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Consider whether you are living with a worldly faith and not a saving faith. A saving faith is manifested in the way you deal with temptation and trial and in the way you treat others, no matter their status. As a follower of Christ, you want to live by and be guided toward truth, righteousness, purity, faith and love.
Truth About Prayer and Healing
The Truth About Suffering and the Believer
The Truth About Wealth and the Joneses
The Truth About Slander and Silence
The Truth About Conflict in Our Lives and Communities
The Truth About Transformed People
The Truth About the Tongue
The Truth About Genuine Faith
The Truth About How to Treat People
The Truth About the Believer and the Word
The Truth About Temptation and How True Believers Respond
The Truth about Troubles and Trials
The book of James. Elder James writing to the early church. James gets a bad rap. They think he's the bad guy who just lays the wood down on you and tells you what you must do. A lot of folks when they get in the book of James think that, in fact, James is telling you what you need to do for God to love you. That is not the case at all.
James is telling you what you will do if God is, in fact, at work in your life because you've been indwelt by his Spirit. James is letting the church know that if you are not what God intended you to be, the world will never know he was who he claimed to be. You are to be a city on a hill, set apart. You are to be salt and light in the midst of darkness.
If you look like everybody else, if you don't love the way God loves, then they will think, first, you're not his disciple or, secondly, in John 17 Jesus says, "They won't know that I'm in you as you're in me, because they're not in us; therefore, they will not be able to love like us." The book of James is not a book where you go as much to find out "What must I do to be saved?" as it is, "Having been saved, this is what you will become by the grace of God."
James is explaining how you can know you have more than a said faith, that you have a true saving faith, that you're not just somebody who has professed an agreement with some philosophical idea that there's a God and he's very good and you in your sin are very lost and there's a story of God's redemptive plan where he himself became a man and lived and died on a cross and gave himself to declare with power that he, in fact, was who he said he was, that he had overcome sin and death, and that he was raised from the grave.
If you have a relationship with Christ, you do more than know that. You do more than agree with the story I just told. You execute trust in that. When you trust in God's goodness and God's redemptive plan that his righteousness alone becomes your righteousness when you ask him for mercy and grace, it then produces in you something that will look like James' exhortation. James is letting you know faith that doesn't produce something is dead.
That is not just a Jamesian idea. Paul, who is often seen as a counterpart to James… In fact, Martin Luther, who saw the church claiming that people must believe not just in what Christ had done… What the large part of the church in the early fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was claiming was, "Christ died to make salvation possible, but you must do these things, perform these sacraments, and stay rightly related to the church or you are not going to heaven.
We've been given the keys to heaven, and if we don't bless you and announce that, in fact, you are fit for God, then you will have to work your way through some post-life purgatory that may get you there or may not. So you'd better show up, pay up, and keep up." Martin Luther, when he was reading Romans and Galatians and other Scripture, rightly protested that heresy, that false idea that the righteous live by anything other than faith.
The Scriptures were dead on when they said, "The righteous live by faith. Abraham was saved by faith. He had faith in God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it's a gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one should boast." Listen to this. This is Paul. "But we are God's workmanship, that God has prepared good works for us beforehand that we should walk in them."
That's what James is saying. Luther was so focused against the people who were telling folks they needed to do these things to be saved that when he came across what we're about to look at the next time we're in James together after tonight and he saw, "Faith without works is dead," he just went, "That's a right strawy epistle." In other words, it made him bristle when he came up against it.
What Luther at first glance wasn't seeing was that Paul and James were not enemies fighting each other about the gospel; they were common warriors against heresy. It is heresy that you must do anything other than genuinely believe in the finished work of Christ to have his righteousness transferred to you. It is also heresy that if you say certain things there is really no need for it to produce any effect in your life, that you can just continue as you always were and grace saves you.
Paul says, "Might we continue to sin that grace would abound? May it never be!" James says it differently. He just says, "Faith that doesn't produce in you any effect is dead. It's not real faith." Do you want to know how you can know you're saved? Well, then you know the truth about Christ, you agree with what Christ has proclaimed, and you trust in him, and when you trust in him the Bible says you come into relationship with God and that his Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit (same name), produces in you a fruit.
What's the very first fruit Paul says? It is love. What's the second fruit? It is joy. What does James say? "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you experience various trials and get beat down from without." Paul says one of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. What does James say? James says when you are not just overwhelmed by outside trials but overcome by internal temptation you will exhibit self-control, because it's no longer you who live but Christ lives in you. Paul again. These are brothers.
James, in the early years of the church… The very first letter the Holy Spirit unleashed on the church was written by Elder James, Brother James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, the leader, pastor, and elder of the church in Jerusalem. In writing a letter to remind them, "We have a problem. Trials without, temptations within…" He says, "Watch your mouth. Be slow to speak, quick to hear, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God."
James is going to say one of the ways you can know you're truly saved is that your mind has changed, which informs your tongue; your manner has changed, which informs your relationship; and your morality has changed, which screams to the world there is something supernatural happening in you. James is saying when you go to the Word, let it change you. Let the Word of God, which is alive in you, bring about transformation.
In James 1:27, where we ended last week, it says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress…" That is pure and undefiled belief. It changes your manner, the way you relate to others. A little bit earlier, it talks about how we should be careful with our mouth. It should not go wagging on about what God has done. If a man does not bridle his tongue, it says in verse 26, he deceives his own heart, and this man's religion is worthless.
Your mind is changed, so when things are hard you don't curse God and say, "He has forgotten me" and deceive your own heart and have no faith that really produces change. Then he says it changes your manner. You treat orphans and widows differently. It goes on to say, specifically, you will keep yourself unstained by the world. In other words, your morality will change.
I'm here to tell you if you have a relationship or you think you have a relationship with Jesus and your mind, your manner, and your morality are not changed, if the way you think and, therefore, speak about God, the way you deal with temptations and trial, the manner in which you treat other people, and the morality you live by (not with perfection, but the direction of your life is toward purity and righteousness and truth and faith and love) haven't been transformed, then you ought to really consider whether or not you have a genuine faith or just a said faith.
Let me show you one more thing. Paul is saying the very same thing in Ephesians, chapter 5. In verse 18 it says, "Don't be drunk with wine." In other words, don't let something come inside of you that controls you that dissipates you. "Don't be drunk with wine, for that is dissipation." We call them spirit shops. That is because when the spirit of alcohol controls you, you become less of a man, less of a husband, less of a friend. You become less of the woman God intended you to be. Nobody gets better when they're drunk until maybe they pass out.
God says, "I didn't make you to be there in some unconscious state; I made you to be alive and productive in this world." What he's talking about here is letting something control you that makes you less glorious than God intended you to be. What he goes on to say is "Be filled with the Spirit." A lot of error comes from this. Too many people think of the word filled as necessarily demanding that something comes into that which is empty.
That's not the word there in Ephesians 5:18. When you have spirit of alcohol in you, it controls you. That's the idea here in Ephesians 5:18 with "Be filled with the Spirit." We use the word filled like that in the English language all the time. Granted, sometimes my gas tank is empty and I need to fill it up, put something in there to increase the volume, but that's not the only way we use it.
Consistent with the context here, we use filled this way. That guy on I-75 in the midst of traffic who first gave the one-finger salute and then threw something out his car at you, and then it escalated from there… We're going to say that guy was filled with rage. Nobody thinks he went and got a bottle of rage and downed it. What we're saying is he was controlled by anger.
When you find somebody who is acting in a way that is lustful and forcing himself on another person, they will say, "I was filled with lust." No one thinks he went and got a six-pack of lust. What we're saying is he was controlled by this spirit of desire to get what he wanted on the terms he wanted it when he wanted it. Paul is saying you should be controlled by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of truth. When you are, your mind will change.
You'll always know no matter what trial you're in that God is good, and you will trust in his righteousness alone. Even in a shaking, changing world, you'll be unchanging in your testimony. "My God is good. He's in the heavens. He does whatever he pleases. He is to be highly exalted. His ways aren't my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so his thoughts are above mine. I love him and trust him, and I will follow him."
You speak with a different mind; therefore, your tongue is different. You speak with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, and you will always give thanks in everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father. Then it goes on to say it'll change your manner. You won't rule over people. You won't treat certain people differently than others. You won't think you're too good to fellowship.
I don't care if you're a husband. You will be subject to your wife, even though your role is for her to be subject to you. You'll be subject to one another in love. Then you will lead the way Christ leads, subject to what is best for you, and you won't rule with selfishness or empty conceit, because it'll change your manner. Then he goes on in Ephesians to talk about how it changes your entire morality.
That's exactly what James is saying. Do you all see this? Do you want to know if you're alive in your faith? Do you want to know if you really believe in Christ and don't just have a profession without a possession of the Spirit of God? It ought to change your mind, which changes your tongue. It changes the manner in which you relate to other people, and it changes your morality. James is going to unpack those the rest of the book.
He starts in James, chapter 2, by telling you, "Listen. I want you to know the purpose of God's Word is to bring about transformation, not just information." God's Word is to change you. You don't just stop sinning; you start serving and become sanctified. You don't just stop stealing; you start giving. You don't just stop lusting; you start loving. It produces in you something. You don't just stop being materialistic; you start being generous.
If that's not happening, then there's something not exactly as it should be, which is you in relationship with Jesus Christ, yielded to his Spirit, for the sake of the glory of God. What he's going to start with now in James, chapter 2, as he dives into all this, is that the purpose of God's Word is not to give you a big head but a burning heart, a heart that causes you to desire the things of God and to love as your Father loved.
He's going to say simply this. Remember James 1:18? It says God brought you forth by the power and truth of his Word and you became his children, a form of firstfruits. In other words, you are the very first product of God's redemptive work in the world. James is desperate for the church to be the church, because the church is going to be the means through which the rest of the world hears about what Christ has done.
Christ discipled men, Christ indwells men, and he wants now other men to know who he is. If you don't love the way he loves, if your heart isn't burning to honor God, then the Spirit of God is not in you, because that's what the Spirit of God always does. It exalts Christ, and just like Paul says in Ephesians, it will change the way you relate to others. So he dives in. Look at James 2:1-13. That's where we're going to focus tonight.
"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself ** ,' you are doing well.**
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery ** ,' also said, ** 'Do not commit murder ** **.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."
All right. Are you ready? Let us learn what this means.
Father God, I pray for my friends tonight, that in our short time together you would open the eyes of their hearts, that you'd let them see your heart for them. As it says in James 1, if we are effectual hearers and not just individuals who are deluded in our understanding, we will be blessed. So help the Word become implanted in our hearts.
Help the Spirit to illumine it, and more than that, Father, give us hearts that are ready to receive it, that it might become deeply rooted in us and produce what it always produces. We pray this for the glory of your Son, the furtherance of your kingdom, and for the good of our souls and all who will benefit from our declaring the wonders of our God. Would you teach us now? Amen.
Let me show you what James is doing here. This is good stuff. He starts off in chapter 2, verse 1, by mentioning who Jesus is. He is our glorious Lord. He says, "Listen. If you say you have faith in God and yet hold an attitude of personal favoritism, you are in error." You have been brought forth by God by the power of his Word to be like him.
If you show certain people certain favor and other people you dismiss because of the way they look or what they can't do for you, you are not in relationship with that Lord, because God himself is an individual, an eternal, divine person who loves all men. Listen to these truths. Romans 2:11 says, "For there is no partiality with God."
In Ephesians 6:9 it's exhorting masters, "Be careful how you treat others. Give up threatening your slaves, knowing that both their master and yours is in heaven and there is no partiality with God." Colossians 3:25: "For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality."
Don't look at others based on who they are and what they do with a sense that that person is more valuable because they're beautiful, famous, glorious, or this person is less valuable because they're poor and unwanted by the world. We're not to look at each other at all based on any kind of external characteristic. It is normal to judge a book by its cover; it is just not divine. If you remember the character and nature of God…
First Samuel 16:7, God talking to Samuel: "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him [in those areas] ; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but [the divine nature] the Lord looks at the heart." James is saying, "If you're God's sons and daughters, if you're his firstfruits, you ought to look at the heart. The heart is all that matters to me."
Now, I'm not going to ask you to act like you're not drawn to beauty, that you're not drawn to provision, that you're not drawn to glory. I want to encourage you. You are created to be drawn to beauty and those with resource and those who are famous and full of distinguished presence. That is natural.
Here's the problem. If you look at human beauty, human wealth, and human fame, they are all fleeting and will not provide for you what God wants you to receive no matter how much you manipulate and whatever selfish angle you work to get from that human when God is the one who should provide you those things.
Worse than that, if you love rich people because they're rich, beautiful people because they're beautiful, famous people because they're famous, then you will seek meaning and life from them like they're gods, and they will do what all those kinds of people in our world typically think they are, that they're a god.
I love this statement by a guy named Lord Acton. You don't know who he is, and you shouldn't, but Lord Acton said something I could not agree with more. He said the rich are infinitely better off than the poor, because while the poor still think money will buy them happiness, the rich know better.
I'll say it to you this way. The beautiful girl who likes the way she looks in the glass is infinitely better off than the girl who's constantly struggling with her body image, doesn't like her nose, doesn't like her weight, and men's eyes don't follow her everywhere she goes, because the girl who is always followed by the eyes of men knows that's not enough to fill your heart.
The famous people I know will tell you, "If this is what the world is supposed to give me, I am still deathly sad," even though they won't always let you know it. So if you treat them like a god as a person who's supposed to have found life in true beauty, true glory, and true eternal fame, in true eternal wealth and provision, and yet you need that from them, they're not going to look where you are, by God's sovereign grace, put in the position to show them where life can be found. It is great error.
James is going to now go on and talk to you about being a person who obeys God, who loves as God loves and sees as God sees and does as God does. That's what his children do. I'm going to show you this is not just a Jamesian idea. It's not just an Isaiahan idea. It's not just a Johannine idea. It is a divine idea.
Again, don't beat yourself up that in your flesh at first, when you see a person you're used to seeing in a 2D surface in a 3D presence or that beauty catches your eye or that somebody who's wealthy who can provide for you, you might think, "Wow! How can I get some of that provision?" But do not trust in man. Cursed is the person who trusts in flesh, it says.
God is saying you have to understand that he's the provider. "Don't confuse the rich and the beautiful and the famous, and don't forget the poor and the impoverished and the unglorious, because they both need me." Just because you're rich doesn't mean you're spiritual. It also doesn't mean you're unspiritual. Just because you're poor doesn't mean you're going to be spiritual, and it doesn't mean you're unspiritual. They all need the same thing.
There is one Lord and one Master. He created them both, and they both need what you, Christian, have: a relationship with the living God. So you treat them the same. Now watch this. All James does is what the Holy Spirit has been asking his people to do all along. He doesn't want you just to show up in some service or some place and go through some ritual.
He wants your life to be conformed to him, because it is a life, when you do that, that the world goes, "That's the right way to live." See, the world does not love anybody who dismisses certain people who have seemingly no value to them, and the world doesn't love people who manipulate those who have more to get something from them. The world doesn't love people who think they're better than others. We have a little word for that. Do you know what it is? Snob.
Do you know where that comes from? Let me give you a little folk etymology here, the origin of that word. The story that has been brought to bear I'll teach you in a moment. The origin of the word snob… It was just a nickname or even, you might want to say, a dismissive way of referring to a cobbler or his apprentice. They were called snobs.
Now it is true in about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that students at Cambridge, in their tweed and all their learning and study of books and smoking of pipes, started to call anybody who was not among the elite intellectual in England who were advancing in understanding… They called everybody, as a class of people, snobs.
Not just cobblers, but anybody who was learning a trade instead of learning how to be a great student of the languages and read Chaucer and Shakespeare and advance in science and mathematics and physics and English and fine talking they called snobs. The folk etymology has also that some of the students at Cambridge and Oxford would go through the exam list and write next to them "s.nob." which is short for sine (which means without) nobilitate (nobility). Without nobility.
What they did is even at Cambridge and Oxford (this is now the folk etymology), they distinguished amongst the students the true aristocrats, people of royal lineage and people who had been distinguished for some time, from those students who had just through hard work and study and favor from some noble person made their way in.
It was said also that certain pursers would write on a ship's charter next to certain passengers in the ship "s.nob.", that these were just commoners traveling on the vessel, so the captain could pick the social elite to dine at his table. Now what happened was there was a two-point reversal somewhere in there, and what the world started to say was those without real nobility are those who think they're more noble than others.
So now a snob is not just a cobbler or a common man. We call anybody a snob who does not have the nobility to see that there is a character and a worth in every human, whether they're beautiful, rich, and famous or poor and forgotten. That's truly noble-minded. What James is saying is it is error for you to treat people differently than the only truly noble one. Watch what Isaiah said. Isaiah 1:10-17:
"Hear the word of the Lord ** , you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah. 'What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?' says the ** ** Lord ** . 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.'"
By the way, everybody thinks the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexuality. Everybody thinks it was just indecency and immorality in the sexual area. By the way, I mentioned this last week. When you read Romans 1, sexuality is not the worst struggle a man could have. It is the first place men and women go when they are looking to have something in their life give them meaning, purpose, and pleasure when they've rejected God as the source of their meaning, purpose, and pleasure.
Why? Because it's where we get the most gratification with the least amount of effort, and it also, along with incredible physical pleasure, gives us intense emotional provision in a very fraudulent way. Why do I say that? Because it feels like love for a moment. It feels like respect. This is why guys are so attracted to pornography.
They don't have to be a noble man who loves and cares for and cherishes and honors a woman and lives with dignity in a way that a real woman would desire to just wildly give herself to him in covenant commitment and reckless abandonment and to enjoy each other with intense physical pleasure with real emotional respect and love. That takes work.
But what do we do? We buy the lie that it's better to have some imaginary woman, often drunk or drugged up or miserable and suicidal, who hates herself and hates you because you love to use her in this way, and in some fantasy world you imagine she really desires you, and then with that fantasy you get intense personal gratification and an imaginary sense of being respected and loved. Women give sex to get love; men give love to get sex.
God says, "Listen, I'm not mad at you. I love you, and I just don't want you to live in some little fantasy world where you're having to pretend to be noble, pretend to be worthy. I want you to really be this person." Sodom and Gomorrah's problem initially was maybe in the sexual area. That's where all of our problem is initially, because we get the most physical pleasure and the greatest emotional fraudulent, counterfeit provision.
Where sin always runs is to arrogance, selfishness, disobedience, malice, gossip, a manner of living where we are disrespectful to one another completely. That's where Romans 1 takes you. Watch what he really is upset with in Sodom and Gomorrah. He says, "You keep going through all these rituals of worship. You bring your worthless offerings, but your incense is an abomination to me. You come at the new moon, the Sabbath, the calling of assemblies, but I don't endure iniquity and the solemn assembly anymore."
"I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.""Even though you're doing religious things, you're not religious people," he's saying to them. "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil…"
What's he saying? He doesn't stop right there and say, "Stop sinning." He says, "Start being like your Father. You're going through these outward religious ceremonies, but you're nothing like me." He says, "I wish you would stop going through these rituals, because you're not helping me. I don't need what you're bringing me. You need to know me, but you don't know me just because you're going through this."
You guys do know this. God doesn't need you to be in church. We need to be here so we can be reminded by gifted artists like Shane & Shane who through song can lift up great truths, that our hearts might be encouraged and reminded about the greatness of our God; so you can be with other believers who can encourage you when you're fainthearted, admonish you when you're unruly, help you when you're weak, with great patience, just like your Father; so we might be taught the Word of God so we would walk in the way of blessing.
But just because you're here makes you nothing other than a person who has the opportunity to be reminded of the greatness of God. You're not a Christian just because you go to church any more than you're a car just because you sit in a garage. Christians, though, are people who follow God, trust in him, and because of the reconciliation that happens through faith in God's provision, the Spirit of truth dwells in them.
If the Spirit of truth dwells in you, you will live truthfully and stop trying to find life in pornographic things, things that give a counterfeit blessing but lead to sin and death. Watch what he says in Isaiah 1:17. "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
Do you see where James got this idea? Be like your Daddy. You have been reconciled to God, Christian. The Spirit of God is now not just something you follow in the wilderness or go and be reminded of at the temple. You, through the amazing provision of the Messiah who was to come, have been reconciled to God, and you are one with the Father.
Are you one with the Father? "How do I know?" Here's how you know. You start to look like your Daddy, and when you do things that are inconsistent with the family name you go, "That was not of my Father; that was of me. That was my flesh being rebellious again. Thank God for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That right there was me in sin, and I forsake it."
The Bible says when you do that you find compassion and you're still a source of glory to him and that, increasingly, the direction of your life is toward righteousness. That's all James wants. That's all God said should be, that you're moving toward him. Now watch this. It's not just error; it's flat evil. Verses 2-4:
"For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?"
The Bible says there is no distinction between slave and freeman, poor and rich, barbarian and Scythian, circumcised and uncircumcised, Jew and Gentile. No distinction. If you start making that distinction and, specifically, the reason you make that distinction is because you think that beautiful, famous, rich person has something you need, it's evil.
You're going to now try and live your life, order your expression of worth-ship toward a human to give you something he can't give you, and you will not be able to love him and call him to obedience and surrender to Christ the way God intends you to, and you'll be neglecting others who are made in the image of God because you think they can do nothing for you. The truth is you are supposed to give yourself to all men, oppressed or enthroned.
A couple of years ago, a buddy of mine around here whose wife is a big U2 fan hired a guy who was a drop-dead Bono look-alike, he did this for a living, and invited his wife and a bunch of girlfriends to a luncheon. He said, "I have a huge surprise for you." (This guy has the means to surprise in this way.) Into that party walks Bono. He does about an hour-and-a-half set. He sounds just like him and looks just like him.
It turns out the guy is a believer. He lives in Ireland/Scotland and travels around the world imitating Bono. Well, as they engaged him throughout the day, they found out this guy was a believer, so they invited him from that Saturday to join them the following Sunday right here at good old Watermark. Guess what happened. Social media blew up. "Bono is at Watermark this morning!" There were some folks who were more excited about the fact…
Not many, but there were a few folks who kind of followed him around, wanted some pictures taken with him, posted on social media. "Look who's here! Bono is at Watermark." I have to tell you, that didn't speak well of those individuals. Thousands of people greeted him, said hi to him, and moved on. We're glad Bono is here in the same way we're glad Bozo the Clown is here. I couldn't care less who you are. I hope Bono does come, that his faith might be encouraged.
I don't know if you guys know this or not, but a number of years ago, a gentleman by the name of Chuck Norris came and was a member of Watermark. Chuck was a part of our body in the early days. I love when there were a couple thousand of us here that it wasn't that big a deal that Chuck Norris was among our number. Do you guys know who Chuck Norris is? Chuck Norris is the guy that when Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, there were already three messages there waiting for him from Chuck Norris.
Chuck Norris is a guy… If you have the fear of spiders, that's called arachnophobia. If you have the fear of tight spaces it's called claustrophobia. If you have a fear of Chuck Norris, that's called logic. That's Chuck Norris. I don't know if you guys know there used to be a street named Chuck Norris. The problem was every time you crossed it you died, so they got rid of it. I don't know if you know Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris doesn't do push-ups; he just pushes the world down.
No. I don't know if you know Chuck Norris, but Chuck Norris needs a cross and a Savior and has been pushed down by the weight of sin. When he was here, he didn't need to be treated with some kind of myth and folk-like legend; he needed to be welcomed, taught the Word of God, admonished, encouraged, and helped, and he needed the gospel. And he got it here. His name is Carlos, by the way, and he loves Jesus.
He ought to be able to sit here and be communicated to about the grace and gospel of Jesus Christ, and Bono ought to be able to sit here, the same way the Bowery Street bum should be, and they ought to both be loved and treated with the same dignity, and the same need should be addressed. If that isn't happening, James says, the Spirit isn't happening in you.
Look at what goes on in James 2:5. "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" I don't know if you've been paying attention, he might go on to say, but what you need to know is that you guys aren't a bunch of distinguished people, necessarily.
Heaven is not exactly a family reunion of former Miss America contestants. It's not a collection of former Fortune 500 CEOs. It's not a millionaire's club. That's not who has traditionally made up the kingdom of God. Do you know why? Because in order to receive the kingdom of God you must be poor in spirit. You must believe that you have a deep, deep need, and people who have been blessed with great beauty, great power, and great provision don't typically see their need.
In fact, the Bible says it's more difficult for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to go to heaven. Some people have kind of dumbed that down to believe that there were certain holes in certain gates in the city. When they'd shut the main gate, they would leave open a little gate that they would let certain people come in at night. It was easier to guard. (That is true.) They would call that the "eye of the needle."
If camels came in late, they would have to unload their camel and, one at a time, get their camels down on their knees and then shuffle them through on their knees to get them in. They've said that's how hard it is for a rich person to get to the kingdom of heaven. That is not what Jesus is talking about. Jesus meant it is hard to get a camel, the animal, through the eye of a needle.
Let me ask you a question. Who here can get a camel through the eye of a needle? I'm not talking about unloading it and making it get on its knees and shuffle through a small hole. I'm talking about a camel through the eye of a needle. Nobody. That's why the Scripture says what's impossible for man, though, is possible with God.
God does save rich people. God does save beautiful people. God does save famous, glorious, powerful people, but not many. That's why this church is a bit of a freak church. We have more than our share of beautiful, very wealthy, very powerful people who come here. I want to tell you, to whom much is given much is expected. Hunger Month? Give me a break. It ought to be constant provision for the hungry.
We ought to live in a way that we are so renowned for our abundant generosity (the truth is most of us have a renown for our abundant provision) that the world can't stop talking about the way this church isn't just not materialistic but this church is generous. James is saying, "God chose the poor of this world." This is now Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong…"
In other words, he didn't say not any, just not many. The truth is to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ you have to get to the point where you see your desperate need, and it is hard for us to see our desperate need if we can keep writing checks, if the world keeps saying, "I want to be around you. I want what you have. You are glorious and famous, and if I could be a part of your posse my world would be great."
It bothers the Lord when you try and make men gods, because those men are not gods, those women are not gods. They need God. If you have found God and you worship them, they're going to be confused about the God they need to worship. I want to tell you something. This is a very unusual place. There are a lot of people here who are very blessed. God has taken your camel and shoved it right through the eye of the needle of grace. You've seen your deep need, and God has left you with great riches.
God has never been bothered by a caste system. Do you know that? He has never been bothered by social status, differentiation. The poor have always been here. Jesus said the poor will always be with you, but what makes us different is we don't have a caste system. We might have caste; we don't have a caste system.
Does this not surprise you, that men would create a religion that would reinforce their snobbery and their lack of concern for other humans? That if you're part of the Dalit class, I, because I'm one of the four upper classes and I don't want to affect the gods who have obviously judged you by making you a cobbler or a cobbler's apprentice or far worse in Indian Hindu society…
"I would love to help you, but I don't want to make the gods angry. I don't want to interrupt the judgment on you. You're experiencing poverty, oppression, want, hunger, and exclusion because of the way you lived your life before. So I'd love to help you except, if I did, it would interrupt the judgment of the gods and produce bad karma for me. I have to let you pay your toll." Does that sound like a religion man would invent? You bet it does.
Let me share with you a belief God has always had, and that is that everybody is valuable in his eyes and he loves them and gave his life for them, and so should you. That's why I love this place. I don't care if you're a billionaire, I don't care if you're a beauty queen, I don't care if you're a three-decade heroin addict who's living on the streets, and I don't care if you're a prostitute.
All four of those things I know personally have come to be loved here, welcomed here, met the gospel of Jesus Christ here, have been changed and live communally with one another here, where those who have share with those who have not because they both believe who he is. I invite you in. That is the community of Jesus Christ.
It says when you live this way you've dishonored the poor man. He says, "Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you to court? What are you doing honoring them?" In that day and age, it was often the rich who would do that. In fact, the way we treat really well-off people when they come here ought to be a lot like the way John the Baptist treated them when they showed up at his ministry.
He basically welcomed them and said, "Hey, sinners. We're glad you're here." Not, "Hey, powerful. You being here might make other people kind of get on board with our ministry, because you have something we want. You have influence. You have power. You have money." No. Here's what John the Baptist said in Matthew, chapter 3, verses 7 and following.
He said, "Welcome, brood of vipers. Welcome, you who are filled with poison of sin. I hope you don't think that just by going through this little ritual that I'm going to call you to participate in, the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God, you think you're good with God. No. You need to deal with your sin. You need to bear fruit in keeping with your profession of repentance."
I'd say the same thing to my rich and my poor friends. "Welcome. We're glad you're here, you affected by sin, but don't just come and think that because you're here going through some service, maybe even writing checks toward the advancement of the ministry, that you're good with God. No. You need to deal with your sin and bear fruit in keeping with your repentance, because you've done more than just show up; you've come and laid your life down because you see your desperate need for reconciliation to God."
"If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture…" What's the royal law? Jesus was approached in Matthew 22 by a bunch of Pharisees and Sadducees who said, "There are a lot of laws. Which law do I follow?" Jesus said, "I'll tell you which law to follow: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, for on these two all the Law and the Prophets hang." In other words, all 613 laws in the Old Testament can be encapsulated in this one royal law: love God and love others.
Jesus said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Even as I have loved you, so you should also love one another." If you just go, "I'm going to do a lot of other things, Todd. I'm not sure I'm going to treat people the same. I'm not sure I'm going to not have partiality…" Again, let me say this to you. It's okay that you're tempted and that your first response is to respond to beauty a certain way and respond to poverty a certain way, but you have to not live in that natural way. It's natural; it's just not divine.
You are a son and a daughter of the divine, so you stop, you repent, you yield to the Spirit and go, "I'm going to love this person, not because of what they can do for me. I'm not going to avoid this person because of what I need to do for them. I'm going to love them with the truth and power and grace of God." If you say, "Todd, I'm not going to do that, but I'm not going to commit adultery," James doesn't give you that option.
You can't pick and choose how to follow your Father. The same God who said you can't show partiality is the God who said you can't commit adultery. In fact, the same God who said you shouldn't murder says if you look at somebody and despise them and say, "Raca! You fool!" you have murdered them. It says in James 2:10, "If anyone offends in one point, he is guilty of the entire law." You are a lawbreaker; therefore, you have committed an offense against God. May it never be said of his people that they live to offend him.
"So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty." In other words, you know this law that liberates you is also the law you will one day be held accountable before. He says in verse 13 very clearly, "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy…" Where did James get that idea? I'll tell you where he got it: from his older brother. Matthew 6:15: "If you don't forgive others as you have been forgiven, then your Father in heaven will not forgive you."
In other words, the evidence that you really are God's son or God's daughter is that you look like your Daddy. If you don't do what your Daddy does as a matter of course, as a matter of growth, it's because that which is inside of you, which is holy, is not growing because it is dead, nonexistent, and judgment will be merciless because you are not of the family of the redeemed. That's what he says. Not James…Jesus. See Matthew 18. Read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:14-15.
Let me close with this, because I love this place and the people who are here. It is also true, right there at the very end of verse 13, that mercy triumphs over judgment. If you're a person who knows you're bent toward partiality and you cry out for God to change you and are attentive to his Word and confess and forsake when you find yourself going a certain way…
If you find yourself loving others, if you find yourself being a person who cares for rich people, not for what they can do for you but for what God did for them, caring for the widow and the oppressed and the cobbler because you know they are image bearers of God and valuable to him, and you use your abundance of provision to meet their abundance of need and are an instrument of mercy, then you are not afraid of judgment.
That's what it means when it says in John, "Perfect love casts out fear." You have no fear of judgment, because you have received mercy and have been merciful. So when you stand before that bema seat that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3, 2 Corinthians 5, Hebrews 4, and Romans 14, you have no fear of judgment, because you've been walking as your Father wanted you to walk.
You know you'll receive the crown not just of life but another crown that you can lay at the feet of your King and say, "It's all for you, because I've lived my life for you because you gave your life for me, and I have no fear of judgment because mercy has been mine." I see thousands of people doing that here at Watermark, and you inspire me. You encourage me.
You camels who have been shoved through eyes of needles and you coke addicts who have come to receive the grace of Jesus Christ. I've seen you receive mercy and give it, and because of that we love. I'm going to pray for you, and then we're going to close by just declaring to each other what we do because we're God's people.
I want to tell you if you're here tonight and you've never been loved by the God who loves you, whether you're glorious in the world's sight or whether you have lost your glory according to the world, real glory has died for you and loves you and wants to save you from your empty shell of prosperity or from your despair of impoverished living and provision and invite you into his family where you can be loved and cared for.
Father, I pray that tonight some would come and they would receive what you intend for them, the fullness of your perfect provision on the cross, and they would come and be loved so they could love. We thank you, Lord, that you have delivered us from darkness and death and you offer us life and love. Having received that, those of us who believe, may we live to give what we have received for the glory of your Son, the blessing of our souls, and the salvation of the entire world, amen.
That's what the book of James is saying. He's the reason I love. I am his son. I am his daughter. His Spirit lives in me. I no longer live according to the spirit of a man, which seems right to others but is the way of death. If you're still alive and have never understood love, that's the reason why you're still alive. God, in his kindness, has kept you alive to hear today that though you're rich in the world's eyes you're still poor and you need a Savior.
Maybe you're here and feel poor and impoverished and oppressed in the world's eyes and need to hear that God loves you, hasn't forgotten you, and wants to redeem you, draw both of you to the cross, and see his goodness and provision for you, that you might be redeemed and saved and be alive among the living so you can love, even as he has loved. But don't do that on your own. You can't do it on your own.
The Scripture says we love because he first loved us. If you've never received that love, will you come? If you have received that love, will you go? You are here to love as he has loved and to proclaim to the world the love he has for them. So don't mistreat them, and don't manipulate to get from them. Minister to them for the glory of God and the good of your souls and the salvation of the world.
Have a great week of worship.