competing ideas of what our church should be up to. What will we do? It’s my hope that we will turn to Jesus and to His love at the cross in those moments, that we will let His love fill us and guide us.

A song of ascents.

Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD

   who minister by night in the house of the LORD.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

   and praise the LORD.

May the LORD bless you from Zion,

   he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

Verses 1-2 seem to be the words of the pilgrims, now gathered in the temple courts, speaking to the priests and the Levites who work in the temple. Verse 3 seems to be the priests reply. “Praise” in verses 1-2 is the same word as “bless” in verse 3. So it really reads something like:

The people to the priests: “Bless the LORD, bless the LORD.”

The priests to the people: “No, may the LORD bless you!”

We cannot out-bless God! God receives our blessings like a parent receives birthday cards from their 2-year-old. When my kids give me a handmade card, I love it. But let’s be honest–it doesn’t even come close to equaling the blessing I bring to them (shelter, protection, food, clothing, etc.). Don’t get me wrong: God loves when we bless Him, but let’s be honest: The value of God’s blessing on me far far far outweighs the value of my blessing on God. We could go for days talking about how God out-blesses us, but I want to get right to the bottom line: Jesus.

Jesus is the greatest blessing we each need. He gave His life on the cross so that those who believe might be forgiven of sin. Is that a blessing you’ve received? Have you trusted Jesus and begun your journey with Him so that you might end it with Him? Say to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” Embrace His forgiveness! Run free from your sin! Be baptized as a symbol of your new life in Christ! And offer your whole life and agenda and attitudes and behaviors back to Him as a blessing.

The end of our journey together will be epic, and we get a taste now through God’s lavish blessing on His people.

Psalm 134 marks the end of the pilgrimage and the start of the festival, so it is, in a sense, saying, “Let’s get this party started!” There were three big festivals in ancient Israel: Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These were the biggest parties you’ve ever seen, all celebrating God and His redemption of His people. These festivals doubled as worship gatherings and family reunions. I imagine they were a little glimpse of the new heavens and earth. When God finally puts everything to right, once and for all saves His people from sin and death, and resurrects His people to live in everlasting peace together. That day is coming. Are you looking forward to it? If so, how has the LORD blessed you on your journey?

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Big Idea: The end of our journey together will be epic, and we get a taste now through God’s lavish blessing on His people. Spiritual renewal leads to cultural renewal. Cultural renewal feeds spiritual renewal.

  1. Read Psalm 133. What does this psalm teach us about about spiritual and cultural renewal? How has God ALREADY blessed us? What attitudes or practices should each member of Calvary adopt in order to invite and share the Lord’s blessing?
  2. Read Psalm 134. Verses 1-2 call on His people to “bless” the LORD (some translations use “praise” instead of “bless”), but verse 3 calls on the LORD to “bless” His people. How does humans blessing God differ from God blessing humans? How should this dynamic shape our thinking and living?
  3. How has the LORD blessed you on your journey through life?