We have a deception problem. We believe too many lies and trust in too many idols. The only way to overcome deception is by being exposed to the truth. The Word and wisdom of God. In this episode, we talk about how to interact with the world constructively and inspect ourselves often. We do this so that deception does not reign in our hearts. In its place, we are called to trust God, to be salt and light in this world.
So we put our gear shift over on the wisdom of God and look at that alternative, in verse 17. It’s full of mercy, willing to yield. Yield what? Is James the kind of guy that says, “I don’t want to make waves. I’m not going to say anything that might offend you.” Is that what this letter is about? He’s going to say—look down in 4:4.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Does that sound like he’s saying, “I don’t want to make any waves.” No! When he says “willing to yield,” what he’s talking about is, how can I interact with this person constructively in their best interest? Do they need to hear something now, or is it better to just wait and listen? Which is it?
Because, you know, it’s not just one tool in my toolbox. Every problem is not a nail.
So, how do I meet this person where they are? How do I interact with them in a constructive way? Full of mercy.
You know that thing that Jesus talked about, about the log in your eye, is a fantastic way to think about mercy.
Why can you see other people’s faults? Which faults drive you crazy? I can tell you about me. The ones that look like me are the ones that really drive me crazy. The faults I don’t have don’t bother me that much.
When somebody looks like me, I want it to stop because that is me looking in a mirror, and I don’t like to look at myself in a mirror; I want to deceive myself. That’s my natural bent.
I’ve had some friends in the past that were a lot like me but way more in-your-face with it. I’m actually pretty good at deceiving people about how bad I am, in my natural state, I mean. I’m actually pretty good at that.
So when somebody’s like “raw” and they’re in your face, I actually kind of like being around that because I’m just like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. It’s just so bad! Help me set that aside! I don’t want to be like that.”
But then part of it is—I don’t need much. I don’t need much. Just a little is okay. I don’t need to immerse myself in that.
No, it’s willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.
Fruit inspection of ourselves is a good thing. But not to see if God loved us or not. Not to see if Jesus’ power, when he spoke us into a new creation, was real because if we don’t have good fruits our faith wasn’t good enough to make that real because at the end of the day it was us that did it, not Jesus. No, this book doesn’t have anything to do with that.
We look at the fruits to see which gear we’re in, because we’re so double minded and capable of self-rationalization that we can be in a world-gear and convince ourselves we’re in the God-gear. “Glad I straightened that person out. They would have gone to hell if I hadn’t set them straight.”
Whatever. This is not easy. It’s a team sport. And we can get feedback from people. “Was I helpful to that person when I said that? Do they need to hear “adulterers and adulteresses!” or do they need to hear, “We all love you”? What is it today?
It depends. God is leading.
So without partiality and without hypocrisy. Oh my gosh. Hypocrisy is so easy.
It’s so much easier to tell you what you need to do than to actually do it.
Teachers receive a stricter judgment
Which brings us back to my least favorite verse in the whole Bible. I have to dwell on it now. I do not want to dwell on it, but I must. 3:1.
I’m up here teaching, and I have self-selected to do it. And I’m putting myself in the crosshairs to receive a stricter judgment. So everything I’m telling you has set me up to be a hypocrite because if I don’t do it, I’m going to pay for that. Probably won’t have to wait until the judgment seat to do it. Kind of sucks.
But, there’s another thing that he’s going to tell us that we’ll see soon, which is if you know something’s the right thing to do and don’t do it, that for you is sin.
So, I’m kind of stuck. If I don’t do what I know I need to do, it’s sin; and then when I do it, I’m going to get a stricter judgment. Pray for me. I need mercy.
This word stricter is usually translated, unfortunately, greater. So, you’re going to be held to a higher standard. And this fits with the Sermon on the Mount thing. What measure you measure to others will be measured to you.
I think this is just talking about teachers of the Word. In fact, I can tell you that fairly confidently because the word man, you know, if anyone does not stumble in word, he’s a perfect man—that’s the word male.
Remember in the stare-in-the-mirror thing? You know, not self-examining, not saying I have the word, is like a man staring in the mirror. What we’re encouraged to do is stare into the perfect law of liberty like a woman looks in the mirror, not like a man looks in the mirror.
Men look in the mirror like, eh, good enough. And everybody else, if they were participating in that would go, “Mmm, no, not really.”
But the woman looks in the mirror, and it’s like, perfection is the only outcome that’s acceptable at this time.
Well, that’s what James wants us to do. Look in the law of liberty like that.
Well, this is the same word. If you can bridle your tongue, as a teacher, then you’re a perfect male; because this is Jew to Jew. It would never have occurred to them to have a teaching thing be talking to women.
But then, immediately, in verse 8, but no anthropos, human can tame the tongue.
So, what are women doing all day long with the children in this culture as the men are out fishing, or whatever? They’re teaching their children. This is Deuteronomy 6. When are you supposed to teach your children? When you rise up, as you walk through the day, when you go down at night.
So, yes, of course we’re supposed to be teaching.
But when somebody stands up and says, “Here’s what the Bible says. I’m opening up the word to you.” If you were a prophet in the Old Testament—prophets didn’t just tell the future. Prophets would say, “Here’s what’s true, and here’s what’s not true.” Like, you read something like Amos: You are being unjust right now. Change from abusing the poor people. Stop that, and start taking care of the poor.
Pretty common thing.
And then all the way through the New Testament, if someone is dividing the word of truth, they have a stricter judgment. And when you read anything about fruit inspection, like judging other people and doing something about it, it’s always either about false teachers or about self-examination.
You will never find one instance, I don’t think, where you’re going to say, “Judge other people to see if they’re really going to heaven or not.”
In fact, you get the opposite of that. “Judge nothing before the time,” Paul says. In fact, Paul says, “I judge myself, and I’m not aware of one single thing that I need to change, and that doesn’t do me one bit of good when I stand before God because he’s the one that’s going to tell me how I did. Not me, and not you. So bug off!”
Which is not a bad thing to tell yourself when you’re being criticized by other people.
How will this help me? Now I’m not under their control anymore.
A lot of times people are criticizing you for the purpose of putting you under their control. I must make them happy. I must respond to them. I must punish them. I must make this go away.
You now put yourself under their control, didn’t you? We don’t want to do that.
So, what Jesus says in Matthew is what measure you measure others will be measured to you.
So this is the thing I got from this. And, I’m a judgmental person by nature. I am. And I’m better than everybody else, just so you know.
So here’s the picture I get: And when I saw this, I’m telling you, this was life changing for me because this person can’t measure up to me; this person can’t measure up. And then I got this thing, and it’s like, every time you judge someone else and their faults, you’re creating a measuring stick for me at the judgment seat that I’m going to use on you. And I appreciate it because, you know, I was looking for that stick. And, man, yours is really tall!
I’m like, “Why don’t you put that stick back, and let’s get a new one. And I’m just going to be pretty lenient with everybody now because they all have concerns. They all got problems. I got problems; they have problems. You know, look, we’re all kind of in the same boat. So, I’ll help them when I’m obligated to.”
You know, the Samaritan laying in the road with blood coming out. Then I’ll help. Everybody else is kind of like, you can deal with them now.
So I really flipped a switch when I saw that. It’s like, you know, I would like mercy. Maybe I ought to give some to other people.
And I think it helped me. I think it helped me a lot because look at verse 5.
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
Comparing ourselves to others
You know what I do when I compare myself to other people is boast. I don’t have to speak it to be thinking it, that I’m actually better than you.
You know, interestingly enough, here’s something else we do. It’s so crazy. We can also do “I’m worse than you, and I feel bad.” It’s the same thing.
And what do we usually do when we say, “I wish I was like them”? That is envy, which is one of the other things that’s on the other thing.
If I was only beautiful like them. If I was only rich, like them.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
This is receive with meekness the implanted word which gives us the wisdom of God. It is really two reservoirs we can connect into. One gives us mercy and good fruits and righteousness, which can include telling someone they are an adulterer or adulteress because they’re choosing the world.
Why would that be helpful to them? Because you’re trying to help them get on the right path.
When is the right time to say that? You’re going to have to figure that out with God because sometimes the appropriate thing to do is just hold their hand and give them mercy. And yield.
We don’t know where that person is unless we’re listening to the Spirit lead. One is earthly, sensual and demonic; and the other is the power of Jesus’ resurrection.
Man! That’s a pretty amazing kind of hybrid car we’ve got living inside of us, isn’t it?
Well, let’s look at this “set on fire by hell.”
Part of this engine that’s connected to the world and to demonic powers and sensuality, that’s part of our sin nature. No. We’re brethren now, right? Jesus is our Lord, he said, in verse 2, My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. It’s our Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 9, With it—our tongue—we bless our God and Father. These are all Jews. There’s no question about whether they’re in the family of God or not.
So these people, like us, are in the family of God. We still have the sin nature, and look at all the junk it’s connected to.
So this is helping us realize that this is not something to be trifled with.
You know that drug-addiction thinking: I can do a little, and it will be okay because I can control it. We do the same thing, every one of us, me included, with our sin nature. I can sin a little bit. I’m just going to feel mad and bitter at this person for a little while. I can turn it off any time I want to.
So we’re connected to hell also. What in the world does that mean?
Let’s look at that word, and this will be our last thing that we do. This word is the word Gehenna.
Now, when you see hell in the Bible, it’s usually a translation of one of three words. And none of those words are things that are permanent. The thing that we think of as hell is never called hell, which makes this topic kind of confusing. And I’m going to cover it real briefly.
Sheol is the Old Testament word for the place of the dead, and sometimes it refers to a grave or a pit or a chasm; and sometimes it refers to the place your spirit goes after you die.
In the New Testament—one of the Old Testament verses was Sheol—is translated and the word Hades is used. And Hades is a place, like Sheol was sometimes referred to in the Old Testament as a place.
When the translators think it’s a place, they’ll usually put hell. And when they think it’s a grave, they’ll say grave or pit. But it’s always the same thing, Sheol.
So in the New Testament you get Hades, and Hades was a place. I mean, they’re in a Greek culture, and the Greeks understood Hades really well. And Hades had two compartments: Tartarus and Elysian Fields, which the New Testament calls Abraham’s bosom or Paradise.
And you can see this same picture the Greeks had about Hades when Jesus talks about the rich man and Lazarus. People on one side, people on the other side, a chasm in between.
And it’s fascinating that the Bible takes something out of Greek mythology and just ports the concept right in without any commentary.
But, in Revelation, Hades is thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is never called hell. But it’s the thing we usually think of as the permanent thing. And as I’ve covered in the past, it appears that the lake of fire is right there in the new earth, and people are walking around in it with people that are in the new earth that are not walking around in it.
And, I do not know what that means, but I kind of think that the lake of fire may be the presence of God himself, which if he came right here right now, would we all just burn up, unless he gave us the same kind of supernatural power he gave to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, walking around in that fire, which I think’s kind of a picture of maybe what this is like. I don’t know.
But what’s clear is this place, Hades, is going to be burned up, and this verse doesn’t talk about any of those. Most of the time when you see the word hell, it’s referring to Gehenna, which is also a place, but it’s not a place that’s going to last.
In fact, I have been there. I’ve walked in there and gave a Bible study in Gehenna because Gehenna is the valley of the sons of Hinnom. It’s still there today in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s kind of like an ice cream cone. One side’s the Kidron Valley, and the Valley of Hinnom. And in the Valley of Hinnom was the downwind low spot. Every city had one. That’s where you put the sewage. That’s where you put the dead bodies. And because you’ve got sewage and dead bodies down there, you keep it on fire all the time. And there’s worms. And there’s fire.
And in Israel’s case, they did something else down there that was really horrible: They sacrificed their children to Moloch in the Valley of Hinnom. It’s also called the Valley of Tophet, which means drum beating because in the pagan religion, when they went into idolatry, they would beat the drums to cover up the cries of the children as they’re sacrificing them.
So, it’s a picture—it’s a real place, but it’s a picture of wickedness, decay, death. And that picture can apply to most anything. It depends on the context.
What this is telling us is we’ve got this sin nature connected to the world, and the world is a picture of the Valley of Hinnom, where you’ve got child sacrifice, death, decay, worms—because what are the wages of sin? When we connect to that sin nature, what is the consequence of sin? What is the outcome of sin? Well, if we’re going to do addictive substances, what’s the outcome going to be? It’s going to be some form of death. Right?
It may be the death of our relationships. It may be the death of our ability to even think right. And it may be physical death. But there’s some kind of death that’s going to come.
If we’re going to be bitter and we’re going to be divisive with other people, we’re going to have death of relationships. So, we’re going to live a life of Gehenna. And it’s kind of unfortunate that they put hell in here because we tend to think, oh, that doesn’t apply to us.
But Gehenna’s a place anybody can go. And you can go there anytime you want to. In this sense, you do not have to wait until you die to go see what hell’s like. All you have to do is put your gear into sensual, demonic, self-seeking, envious, boasting, all of which we know how to do very well, and you get death, destruction, carcasses, devastation, injuring other people.
But, we have the resurrection and the power of Jesus. We have a new creation. We’ve got to just put it in that gear.
And when we do, what we get is seeking the best for others. We’re thinking about the best for others. We put that gear in and say I’m going to seek the best for others.
And now what we’re doing is we’re leaning into the wisdom of God, and we’re walking in faith. We’re putting our belief of what Jesus told us to do, to love others, into action.
And the result is that we win. We don’t get Valley of Hinnom. We get fellow heir with Christ. We get crowns of righteousness. And we get the road of blessing, one of which might be the trial of persecution from the world, which James started this whole thing off with saying count it all joy when you encounter various trials.
See, it all fits together.
Salt and light
The thing that’s happening in our political environment is that self-seeking is now spilling out where we can all see it. What’s the answer to that?
You know, what we’re called to be is salt and light.
What happens if you put too much salt on food? Better or worse? How much do you need? Just a little.
How much light do you need to make a difference in a dark room? Just a little. Yeah, just a little.
The Bible never calls us to be a majority. It never even presumes that there’s going to be a majority. It calls us remnant. And what we’re always called to do in a dark world—and, the world’s always going to be dark. That’s one of the things we get from this: The world is a selfish, destructive place. Always will be. We will not redeem the world. God’s going to do that later.
What we can do is preserve the world. And we do that when we’re salt.
But what’s my job to do? My job is to engage in that constructively without being bitter or making it personal. That is a challenge, let me tell you.
I like the idea of winning at life, to get believers to engage constructively in their neighborhoods and be salt and light. That’s all we can do. God will take care of the political outcome. He appoints authorities.