Monday, March 30, 2009

James 1:16–18, "The Rewards of Faith"

Have you heard of Tony Dungy?
Have you heard of Laroy Rocquemore? Laroy Rocquemore was a person who influenced Tony Dungy tremendously, and if not for Laroy Rocquemore we probably would not know Tony Dungy as we do today. Tony Dungy, the first African-American coach to win a Superbowl, writes that when he was in high school he quit the football team. One of his closest friends, Bobby Burton, a receiver, was passed up as a team captain while Dungy, the quarterback, was picked. This happened between their junior and senior years playing high school football. Dungy writes in his book, Quiet Strength, "I just couldn't understand this. It seemed obvious to me that both of us should have been captains. I could only think of one explanation. For some reason the school didn't want two black captains. It seems impossible now." He writes that his football team had never had two black captains. He was so upset and no one could convince him the votes were counted correctly. He reacted according to his hurt and anger, and quit the team to show his disapproval. Because he was such a leader, many other African-American players quit the team too. A walk out had started. He writes, "I hadn't really thought about the possibility that when I decided I wasn't going to play the other kids would quit as well, but it didn't bother me. I just figured everybody had to make his own decision." His dad wanted to know what he would do to make the situation better instead of just reacting, but he said, "I was seventeen and I didn't care if the situation got better or not. My feelings were hurt, Bobby's feelings were hurt." He said, "I'll just play basketball."

As the team was preparing to practice again before the senior season began, a former school administrator of Tony's who tried to help young African-American kids asked him over for dinner. His name was Leroy Rocquemore. He said, "'Tony, you enjoy playing football and these other kids enjoy playing football. You should have your senior year to play. At the end of the day, what are you really upset about anyway?'" Tony writes, "I began to answer but he continued, talking over me, without waiting for a response." I hadn't realized his question was rhetorical. Mr. Rocquemore continued, "'Even if the issues are that important, should they spoil the fun that all of you should be having playing football as seniors? Thirty years from now you don't want to look back and see that you missed out on something you really loved doing.' Then he asked the question he really wanted me to answer, 'Why would you let anything stop you from doing what you have the ability to do?' Although I was convinced he was right I had always had quite a temper and my pride wouldn't allow me to back down."[1]

We'll come back to that story's outcome at the end of this entry. But for now, Dungy lived out what James warns against in verses 13 through 15, our own desires. The previous entry goes over how not to give into our evil or our own desires and lusts.
James says, (v. 13–15, NIV) "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

Now, in verse 16, James gives us a hinge verse, linking what "not to do" with what "to do." He says, (v. 16–18, NASB), "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren," (hinge verse). "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."
It is a common misconception that God and the Bible only tell us what we can't or should not do. Last entry was an example of that. But, when God tells us what "not to do," He also tells us what "to do." If you've worked with someone who has an addiction, or had one yourself, you know that those people need not just to quit, but to substitute it with something better. In Christianity, it is not about what we "don't do," but what "we do" for the Lord.

The first point I see in these verses is this: There are better rewards for keeping the faith, so
do not be deceived by what feels good (v. 16). God’s people should not be deceived by what feels good. This is that hinge verse, finishing the thought “do not be dragged away, abort evil desires,” and replacing pursuit of evil with pursuit of good. A comparison is coming, and vv. 13–15 were the negative, “Do not do this” and now we get to hear the “instead, focus on this.”
James is calling people's attention to this very important teaching, because he uses “my brothers,” a phrase mentioned at least 12 times in James; used to draw reader’s attention to what is being said. It's like his hearers have ADD or ADHD because he has to repeatedly address them. It is an attention getter when the letter was read out loud, and also a reminder that James says this in love (as we should always do when correcting one another--and we should be correcting one another in church more than we probably are--every church).
James uses "my brothers" twelve (12) in:
1:2— to have joy on trials; 1:19—warning us of speed limits; 2:1, 2:5—Don’t show favoritism to rich or poor; 2:14—faith without works is dead; 3:1—not many should presume to be teachers; 4:11— slander; Chapter 5 climaxes with four of them 5:7, 5:10—patience (takes a lifetime to master! Even then!); 5:12—not swearing; 5:19—Benediction summary.

What's the big deal? We know we should do what is right, not what is wrong. But is it just in our heads or has it made its way to our hearts? Our feet? Our mouths? Our eyes? Our hands? When we're alone?
Remember the image of the fish: lured or enticed and then dragged away by our own evil desires.
The fish went for what looked good. A lure is something neutral used for something evil. "Lust" can be good desire in Scripture, or the same word can mean evil desire. Be careful not to use the strong forces within you for evil or selfish gain, when God meant for them to be used towards His Kingdom.
An example of chasing after evil desires happens every fall in Wisconsin. The male deer, bucks, get one thing on their mind (and you know what that thing is). They will not stop until they have accomplished that mission. They get hit by cars and trucks all the time as they blindly chase these evil desires. If you see a doe racing across the road, stop. There might be a doe chasing it. This is the picture of us when we are led away by our own evil desires. We chase and pursue what feels good until we are suddenly interrupted and "smacked" by the consequences, just like the bucks are "smacked" by a passing vehicle.
2 Tim 2:22 says, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
How do I apply this? What do I do instead of my own evil desires when they come? Instead of gossip, love your enemies and do good to those who hate you
i. Instead of pride, be humble 1 Pet 5, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, therefore humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord that He may exalt you at due time, casting all your cares on Him for He cares for you.” Instead of lust/longing for what we don’t have, be thankful and content with what God has given us.

Lust is not just physical or sexual lust, but can be for material things or money, power, control, or things we ingest into our body (food, drink, alcohol, drugs).
The opposite of lust is not boredom, but as 2 Timothy points out the opposite is using that God-given drive or hunger for more to ingest Godly attributes (see 2 Timothy passage above).
This doesn’t mean be satisfied and not try to better yourself, but thank God for what He has given you.
Start thanking God for what He has given you as well.
Proverbs 7, remember from last entry, (v. 25 and following), "Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng." She has a ditch like a holocaust picture full of dead bodies. Beware!
What God does in Proverbs next, chapter 8, is portray wisdom (God's point of view) as a woman as well, doing a similar dance of enticement for our attention and benefit.

Proverbs 8:1 and following says, "Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud; 'To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.'"

He goes on about the benefits of wisdom.
James tells us this going into verse 17, CHOOSE GOD'S GIFTS, NOT THE WORLD'S.
Sometimes I can get led astray by all the discount book offers I get in the mail. Books are great, but wasting my money every time I feel curious about a new book is the opposite of wisdom, and wrong.
Have you tasted everything in the world and found it lacking? Don't be led astray by anything, James warns!
Apart from God, we will never find "gifts" that fulfill our needs. Our itch cannot be scratched unless we consider what God has to offer.

Secondly, Verse 17, James tells us God has much better gifts for us! There are better rewards for keeping the faith, so secondly, choose God’s gifts, not the world’s. THIS IS THE REWARD OF FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS. God is the source of all good and perfect gifts, and God does not change, so the source of good gifts will not change. All good and perfect gifts are from above, coming down from the Father of lights, in Whom there is no change, nor shifting shadow. James connected the negative desires giving birth to temptation and sin and death, with those things we should desire, rooted in the One who gave us birth to produce the greatest fruit of all He created.
Every good or perfect gift is not where you always feel guilty afterwards. It's not over where you always feel regret, or where you beat someone up to feel better.
There are two different words used for gifts. In the NIV it combines the two, using only one word for "gift," but in the original there are two distinct words for "gift." "every good gift and every perfect gift/endowment." The first one:
Every good gift (DO-sis, from BDAG and TDNT meaning gifts more common or given among men. This is used in Phil 4:15, of Paul’s reception from the Philippians and none other, “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone”)
This first word for “gift” means more common, or given among men, such as:
Phil 4:15, “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone.”
The second word is “complete/perfect gift” or “perfect endowment.”
"Every complete/perfect gift," DOE-ray-ma, is a more elevated style.[2] This word is used of God’s gifts to men, such as in:
Rom 5:16, “the gift [DOE-ray-ma] is not like that which came through the one who sinned, for on the one hand, the judgment arose from one transgression, resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand, the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.”
“is from above”
See James 3:17 too, where the wisdom that comes from above is preferred, coming from God. THIS IS PART OF THE GOOD/PERFECT GIFT TO SEEK
Is the point of James that there are different gifts? The point is where all good things come from, which is from God.

Yes, we should seek God's gifts over worldly gifts, but in the end, whether we receive from a man's hands or supernaturally from God, the truly good things come from God.
So then, no matter where you find kindness, goodness, peace, self-control, joy, or agape love, it came originally from God. No matter where you get the rent money at the last minute, or the health care for your baby, it came ultimately from and because of God.
This means also that the truly good things are what God desires for us, not our own evil desires. Thus, the seeking of what is Godly instead of our own desires results in receiving the best gifts from God.
Notice how James words this, in the passive sense, as in 1:5 speaking of wisdom, "it will be given to him," now saying, "comes from God." By saying this instead of "God gives wisdom" or "God gives the best gifts," James tells us God is sovereign, good, gracious.
Application: Seek God and His righteousness—that’s where you will scratch the itch to your deepest desires.

What if you don't believe or follow Jesus and are reading this? You ask, "Where do I begin?"
Begin by believing that Jesus died because of your sin and confess that sin. Confess you are a sinner, and need God's forgiveness. Believe that God loved you in spite of your sin and Jesus Christ was crucified because sinners should have been (sinners like me). Believe Jesus died for you but also didn't stay dead. He was alive for good on the third day as many witnesses admit, and commit to follow Him. There is a God shaped hole in everyone’s heart, and temporarily fillings leave you wanting more. Only in believing and following Jesus can we have satisfaction and fill the void in us.
My prayer for those who have heard this and don't follow Jesus is that you would never rest until you find rest in Him.

God is the source of what feels good and lasts.
I bought some Easter candy recently for the kids. When you eat that, you get a sugar spike and temporarily have a lot more energy, but when the sugar low hits later you are lower than when before you ate the candy. But eating proper food gives energy that lasts. So too, pursuing God's best instead of our natural desires produces longer lasting satisfaction.
A blacksmith worked for a Tyrant king a long time ago. His only desire was to please that Tyrant. He came into his king's presence once, and his king ordered him to make a chain. Upon finishing the chain, the blacksmith presented it to the king. The Tyrant was not happy, and told him to make it twice as long. The blacksmith complied and later returned with the chain as ordered. The Tyrant commanded him to make a second chain of equal length. Again, the blacksmith complied and later returned now holding two chains of the same length. The last time the blacksmith came in, with three chains, the Tyrant ordered the guards to take the three chains the blacksmith had made and bind him in jail.

That is a picture of what happens when we continually give into our evil desires. We think we're pleasing the tyrant master called sin and don't realize we are slowly creating a cell of bondage for ourselves. When we least expect it we wake up to find we are bound to the desires we once controlled!
But not if we seek God's great and perfect gifts. Loving people with agape love is how we grow, as are patience, kindness, goodness, joy, self-control, slowness to anger.
Tonight 10 minutes after sunset, with binoculars, look to the West, and you will see the planet Venus reflecting the sun. Think of the awesomeness of all the planets out there in our solar system, our closeness to the sun so we neither freeze nor burn, within a solar system, within a galaxy, within a universe of many galaxies. God is the Father of all lights! All we can see above us. The Bible says God knows them all by name. The lights may change, but what does James say about God?
“change” was used to describe the way the planets and stars moved in their apogees; “shadow of turning” also a phrase for heavenly bodies in their rotation. The language in Greek for these terms were familiar to astronomy or astrology, describing the changing planets in the sky. It is very important to understand that though God is Lord of all the heavenly bodies we can see, and those planets and bodies continuously move and change, God Himself does not change.
If you look at Venus like I suggested, you will have to keep adjusting your telescope. Why? It is slowly but surely moving, as are we on Earth.
But not God! If today God is good enough to do what is best for me and has the best gifts for me to seek, and gives them to me, then tomorrow that will be true too!
Right now the world is scary, the economy has resulted in layoffs and hard times. But I say even if I lost everything, I would trust in God to provide all my needs, not necessarily all my wants. We can have confidence that God will supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
Call out to Him. Ask God. James says in 4:2, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures!”
I urge the reader ask God now, today for that need that no one has been able to meet. Experience the greatness of God.
God is the giver of all good and all perfect gifts, and God has not changed, nor does He ever change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Thirdly there are better rewards for keeping the faith, which result in fruit.
In other words, we are chosen by God to be the highlight of creation (v. 18). We are to be God's first fruits. James 1:18 says, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created."
We read in Leviticus 23:10–25, how God instituted a law that the people would bring Him the first and best of the land called the first fruits. In our worship for this topic when it was preached, we read that passage in Leviticus together. You should take a minute to read it too before continuing.
Now, having read the background for what a "first fruit" was, it is amazing that James refers to us as God's first fruit of all creation. God's harvest, the first (especially in James' time) and the best in His eyes.
Out of everything God has made, mankind is the pinnacle of creation. Out of mankind, Jesus said "I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it," and out of the church, Jesus looks for that first fruit, which are the believers sold out to God to do His good works.
It means a faith not just in my head or heart, but in my hands and feet. Faith that works.

James switches in v. 18 to past tense. He's giving a history lesson.
Every since James 1:1, James has spoken in present tense. Look at it.
He has said in the last few verses, "Don’t give into evil desires, that will conceive sin, and give birth to death, don’t be deceived [by what feels good], choose God’s gifts, not the world’s, God does not change!"
Now he switches to past tense. James switches from present to past tense. By His will he gave birth to all believers so that they are the firstfruit of all He created.
What single event was the Word of truth? Jesus Christ—God becoming flesh, and believing the Gospel for salvation. Jesus coming into a person's life has brought that person new life, and because of that new life, we can have a first fruit for the Lord.James connected the negative desires giving birth to temptation and sin and death, with those things we should desire, rooted in the One who gave us birth to produce the greatest fruit of all He created.
The one thing you need to know if you are stuck in mire, filthy, sinning, feeling guilty, not wanting to crawl out of bed in the morning—is that God made you with the purpose to make the greatest parts of His creation.
What is the peak of God’s creation? Mankind. What is the peak of mankind, the peak of God’s creation? The church, the redeemed saints. What is the peak of mankind, the peak of God’s creation, the peak of the church? Those believers who are producing good works for God.
Don’t be deceived by what feels good!
Choose God’s gifts, not the world’s
And Know that God has chosen His people to be the highlight of creation
God wants to do a work in you that you could never do yourself. Look at the pictures of the hubble telescope, galaxies far, far away, beautiful paintings and artwork, music that makes grown men cry; deep sea creatures, millions of species of plants and animals all over the world, and nothing comes close in God’s sight to when a child He redeemed does good works for Him.
You and I have the ability to gain God’s favor—make Him smile—like no one else, if we will devote ourselves to doing His good works! But it happens only by the word of truth—which is the gospel of Jesus Christ taking root in your life. Then you are reborn in Christ, and the Holy Spirit comes in to begin a new nature.
Do you have the ability to be the highlight of God's creation? You can only say yes if you have already said yes to Jesus Christ, and believe that His death for your sin is acceptable, and that His resurrection is true. You must commit to follow Him.
I always end with this note, because it is the most important decision a person could ever make. Consider it, won't you? If you are already following Jesus (a disciple, not just a decision) then examine your life and find an area where you can devote yourself more to following Him.
Tony Dungy concludes this section of Quiet Strength by telling that he thought he was right. He said, "I alwasy had quite a temper and my pride just wouldn't allow me to back down. I could understand Mr. Rocquemore's point but from a moral standpoint I still was pretty sure that I was right. Plus at seventeen pride and hurt feelings can be pretty overwhelming emotions. Mr. Rocquemore knew that I would have trouble asking Coach Driscoll to return to the team, so he said that he would talk to him and do his best to smooth everything over. 'I'll tell him you want to play and make everything alright. Don't worry about it.' So after he talked to Coach Driscoll, Mr. Rocquemore arranged for the three of us to meet. Coach was a very principled guy and he set the tone for the meeting. Here's what he said, 'Tony, you can come back, but you've missed winter conditioning, you've missed summer workouts. You guys,' he knew that if I came back the others would coem back, 'are going to have to do some extra stuff to earn your way back.' He mentioned extra running, washing the dishes at camp, and so forth as his requirements, 'If I'm going to let you back.' When he had finished I think the only thing I heard was 'If I'm going to let you back.' I was getting mad, thinking, 'If he's going to let me back?' I started to get visibly upset, and Mr. Rocquemore gave me a look. It was the same look I would later give John Lynch during a press conference before the 1999 championship game in St. Louis. That look that kept me quiet and in my seat. For all the while, even Mr. Rocquemore was thinking 'Now why did Coach have to go there.' After the meeting he took me aside and said, 'Coach is the coach and you're the player. And there are times in life when you're just going to have to do certain things. That's just how it goes. That's a lesson you're going to have to learn to get through life.'"[3]
What happened when Tony Dungy gave into his own desires and quit the team? Was he able to just join again and act as if he had never lost his temper? Was he able to act as if he had never led the walkout and cost the football team other valuable players? No. He had to do some cleaning up to fix what he had damaged.
There may be some cleanup when we decide to seek after God's gifts, which are better. The rewards for serving God faithfully, consistently, everyday, are much much greater and longer lasting than the rewards for serving our own desires.
[1] Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength.
[2] See A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for all my research on Greek to English meanings.
[3] Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength.

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