James – Don’t fool yourself
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves…” “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:22, 26-27
James the Just was a relative of Jesus and the first Bishop of Jerusalem. We see him in Acts 15 directing the first council at Jerusalem in determining requirements for non-Jewish believers. James may have written the letter not long after the stoning of Deacon Steven and the onset of Christian persecution which led to the Christian’s in Jerusalem being scattered throughout the region. (Acts 7-8). This would make James one of the earliest New Testament books.
The core idea of this short letter is the harmony of faith and works in the life of a believer. Our human will, our conversation, conduct, behavior, and morality express our faith. God’s unmerited favor doesn’t negate our personal responsibility; on the contrary, our actions are animated by God’s grace.
People generally don’t have a problem justifying their own behavior. We tend to think we’ve got things pretty much figured out and on the whole, we (that is, I) am in better spiritual condition than most others. Following this line of thinking it is largely other people who are being targeted in books like James. In comparing myself with others, I tend to come out looking pretty good. “Sheesh, that guy is a mess. I hope he is reading this… Preach it, pastor, I hope she’s listening!” We justify ourselves and never consider that of all the people in the world, James is actually singling us out and saying, “Hey, you! Yeah, you! I’m talking to you!”
“But James, I’m not like this at all.”
And James says, “Dear one, you’re fooling yourself.”
I know this is true of myself. My life has been a journey of three steps forward and two steps back. My selfish flesh trips me up like a pair of shoes four sizes too big. My self-perception is that I have the holiest of attributes when, in reality, I can be judgmental, condescending, self-righteous and filled to the brim with false piety.
James wrote his letter to folks like me. Stop fooling yourself. By faith, I exchanged an old life for a new one. If faith can save my soul, can it also help me deny my self? Because that’s the core problem.
So James starts with three or four disciplines that will encourage dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, cleaning the crud and correcting our conduct.
1 – Be a doer of the Word, not just a hearer. The verse isn’t targeting everyone but me, it’s targeting only me. Forgive. Humble yourself. Don’t judge…
2 – Control your tongue. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t demean, curse, or self-deprecate. Instead, build up, bless, honor, use words for good and never harm.
3 – Take care of the needy, the infirm, hurting, orphan and widow. Helping people shouldn’t be a ministry or an outlet, it should be our lifestyle. James calls it pure and undefiled religion because it is wholly ‘others focused’. there is no room for the impurity of selfish gain.
4 – Refuse to let the world corrupt you. We really want this one to point to everyone else because we think we can handle the world, we’re wise to its ways. “Coarse language may bother others, but not me. Others shouldn’t watch immoral video content, but it doesn’t affect me. Others can’t deal with Social Media addiction, but I keep it balanced…” Or any of a million other ways the world will sneak into a crack in your armor and corrupt you. Satan is a deceiver, a liar, that’s not just what he does, it’s who he is. And he will try everything to corrupt you and weaken your witness of God’s truth. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Dear one, as we regularly deal with our own foolishness and repent we will be able to help others. James concludes his letter by demonstrating how, through genuine prayer, praise, confession, and restoration, God will use the living faith He has planted in you to build His kingdom in ways that the ‘selfish you’ could only brag about but never accomplish.
Lord Jesus forgive me. Help me see myself as I really am. I want to stop fooling myself. I want my faith to affect every aspect of my life. For Your glory!