Governance of One’s Tongue (James 1:26)

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.

-James 1:26

James makes a distinction between outward appearance and inward transformation.  I might imagine myself to be religious because I do certain things.  But a person can be religious and not have Christ as savior and Lord in their life.  A person can belong to the church, while not becoming a Christian.

A person can even be a pastor or a priest, a nun or a bishop, but not be a Christian.  Religiosity does not make you a true believer.  A true believer is someone who has Christ living through them.  James says that the test if you are truly religious, in the best sense, is how you control what you say.  
Examples of not controlling your speech are:
  • Cutting, belittling criticism of others.
  • Dirty, cuss words.
  • Dishonesty: lies.
  • Salacious, lecherous words spoken.
  • Course jesting, sarcastic remarks.
  • Malicious gossip or slander.
  • Ostentatious talking (\”showing off\”)
James says, that if you talk in these ways, and think you are religious, you are fooling yourself.

Uncontrolled speech is a sign that a person\’s religiousness is fake. These characters are simply playing a role.  They are actors rather that disciples.  They seek to deceive you into thinking they are someone that they are not.  And James says that in their game, they are self-deceived and their spirituality is worthless.

This is the second time that James has called out people in the church who are deceived.  The first time, James said that you are deceived if you hear the truth but don\’t put it into practice.  In this second instance, James says that you are deceived if your religious acts don\’t make a difference in how you live.

Quotes and notes:

\”The first mark of true religion is gentleness of tongue, just as the contrary, blasphemy, is the most damning fault of all. Our Lord directly says, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). The text, however, is more a guide for self-examination than a stone to be cast at a neighbour; and “well is” it indeed for “him that hath not slipped with his tongue” (Ecclesiasticus 25:8)\”.
Charles Elliot

Notes from: Upon the Government of the Tongue, Joseph Butler: (also here)

  • \”Now, the fault referred to, and the disposition supposed, in precepts and reflections concerning the government of the tongue, is not evil-speaking from malice, nor lying or bearing false witness from indirect selfish designs… …But the thing here supposed and referred to, is talkativeness: a disposition to be talking, abstracted from the consideration of what is to be said; with very little or no regard to, or thought of doing, either good or harm.\”
  • \”It is perhaps true, that they who are addicted to this folly would choose to confine themselves to trifles and indifferent subjects, and so intend only to be guilty of being impertinent: but as they cannot go on for ever talking of nothing, as common matters will not afford a sufficient fund for perpetual continued discourse, where subjects of this kind are exhausted they will go on to defamation, scandal, divulging of secrets, their own secrets as well as those of others — anything rather than be silent.\”
  • \”And further, when persons who indulge themselves in these liberties of the tongue are in any degree offended with another — as little disgusts and misunderstandings will be — they allow themselves to defame and revile such a one without any moderation or bounds; though the offence is so very slight, that they themselves would not do, nor perhaps wish him, an injury in any other way. And in this case the scandal and revilings are chiefly owing to talkativeness, and not bridling their tongue, and so come under our present subject.\”
  • \”And this unrestrained volubility and wantonness of speech is the occasion of numberless evils and vexations in life. It begets resentment in him who is the subject of it, sows the seed of strife and dissension amongst others, and inflames little disgusts and offences which if let alone would wear away of themselves: it is often of as bad effect upon the good name of others, as deep envy or malice: and to say the least of it in this respect, it destroys and perverts a certain equity of the utmost importance to society to be observed — namely, that praise and dispraise, a good or bad character, should always be bestowed according to desert.\”
  • \”The tongue used in such a licentious manner is like a sword in the hand of a madman; it is employed at random, it can scarce possibly do any good, and for the most part does a world of mischief; and implies not only great folly and a trifling spirit, but great viciousness of mind, great indifference to truth and falsity, and to the reputation, welfare, and good of others.\”
  • \”The Wise Man observes that \”there is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence.\” One meets with people in the world who seem never to have made the last of these observations. And yet these great talkers do not at all speak from their having anything to say, as every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking.
  • \”It is indeed a very unhappy way these people are in; they in a manner cut themselves out from all advantage of conversation, except that of being entertained with their own talk: their business in coming into company not being at all to be informed, to hear, to learn, but to display themselves, or rather to exert their faculty, and talk without any design at all.\”

The tendency, the habit, or the natural flow of a person toward verbal abuse, or uncontrolled verbosity may be a sign that their heart has not been or is not being transformed.

When James says, \”your religion is useless\”, he means that since it has not transformed you, it is a waste of time; just a dress up game.

Doing devotions do not prove or show that you have Jesus changing your heart, but how you talk does.  Devoting yourself to Bible study, prayer, witnessing, and Christian music; without growth in controlling your tongue means that something is wrong.

A person may be passionate about their pursuit of doing ministry, and living a holy life; but it\’s fake if that person can not control their tongue, because controlling your speech is a sign that Jesus is transforming your heart.

James defined what he meant by self-deception.  We deceive ourselves when we hear the word, but do not do it.  Selective obedience equals disobedience and must give way to repentance or ends up in rebellion which masks itself in false religion.

The accumulation of truth is not what makes a person Christian or be in the faith.  But letting Jesus live through you is authentic Christianity.

Remember that the two broad themes of James are:

  1. Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems.
  2. How to live as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And, James is written to people who feel that they don\’t have to serve in the Church. (Griffin, p. 235)

Teachers (James 3:1)

Pastor, Preacher, Church, Catholic, Protestant
Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.

-James 3:1

In his letter, James\’ message is to bear trials patiently and to warn us against error.  James exhorts his readers to live a holy life.

James is more about \”how?\” than \”what?\”.

  • How to: achieve spiritual maturity, perform compassionate service, talk, listen, and submit.  
  • How to be, do, say, feel, and have.  

James answers the question of how to have better relationships inside the church.

James had already said these things about speech:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself.

-James 1:19, 26

The in chapter 2, James says that what you do is more important than what you believe.  Practice over preaching.

Every believer is a teacher.

Every believer is responsible to teach others.  But James here seems to be addressing \”professional\” teachers.  In particular, people who teach in the church.  James is calling caution to those who would teach and possibly saying that incompetent teachers should resign.

Teachers are necessary, but incompetent and unworthy ones do much harm.
-A. T. Robertson

Prestige goes along with being a pastor. 

In the first century and today we honor and appreciate our teachers.  In the Jewish tradition teachers are called rabbis.  In the church we call our teachers \”pastor\” or \”preacher\”.

One can desire to be a pastor, not because of a passion to teach God\’s word, but because of a desire for status and superiority that goes with that position.

A desire for attention, the spotlight, is the wrong motive for being a teacher.

“Any teacher runs the risk of becoming ‘Sir Oracle.’ No profession is more liable to beget spiritual and intellectual pride.”
-William Barclay

Jesus actually taught us not to give people titles:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters.\”
-Matthew 23:8

James was a teacher.

James is teaching us in his letter.  He is not against teachers or the teaching function.  He is just warning those who would rush to become teachers who are not qualified.

Alex MacLaren wrote,

\”James would check that unwholesome eagerness by the thought that teachers who do not practice what they preach will receive a heavier judgment than those who did not set up to be instructors. He humbly classes himself with the teachers.\”

The sin of hypocrisy is not practicing what you preach.

A heartbreaking and evil thing is a teacher in the church who is a fraud.  If Jesus had Judas, we are also going to have frauds and betrayers be our teachers at times.  This should not shock us or cause us to fall.  But bad preachers cause a lot of stumbling for the people they influence.

Paul wrote to Timothy, about misguided teachers.

As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
-1 Timothy 1:3-7

Joe Benson:

\”These teachers of the law in the Christian Church were the great corrupters of the gospel.”


Ambition is not always a good thing.

Although someone should be willing to be a teacher in the church if they are called and gifted, it is wrong to do so if you are doing it to be prominent and important.  An unwholesome venerating of teachers is what James is rebuking.

Teachers are judged more strictly because they have greater responsibility.  

It is the teacher\’s awesome responsibility to put the stamp of their own faith and knowledge upon those beginning to learn to walk in the faith.  The chief instrument for teaching is what we say and has great influence for good or bad.

Some teachers fail in their responsibility and become false teachers.

Some false teachers end up teaching a different faith, a different \’christ\’ and a different Christianity which is a perversion, whether it\’s legalism or a hyper-grace licentiousness.  Other false teachers live in contradiction to what they teach.  This brings great dishonor and misrepresentation.

Standing up to teach when you don\’t know anything, or pandering to cultural trends that your audience wants to hear, are also forms of false teaching.

A very nice person can be a terrible teacher.

James says, \”Don\’t do it!\”  Teaching is a dangerous occupation because you can really lead people astray through your words if you don\’t know what you are talking about.

Applause can lead to downfall.

In James\’ day, rabbis were treated with the highest honor.  Rabbi means, \”my great one.\”  Teaching was and is a high office.  We really appreciate our teachers and we cater to them.

We should give our preachers and teachers double honor:

The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
-1 Timothy 5:17

But we should not teach because we want prestige.  A person who is \”ooed\” and \”ahhed\” over can easily become a showboat.

Two pieces of advice from a great teacher, William Barclay:

Teachers must avoid these two things:

  1. Be very careful that you are teaching the truth, and not your own opinions or prejudices.  It is fatally easy to teach with distortion, your version, and not God\’s.
  2. Do not contradict your teaching with how you live.  Do not become a person who says, \”Do as I say, not as I do\”.  Don\’t become a teacher that can not be learned from because of who you are, what you do.  As the Jewish Rabbis themselves said, \”Not learning but doing is the foundation, and he who multiplies words multiplies sin\” (Sayings of the Fathers, 1:18)

______________________
Bibliography

Constable\’s Notes, James; Thomas L. Constable
James, Volume 48 (Word Biblical Commentary), Ralph P. Martin
James, D. Edmond Hiebert
Robertson\’s Word Pictures in the New Testament, James 3; A. T. Robertson

Bitter Resentment Towards Others, James 5:9


Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!
Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.
-James 5:9 (CSN, DRA)

Don’t blame other people, in your heart, for your discomfort.

“What is forbidden is not the loud and bitter denunciation of others but the unexpressed feeling of bitterness or the smothered resentment that may express itself in a groan or a sigh.”
-Donald W. Burdick, Hebrews/James, p. 202

This reminds me of Proverbs 27:5 that says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love”.  We rebuke people that we love.

Rebuking someone you love or in love is good and not sinful, but the complaining bitterness, groaning against and begrudging others whom you are supposed to love is very wrong.

The person who tells you, “You’re wrong”, “I disagree with you”, or “Stop that”; actually loves you.  Whereas, the person who judges you, that they think you are wrong, they disagree with you, resent you, and are bitter toward you; do not love you, or their love is very lacking.

Confrontation is a test of love.  If you confront someone and they leave you, you stop hearing from them, what does that say about them?  They may be thin-skinned or easily offended, and I bet you already knew that.  But maybe what it says is that they don’t want real love.

There are people who constantly confront, as in Oppositional defiant.  The guy or gal who is like a skunk, going off all the time, that you don’t want to be around.  That is not what I am talking about.

If you walk with someone, it’s normal to disagree, even denunciate them.  I have three people in my life, that come to mind immediately (there are probably others) who confront me.

When we give ourselves over to bitterness and resentment, we give ourselves permission because we are judging them.    Saying, “Ouch”, or even “I think you are so wrong”, is very different than resenting and holding a grudge, that is holding a spreading a complaint.

It is one thing to be grieved at a difference of opinion and that is okay.  Jesus was grieved with the people who rejected him.  But to be aggrieved, is to be offended and bitter over your difference or disagreement.  The second one has destructive anger that is self-righteous because we are playing judge.

The religious rulers were aggrieved, offended, and felt justified in hating Jesus, wanting him dead.  They complained about him, how James says not to do.  This is very different than open rebuke.

Today, when we disagree with people, there is a right and wrong way to deal with it

Bitter Resentment Towards Others (James 5:9)


Brothers and sisters, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!
Grudge not, brethren, one against another, that you may not be judged. Behold the judge standeth before the door.
-James 5:9 (CSN, DRA)

Don\’t blame other people, in your heart, for your discomfort.

“What is forbidden is not the loud and bitter denunciation of others but the unexpressed feeling of bitterness or the smothered resentment that may express itself in a groan or a sigh.”
-Donald W. Burdick, Hebrews/James, p. 202

This reminds me of Proverbs 27:5 that says, \”Better is open rebuke than hidden love\”.  We rebuke people that we love.

Rebuking someone you love or in love is good and not sinful, but the complaining bitterness, groaning against and begrudging others whom you are supposed to love is very wrong.

The person who tells you, \”You\’re wrong\”, \”I disagree with you\”, or \”Stop that\”; actually loves you.  Whereas, the person who judges you, that they think you are wrong, they disagree with you, resent you, and are bitter toward you; do not love you, or their love is very lacking.

Confrontation is a test of love.  If you confront someone and they leave you, you stop hearing from them, what does that say about them?  They may be thin-skinned or easily offended, and I bet you already knew that.  But maybe what it says is that they don\’t want real love.

There are people who constantly confront, as in Oppositional defiant.  The guy or gal who is like a skunk, going off all the time, that you don\’t want to be around.  That is not what I am talking about.

If you walk with someone, it\’s normal to disagree, even denunciate them.  I have three people in my life, that come to mind immediately (there are probably others) who confront me.

When we give ourselves over to bitterness and resentment, we give ourselves permission because we are judging them.    Saying, \”Ouch\”, or even \”I think you are so wrong\”, is very different than resenting and holding a grudge, that is holding a spreading a complaint.

It is one thing to be grieved at a difference of opinion and that is okay.  Jesus was grieved with the people who rejected him.  But to be aggrieved, is to be offended and bitter over your difference or disagreement.  The second one has destructive anger that is self-righteous because we are playing judge.

The religious rulers were aggrieved, offended, and felt justified in hating Jesus, wanting him dead.  They complained about him, how James says not to do.  This is very different than open rebuke.

Today, when we disagree with people, there is a right and wrong way to deal with it

Discipleship, From James

Related image

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.  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.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

-James 1:20-25
James is written to church people who don’t believe they have to serve.

James was Jesus’ brother.

His letter is for Christians, and is about God’s wisdom in our new humanity.

When we listen up and slow down in our talking and our angry reactions, then how do we live? 

We listen to the word and then do the word.  And before we can listen, we need to repent.

Remember that Jesus’ message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” 

The gospel is “Repent”, and, that means, “Come as you are”, and not, “Get cleaned up first”.

After you have come, because you have repented, you will continue a lifestyle of repentance from your old life, and shed it.

Repent means change course.

“Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent,”

We all need to get washed, over and over.  Sanctification is an ongoing process.  Salvation is an event and a process.

“Humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Humbly

Being saved should not make you proud.  Neither should being loved, knowing stuff, or being successful.  Pride leads to falling and God resists the proud, but gives grace to humble.

False humility is when you brag about your cred.  Virtue signalling is not humility.  Humility is when you go low.  You are smart, attractive, and talented; but you stand down until it is your turn and then you bring everything you have and shine.

This is how or why James can say, “Rid yourself of the moral filth and evil that is so prevalent”, so that you can hear the word of God, and so that word can take root in your soul and save you.

After telling us to listen better, James says that listening is not enough. 

We can go hear teaching, watch it, listen to it, on podcasts or other media, read books, and even go to school.  We can get a theological degree, a masters, even a masters of divinity, or a doctorate; and be deceived, if we only listen, but do not do the word.

Deceiving yourself

We are deceived, if we hear the word, but do not do it.  My theory is that most people who are deceivers are themselves deceived.  They do not even know they are deceivers and would be taken aback by the charge.  They see themselves as good.
We have always had deceived believers.  Sounds like a contradiction.  I say, “Unbelieving believers”, or “Christian in name only”.  It is personal.  I am deceived if I only hear the word, but do not do it.
James gives this word picture of a person who sees themselves in the mirror, then walks away and forgets what they look like.  Why and how does this happen to us?  I think that when we stop repenting, stop humbling ourselves, we simply cannot have the word growing in our lives. 

“Humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

If we have problems with our ground, the seed will have problems germinating and growing.  It is that simple.  The people who first heard James say this were probably very familiar with this, but we who are not all farmers have to think about it.
I planted and replanted a lawn this year and and acutely aware of what it takes to get a seed to germinate and flourish.  I had to go through a process of rototilling twice, with many stops, to untangle weeds and remove hundreds of small rocks.

When I originally read up on planting, I noticed one important piece of advice: Don’t skip the tilling.  I have seen neighbors plant seed on hard ground, and it did not work.  Jeremiah 4:3 says this very thing, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.

The thorns, rocks, and weeds are what we need to rid ourselves of, strip off, so that we can “receive the implanted word which is able to save our souls“, says James.  James is speaking to believers who need to do something before they can grow spiritually.  We need to rid ourselves, strip off. “all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent“.

All means all.  It is not selective.  Christians who dabble in immorality short kill their salvation.  It’s like trying to plant seeds among rocks, thorns, and weeds.  It simply does not have the chance to grow.

Remember that big theme is how to live, and the theme in this section of James is trials.  The aspect of trials that James is focusing on here is still listening.  A big part of discipleship is listening then doing.  First you have to learn to listen and then you try to live out what you heard, and you do it in Christ.

If you are living in sin, and what I mean is living sinfully, either as a double life or because you simply do not yet know any better; the residue of that sin is going to plug up your ears.  You will not be able to hear the word of God, that saves you; says James.

Again, James is not addressing non-believing, pre-Christians; but church people.  Each of the NT letters were written on the occasion of church problems.

My backyard is mine and I belong to God.  Think of my back yard as my life.  To grow grass, I had to clear away the weeds, rocks, and vines.

James is saying that a believers life is live that.  They come to God through Christ and get saved.  They belong to God, but they must deal with their own life in order to grow in God, grow in salvation.  Moral filth and evil that is so prevalent must be strip off, gotten rid of by us; if we want to grow.

James is saying, “Now that you are a Christian, you have a whole new set of problems”, and his letter is a “how to” book for the Christian life, full of advice.  And his advice is not a list of options, but commands.  James says, we must do these things or forget it; it won’t work.

James does not offer group hugs or enabling codependency.  No validation of victimhood, or giving people a pass because life has beat them up.  James is not harsh, even though he might seem that way to the walking wounded; but he is true.

If you are an addict or been set free from an addiction in the past, you know that sobriety does not work, if you continue even with small maintenance doses of your ‘medicine’.  You are either on the wagon or off the wagon.  Somebody who is sneaking their poison, while on the wagon, is really fooling themself and anyone who does not know.

Imagine a person, an addict, who is in a crisis in their life and they seek out and begin to see a counselor, a therapist.  Some will say to them that they can not help them unless they get sober first.  And if they can not get sober, that becomes the primary issue, because it is going to block any growth that the counselor is going to help the person with.

This is exactly what James is saying here.  He is saying that it won’t work unless you work it.  He is saying that you must cut things and ways out of your life, for Christ’s life (the word) to grow in you.

How does this work in the church?  We don’t get into other people’s business unless they invite us, like an  accountability partner relationship.  We are not called to control people, but encourage them and guide them.

James is talking about negative influence that is like mud in our ears or the tangles of cancer, that must be stripped off, made rid of, and cut off and cut out; so that we can live.

Discipleship, From James (James 1:20-25)

Related image

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.  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.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like someone looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer who works—this person will be blessed in what he does.

-James 1:20-25
James is written to church people who don\’t believe they have to serve.

James was Jesus\’ brother.

His letter is for Christians, and is about God\’s wisdom in our new humanity.

When we listen up and slow down in our talking and our angry reactions, then how do we live? 

We listen to the word and then do the word.  And before we can listen, we need to repent.

Remember that Jesus\’ message was, \”Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!\” 

The gospel is \”Repent\”, and, that means, \”Come as you are\”, and not, \”Get cleaned up first\”.

After you have come, because you have repented, you will continue a lifestyle of repentance from your old life, and shed it.

Repent means change course.

\”Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent,\”

We all need to get washed, over and over.  Sanctification is an ongoing process.  Salvation is an event and a process.

\”Humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.\”

Humbly

Being saved should not make you proud.  Neither should being loved, knowing stuff, or being successful.  Pride leads to falling and God resists the proud, but gives grace to humble.

False humility is when you brag about your cred.  Virtue signalling is not humility.  Humility is when you go low.  You are smart, attractive, and talented; but you stand down until it is your turn and then you bring everything you have and shine.

This is how or why James can say, \”Rid yourself of the moral filth and evil that is so prevalent\”, so that you can hear the word of God, and so that word can take root in your soul and save you.

After telling us to listen better, James says that listening is not enough. 

We can go hear teaching, watch it, listen to it, on podcasts or other media, read books, and even go to school.  We can get a theological degree, a masters, even a masters of divinity, or a doctorate; and be deceived, if we only listen, but do not do the word.

Deceiving yourself

We are deceived, if we hear the word, but do not do it.  My theory is that most people who are deceivers are themselves deceived.  They do not even know they are deceivers and would be taken aback by the charge.  They see themselves as good.
We have always had deceived believers.  Sounds like a contradiction.  I say, \”Unbelieving believers\”, or \”Christian in name only\”.  It is personal.  I am deceived if I only hear the word, but do not do it.
James gives this word picture of a person who sees themselves in the mirror, then walks away and forgets what they look like.  Why and how does this happen to us?  I think that when we stop repenting, stop humbling ourselves, we simply cannot have the word growing in our lives. 

\”Humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.\”

If we have problems with our ground, the seed will have problems germinating and growing.  It is that simple.  The people who first heard James say this were probably very familiar with this, but we who are not all farmers have to think about it.
I planted and replanted a lawn this year and and acutely aware of what it takes to get a seed to germinate and flourish.  I had to go through a process of rototilling twice, with many stops, to untangle weeds and remove hundreds of small rocks.

When I originally read up on planting, I noticed one important piece of advice: Don\’t skip the tilling.  I have seen neighbors plant seed on hard ground, and it did not work.  Jeremiah 4:3 says this very thing, \”Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.\”

The thorns, rocks, and weeds are what we need to rid ourselves of, strip off, so that we can \”receive the implanted word which is able to save our souls\”, says James.  James is speaking to believers who need to do something before they can grow spiritually.  We need to rid ourselves, strip off. \”all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent\”.

All means all.  It is not selective.  Christians who dabble in immorality short kill their salvation.  It\’s like trying to plant seeds among rocks, thorns, and weeds.  It simply does not have the chance to grow.

Remember that big theme is how to live, and the theme in this section of James is trials.  The aspect of trials that James is focusing on here is still listening.  A big part of discipleship is listening then doing.  First you have to learn to listen and then you try to live out what you heard, and you do it in Christ.

If you are living in sin, and what I mean is living sinfully, either as a double life or because you simply do not yet know any better; the residue of that sin is going to plug up your ears.  You will not be able to hear the word of God, that saves you; says James.

Again, James is not addressing non-believing, pre-Christians; but church people.  Each of the NT letters were written on the occasion of church problems.

My backyard is mine and I belong to God.  Think of my back yard as my life.  To grow grass, I had to clear away the weeds, rocks, and vines.

James is saying that a believers life is live that.  They come to God through Christ and get saved.  They belong to God, but they must deal with their own life in order to grow in God, grow in salvation.  Moral filth and evil that is so prevalent must be strip off, gotten rid of by us; if we want to grow.

James is saying, \”Now that you are a Christian, you have a whole new set of problems\”, and his letter is a \”how to\” book for the Christian life, full of advice.  And his advice is not a list of options, but commands.  James says, we must do these things or forget it; it won\’t work.

James does not offer group hugs or enabling codependency.  No validation of victimhood, or giving people a pass because life has beat them up.  James is not harsh, even though he might seem that way to the walking wounded; but he is true.

If you are an addict or been set free from an addiction in the past, you know that sobriety does not work, if you continue even with small maintenance doses of your \’medicine\’.  You are either on the wagon or off the wagon.  Somebody who is sneaking their poison, while on the wagon, is really fooling themself and anyone who does not know.

Imagine a person, an addict, who is in a crisis in their life and they seek out and begin to see a counselor, a therapist.  Some will say to them that they can not help them unless they get sober first.  And if they can not get sober, that becomes the primary issue, because it is going to block any growth that the counselor is going to help the person with.

This is exactly what James is saying here.  He is saying that it won\’t work unless you work it.  He is saying that you must cut things and ways out of your life, for Christ\’s life (the word) to grow in you.

How does this work in the church?  We don\’t get into other people\’s business unless they invite us, like an  accountability partner relationship.  We are not called to control people, but encourage them and guide them.

James is talking about negative influence that is like mud in our ears or the tangles of cancer, that must be stripped off, made rid of, and cut off and cut out; so that we can live.

The Law of Freedom and Living in Mercy

Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

-James 2:12-13
5 or 6 years ago, I got a revelation from God that in the future, we would live in mercy.  I posted this on facebook, got a little bit of positive feedback; and went on.  But I thought about mercy.  It is an important word in the Bible.
Mercy occurs 112 times in my CSB translation.  56 times in both the OT and NT.
I looked up Mercy in the Theopedia:

The term mercy may designate both character and actions that emerge as a consequence of that character. As a part of character, mercy is demonstrated most clearly by such qualities as compassion and forbearance. With respect to action an act of mercy issues from compassion and forbearance; in a legal sense mercy may involve such acts as pardon, forgiveness, or the mitigation of penalties.^ [1]^ In each case mercy is experienced and exercised by a person who has another person in his power, or under his authority, or from whom no kindness can be claimed. Thus God may show mercy toward human beings, who are all ultimately within his power, even though they have no direct claim, in terms of their behavior, to attitudes or actions of mercy. And a human being may be merciful another, to whom neither compassion nor forbearance is due, by free act of though toward that person.^ [2]^

From a theological perspective the characteristic of mercy is rooted in God and experienced in relation to God, from whom it may be acquired as a Christian virtue and exercised in relation to fellow human beings.^[3]^ In the Bible a variety of Hebrew and Greek words are used which fall within the general semantic range of the English word “mercy.” They include such terms as “lovingkindness” (Heb. ?esed), “to be merciful” (Heb. ??nan), “to have compassion” (Heb. ri?am), and “grace” (Gr. charis).^[4]^

In the OT, mercy (in the sense of lovingkindness) is a central theme; the very existence of the covenant between God and Israel was an example of mercy, being granted to Israel freely and without prior obligation on the part of God (Ps. 79:8-9; Isa. 63:7). Insofar as the covenant was rooted in divine love, mercy was an ever-present quality of the relationship it expressed; the law, which formed a central part of the covenant relationship, cam with the promise of forgiveness and mercy, contingent upon repentance, for the breaking of that law.^[5]^ Yet the divine mercy extended beyond the obligations of the covenant, so that even when Israel’s sin had exhausted the covenantal category of mercy, still the loving mercy of God reached beyond the broken covenant in its promise and compassion to Israel.^[6]^

With the new covenant the mercy of God is seen in the death of Jesus Christ; the sacrificial death is in itself a merciful act, demonstrating the divine compassion and making possible the forgiveness of sins. From this fundamental gospel there follows the requirement for all Christians, who are by definition the recipients of mercy, to exercise mercy and compassion toward fellow human beings (Matt. 5:7; James 2:13).^[7]^

Throughout Christian history the awareness of the continuing human need for divine mercy has remained as a central part of Christian worship. The kyrie eleison of the ancient church has continued to be used in many liturgical forms of worship: “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us.” And from the prayer emploed in worship for God’s mercy, there must follow the practice of mercy in life.^[8]^

Footnotes

  1. Rudolf Bultmann, “Mercy” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1964), 2:477-87.
  2. Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961).
  3. Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1975), 2:593-601.
  4.  Ibid.
  5. H. Köster, “Compassion” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1964), 7:548-59.
  6. Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1967).
  7. W. L. Reed, Journal of Biblical Literature, (Chico, Calif.: Scholar’s Press, 1881), 23:35-41.
  8. Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, (New York: Schocken Books, 1964).

Yesterday, I came across a sermon that Mike Bickle preached right after Donald Trump won the election, two years ago, titled, Responding after the election of Donald Trump.

In his sermon, he makes two big points:

  1. The transforming power of God’s mercy
  2. Above all things, express love, grace, and mercy
Mike’s first verse, to support his message, is James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgement”.
Mike says this means, “Mercy triumphs over judgement  -spiritually, emotionally, relationally, economically, physically, etc.”, and that, “In this verse, judgement speaks of unhelpful criticism, accusation, uncovering faults, whispering, etc.”
Mike addressed the anger and hate on both sides and said that what we need is mercy.  Mike said (I am paraphrasing) that while Trump was not ideal, for many Christians, that it was God’s mercy that Hillary Clinton was not elected.
The point Mike made, when preaching on James 2:13, in the first part of his sermon, is that, in this time,  showing mercy, instead of judgmentalism, is what is called for.
“Mercy triumphs over judgement”, does not mean some sort of universalism, where God forgives sinners, without their repentance.  What it does mean is that believers choose to live in mercy, rather than judgement.
The Bible says, “Judge not”, which means “Don’t condemn”.  When you step on my toes or steal something from me, or when someone hurts people, or does terrible things to children, we definitely judge them, want them to stop, to be judged, as in have authorities deal with them.
When someone runs a red light and puts other cars and pedestrians in jeopardy, we can judge them as not only foolish, but wrong.  And there are many things people do, that we can say, “That’s evil”, and not be judgemental.
But when that person runs the red light and we think or say, “Jackass!”, of something worse, we are judging wrongly.
My dad’s best friend, Gus Solomon, wrote and recorded a song, called “Weeping for the mugger”, in the 1970’s or early 80’s, that no one was interested in.
The chorus goes like this:

Oh they’re weeping for the mugger. with sympathy profound
They say that he’s the only victim, not the fellow on on the ground  

There is something called “Unsanctified mercy”, where our mercy extends beyond God’s and it is wrong.  This is how someone defined it, on a Bible forum board:

The way I understand it, ‘unsanctified mercy’ refers to dealing out ‘mercy’ when discipline or judgement is required by God.

For example, in 1 Samuel 15, King Saul is commanded by God to attack the Amalekites and completely destroy them, sparing no one, man or beast (v.3). God says to do it because he is going to ‘punish them for what they to Israel when they waylaid them as they were coming up from Egypt’ (v3)

However, Saul spares the king, Agag, and the best of his cattle – the unsanctified mercy. For his sin, God rejects Saul as King of Israel. Saul confesses his sin, and then carries out the Lord’s judgement on Agag.

So ‘undeserved’ has nothing to do with it – no one deserves mercy. It is when an unrepentant individual who has willfully sinned is shown mercy when God has said that they must be disciplined.

So say Hitler was pardoned for his war crimes, even though he was given many chances to back down. That would be unsanctified mercy. Or say a brother in the church willfully continues in an adulterous relationship and refuses to repent. Biblically, he should be asked to leave the church. Unsanctified mercy would be to pardon him, though he does not repent.

Charlie Shelf wrote an article, in which he gives examples of unsanctified mercy, that some Christians embrace today:

Unsanctified mercy leads the church down pathways of compromise, irrelevance and ineffective witness. Here are some of the ways compassion is fogging the vision of well-meaning believers:

Sexual ethics and identity: …we must promote celibacy for singles and fidelity for heterosexual, monogamous marriage, even when it is hard and unpopular.

Economic justice: So many well-meaning believers fall into soft socialist and redistributionist ideologies in the name of fairness, ignoring the factors that lead to human flourishing. …(See the new award-winning Acton Institute feature presentation, “Poverty Inc.” as well as the video series)… Personal virtue and private property, the rule of law and access to markets are the structural changes that will liberate the creativity and prosperity God’s intends for his creation. Crony capitalism is the great weakness of both conservative and progressive political powers, with local business owners and workers left in the dust. Reparations are just a slogan without accountability and stewardship. Welfare without work dehumanizes recipients. 

Climate change and ecological policies: The science is not settled and thoughtful believers should “follow the money and power” as globalists attempt to extract more wealth from the West for the rest with no participation from the Chinese, Indian and Russian empires.  …Somewhere between unbridled exploitation and elitist global governance is true stewardship. The Body of Christ must point the way.

Racial Reconciliation: …We must exchange suspicion for openness and anger for humility. When someone speaks about morality, work ethics and personal responsibility, it is not always “code” for racism. Conversely, those in power must understand the institutional injustices and social barriers keeping many from flourishing. I commend the irenic works of Anthony Bradley and Chris Brooks for ways forward that get past the polemics.

Now back to the book of James.   Remember that the two broad themes of James are (1):

  • Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems.
  • How to live as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The context of the text. “Mercy triumphs over justice.”, is the previous verse: “Speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has not shown mercy.”.
The verse 13 (Mercy triumphs…”) is a comment on the previous verse.
These two verses, that end a section of James letter, convey two thoughts:
  1. The Christian lives under the law of freedom, and it is by this law of freedom that he will be judged.
  2. The Christian must always live, by the rule that, only as mercy is given, will mercy be had.

Now, what does this mean?  Unlike pre-Christian Jews, who seek to please God, we are not governed by an external law, imposed on us.  We instead are governed by the love of Christ, which leads us to love God and then to love people.  We are not governed externally, by fear of punishment or failure.  But we are governed by the love of Christ in our hearts that compels us. 

This leads us to point 2, which echoes Jesus words in the beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  Jesus further says that if we forgive others, our Father will forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15), and on judgments Jesus says not to judge and if we do, we will be judged under the same scrutiny (Matthew 7:1-2).
In the context of the harsh Roman Empire and Herodian political environment, and added to that the persecution of Christ’s followers by fellow Jews, Jesus says to his followers, “Have mercy”, and “Don’t judge”.  And James is echoing that and building upon it here.
And recall Jesus parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.  Jesus says that the person who refuses to forgive gets handed over to the torturers.  To say, “That is unforgivable”, is not in the Christian’s vocabulary.
When people are arrested, for crimes, it is mercy; because it gives them another chance at redemption.
When soldiers are on the battlefield, they have to kill those who are trying to kill them.  But capture is an option when the enemy is disarmed or surrenders.  Then, redemption or rehabilitation can occur.
Incarceration or penalties, including death, are not the final judgement, but opportunities for redemption, before the final judgement.
James echoes what Jesus said, “be merciful and find mercy”.  In other words, if you don’t show mercy, you won’t get mercy.  So to live in mercy, you must be merciful.
People, Christians, who don’t live by mercy and don’t give mercy, will not get mercy.  They are ruining their own salvation, ruining their lives, their living.
If you are not merciful, if you don’t show or give mercy; you are saying you are not a Christian.  If you are not merciful, all of you or a part of you needs salvation, mercy, forgiveness, and transformation.
Revival is when dead comes to life.  Dead believers are unmerciful.  We will rediscover mercy, be merciful.
And mercy is the gospel of the kingdom and the kingdom of the Christ.
Mercy is in the Bible 112 times.  It’s important to God.  Mercy is part of God’s character.  God’s children are merciful.  We live under mercy, by mercy, and in mercy.
_________________________________
Footnote:
1. God’s Epic Adventure, Winn Griffin

Bibliography:
James, William Barclay

Photo above taken from here.

Listen Up and Slow Down

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 

-James 1:19-20

Listen up and slow down.

I grew up learning to interrupt people who were talking.  And I learned to think about what I was going to say next, while the other person was sharing.  I also would get to the end of my rope fast, in stressful situations.
But God changed me.  I ended up teaching listening skills at my church.  Not because I became the crowned expert, but because I became a listener.

My assignment for many years, was to listen to people tell their stories, over and over, and not to interrupt.  Today, I am still learning to listen, just ask my family.

And I want to hear God’s voice more than anything.  And God mostly speaks to me in the still small voice, that could be dismissed as a passing thought.  I am on a lifelong still cultivating hearing God and being still to hear God.
I wrote a blog a year or two ago about learning to be silent before God for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, while intentionally setting an issue in my life before him.  I think that being quiet before God is a very good thing and beneficial.
But throughout my life, I have mostly talked to God, and not heard much back.  And I have learned that God is a really good listener.  I have also come to believe that God really loves it when I talk to him.

One of the most loving things you can do for a person is simply listen to them.  God is love and God is a listener.

And God does not have a problem with my running through the same stories many times, asking about the same thing, or requesting something over and over.  He actually likes it.  And I think that God would like me to talk to him  more and listen to him more, even if I don’t hear anything back.
I believe that God sets the example for conversation, and is very quick to listen and very slow to speak.  God is patient and rarely interrupts and has perfect self control to speak when it is the right time.   And when talk to God and do not hear a response, it is rather an invitation to keep talking and listening.

And when I don’t hear God, I don’t have to fill in the blanks, but the silence is filled by what I know about the character of God.  God is love, God is good, and God cares.  He is merciful and kind.  He loves me.

What does it mean to be slow to anger?  It means forbearance.  Some people are irritated easily by everything.  They are not slow to anger.
There is extroverted and introverted anger, explosive and implosive.  Anger is not a bad thing.  We get angry when we feel a loss or injustice.  
James links speaking fast with with getting angry fast and says don’t do it.  Somebody says or does something and one person reacts while another one holds back and does not even have a need to react.
For example, when driving and someone gets out of their lane, we do need to react and hit the brakes of turn the wheel.  But the constant reacting to everything the other cars do is not good.
I was at a show, at Disneyland’s California Adventure park.  A man right in front of me, put his child up on his shoulders, as the show started, blocking the view.   I took it in a stride.  25 years earlier, I was a different person, at an Amy Grant concert.  I actually yelled, “Sit down!”, at the people that stood up, in front of us.

The admonition to listen up and slow down, is classic Biblical wisdom.  Other philosophers say similar things, like; “We have two ears and only one mouth, that we may hear more and speak less” (Zeno, the founder of Stoicism), or, “Without anger, speaking little, and listening much”, ‘is how a man might rule best’ (Demonax).

James’ command to listen up and slow down, is written in the context of his discussion of trials.  Remember that the letter of James can be summarized as, “Now that you have become a Christian, you have a lot of problems”.

Think about how we talk too much, in anger, when we face trials, troubles, or problems.  We wrongly respond by whining in simmering, bitter, vindictive anger.  Constant complaining is anger.

Instead of reacting in anger, with complaining, and acrimonious bitterness; James says to slow down.  Slow down your reaction, slow down your defensive comeback.  To be growing in righteousness means you don’t constantly defend yourself and demand your rights.

Human anger is when you go after people with words or deeds, without waiting, standing down, or listening.  That is not the way of Christ.  When you act merciless that is exactly wrong.

When Christians protest, they do it because they are angry.  Whether it is complaining about a petty slight or righteous indignation about the government’s handling of an issue.  We get in trouble when we have either an “I am more important than them”, or a, “We are right because we are following what the Bible teaches about this issue!”, self-righteous attitude that puts us on the throne.

We act like we are entitled to our wrath and we are not.  We conflate our interpretations of the Bible, which may be true, with our anger about an issue, giving approval, in our minds, to our quick words, and hot tempers.

And James says, “No, this is not the right way”.  Two examples, from recent times, of Christians who were angry for social justice; but slowed down their talk and their anger; while putting their beliefs into action are Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights movement and Operation Rescue.

Both of these groups did peaceful demonstrations.

Christians are sometimes angry people.  We fight each other and fight the world to get what we want.  And James says that is not the right way for us.

The command for Christians from James, here, is to listen more and talk less; and to stop having such a short fuse on your anger.

Cultivate listening skills.  Listen more.  Listen to people who are different than you

If you are a conservative, listen to liberals and seek to understand them.  And if you are a liberal, same thing.  Listen to the other side.  Listen to people who are on a different part of the church map or theological spectrum.  Listen to people from different races than yours or different cultures.  Just listen.

If you have anger towards people who are different than you, own that and confess it as sin and repent.  If you have a short fuse and complain about every time you are slighted in your life, be honest and admit that is not right.

Move from anger to listening.  See people you disagree with as people that have the image of God, whom God loves.  Move from angry, to tolerate, to celebrate.  And we do not tolerate or celebrate evil.  I am talking about people and what God feels about them and can do with them.

If it feels like a war, and in wars people kill each other, realize that is what you have in your heart.  Change from waring listening.

Even war has rules that civilized countries follow, that are guided by humaneness.  Enemy combatants are captured on the battlefield and not executed.  A lynch-mob mentality is injustice, fueled by unrighteous anger.

Take that same analogy and transfer it to trials and troubles in your life.  See everything that hits you as an opportunity for God to bless you.  When that thing happens to you, God has a gift for you (provision) attached to it.

Move from fighting it to receiving the gift from God and transforming it.

Look up a couple verses before, “be quick to listen and slow to speak”,  and see that God is the gift giver, in trials!  Let’s look at it:


Blessed is the one who endures trials, 

because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life 
that God has promised to those who love him.
No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” 
since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 
But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. 
Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, 
and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 
Every good and perfect gift is from above, 
coming down from the Father of lights, 
who does not change like shifting shadows. 
By his own choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth 
so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: 
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 
for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

If we slow down and listen up, we can begin to find out what the gift is that God has for us in our personal trial.  Not listening, not seeking to discern, but instead reactively talking in anger; nullifies your ability to find and receive God’s gift to you.

We have a trial, and react and talk back, in anger, because we’ve been wronged and are hurting.  We are aggrieved and seek recompense.  And our focus and energies all go towards avenging and vindicating ourselves.  And we miss out on what God wants to do.

Listen up and slow down.

Angry words, thought or spoken, in haste do not produce God’s righteousness in us.  When any trial or negative circumstance happens to us, we need to put on the brakes on our words and slow down.  Instead of reacting in anger, we will lean into God, the Father lights, who has a good and perfect gift for us in this.

Listen up and slow down.

(re-edited for clarity and brevity at 17:19 on 7/5/18, PDT)
________________________
Bibliography:

The letter of James and Peter, William Barclay
James, Ralph Martin
The epistle of James and John, Alexander Ross

The Gift of New Life

By his own choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

-James 1:18
Our lives, in God, through Christ, were God’s idea.  God was there first.  
God has a plan for our lives.  Not a script or a program.  But a living will.

He chose to give us new life by the word of truth,  Jesus, who is the embodiment of the gospel.

The gospel is the good news that we can be reconciled to God, beginning now, by Christ.  Through the gospel we become the premiere part of the new creation.  Everything is going to be renewed and we get to be the first, in Christ.
The transformation that God does in our lives points forward to how God is going to renew everything.

Remember that the two broad themes of James are:

  • Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems.
  • How to live as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To know that saving you was God’s idea and that your new life was and is designed by God, gives us encouragement when we have troubles and challenges.  We are not alone.  We are not orphans or castaways.
God is our Father now and forever.  We get to immediately have a relationship with him when we believe through Christ.  Eternal life or life everlasting begins now.  Good news.
The gospel, the word of truth, is about the new creation, from God, and in Christ.  
A change happens called repentance, and we turn from one kingdom to another kingdom and begin life as servants and children of God through King Jesus.

Your Christian life was God’s idea.  God was there first.  Your authentic life in Christ is all that counts and is God’s doing.

The human tendency is to live your life by and for yourself.  But that is not the Christian life.  We can try to live that way, and claim the name Christian, while not being in Christ.

But the message and purpose of the gospel is to take us from following ourselves to following Christ.  And we begin that process by both recognizing his love and his authority.  Then, we turn from ourselves to him and turn from any other kingdom, to his kingdom.

The great gift of God to us is new life through Christ.  He is the word of truth, the embodiment of who God is: perfect theology.  And His message changes lives.

And his message is, “turn from yourself and the other kingdom, all other alliances, and follow me.”  He says to give up everything, even our lives, and begin new life in him.

Jesus coming into your life means that he gets to take over.  It is not myself running things in my life, but now him.  Working that out is the Christian life.  We are beloved children and servants, living a whole new life in Christ.

The great gift of God to us is the Son, his life changing ministry in us.  To live governed or animated by ourselves is not the Christian life.

James message is how to live, in Christ, with all the issues that life serves up.  Square one is Father, knowing him, and receiving his gifts.  We are not involved in the premier self-improvement program, but a new life, in and with God, through Christ.

God does not take us with crooked lives and leave us there.  He gives us a new life in Christ.

The gospel is not, “hold on and hold out down here for a while and then you go to heaven”.  The real gospel is, reconciliation to God, now; and new life in the new creation, beginning now, and  continuing on.

God designed and chose the new birth, through Christ, the word of truth, through which to give us life.  And our lives become Christ’s life, which is the first fruit; meaning a life offered to God.  In Christ, we become God’s children and his servants, who serve God in a life of worship and service.

Father The Giver

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

-James 1:17

“Fatherhood must be the core of the universe”, wrote C.S. Lewis, about what George MacDonald learned about God from his father.  Lewis goes on to say, about MacDonald, that, “he never, as boy or man, asked him for anything without getting what he asked. Doubtless this tells us as much about the son’s character as the father’s…” MacDonald wrote, “He who seeks the Father more than anything He can give, is likely to have what he asks, for he is not likely to ask amiss.” Lewis goes on, “The theological maxim is rooted in the experiences of the author’s childhood.” (George MacDonald. An Anthology (edited by C.S.Lewis))

Father is a giver.  God loves to give us gifts.

Even in the negative things that happen to us, we can see that God is doing something good.

We have to close off our hearts not to see the gifts of God in our lives.  We have to deceive ourselves.

How much deception is brought upon ourselves through our refusal to thank God?  There is so much to thank God for and yet we get tricked into discontent and then begin to impunge God’s character.

We can be disappointed with life and with God, without corrupting God’s character and becoming deceived.

God is good and God gives good gifts.

God is the giver.  We become givers as we learn from God.  God is generous and we become generous as we learn from God.

The world’s focus is on getting and even taking.  But God teaches us to live as givers, living in generosity.  When you give, you are like God.

God is completely content.  And generous giving makes you content.  Instead of your stuff or money having a hold on you, you end up getting closer to God, when you give it away.

God is clear about his love for you.  We become deceived and have to guard against it.  God says, “I have always loved you.”

God does not waver or pull back.  God is not ‘shifty’.  God is always clear and true, no matter what, through everything.

More words from George MacDonald:

For the real good of every gift is essential first, that the giver be in the gift-as God always is, for He is love-and next, that the receiver know and receive the giver in the gift.  Every gift of God is but a harbinger of His greatest and only sufficing gift-that of Himself.  No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at its own best: therefore many things that God would gladly give us, things even that we need because we are, must wait until we ask for them, that we may know whence they come: when in all gifts we find Him, then in Him we shall find all things.  


We must ask that we may receive: but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God’s end in making us pray, for He could give us everything without that: to bring His child to his knee, God withholds that man may ask.


-“The Word of Jesus on Prayer”


Perhaps, indeed, the better the gift we pray for, the more time is necessary for its arrival.  To give us the spiritual gift we desire, God may have to begin far back in our spirit, in regions unknown to us, and do much work that we can be aware of only in the results; for our consciousness is to the extent of our being but as the flame of the volcano to the world-gulf whence it issues; in the gulf of our unknown being God works behind our consciousness.  With His holy influence, with His own presence (the one thing for which most earnestly we cry) He may be approaching our consciousness from behind, coming forward through regions of our darkness into our light, long before we begin to be aware that He is answering our request-has answered it, and is visiting His child. 


Even such as ask amiss may sometimes have their prayers answered. The Father will never give the child a stone that asks for bread; but I am not sure that He will never give the child a stone that asks for a stone. If the Father says, “My child, that is a stone; it is no bread,” and the child answer, “I am sure it is bread; I want it,” may it not be well that he should try his “bread”?

-“Man’s Difficulty Concerning Prayer”


The heart of man cannot hoard. His brain or his hand may gather into its box and hoard, but the moment the thing has passed into the box, the heart has lost it and is hungry again. If a man would have, it is the Giver he must have; . .. Therefore all that He makes must be free to come and go through the heart of His child; he can enjoy it only as it passes, can enjoy only its life, its soul, its vision, its meaning, not itself. 


-“The Seaboard Parish”, ch. 32

“O God!” I cried and that was all. But what are the prayers of the whole universe more than expansion of that one cry? It is not what God can give us, but God that we want.


-“Wilfred Cumbermede”, Chapter 59 
My prayers, my God, flow from what I am not;
I think thy answers make me what I am.
Like weary waves thought follows upon thought,
But the still depth beneath is all thine own,
And there thou mov’st in paths to us unknown.
Out of strange strife thy peace is strangely wrought;
If the lion in us pray-thou answerest the lamb.
-“Diary of an Old Soul”, May 26 

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George MacDonald, An Anthology;  free, on-line version

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