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The Book of James
Sabbath AfternoonRead for This Week's Study: James 3:13-4:10; Deut. 4:6; Gal. 5:17; Jer. 3:6-10, 20; Acts 19:13-16; Ps. 24:3-6.
Humble yourselves in the presence of the
Lord, and He will exalt you (James
4:10, NASB 1995).
In many midsize and larger
mentality exists. This attitude happens when workers feel
entitled to something they do not yet have: more respect, a higher salary, a more advanced position, and so on. This unhealthy attitude develops over time as the person strives to get ahead. Symptoms may include flattering remarks served up to decision makers and uncomplimentary revelations made about coworkers, all seasoned with a spirit of selfish rivalry. When one major television news anchor advanced to the top without destroying others to get there, a colleague
There were no dead bodies.
It would be nice to think that selfish rivalry is confined to
secular organizations and that the church operates quite differently.
Unfortunately, Scripture indicates that all too often worldly
also operates among believers.
This week let's see what the Word of God has to say about this unfortunate reality.
*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 22.
Sunday November 16
Who is wise and
among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness
of wisdom (James
of wisdom? What might that mean?
Some commentators think that the entire third chapter of James
has to do with what qualifies (or disqualifies) people to be teachers.
wise and understanding would seem to
be good candidates, but the scope seems to be broader, encompassing the
whole congregation. The wisdom James describes here and throughout the
epistle is not primarily the intellectual variety so esteemed by the
ancient Greeks and many Western countries today. Rather, wisdom is seen
in one's conduct and lifestyle, as indicated by the Greek word for it, anastrophe,
also in 1
Tim. 4:12, Heb.
Pet. 1:15, 2:12). Our actions and
as to how
wise we are. Jesus taught the same, saying that
is justified by her children
Interestingly, the only place in the Old Testament where the
wise and understanding is found
is in Moses' admonition to Israel to observe all the laws that God had
Keep them and do them, for that
will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples,
who when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'surely this great
nation is a wise and understanding people'
In contrast, the
bitter water spring
referred to in James
envy and selfish ambition
(v. 14, NIV) in the church. The latter
translates from the Greek word eritheia,
which refers to
the exclusive pursuit of one's own interests.-Ceslas
Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament
(Hendrickson Publishers), vol. 2, p. 70. That's an attitude that sounds
more like Satan in heaven than like what Christians should be on earth.
Unless we make a conscious choice to die to self and surrender our will
to the Lord, all of us could be in danger of displaying precisely the
attitudes here that James warns about.
Dwell more on the phrase
meekness of wisdom. What are some of the situations in which,
right now, some of this wisdom on your part would be very helpful?
Monday November 17
3:15-16. What is his description of worldly
wisdom? What are the
common ways we see this
wisdom manifested in the
world, or even in the church?
The wisdom that we have naturally is
devoid of the Spirit. This should not be too surprising. Long ago,
Solomon spoke about the
way that seems right as
the way of death (Prov.
14:12, 16:25, NKJV). This wisdom is
destructive to its core. If jealousy
ambition are cultivated and expressed, the natural result will be
disorder and dissension, similar to the situation in Corinth (see 2
Cor. 12:20, where several of the same words are
3:1-2. Together, what are these
texts telling us about
While James never refers to the Holy Spirit directly, the idea
of the new birth is clearly present. The apostle seems to prefer,
instead, the agricultural metaphor of sowing and bearing fruit, perhaps
based on Jesus' parables that refer to the word being
in people's hearts as they hear the gospel message (see Matt.
18-23). Heavenly wisdom is
full of mercy,
good fruits. As we have seen, despite the
emphasis in James on obedience and good works as the fruit of faith,
mercy triumphs even in the judgment (James
2:13). In other words, the
truly wise will not only be meek and humble like Jesus, but also
peaceable, gentle, merciful, and forgiving, willing to overlook the
faults of others, not critical or judgmental of them.
It's so easy to fall into the ways of the world, isn't it? Examine yourself: how much does worldly wisdom, in contrast to wisdom from heaven, influence how you live?
Tuesday November 18
Where do wars and
from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that
war in your members? (James
4:1, NKJV; compare Gal.
What basic conflict do both of these passages describe?
The opening verses of James 4
describe believers torn asunder
by internal, bitter strife. There is an inward cause of the outward
quarrels in the church: the cravings for pleasure (the word in Greek
gives us our word hedonism). These sinful desires,
which Paul metaphorically refers to as
are actively making war against our higher, spiritual motivations. The
Christian life involves a protracted battle which, if not governed by
wisdom from above (James
3:17), spills out to
the church itself and causes spiritual trauma among believers.
Read James 4:2-3. What specific sinful desires are mentioned, and how are they affecting the church?
These verses contain direct references to the Ten
You lust and do not have. You murder and covet
and cannot obtain (James
4:2, NKJV). The repeated references
to the problem of envy, coveting, and cravings or passions (compare
3:14, 16) reflect a perspective
similar to the one
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in which the inner motivations, not
just outward actions, are in view. Therefore, the reference to murder
is probably meant, in this broader sense, to include anger. The
earliest congregations probably did not have members killing each
other. On the other hand, as we learn from the book of Acts, there were
times, particularly in Jerusalem where James was based, when betrayal
could easily have led to the arrest and putting to death of church
It is the love of self that brings unrest. When we
are born from above, the same mind will be in us that was in Jesus, the
mind that led Him to humble Himself that we might be saved. Then we
shall not be seeking the highest place. We shall desire to sit at the
feet of Jesus, and learn of Him.-Ellen G. White, The
Desire of Ages, pp. 330, 331.
Wednesday November 19
4:2-4. Why does James call his readers
adulteresses? See Jer.
3:6-10, 20; Isa.
Alluding to the biblical concept of Israel as God's bride, James likens believers' going along with worldly customs and being influenced by worldly attitudes as spiritual adultery. In reality, they are choosing a different master and lord.
The next verse, James
4:5, is not easy to understand. Some
have called it the most difficult verse in the New Testament. The
ambiguity of the Greek text is reflected in the major translations.
Some consider the
spirit to be the Holy Spirit (
Spirit . . . in us yearns jealously, NKJV, HCSB;
jealously desires the Spirit . . . , NASB). Others
it to be the human spirit (
God yearns jealously for the spirit
that he has made to dwell in us, NRSV;
longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us, NIV). The
latter rendering by the NIV fits the grammar and context best, but
regardless of the translation, the meaning of the verse is not very
clear. Based on a careful study of the verse's syntax and the immediate
context, verses 5 and 6
translated as follows:
you think that the Scripture speaks in vain against envy? The spirit
which He has caused to dwell in us yearns, but He gives more grace.
Therefore He says, (James
4:5-6, author's translation).
God resists the proud but gives grace to
1-4 make clear, the human spirit (or
is permeated with desires that, while not originally or in themselves
evil, have been twisted by sin into wicked pathways. Grace is the only
real solution to our plight. The proud, however, have placed themselves
in a position where they can't easily receive that grace. Someone wrote
that we get grace as do beggars holding out a tin cup before a
waterfall. Only a person humble, meek, and aware of his or her utter
need and dependency is open to grace, to the unmerited favor bestowed
upon those who are, in every way, unworthy. As Ellen G. White wrote,
great need is our only claim on God's mercy.-The
Ages, p. 317.
Look at yourself. What in you makes you worthy of salvation? How does your answer help you realize the great need of grace in your own life? How does the Cross, and the Cross alone, answer that need?
Thursday November 20
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil,
and he will flee from you (James
4:7, NRSV). Notice the order
of the commands here. If we try to resist the devil in our own
strength, what chance of success do we have? When seven Jewish
exorcists tried to get a demon out of a possessed man by using the
names of Jesus and Paul as a kind of magic formula, the demon-possessed
man so overpowered the exorcists that they ran away naked and bleeding
19:13-16). Thus, we
need to submit to God and His will in order
to resist the devil. In fact, by taking that very step, we are
resisting the devil.
At the same time, we should not suppose that the first readers of James's letter had never submitted themselves to God before. James is clearly writing to professed believers. So, perhaps we need to think more in terms of submitting ourselves to God daily and resisting the devil whenever his temptations assert themselves.
Read James 4:8-10. What commands does James give, and how are they inter-related? How are they connected with submission to God, as well?
The appeal to change in these verses is the culmination of all that James has been saying since 3:13. In the passage we have been studying this week, there are contrasts between heavenly wisdom and devilish wisdom, and between the proud who exalt themselves as the devil did (see Isa. 14:12-14) and the lowly who submit to God and humble themselves. There is also a charge of infidelity to the covenant with God (James 4:4), and the charge of being double-minded is repeated (James 4:8, compare 1:8). Therefore, the call to submit to God goes beyond moralistic admonition; it is calling sinners to repentance, as Jesus did (Luke 5:32).
How should one repent? James supplies the steps (based on Psalm 24:3-6): (1) draw near to God, and He will draw near to you; (2) cleanse your hands and purify your hearts (that is, actions as well as thoughts); (3) lament, mourn, and weep for your shortcomings, realizing again that your need is your only claim to God's grace.
Humble yourselves in the sight
of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James
4:10, NKJV). What
does that mean? How do you learn to humble yourself? How can we learn
to emulate the humility that Jesus revealed?
Friday November 21
There are many whose hearts are aching
under a load of care because they seek to reach the world's standard.
They have chosen its service, accepted its perplexities, adopted its
customs. Thus their character is marred, and their life made a
weariness. In order to gratify ambition and worldly desires, they wound
the conscience, and bring upon themselves an additional burden of
remorse. The continual worry is wearing out the life forces. Our Lord
desires them to lay aside this yoke of bondage. . . . He bids them seek
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and His promise is that
all things needful to them for this life shall be added.-Ellen
G. White, The Desire of Ages,
a wise and understanding people.But did this not lead Israel to become proud? This is, of course, contrary to heavenly wisdom, which leads to humility. What happened to them, and how can we learn to avoid their mistakes? How could a proper understanding of the true meaning of the sanctuary service have been their best defense against pride? How should the Cross, for us today, be the ultimate defense against pride?
Vitaliano hated having a house church next door. He decided that when the songs of the saints floated up to his window, he would turn his radio full volume to rock music. That will teach them, he thought. If I disturb their meetings, they'll find another place to meet, and I won't have to deal with them in my neighborhood! He played loud music for several months, but the group continued meeting. No one complained. In fact, the few members of the church who knew Vitaliano were kinder than ever to him.
Alexey's attendance at the Bible club awakened in Migdalia's heart her lifelong desire to know God. She began reading the Bible and accepted Bible studies from Rosabel. Sometimes Migdalia read the Bible so much that she ignored her housework. When Vitaliano returned home and found the house a mess, he asked his mother what happened. Her response surprised him. "Your wife spends all day reading the Bible and doesn't have time to clean the house." Another time Vitaliano's mother told him, "I think Migdalia is going to the house church on Saturday mornings."
Vitaliano had suspected that his wife was attending church. "Are you going to become a Christian?" he demanded. "I do not want you to go to that church anymore!"
One day Vitaliano found Migdalia studying the Bible. Grabbing the Bible, he threatened to throw it into the fire. But when he opened the stove door to throw the Bible into the flames, fear gripped him. Will God punish me for burning the Bible? he wondered. He closed the door and threw the Bible into the bedroom.
A few days later he saw the Bible on a shelf. Opening it, his eyes fell on Malachi 3:17: "'They will be mine,' says the Lord Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession.'" Vitaliano closed the Bible. He knew that God was telling him that his wife and son belonged to God. He became afraid to forbid them to attend the church.
A few days later the pastor's son came to visit Vitaliano. The two had been friends for many years, even though Vitaliano hated God. "My friend," the man said, "we are having a program this evening, and I'd like you to come."
Vitaliano was putting in larger speakers for his stereo so he could disturb the religious meetings better. "Look, I'm wearing work clothes, I'm dirty." But his friend offered to go with him, and Vitaliano reluctantly agreed.
The program contained a lot of music, and Vitaliano enjoyed it, so when his friend invited him again, Vitaliano went. Little by little, Vitaliano's heart softened.
A few weeks later his friend invited him to study the Bible. Vitaliano agreed. He began attending worship services in the house church he had so often condemned and tried to disrupt.
Soon Vitaliano's mother began attending the church, too. Now the whole family was attending church and studying the Bible together. A few months later Vitaliano, Migdalia, and Vitaliano's mother were baptized.
At his baptism, Vitaliano testified, "It was my son whose example brought our family to the feet of Jesus."
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