James 1:19-21 CSB – 19 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
I am smiling as I write this. When I write, I try to imagine my “audience,” i.e. what would I say if I were sitting on the sofa next to a friend, shoes off, legs curled up, mug of coffee or tea in hand (maybe even a purring kitty or soft dog nose nearby, if you are so inclined) . . .
and then, this particular passage
and this title . . .
so, stop the eye roll; silence the “judgment” voices in your head; and listen (which is really the point of the passage anyway)
Even before I knew how to frame the vocabulary, motive has been an integral part of me. My mother tells me that “why?” was not only nearly my first word (I think “no!” was in that early category as well) but a frequent discussion. Not so much the “how does this work?” why (that’s my husband, to a tee), but the “what’s the point?” “why is this important?” “what’s in it for me?” “who’s gonna make me?” — yes, you can also know that I had a strong will even before Dobson coined the term . . .
I came to Christ with a lot of sin. A lot of independence. A lot of self-will. There was a lot of re-learning that needed to happen; but at the core, my motivations needed to be redeemed. I needed to align my “why?” and “who’s gonna make me?” to submission to a sovereign God who loved me, created me, and knew what was best for me.
It was not an easily-learned lesson. It is still an on-going process. It is getting easier . . .
And, I have also learned over the years, that, at least for me, there is little hope of a change in behavior unless and until there is a change in motivation.
I want to live a life that is pleasing to God:
Psalm 119:10-11 CSB – 10 I have sought you with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands. 11 I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.
I want God to show me how to live:
Psalm 25:4-5 CSB – 4 Make your ways known to me, LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; I wait for you all day long.
So, what does all this self-disclosure have to do with the James passage at the top of this post?
Motivation . . .
I can’t grit my teeth and force myself to obey a list of arbitrary rules so that God will like me better. Tried that for more years than I care to admit. It does not work. Makes you tired, defeated, hopeless . . .(that is another post, for another time).
I can’t sustain the self-discipline to outwardly conform to a list of rules in order to prove to others that I am worthy, that I am a “true disciple.” It does not work. Makes you tired, self-righteous, judgmental, unloving . . .
Here comes some exciting news — God cares about motivation! In his mercy, he does not just shout out arbitrary commands and say, “don’t ask me why, just do it or else.” And, ironically, God is the One who has the absolute right to say, “obey because I said so” because God is the Creator, the Sovereign of all creation, and God makes the rules. But, because of his steadfast love and mercy, God gives us a “why” . . .
So, why should I be quick (tachys prompt, not procrastinating) to listen (akouo to hear with the intent of understanding), slow to speak (laleo to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts), and slow to anger (orge indignation, wrath)?
God tells me the “why” —
human anger does not accomplish (ergazomai produce, bring about) God’s righteousness (dikaiosyne the standard that God’s holiness demands).
I want to live a life that is pleasing to God. Not so that God will like me better (see above). Not so I can be better than ____ (see above). Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty for all my sin, so that I could be reconciled to God (be in right relationship) and be justified (rendered righteous). God made me. My Creator knows best how I should live, how I should best flourish. God has a purpose for me (see Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 2:12,13; Psalm 57:1-2), and I want to accomplish that purpose.
And, because God is so merciful and good, he not only answers my “why” but also gives a “how” —
rid yourself (apotithemi cast off, put aside, give it up) of all moral filth (rhyparia defilement, dishonor) and the evil (kakia malice, ill-will, desire to injure) that is so prevalent ( or the abundance of evil, perisseia speaks to the wickedness remaining over in the Christian from his state prior to conversion),
humbly (praytes essentially recognizing and believing and acting on the truth that I am not God, and that God knows better what is for my good) receive (dechomai to receive favorably, give ear to, embrace, make one’s own, approve, not to reject) the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.)
The “how” is being in God’s Word. Not just a 5-minute or less letting the letters pass over your eyes. Read with the intent to understand. Read with the intent to obey. Read with the desire to know the God that is the subject of the Word. Read with the understanding that it is God who gives the wisdom to understand (see Proverbs 2:6) and that God is my teacher (Psalm 119:102).
O God, my perfect Father, you know what is best for me. You have a purpose for me, and I so want to follow you. You have saved me, and I love you. Help me to listen to others with the intent to understand, not just the words, but also the heart motivations. Help me to really listen, not just formulate my thoughts and wait for the first opportunity to jump in and disclose them. Help me not to jump to conclusions, to assume evil intent. Help me to trust you to care for me.
I want people to know what you have said, who you are. I don’t want my opinions, my feelings to get in the way. Teach me your Word, Lord. Give me understanding. Show me where I am believing lies and teach me the truth. Help me renounce everything that is contrary to what you have said, and accept your Word, and obey you. You are my God, my Savior.
This is Part 3, the last installment in Misty Gilliland’s series “Bind Us Together, Lord”. You won’t want to miss the context by reading Parts 1 and 2.
When our focus is in the wrong place we miss out on opportunities to serve and sow, because we think things are “hard” or we “don’t feel like it” or we convince ourselves “she just wouldn’t understand because we’re too different, why bother?” I may not be a parent, but I do know love and can enjoy being around children. I understand frustration, exasperation, disappointment, heartache, taking joy in others, discipline, neurotic worries . . . so maybe we can be friends after all? I may only have a certain measure of life experience, but I’m interested in the life experience of my elders, my married friends, single friends, the widows and widowers, and the single parent. Each one matters and I need them in my life.
In connection with our “sense of identity,” it seems like no matter where we are in this walk of life that we are all fighting for relevance or struggling to maintain our relevance. To understand something’s relevance is to know the reason it matters or how it is important. Oxygen is relevant to me, because it prolongs my life and is vital for sustaining my internal organs. My glasses are relevant to me, because without them I can hardly see and I would not be an effective or productive working adult. The meaning and spirit of the word “relevant” involves a connection with someone or something that matters. The word “connected” means to link, unite, join together and establish communication. It also means to cause to be associated as in a personal relationship. My Bible study leader is relevant to me, because her studies and teaching gift make a difference in my understanding of the Scriptures and she helps me to learn God’s Word. To be relevant is to matter and our connections display our relevance. So, with that in mind, are you relevant? Are you connected with other believers? Do you know why you should be?
No matter how old we are, we don’t lose our innate relevance, but we can become irrelevant in ministry. In fact, that’s not hard to do at all. The thing we struggle with often is that we lose our perception of our relevance depending on our circumstance. Our focus gets distorted easily, we become discouraged, and sometimes we quit. We are not called to be quitters.
Believers, if we cannot reach our own in Christ, how will we ever reach a lost and dying world? We must help develop the next generation of leaders in the church. If we don’t make changes and pursue those around us, who will rise up as champions of the faith? We will vastly lose our effectiveness for Kingdom work if we do not strive to be the body: together, in unison, championing the Gospel as ambassadors for Christ. Friends, we are called to this life of service. We are called to make disciples. We aren’t called to quit or called to make excuses. We have the Holy Spirit within us and we serve the Savior whose name causes the very foundation of Hell to quake and the demons to shudder. If there is life within you, Believer, you can live a life for Christ!
When we consider our identity or our relevance, the problem we face lies within our hearts and manifests in our mind, ultimately expressing itself in our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Jesus said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man” (Matt. 15:18-20). If I think more of myself and less of someone else, that’s going to be evident. If I let anything other than Christ become my identity, that’s also going to be evident.
We aren’t battling the generations, we’re battling a persistent on-going fight-to-the-death warfare that will distract us and confuse us so we focus on the wrong thing and fail to engage in the pressing work of the ministry which is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). The battles we face take on many forms, but it shouldn’t be each other. Jesus told His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is where we should be focused. We’re engaged in this spiritual warfare and battling our flesh daily (Rom. 8:5-6; Gal. 5:16-26; Rom 7:14-25). We’re called to persevere and intentionally fulfill the work of the ministry by making disciples and putting into action our unique gifts, talents, and abilities for God’s glory. As we do this, we must remember: we’re not fighting this battle for victory, but from victory—we are already conquerors, equipped and able to do this work. We should care for one another, because God gave us each other to help accomplish the work before us.
If one thing is certain, Believers, we must manage our mindset concerning how we look upon our elders, those who are young, and how we cultivate those relationships. We have to be deliberate about what we let define us and what we let divide us. We need to take hold and get a grip on the issues that really matter, issues such as: (1) daily supporting and praying for our brothers and sisters suffering with the persecuted church, (2) being obedient to the calling in our lives, (3) actively studying the Word of God, (4) sowing and serving in the local assembly for Kingdom growth, (5) sharing and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, (6) allowing ourselves to be discipled, and (7) making disciples. We must break down barriers and stop building walls. We can still celebrate our differences (and we should), but our differences shouldn’t draw an impassable line in the sand. Our perceived differences should not become so much of an excuse that we forsake fellowship and friendship over it. We shouldn’t grieve the Holy Spirit with indifference and disregard for others (Eph. 4:17-32). We need less of us and more of Jesus.
If only our hearts were truly broken, and we could see the world with the vision and clarity of those suffering for the cause of Christ in the persecuted church—then we would know what matters most. With that vision, we would be daily reminded that Jesus died on the cross for us to not only be reconciled to God; but, to make disciples and share the Gospel. We are called to pick up our cross (Luke 9:23) and know that the world will hate us, because it first hated Him (John 15:18). Christ made that sacrifice and calls us to live sacrificially. We are not struggling against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, and the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). We are defenders of the faith and we hold within us the very Light that makes the darkness flee (John 8:12; 1:5). If that’s not true about you or in your life, you need to take a hard look in the mirror and change your life, your heart, and your mind accordingly. We’re not here to make the Scriptures fit our lives, but to let the Scriptures transform us into who God created us to be.
As we look to those around us, younger or older, it is imperative that we change our hearts and our minds. Pray and ask God to show you where He’s working and join him there. Reach out and find a connection. It doesn’t matter that you’re different, that just gives you something more to talk about. And, you may find that what you have in common is you’re both one in Christ. It would be our shame if we let anything stop us from living in obedience to Christ. The work in front of us is too much, too important, for us to let something so small as age, social status, personal interests, or some other difference, interfere with the work of the Kingdom. If you’re wearied by the young, lean in to the Scriptures and learn what God can do through the lives of the weak and powerless, through the small and insignificant.
If you want to know what God can do in a person’s life, young or old, take time to learn about David who honored God in his youth and was anointed to become a king (1 Sam. 16-17). Read the Book of Daniel to learn about Daniel who lived a life that should have been fraught with identity crisis, but was overcome by faithfulness to God. It was Abraham, advanced in age, whose obedience to God made him the father of many nations (Gen. 17; Heb. 11:17-18). In fact, if you want to know about things that really matter, just read your Bible. All of it.
As we consider what to do about this, we should look to our relationships with believers and unbelievers with the understanding we are seeking to honor God with our lives. There are obstacles in the way and we need to tear them down. To defeat these obstacles, we must examine our hearts and ask the hard questions. Am I striving to become more like Christ? Do I share my faith with others? Do I unite people? Am I seeking relationships with other believers? Do people know I care? Am I making disciples? Have I ever let myself be discipled? Am I accountable? Am I serving God with the gifts He has given me? Am I regularly in God’s Word hiding His truth in my heart? If your answers are yes, then you’re probably not the one who looks down upon the young or dismisses the old. If your answers were yes, then rise up, Believer, because it’s the bottom if the ninth, the bases are loaded, and we need you to make the grand slam. Christ is counting on you and He’s called you.