Daily Update #293

James 3:13-16

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Yesterday Martin showed us how James dealt with the problem we all have of controlling our tongues. We can speak in either a godly way or an untamed and sinful way – and sometimes the same person can do both! Now James moves on to consider the two very different types of wisdom which our lives can reveal – that which comes from God and that which certainly does not. This is territory we have looked at recently in our series on Ecclesiastes.

3:13 – James challenges us to examine our lives to see if they exhibit true wisdom. Such wisdom, he writes, is shown in good lives that are full of good deeds undertaken in humility.

3:14,15 – Too often our speech and actions reveal that our attitudes and motivations are not really from God at all! In our hearts we can harbour bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and a misplaced assumption that we are wiser than others. Even worse, James says that if our ‘wisdom’ lacks gentleness and is characterised by envy, boastfulness and competitiveness it “does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” James is certainly providing us with a very uncomfortable ‘health check’ here. We do need to examine ourselves regularly and then to ensure that any wisdom we think we might have actually comes from God and serves His purposes, not ours. We are good at fooling ourselves so must take care!

3:16 – James doesn’t mince his words when he goes on to warn his readers that envy and selfish ambition result in “disorder and every evil practice.” The Greek word translated rather politely as ‘disorder’ is ‘akatastasia.’ It actually implies a shameful state of disunity, disarray, disturbance, rebellion and tumult! So bad is this that even the nicest church with the nicest Christians (like St John’s for example!) has to be on its guard to prevent needless fallings out, damaged relationships and disunity. This is an ever-present danger so we must rely upon the true wisdom that comes to us from God (see 1Corinthians 1:18-31). Jesus is called “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:24) and He will guide and lead us in His ways. 

The life and death of Jesus best demonstrate to us what James describes as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (3:13). The Greek word for humility, ‘prautes,’ also mean ‘gentleness’ or ‘meekness’, qualities which were at the heart of Jesus’s character and actions. Apparently ‘prautes’ was used in secular Greek writings to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken in. So this word describes power under control and a quality of gentle friendliness, meekness, consideration and a patient trust in the midst of difficult circumstances (from sermon index.net). This is what wisdom and humility will look like in our lives as we become more like Jesus. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes himself as “gentle and humble in heart”. This verse is the starting point of Dane C Ortlund’s best-selling book ‘Gentle and Lowly’ which we enjoyed so much at this year’s excellent Lent Course (thank you Matt – and Zoom). These Christ-like qualities are also the starting point for lives that will show true wisdom. May they increasingly be seen each day of our lives.   

Today’s Prayer:  Thank you Father that our lives can rest on the power and wisdom available to us through Jesus. Lord Jesus, please give us your wisdom and humility each day. May our hearts be softened and our aspirations purified so that our actions and words speak more of your love, gentleness and compassion than of ourselves. Amen.            (Mike W)

Daily Update #292

Today’s reading: James 3:9-12

Sticks and stones
Today’s brief reading, which is only four verses from James, covers one topic – our speech. Yet I find there are three challenging points within it. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
 
The first point made by James is that the mouth has dual usage. It can be used to proclaim our praise to the King and almost in the same breath it is capable of profanity! There is a wider issue here too, our whole mind, spirit and body can serve God; but then we might crawl off and neglect him. We might foolishly believe he cannot see our iniquity. I guess on a Monday morning we are in danger that we may lose the Sunday righteousness we experienced and just revert to our secular routine. We need to bring God with us.

The next point I note is that James seems to be addressing the issue of people ‘bad mouthing’ those in the fellowship. His point is that we are all made in the image of God. In fact, when we see our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, we see people who are equally found precious in God’s sight, in fact Jesus died for them too. I was always touched by my parent’s efforts to show no favouritism for me or my brothers. So much more will our loving shepherd show his love for each one of his flock.

The final point is that gushing spring or the bountiful fruit indicates what is inside. Jesus recognised the false righteousness of the Pharisees when they had complained that Jesus hadn’t followed the strict man-made rules about washing. Incidentally, a careful reading of the gospels shows that Jesus did not break any of the Old Testament Laws, and as not compelled to adhere to the legalistic tradition of the rabbis, who went to great lengths to introduce various man-made rules and regulations. In Luke chapter 11, Jesus proclaimed to the Pharisees, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness”. Jesus could see straight through them. Now this might cause us to ponder on what Jesus sees when he looks at us, but we have the full measure of the Holy Spirit to help us through our Christian walk through life. We are blessed with many promises that God will work in us to prepare us for our eternal service of his praise in the heavenlies. When Jesus met the woman at the well in Sameria (John chapter 4), he knew her circumstances, and offered her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. Let us today tap into that everlasting spring of life.

We can all help each other, by using words to build up the fellowship and to encourage each other, and I believe that the habit of exercising the flowing springs of living water out from our mouths will help refresh our souls and those around us.

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Set a guard over my mouth, and keep watch over the door of my lips.
Help us to make our conversations to always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.
Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Purify the waters of our soul, with your living waters, so we might be a fountain of life to those around us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Amen


(Ps 141:3, Col 4:6, Hos 14:2 & Ps 19:14)

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Tomorrow’s Reading: James 3:13-16
 

Temporary Church Building Closure

Unfortunately St John’s Church remains closed following an accident involving two of our volunteers. We understand and thank you for the great concern many of you have expressed. As soon as we have news we can share we will, while the family has asked to please respect their privacy at this very challenging time.

Right now we are making the necessary repairs to the church building to re-open St John’s. It is possible these could extend into August or beyond, but our regular services continue both online and at St Nicholas’ on Thorney Island, which you can book into by contacting admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com.

We are also planning open air services on the church lawn on the second Sunday of the month, beginning July 11th, weather permitting. We are still taking baptism applications, while COVID regulations allow, at St Nicholas which you can apply for through this website.

M J Luff, Vicar, Southbourne with West Thorney

Daily Update #291

Today’s reading:

Pause: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.  Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”  Psalm 126:1-3
 
Reading: “Take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  James 3: 4-8
 
Last month I was reminded of my time in the Royal Navy when the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about the strength of a three-stranded rope, something I spent a great deal of time with during my service.  Today, James reminds me of something else from that time, when he speaks of the size of a ship’s rudder.  I spent many hours either at the helm of a warship or at the tiller of a motor boat, and still have my Helmsman’s Certificate somewhere (very much out-of-date!).  A rudder is very small when compared with the ship, but its role is vital, and if gets damaged or lost then the ship is in trouble.  James uses this truth to speak about one of the smallest parts of our body, the tongue.  It too is a vital part of our make-up, but if it gets out of control then it can cause a great deal of damage.
 
The language James uses here is very strong, and at first reading could almost appear to be too strong.  He likens the tongue to the spark that causes a forest fire, then actually speaks of the tongue as a fire, as a world of evil, as a corrupter of the whole body, as something that is set on fire by the enemy, and as something full of deadly poison.  Strong words indeed.  However, I’m sure that each one of us has been hurt by someone’s words, and also that we have said something which we bitterly regret, so perhaps these words of James really do ring true for each one of us. 
 
James then goes on to teach us that the tongue is incredibly difficult to tame, more difficult even than the taming of wild animals.  Throughout the Bible there are many references to the tongue, and most of them speak of the damage that can be done by harsh, unkind, even untrue, words.  So, is there no hope of taming this unruly member of one’s body?  In his Commentary on this passage, written about 300 years ago, Matthew Henry has this to say about the tongue: “We are next taught how very difficult a thing it is to govern the tongue. The apostle does not intend to represent it as a thing impossible, but as a thing extremely difficult, which therefore will require great watchfulness, and pains, and prayer.”
 
As Matthew Henry says, taming the tongue is not impossible, but it is something that we need to work at.  Firstly, he says, we should be watchful about what we say, and of course about the way that we say it.  Our words can be really powerful for good if we seek to build up rather than destroy, to encourage rather than demean, to spread cheer rather than to spread gloom and despondency.  This can be costly, as we take great pains to govern what we say, but it will be well worth it.  Then, of course, Henry says that taming the tongue will require prayer, and we could emphasis that by saying a great deal of prayer!  Our example is our Lord Jesus, whose life was full of prayer, and whose words still inspire, encourage and lead us on in our walk of faith.
 
A Prayer from Psalm 141:
 “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”  Amen.

Daily Update #290

Today’s reading:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

James 3:1-3

James is continuing his intensely practical instructions to Christians.  Having urged us to ensure that our faith is appropriately accompanied by deeds in the previous section, he now turns his attention to what we say.  He has very many helpful points to make in this section which runs from 3:1 through to 4:12.  

First off, consider your position if you are a teacher.  It’s one thing to make mistakes and keep them to yourself.  If you presume to teach others and your teaching is not correct, you are risking censure from the Lord himself.  We need to get our doctrine straight before aspiring to teach others.  

We need to pause before we dismiss this guidance as not relevant to us.  While we may not have teaching qualifications or be a preacher, most of us are pretty quick to offer our insights and wisdom to others.  This is teaching, so we need to be careful that what we are sharing is well thought out and reliable.  Recognising that we are all fallible (which of us can say that every single word we speak is without fault?), we need to be careful when we teach others.  

Before we have a rash of resignations of home group leaders and preaching team members (!!), it’s worth stating that James is clearly not intending to discourage those who teach, he is just reminding them of their responsibilities as they seek to handle the word of truth correctly.  It it right for each one of us to recognise our gifts from the Holy Spirit and seek to use them to build up Christ’s church, but this needs to be done with great care and much prayer.  

James develops his arguments about speech further by reference to the huge impact which our words can have on others.  Something as small and apparently insignificant as a few words can be like a bit in the mouth of a horse.  Small piece of metal, but major impact on the behaviour of the horse, as the bit gives a rider the ability to control the power of the horse.  More about this tomorrow!  

As we seek to apply this passage to ourselves, we should take stock.  If what we say to that neighbour, friend, colleague or relation was held up for scrutiny, would it pass?  Are we careful to ensure that what we say teaches the truth accurately and in love?  

Also, if we fail to teach someone, are we exonerated of all responsibility?  Paul’s final speech to the elders of the church in Ephesus is worth considering (Acts 20:17-38, if you have a chance to read it).  He goes out of his way to explain the urgency of the task of teaching.  Despite severe opposition Paul taught the Ephesians publicly and from house to house.  He never hesitated to teach anything which would be helpful.  He underlines all this by declaring that he is innocent of the blood of all of them, because he proclaimed to them the whole will of God (Acts 20:26-27).  As we share with others, are we as diligent and careful to share the life-saving truth with them?  Food for thought, and prayer.

Prayer:  

Heavenly Father, 
Thank you for your word which you have given us to teach us and train us.  
As we speak with others, we pray that we may be salt and light to all around us.
Protect us from error and prevent us from being false witnesses to you, we pray.
Make us diligent in listening to your word, seeking to understand it, and sharing it with others.  
Help us to control our speech and so bring honour and glory to you, as we build one another up in love.   
We ask this in the name of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.  

Amen

Tomorrow’s passage:  James 3:4-8

Daily Update #289

Today’s reading:

James 2:20-26

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

 
 
For many years, there has been a very popular myth in evangelical Christian circles that salvation is based solely on a personal decision for Christ – usually through a “sinner’s prayer” and that the result may or may not make any difference to the day to day life of the individual concerned.  This is rather like an insurance policy prayer, with the idea that this is all God needs: a verbal signature at the bottom of a brief prayer and you are guaranteed a place in heaven.
It is indeed possible to believe in God (the demons do that) and also believe that Jesus did indeed live, die and rise again, but still not be saved. How so? These beliefs whilst good are insufficient. We cannot rely on hearing and believing truth as being enough. In fact, James called this ‘dead faith’. He mentioned it three times in this chapter so far. James states categorically “Faith without works is DEAD.”
Mike wrote yesterday about faith and works. They are indeed inseparable. One proves the other. True faith in Christ will always result in a change of life, in a transformed person. This will be evident to all. Not only as a change of character, where we may be more patient or kind or generous or full of joy, but also in what we do.
John McArthur puts it so much better than I, when he says “Faith is invisible. You can tell me you have faith, but I can’t see that faith unless you show me that faith. And you can’t show me that faith unless you show it to me in a transformed life. It is not enough to say you have faith; that proves nothing. That’s merely an affirmation which may or may not be true. Faith, in a sense, is like the wind. You can’t see it; you only see its effects. It’s like electricity; you can’t see it, but you can feel and enjoy and appreciate its effects. It’s like radio waves. You can’t see them; they’re invisible. But you can appreciate their effect.”
 
So what can we glean from Abraham and Rahab?
For God to commend someone as having faith, there has to be a test or event to demonstrate that faith. Neither Abraham nor Rahab were justified before God because of their exemplary law-keeping. Abraham was faced with the ultimate test – sacrificing his son. This is certainly a costly demonstration of faith.
In the same way, we are told that Rahab heard of the exodus and believed in the Covenant God of promise (Joshua 2:9-11). James alluded to one event in each of their lives to show that they had saving faith. They were justified before the watching world on account of the works that their saving faith produced.
 
So what about us? Does our faith stop at merely an intellectual belief or are we actively living out our faith through a transformation of our minds, bodies and spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit?
 
Prayer: 
Father God, thank you that through your Word, we can know you and grow in our relationship with you. Thank you that you want to transform us into your likeness and you enable us to live lives of powerful obedience. Please forgive us when we have acknowledged you with our lips but shied away from obeying you with our actions. Thank you that you hear us when we call out to you. We know that you began a good work in us and will bring this transformation to completion, as you promised. Help us to let down our defences and allow you to increase our faith, by whatever means you choose. Amen.

Daily Update #288

Today’s reading:

James 2:14-19

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.   16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.

James gives his answer here to the big question, ‘what does true, saving faith look like?’  Sadly, these verses have been some of the most controversial in the Bible for the past 500 years – since the Reformation! James implies here that without good works our professed faith in Jesus may not save us from our sins, whereas Paul in his letters stresses that we can be restored to God only through true faith. Compare James 2:24 and Romans 3:28. They are not disagreeing with each other, but they are answering the big question above in different places and contexts, in different ways, and with different emphases. In fact “Paul and James do not stand face to face, fighting against each other, but they stand back to back, fighting opposite foes!” (J. Vernon McGee). John Drane agrees that ”the reality is that Paul and James were both insisting that faith and works belong together, and the one without the other is worthless.” So they each view true saving faith as a matter of both faith and deeds, not either faith or deeds!

In Ephesians 2 Paul actually follows James’s earlier teaching. He warns against expecting good deeds to earn God’s favour and salvation. Self-sufficiently relying upon themselves rather than Jesus will not save us. But, just like James, Paul teaches that once we have true faith in God He wants us to do all the good works that He has already planned for us: “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Here is a helpful summary of all this by Revd Dr Matthew C McCraw: “Paul is addressing those who think they can earn God’s favour by carrying out good works. James is addressing those who think they can follow God without living changed lives that are demonstrated by good works. Good works do not make you a Christian. However, James is saying you cannot be a genuine believer without a changed life. James is not saying that these works will replace our faith. They are not a substitute for faith; they are the result of faith, they are the evidence of true faith! It is by grace alone, through faith! Real faith! Not words, but faith! There is a demand for genuine action, genuine good works, genuine godly living. Professed faith is not enough. Real faith is what we need.”

We have had centuries of theological arguments and disunity amongst and within churches, and even persecution of the Jews for their alleged ‘legalism’. It is vital therefore that we fully address the big question for us in 2021: ‘what will true, saving faith look like in our own lives and for St Johns?’ ThroughJames and Paul, the Holy Spirit is teaching us now:

 i)  to rely on God’s grace and mercy alone – not on ourselves or our assumed ‘good deeds.’           ii)  to trust in Jesus in all things and to become more like Him (2 Cor. 5:17 and Gal. 5:22-26).

iii) to enjoy the fact that we are right with God (‘justified’) through the saving work of Jesus.    iv) to steer clear of shallow, superficial ‘faith’ which is based on professed beliefs alone and is

     not validated by Christ-like living.

v)  to avoid ‘believing in vain’ (1 Cor. 15:1-2, Titus 1:16). False faith, shown by untransformed

     lives which lack spiritual fruit, is not saving faith.

vi) to support each other and those in need in practical, self-sacrificial ways (James 2:15-17).

     Like Jesus, our lives of service will speak the truth of the gospel as well as our words.

Today’s Prayer: We thank you Father that you are so patient with us when we struggle to

understand your word. Help us to trust in you alone for our eternal salvation. Thank you that we can please you by fulfilling your plans as Jesus did. We ask you Holy Spirit to produce your fruit in our lives each day. May our deeds always speak clearly of Jesus. Amen.      (Mike W)

Daily Update #287

Today’s reading:

James 2:8-13
How much do you love yourself?I’m finding that James’ letter packs lots of gems into a few short verses. In continuing to consider issues over favouritism, James covers the law, judgement and mercy in these six verses. I think we can only scratch at the surface of some of these issues today.

 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.


This passage follows directly from the verses advising against favouring the rich, which is a form of judgement on our part, and is clearly labelled as a sin. To balance against any bias we need the principle which Jesus advocated in Matt 19:19 which in turn quotes Lev 19:18; that is, “to love (agape) your neighbour as yourself”. I interpret the ‘royal law’ (v8) as the principle directed by King Jesus, as opposed to the Mosaic law. It was only studying this passage to prepare for the daily reflection, that I started to come to realise what the ‘as yourself’ truly means. These two words provide the measure of love to be given out to all our neighbours (see Jesus’ words in the parable of the good Samaritan to see the definition of neighbour). As this comes amongst the discourse on favouritism, we should note that we are not told to ignore the rich, but to not show any favouritism, yet nevertheless to love them also. Favouritism would be to apply a different standard to someone in order to possibly benefit yourself, rather than being directed by God to bless someone special. The rich deserve our love too, but not for selfish gain or prestige, but because they need Jesus too! In some respects, the poor will possibly be more inclined to accept a message which provides hope, love, respect and the promises of future blessings and a shared reign in the kingdom. The wealthy, which could be regarded as those who believe they have all they need (not just in a financial sense) without the need for God. They however, may therefore be tempted to falsely believe they are already in the promised land!

We walk a difficult path to determine to what extent we are to love people, but we are given the measure – we are to love them in the same way we love ourselves! We will often get this wrong, but James reminds us of the loving mercy we have from our Lord and Saviour, more than enough love to spread out to others also.

Now I’m not sure to what extent you love yourself, but the truth to grasp is that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit love you, in a way that should leave you breathless, and he loves your ‘neighbour’ too in the same way. Practicing this will get us ready to make the big step in loving our enemies too!
 
Prayer
Dear Lord,
We thank you that you are a merciful God, slow to anger and swift to bless. Reveal to us today how you love us and how we should love ourselves. Guide us to our neighbours who need our loving care today, and help us to love them in a way that expresses your love for them.
Amen

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Tomorrow’s Reading: James 2:14-19

Daily Update #286

Today’s reading:

2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:1-4

James is now showing us a number of important practical situations where it is important for us to demonstrate the reality of our faith through actions.  Not that our actions are necessary for salvation, but they are a natural outworking of faith.  If we have true, saving faith then we will act in line with the perfect law of God which gives freedom (1:25).  

Favouritism is endemic in our culture and is completely instinctive to each one of us personally, if we’re honest.  If someone looks wealthy, well dressed, attractive, pleasant and polite, we instantly tend to warm to that person, believe what they say, trust them, respect them, etc. more than someone who does not benefit from those characteristics.  

Thinking about this, why should this be?  Why do we tend to prefer someone like this?  After all, isn’t it true that the most effective confidence tricksters are those who look attractive and trustworthy outwardly?  Let me suggest that it is part of our own misplaced self-confidence.  We tend to think that we can spot the good guys from the bad guys, just by looking at them.  We rely on our judgement.  Big mistake!  

Recall when the prophet Samuel was sent off by God to track down the son of Jesse whom God had chosen to be king over the people of Israel in the place of Saul.  Jesse had eight sons and all went to meet Samuel.  When the first, Eliab, appeared this is what went through Samuel’s mind, and how the Lord replied:  

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.’

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’

1 Samuel 16:6-7

The reality is that only God looks at the heart and makes a right judgement.  

In our passage in James, he calls us “brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”  It is Jesus who has the glory, Jesus how can and does judge rightly.  Our role is rather to love our neighbour as ourself and to treat all brothers and sisters in Christ fairly and impartially.  The risk of doing otherwise is that we turn into judges with evil thoughts, sinning by showing favouritism and sowing seeds of resentment and disunity within the fellowship.   

More on this tomorrow and on Monday, but for the moment let’s endeavour to treat all brothers and sisters in Christ well, as we would want to be treated ourselves, without fear or favour.  This is a true outworking of proper faith in the Lord Jesus and an important command which he requires of us.  

Prayer:  

Heavenly Father, 
We acknowledge that we often apply our own standards in evaluating people, looking mainly at the outward appearance and often making wrong judgements.
We are sorry that we presume to judge others, when it is not our place to do so, and we ask for your forgiveness and mercy.  
Help us to ensure that we do not act as judges with evil thoughts, but rather show us how to love our neighbours as ourselves under all circumstances.  
Write this your perfect law on our hearts we pray, in response to the salvation which we have through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.  

Amen