Sunday Sermon Notes: February 17, 2019

Title: Love Not the World

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Now that we are clear on who we are, and what the realities of life in Christ are, John turns to the world around us. John isn’t referring to the natural world, he’s referring to the world of Mankind; the culture, society, the impulses, the way things are here…  in this I don’t mean “culture” in the sense that John is speaking against literature or music or opera or culture in that sense, but instead the impulses and ways of men and society.  If we were to say that we live in a “dog eat dog world,” we would be referring to the impulses and ways of this world; that is what John is getting at. John is telling us that we are not to love the world or anything in it and if we do, we have a spiritual problem for sure.

The “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” are often cited as the three main categories of sin.  Clearly these do not come from God, for as John puts it, they come from the world. If you think about it, so much of what people consider important has more to do with impressing others than with anything else.  Why are we so often driven by career advancement?  Why do we need so much stuff?  Why is your living room fancier than your bedrooms?  Why do you need the fancy car instead of the economy car?  Must I spend $100.00 on a tie? Why do we want what somebody else has? Our knee-jerk answer to these kinds of questions might be “sin” but John goes deeper than that; this comes from the world.  Jesus nailed the thought down when He said that we “prefer the praise of men.”

In the final analysis, this world, its ways, and everything in it will pass away, but the love of God endures forever. Our Lord showed us a life that was lived for the love of God.  Isn’t that where our love should be? I’ve heard people say that we are here to fix the world, but I must state clearly that this is a mistake; we were never commanded to fix the world− The world is passing away!  We are commanded to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with people, so that they may be saved from the world’s fate.

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TLP Inspiration: February 16, 2019

donmerrittonline.com

Truth

Good Saturday from the Heartland.

Does the truth really count for anything anymore? Does anybody really care, or is the truth just whatever it seems like to me?

Does government tell us the truth about anything, say the economy for instance?  Do athletes tell the truth about steroids? How about the news media, are they telling the truth about the stories they report?

Well, I can’t say, for there is clearly enough falsehood flying around out there that when people do tell the truth you really have to wonder…

So, what is truth?

We aren’t the first people to ask this question; in fact, it’s as old as the Scriptures.  It’s a question that Pilate asked Jesus two thousand years ago. (John 18:38) Jesus told Pilate that He “came into the world to testify to the truth.” He also taught us  that He is “The way, the truth and the life”  (John 14:6)

As Christians there is one thing that we can be certain of: Jesus is Truth; His words are true.  We need to keep this in mind as we see and hear the world around us proclaim “alternate” truths.  If these “truths” are in conflict with the teachings and person of Christ, they are falsehoods. As we listen to newscasts talk about things that are in conflict with what Jesus taught… we know what to conclude.

The truth is that very little in this world is what it appears to be! This is the lesson of Scripture and it is the lesson of history, and it is the first rule of understanding our world.

We can place our faith and our trust in Jesus− all else is questionable.

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Thoughts on the Words We speak

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

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James 3:7-12

James’ discussion of the tongue continues in these verses with a bit of hyperbole. While there are people who tame all sorts of animals, who can tame their tongue? Well, it isn’t easy is it?

The hyperbole, as I see it, is in suggesting that the tongue cannot be tamed at all. Taming the tongue is very difficult for most of us, but if it were impossible, what would be the point of this passage? From time-to-time folks come along who insist on a literal interpretation of everything and they sometimes object to my assertion that the Bible contains hyperbole. In the unlikely event that you are one of those, let me just politely ask you if you would take this passage to justify tossing “F-bombs” all over town… after all, the tongue cannot be tamed; “F-bombs” are normal, right?

James points out that the same mouth can both praise God and curse those made in His image and the very strong implication is that this is not an acceptable way for followers of Jesus to behave. Certainly, it is almost impossible for me to imagine Jesus doing this, and since He is our model, I think we can safely conclude that this is also not the way we should conduct ourselves.

At the risk of shocking some, I would also say that there is much more at stake here than some kind of a “violation” because we might have uttered a “forbidden” word. No, that is entirely an Old Covenant perspective of Law and violations. In Christ, things are different. Cursing our brother is not simply a “violation” of some code, it is tearing down one of God’s sacred children. It isn’t simply about one’s choice of phrasing, it’s showing disdain for someone who God loves so much that He was willing for His Son to die to save that person, and thus it is a direct affront to God Himself. It is surely not an example of love in action.

This is a pretty obvious point, and I realize that James (and I) have covered this same principle in the discussion about favoritism, so I will leave it at that. Instead, I will close by recounting something one of my instructors taught years ago that made an impression on me that has stuck with me over time. She said that the way you speak is the way you think; if your language is sloppy and undisciplined, so will your thoughts be sloppy and undisciplined. If that is the case, your reasoning will be virtually non-existent.

Something to reflect upon, perhaps?

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Taming the Tongue

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

James 3:3-6

In this curious little paragraph, James fixes his attention on the tongue, or maybe more correctly on what words it sends out…

Using three metaphors to make his point, James set his focus on the damage a tongue can cause.  His first metaphor is a bit that is put into a horse’s mouth. By the use of a bit, a rider can control where a horse goes. Next is the rudder of a ship. This relatively small device controls a ship’s course and by adjusting the rudder, a ship can begin a whole new course for either good or ill.  His third metaphor is a small spark that can set an entire forest ablaze.  Small parts can do great good or great damage.

So it is with the tongue. It is a relatively small part of the body, but when it is misused, it can create tremendous damage, and set a dangerous course for its owner. Of course, the tongue itself is a metaphor, for James is not really talking about anatomy, but the words we speak.

When we speak (or write) we chart a course of sorts; we commit ourselves. We get married by saying “I do.” We can pledge allegiance by saying the words, we can build others up by saying encouraging words, and we can tear people down with abusive words. We can give God glory and we can commit blasphemy with the words we speak. We can use our tongues to plot a course to either heaven or hell.

So what will we say today?  Will we build up, or tear down. We will spread love and goodness, or will we spread evil and discord?  Will we glorify God, or will we defame His name?

The choice is up to each of us.

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Teachers

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.  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 3:1-2

As the third chapter begins, James abruptly changes the subject from faith and deeds to taming the tongue; to the extent that there is any transition at all, this is it.

So, you want to teach, do you? Teaching God’s Word is a very high calling, but I wouldn’t advise that you do it just because you want to be “up front”.

As James clearly states, those who teach will be held to a higher standing. I must add that with this in mind, I would have expected that some of our “teachers” would be more careful about what they teach!

Teaching the Word is a calling, and it is not to be taken lightly. It seems to me that we all need to realize when we know something and when we think we know something and be willing to disclose the difference. All too often, Christian teachers present their systematic theology as an established fact when it really reflects an opinion… and this causes no end of trouble. The opinion may or may not be correct, you see. Other times, teachers are more concerned about being right than they are about making disciples, preferring to take the “my way or the highway” approach to everything. Careful, we are held to a higher standard!

Yes, we all stumble sometimes, for we are not perfect. In my case, I have no problem admitting that I am rather far from it. I am quite fallible; I make mistakes all the time. In fact, my dear readers have been known to let me know when I’ve messed up, or at least when they believe that I have. .. and that is fine by me, since we are all in this journey together. So, let’s continue in our journey, giving God all of the glory while accepting none for ourselves, so that many may come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, that they can join His family, and live in His love as we journey along the road of life in unity.

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More Faith and Deeds

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2:20-24

James’ discussion of faith and deeds continues in these verses; it seems that James has heard a lot of silly talk. He gives us some evidence for his assertion that deeds must accompany faith, citing Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac when God told him to do so. Yes, Abraham had faith in abundance, and as a result of that faith, he was willing to respond in obedience to God’s command.

Of course, we know the end of the story, God provided a substitute for Isaac, and Abraham passed his test of faith. As a result of that, the saying that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” was a true one, and James’ conclusion is that we will be declared righteous by what we do and not by faith alone.

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

James 25-26

Of all of the possible examples of active faith in the Old Testament, James picks the one involving a Gentile prostitute, an interesting choice, but then James is the one who was just teaching us about favoritism in the last chapter. You might also recall that the author of Hebrews used these two examples as well, and that is one reason some have theorized that James could be the author of Hebrews.

Rahab’s story is told in Joshua 2. It seems that she recognized the God of the Israelites as the true God, and when she encountered the spies, even though they were strangers, and even though she took a great risk, she saved them and aided greatly the fall of Jericho. Thus, because of her faith in the true God of Israel, she acted and is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Once again, James draws his conclusion: Faith without deeds is as dead as the body without the spirit.

I have noted the arguments that result from these kinds of statements often enough and I won’t get into that again here. Rather than argue for our doctrinal position as opposed to another doctrinal position, I would hope that by now we can look at this passage and others like it, and ask instead what this tells us about our walk with Jesus. I can tell you one thing for sure: If all we can do with this text is argue, then our faith is dead!  James is trying to teach us that our faith in Christ, our love for God and our position as Christ’s Ambassadors have nothing to do with debates ad arguments, for in debating amongst ourselves, we are not sharing His love. If we can’t stop fighting, we can’t share Christ…

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Faith Without Action is Dead

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

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 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? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:12-17

James now transitions from his discussion of favoritism into putting our love into action. Verses 12 and 13 accomplish this transition by reminding us that we cannot operate behind God’s back or in secret. If we speak and act in ways that are not demonstrative of God’s love in us, we will have a problem with God. This takes us to verses 14-17 where the old arguments take place; quite the battlefield with casualties littering the field.

“Faith versus Works”: Oh my, here we go again!

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written this, but this argument is a complete non-starter and entirely invalid; they are not mutually exclusive. As I have written time and again, salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation, however, is not the end of the story, it is the beginning. Deeds are part of our response to this grace, they come after salvation. They are not the way we earn it, for salvation cannot be earned. The real difficulty comes when we receive our salvation by grace through faith and then boldly declare that all is done and we never need to “do” anything; this is a contradiction of Scripture, no matter how many verses you cite out of context.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  James drops a rhetorical question here and then continues with a hypothetical. This hypothetical gives us a fairly obvious situation where action is required, in which any sane person would agree that action is required, and then points out that the kind of faith that would just wish the destitute person well but do nothing to help them is dead.

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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2:18-19

If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then we will do as He did. If we love one another, our love must be active as His love was active. If we are servants of Jesus Christ, then we must serve Him by serving others and putting their interests ahead of our own. If we would share the love of God with others, then we must actually share it, and that involves much more than mere empty words. Having His love and compassion for others means more than preaching sermons and then saying we want higher taxes (on someone else) and then letting the government handle the problem, for the pagans and atheists do that much: We are different from the world! As His followers, we are called to actually share His love in an active way with those around us.

Yes, this requires that we DO something!

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