Mad IS Hell

03a-angry-little-girl

(Image retrieved from http://sp.meucantinho.org/pictures-of/faces/angry/angry-faces-avatars.htm on 8/21/17.  Happy Eclipse Day, everyone!  Here’s a little gal who didn’t get to see the eclipse!)

Please read Matthew 5:21-26 in your Bible.  I mostly used the NIV for my research.  After paroxysms of hate that convulsed in Virginia and its aftermath throughout the world, I don’t think any explanation of WHY we need to study anger management would be required.

Jesus taught that anger can be murder on relationships.

Context (What’s going on in Matthew?)

This is the first of a series of six teachings Jesus introduces with the words “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID” or some variation on that.  His purpose was to contrast the Old Covenant or agreement between God and humanity with the New Covenant He brought into being.  The New is, in each of these six cases, better than the old.  In this case, the New Covenant went beyond a mere legalism about murder to address the root cause: anger.  Jesus definitely raised the ethical standard.

Comment (What’s going on in these verses?)

  1. Anger is a dangerous emotion (vs. 21-22).

Our ethics of anger begins with affirming the sacredness of human life.  Jesus began this section by reminding them what the Old Covenant demanded – “YOU HAVE HEARD THAT IT WAS SAID…‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER’” (v. 21).

The word MURDER does not refer to all killing, but only to the taking of a life that is not first commanded by God.  Remember we’re talking about the Old Testament (OT) here.  In the OT, God occasionally called for wicked people to be killed.  Since God is perfect in His knowledge and judgment, we can trust that He only called for the death of those who were actually guilty and deserving.  No exceptions.

Remember also that human life is sacred to us because God said so.  We are under His commands in all things, including the taking and preserving of human life.  Because we have only lived under the New Covenant, we can be uncomfortable about Bible passages where God commands killing.  We have to remind ourselves that God commanded different things to His people under different covenants and get over it.

The phrase SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT refers to the penalty for murder as required by the Law: death by stoning.  For example:

– Genesis 9:6 ESV = Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

– Exodus 20:13 ESV = You shall not murder.

– Numbers 35:30-31 ESV = If anyone kills a person, the murder-er shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of 1 witness. You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.

Jesus then contrasted the old standard with the new: “BUT I TELL YOU THAT ANYONE WHO IS ANGRY…WILL BE SUBJECT TO JUDGMENT.”  MURDER is still a sin under the New Covenant, but the change is that anger is now understood to be just as much a sin.  We find it easy to condemn murder because we’re so rarely guilty of it.  But we are routinely guilty of getting angry and so that hits closer to home.

Because human life is sacred, anger is as serious a sin as murder (v. 22).  The sacredness of human life is a principle fundamental to all civilization.  Every nation and religion must begin here.  Building on that, Christians are guided by a secondary principle called “the preciousness of others.”

– God says all life as precious because it is His.

– All life should be taken only with the most serious and righteous reasons.

– But human life is especially precious for these reasons: of all the created beings, only humans were created in the image and likeness of God.  Only human beings were given dominion over creation.

When we observe these two principles, it is easy to see that hatred is as violent and as ungodly an act as murder.  In fact, MURDER is most often motivated by anger, isn’t it?

Jesus explained that God’s new ethic was of a higher standard by reminding His listeners of current ethical practices (v. 22).

Firstly, when someone called someone else RACA, they risked the penalty of the court.  This word meant “empty” and was considered an expression of contempt.  (This may be a similar usage to our referring to an unemotional or inhumane person representing a corporation or bureaucracy as an “empty suit.”)  It was considered an example of a slip of the tongue, something said in the heat of the moment, but not really meant to harm the person’s feelings or reputation.  The worst discipline they might experience is the embarrassment of a rebuke from the Sanhedrin, their religious court.

Secondly but worse, to call someone a FOOL put one in danger of hell-fire.  The Jews considered this a more serious offense, a deliberate attempt to hurt the other person’s feelings and/or reputation.  Instead of the court, this kind of angry act put the person directly under God’s condemnation with the much more serious consequence of being destroyed in hell-fire.  Giving vent to anger in this way assumes the offender is an unbeliever and still under the wrath of God.  That was the way Jewish theology trended.

Rather than split hairs in this way, Jesus simply condemned all angry acts, teaching they are just as ethically serious as murderous acts.  As reluctant as we are to commit murder, we ought to be equally reluctant to do anything motivated by anger.

  1. Conflicts need to be resolved as peaceably and as quickly as possible (vs. 23-26).

To impart a sense of urgency, Jesus gave two examples: worship and litigation.

WORSHIP (23-24).

Relationships are so important to God that He would rather have you interrupt your worship than leave it unresolved!  THINK ABOUT IT!  In this one instance, even your most important relationship – your relation-ship with God – will take a back seat to getting that angry conflict resolved.

There are two reasons for this.  One, no one can legitimately worship God while hating their brother. (See 1 John 3:11-15.)  Two, nursed grudges and/or a bevy of burned bridges betrays a lack of true faith.

LITIGATION (25-26).

The practicality of Jesus’ advice to SETTLE MATTERS QUICKLY ought to be obvious enough for all of us.  Jesus offered a sensible reason if an ethical reason hadn’t been good enough: it’s cheaper and easier to settle out of court than it is to battle it out in court and potentially LOSE.  Would you rather put your trust in man’s law or God’s grace?  If you are a believer, grace is always better.  In choosing grace over law, all parties may have to give up their “rights” and forgive the “slights” they’ve suffered in order to compromise, exchange forgiveness, and move forward.  The way of Jesus is the way of grace triumphing over the law.  This is just as true in relational matters, in conflict resolution, as it is in any other area of life.

This is not found in the text, but please indulge me in a personal theory.  Here is another practical reason for resolution: unresolved conflicts are the leading cause of emotional dysfunction.  If we want victory over depression, to manage our anger, or overcome a host of challenging mental and/or emotional conditions; resolving longstanding conflicts is a good place to begin.

How to attempt quick and peaceable resolution?  Here’s one method.

1) FIRST, stop what you’re doing and make reconciliation a priority.  Approach it with a loving heart and a gracious spirit, aimed at reconciliation.  (Motives that have anything to do with “getting even” or “teaching them a lesson” are doomed to fail.)

2) SECOND, plan the context of the reconciliation attempt.  Choose a date, time and place that is agreeable to both parties and will be free of distractions.  That includes allowing for plenty of time.  A personal, face-to-face is the standard unless that’s plainly impossible or majorly inconvenient.

3) THIRD, declare in plain language your intention to reconcile.  Saying out loud and meaning it are necessary.

4) FOURTH, state the other person’s position and feelings.  Correct each other gently and compromise until you arrive at a mutually understood and accepted definition of the problem.

5) FIFTH, give and receive forgiveness for the wrongs mutually recognized in the previous step.

6) SIXTH, compromise on a way to avoid this kind of misunderstanding in the future and provide ways to avoid giving this offense(s) again.  This should include ways to respectfully approach one another to voice future concerns.

7) SEVENTH, extend and receive forbearance, which is “forgiving in advance.”  Realize that as much as you are working to avoid it, future offenses are going to be made.  Everyone should stop taking themselves so seriously and forgive in advance.  Commit yourself to forget the past offense in a way that will not require you to suffer it again in the future.

There are as many ways to resolve conflicts as there are “experts” who write about conflict resolution.  What I’ve shared with you is a summary of what I’ve seen and learned and used in my life and ministry.

The method is not important.  What is important is that we move to resolve our differences in a way that relieves us of anger.  We talk about being as “mad as hell.”  Jesus taught that being mad IS hell; it is a sin that finds its origin in Satan and, if unresolved, may find its conclusion in him as well.

We show we take the sin of anger seriously when we act to resolve conflict situations.  We show we are followers of Jesus when we choose love and grace over anger and law.

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Obviously Gentle

(Please read Philippians 4:2-9 in your Bible.  I have based my research on the NIV.  Also, a brief explanation.  This post is twice the usual length because it represents two weeks’ of messages.  Rather than reproduce it in two parts, I’ve put it all in one post.)

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. The principle stated: Evident Gentleness (5).

The biblical standard for gentleness is expressed here in terms of both quality and quantity.

First, “quality.”  What are the qualities that define “gentleness?” GENTLENESS is a virtue that places others before self and emphasizes process over product.  For a gentle person, the ends never justify the means.

I was surprised to read that the Greek word very nearly cannot be translated into English.  It refers to a “sweet reasonableness” or magnaminity.  Greek philosophers said that it was the opposite of “strict justice.”  So, legalism and nitpicking are the enemy of GENTLENESS.

The word is defined as being generous and allowing exceptions to the rules where circumstances merit it.  Gentle people uphold the SPIRIT of the law, by occasionally violating the LETTER; as paradoxical as that sounds.

Harshness, stubbornness, and abrasiveness are the vices that stand in opposition to GENTLENESS.  These vices betray a heart that is not yet touched by the Savior.

Another way GENTLENESS manifests itself is in a person who is not always insisting on their “rights,” who is not exclusively concerned with doing things “right” (as they define it), but in treating people in a loving way.

Unity in the church is not achieved by uniformity.  Persons who insist on doing things exactly the same for all persons and at all times are betraying a spirit of harshness.  Instead, true unity is achieved by being of the same mind – the mind of Christ.  True unity is a grace God gives us, not something we achieve by force or will.

Second, in “quantity;” GENTLENESS is a virtue that is to be universal in scope.  It should be EVIDENT TO ALL, not just one’s family or little circle of friends.  God-given GENTLENESS is offered to all persons all the time because that’s how God has treated every single one of us.

The motive Paul offers here in verse five is preparedness; for THE LORD IS NEAR.     THE LORD is the Gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23.

He is NEAR in terms of proximity; He is nearby, present with His followers at all times.  When we remember He is always watching, we should not assume anything in our homes or even our heads is secret from Him.  So – you can’t fool Jesus; if you are ungentle, He knows it.  And – chances are – everyone else in your life does too.  If you haven’t been confronted about it, that does not mean you’re not guilty of it.

The LORD is also NEAR in terms of time.  His Second Coming can happen at any time. There are at least two consequences in this situation.

One, this means that every moment might be our last opportunity to do to good, to grow in godliness, to show love.  It also means that in the end God wins and we don’t have to go about pushing and punishing; God will take care of it.  His justice is perfect.

Two, even if this were not true, we all have a limited amount of time in this world: life is short.  Wise people will therefore cram life full of good things, godly actions, and avoid the negativity.

  1. The principle applied: Feuding Church Ladies (2-3).

Notice that 2000 years later, no one remembers what they were feuding about.  There are at least two reasons for this.

First, because the true causes of feuds are rarely about the presenting issue.  People complain about things to act out their emotions but mask them by transferring their feelings to another issue.

Second, because feuds are, by nature, exercises of pettiness, the presenting issue is almost always something trivial blown out of proportion.  So when you have a “ten dollar” reaction to a “fifty cent” problem, start asking probing questions to get behind the façade to the real issue.

The real danger with feuds is not the presenting issue, but the divisive effect on the church; the ruination of relationships and progress deterred.  Relational carnage happens because these squabbles never occur in a vacuum; collateral damage is created as the combatants naturally seek allies and draw others into the disagreement.  Others will join in even if they’re not invited; sometimes with good motives.

They were good church ladies.  His reference to their feud is not a slur on their character, but a situation that is impeding the progress of the church and needs to be acted upon by the church to move them to resolution.  There are two clues that tell us how Paul felt about them.

First, because Paul identified them as colleagues in ministry.  He made this point in two phrases.  He wrote that they CONTENDED AT MY SIDE. “Contended” is a word picture of a team of athletes engaged in competition or teams of gladiators fighting in the arena.  Brotherhood is born in battle.  He also referenced  THE REST OF MY FELLOW WORKERS, thus including Euodia and Syntyche.  Paul named Clement specifically, who may have been one of the elders in Ephesus as an example for those persons he saw as collaborators.

Second, he reminded of what’s really important: WHOSE NAMES ARE IN THE BOOK OF LIFE. The BOOK OF LIFE is one of the ways the Bible depicts God’s knowledge of His own people (see Exodus 32:32; Psalms 69:28; 139:16; Revelation 3:5; 15:21+27).  It is a symbol that is meant to give us confidence that God knows us by name, that He has not forgotten us, and assure us that we have a future in heaven.

We’ve already looked at how the presenting issue may not be THE issue. Therefore, one way of resolving conflicts is to drain away the emotions that make molehills look like mountains.  To regain a truthful perspective, we need to look at the big picture.  Here’s the best example; we’re all going to be in heaven; the rest is temporary and trivial, so dial down the “emo.”

Paul hinted there were problems of this sort in the Philippian church in 2:14, where he commanded them to DO EVERYTHING WITHOUT COMPLAINING OR ARGUING.  That is one of God’s standards for church life.

In very emotional language, Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to reconcile.  He plead with them to simply AGREE.  That should not be as difficult as it may seem in deep feuds.  The biblical standard for church relationships is to be so close and so frequently in agreement that it could be said that we share one mind: the mind of Christ!  (See 1 Corinthians 2:16; Acts 4:32; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11.)

We know nothing about these ladies or their feud and I believe that’s what God wanted.  Though Paul specifically named them, we are not to focus on their situation, but instead see it as a universal example of how God’s standard is to be enacted in our church.  The bad actors and miserable situations that we experience should be resolved to achieve God’s standards.

Paul wisely sought the help of a third party to help end the bickering and reconcile the two church ladies.  An alternate reading may be footnoted in your Bible names this mediator as Syzygus, which means “the Unifier.”  As is frequently the case in the Bible, we can’t say with certainty that word is a title or a name.

  1. The principle extended: Virtues and Practices Joined to Gentleness (4, 6-9).

Because August is the month of the Spiritual Fruit of Gentleness, we are emphasizing it as we interpret this passage.  In truth, all virtues overlap one another and share one another’s attitudes and actions.

Verse four develops the virtue of JOY.  I WILL SAY IT AGAIN: REJOICE! Paul wrote.  Philippians is the “Book of Joy.”  It uses that word more frequently than any other book in the Bible except Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah, which are all much longer books.  Joy is a virtue and it fits with gentleness because gentle people are not engaged in a 24/7 mission to find faults in others, a mission that results in making one’s self miserable and others too.

Note it is REJOICE IN THE LORD.  The prevalence of joy is one indicator of genuine faith.  True followers of Jesus are marked by cheerfulness because they have received God’s grace and in turn, extend it to others.  REJOICE clearly refers to an emotional experience that is grounded in God, not the empty-headed or mean-spirited or obscene kind of merriment that the world can provide.

In verse six we are instructed to annihilate anxiety by the practice of prayer.  Anxiety robs us of JOY and works against GENTLENESS because it makes self the object of our attention again.  Even if we think we’re anxious for others, anxiety is not manifest in legitimate concerns.

Anxiety is carrying unreasonable burdens of care for self or others.  It can be an excuse to justify our being bossy, a busybody, a gossip, or any kind of sin. Oddly, it can also provide an opportunity for someone else to be bossy, a busybody, to gossip to you.  Don’t give them that opportunity!

Look at the scope of Paul’s command – there are no exceptions – DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING.  Stop making excuses for your anxiety, that only puts worry on “life-support” and keeps it working on you.

The antidote to anxiety is not an exercise of will or positive thinking, for those things keep the emphasis on self.  We’ve got to get our minds off ourselves and on the LORD instead.  One way to do that is by prayer.  Turning to God in prayer is NOT a means of avoiding responsibility or making light of things that really are serious.  Instead, it is a faithful and reasonable act when we remember that God is greater than all our troubles: see Psalm 54:22; 1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 7:32.

God can handle all the things that cause you to be anxious; dump them all on Him, trust Him, and move on to something more pleasant or to a place where your sense of responsibility will do someone some good.  Turn off anxiety by being assured that God hears and answers your prayers.  Always.

Stop trying to be God or manage God, for that is the way of anxiety. Instead, accept His will and His timing with the absolute assurance that He is acting in your own best interests.  It will turn out better than you can think or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  As Hebrews 11:6 says, God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  Prayer relieves anxiety to the degree that we release our problems (real and imagined) into God’s care.

I think Paul uses three different words for prayer not because we’re to see them as three different forms of prayer, but so that we will see that all prayers are to be done WITH THANKSGIVING.  You can define PRAYER, PETITION, and REQUESTS in such a way as to emphasize their differences, but that serves this point, too: all prayer is to include THANKSGIVING.  This principle is true of all experiences of life, but especially prayer.

If we go to complain, list grievances, expand divisions, emphasize things that seem large because of our anxiety, we are not doing God’s work.  Whether we’re talking about business meetings or prayer meetings, THANKSGIVING and other acts of positivity are a necessity, not an add-on (see Romans 1:21).  To thank God is to give Him glory and to give Him glory is to make Him known, to bring our focus to His presence among us.  All good begins here.

In verse seven, Paul sets forth the virtue of peace.  A result of prayer is the elimination of worry.  Into that emotional/spiritual vacuum rushes God’s PEACE.

PEACE is tranquility, calmness, serenity that is not based on circumstances or emotions – which swiftly change – but on the unchanging character and purpose of God.  This isn’t worldly peace, but THE PEACE OF GOD.  It is not peace with God, for that is assumed; that is a prerequisite of discipleship.  It is PEACE from GOD, an act of grace that is positive and positively other-worldly.

Godly peace is so wonderful it TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING.  It is not reasonable or explainable in any typical worldly sense.  It exists in spite of experience, circumstances, and the ill will of Satan and his human accomplices.

It has a stabilizing effect; God’s peace will GUARD YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS IN CHRIST JESUS.   As they lived in a imperial colony city, the Philippians would’ve understood and appreciated this word GUARD, as they were a protected city; a garrison of Roman legionnaires were tasked with keeping them safe.  This is the picture this word is meant to give a feeling of being projected.

But it’s fair to ask; GUARD YOUR HEARTS from what?

– From what has happened. Your past does not have to determine your present or future.  You do not need to feel anxiety that what has happened before will happen again.

– From what is happening. We’ve all experience the shock of unexpected and unwanted things intruding on us suddenly.  God’s peace will proof us against the present if we will make it a matter of thanksgiving and prayer.

– From what will happen; say nothing of what we fear may happen. Prayer puts God in charge of the future and trusts He knows how to make it good.

By HEART, Paul refers to the place from which our thoughts, emotions, and moral decisions come.  Modern science tells us all that happens in the brain.  The battle for your soul is fought between your ears, so naturally that is the very place that should be characterized by PEACE.

MINDS might have been understood by Paul’s readers as describing our character, the ways that we typically behave.  Character is the accumulation of all the decisions we’ve made.  We need a GUARD there so we will make good decisions and continually improve our character.

Verse eight develops the benefits of the practice of positive thinking.  Given Paul’s reference to HEARTS AND MINDS in v. 7, he naturally turns to our thinking in v. 8.  Positive thinking means to focus our attention on God and the good things that surround Him.  Paul lists a few representative examples of God’s good things, the things that should dominate our conscious thoughts.

Truth = everything of God is true; everything untrue is of Satan; sincerity doesn’t enter into the picture.

Nobility is another Greek term that cannot be adequately translated with a single English word.  It takes in “honest, honorable, venerable, worthy of respect or reverence, esteemed, majestic.”

Righteousness is also justice.  To be just, each of us must give God and other people what they are due.  It is fulfilling our obligations, satisfying our duty, keeping responsibilities.

Purity is a comprehensive term that takes in moral and religious dimensions, being free from sin in motive, word and deed.

Loveliness includes everything that prompts a loving reaction; things that are “amiable, attractive, winsome.”

Admirability refers to one’s reputation; especially anything that is “gracious, kindly, auspicious, winning, attractive.”  Living an admirable life means giving people more reasons to like you (positivity) than reasons to be offended by you (negativity).

Excellence includes all virtue.  It is a word that is comprehensive in all things good and moral.

Praiseworthiness: Paul elsewhere uses this word in reference to praising God (see Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5), but here it is a conduct of life that makes everybody happy, having universal approval.

We’re to do two things with this information: First, THINK on these things.  The word THINK means to “reckon, calculate, evaluate, take into account, ponder, dwell on, reflect upon.”  We are to consider these virtues fully.

Second, this is not to be just an exercise of brains, as Paul ends with the words PUT IT INTO PRACTICE.  These virtues are not just to be admired at a distance and put on a shelf as trophies, they are to be increasingly part of our character, increasingly manifest in the decisions we make.

In verse nine we learn that we can receive peace by following our leaders. This is a case of Paul taking the theoretical ethical discussion and putting in into concrete, personal terms: “Inasmuch as you have seen these things in me, practice them.”  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 & Philippians 3:17 Paul urged his readers to follow his example as he followed the example set by Jesus.

He also reminds them to stay faithful to the faith as they LEARNED it from him.  False teachers would inevitably come in behind him, sowing seeds of doubt and division.  The easiest way to resist them was to stick with what they already knew to be true. (See Acts 20:20-21.)

They were also to stick with what they had RECEIVED from him – the ways of ordering church life and the specific practices that Paul instituted from the founding of the church until that time.

PEACE is the result of following our leaders.  THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU means that God wants His people to be at PEACE.  Knowing our nature, He knows that PEACE is only possibly in submission to godly leaders.

People who place self-interest ahead of the good of the church often manifest this sin in rebellion against established leaders.  We all know that in any situation where the “leaders” outnumber the followers, confusion and division are rife.

This reference to the presence of God and His peace forms the benediction to six of Paul’s letters.

When You’re Rubbed the Wrong Way

Please read Colossians 3:12-17 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for this post.

Successful conflict resolution (peace-making) is the work of all genuine disciples.

The ability to get along with others requires a great deal of effort.  Our natural tendency is to push for our own way, even at the expense of relationships, and that’s where unity dies.  Whether in good times or in bad, it takes intention and effort to get along.

How do we resolve conflicts and settle disagreements before unity is lost.  We learned Wednesday night that God’s word suggests casting lots to decide the winner (see PBS 18:18).

In other cultures, differences were sometimes settled by fatal duels.  As odd as this may sound, there was a time in history when two men attempted to settle their dispute by casting lots AND having a duel!

French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas, best known for his novel, The Three Musketeers, once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician.  It was decided that the only way honor could be satisfied was by a duel.  However, the problem was that both men were excellent shots and they feared a duel might result in both of them being killed.  For this reason, they cast lots to determine which of them would be spared, the loser was to shoot himself.

Dumas lost the drawing.

Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him.  The rest of the group waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his brilliant career.  It rang out at last.

His friends ran to the door and flung it open.  They were shocked to see Dumas standing there unharmed, the smoking pistol in his hand.

“Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced.  “I missed.”

Fortunately, God has given us better ways to resolve our differences.  In Jesus Christ we have the ultimate means of getting along with one another, even with people who rub us the wrong way.  Let’s learn about Jesus’ way of peace as we look at Colossians 3:12-17.

  1. Take the high road (12-14).

God chose you to take the high road.  Paul’s teaching about God choosing His people (for example Romans 8:33; 16:13) is always for the purpose of emphasizing grace.  Verse twelve describes our God-given identity in three terms:

– CHOSEN = God chose us to faithfully represent Him in this world & be rewarded in heaven.

– HOLY = to be set apart from the usual, worldly uses to serve God in unusual, spiritual ways.

– DEARLY LOVED refers to the love God has for His children; unconditional love, full of grace.

Verses13-14 describe our God-directed activity

– BEAR WITH EACH OTHER is an important biblical command. See 1 Corinthians 13:5 = [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Proverbs 12:16 = Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.  Proverbs 19:11 = A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

– FORGIVE AS THE LORD FORGAVE YOU. Follow His example; forgive and forget.  See Psalm 103:8-12 = THE LORD IS COMPASSIONATE AND GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE.  HE WILL NOT ALWAYS ACCUSE, NOR WILL HE HARBOR HIS ANGER FOREVER; HE DOES NOT TREAT US AS OUR SINS DESERVE OR REPAY US ACCORDING TO OUR INIQUITIES.  FOR AS HIGH AS THE HEAVENS ARE ABOVE THE EARTH, SO GREAT IS HIS LOVE FOR THOSE WHO FEAR HIM; AS FAR AS THE EAST IS FROM THE WEST, SO FAR HE HAS REMOVED OUR TRANSGRESSIONS FROM US.

– OVER ALL THESE VIRTUES PUT ON LOVE, WHICH BINDS THEM ALL TOGETHER IN PERFECT UNITY. LOVE “binds” all virtues together because it is the chief virtue.  It is what motivates us be virtuous.  PERFECT UNITY is the outcome.  It is the condition of the fellowship in which people love one another.  See 1 Corinthians 13:13 = AND NOW THESE THREE REMAIN: FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE.  BUT THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE.

Peace cannot be forged if your mind is on “getting even.” Taking the high road sometimes requires letting go of our “rights.”

God has demonstrated the way he wants us to live.  God always acts in holiness and love in perfect balance.  He always does what is best for us.  The entire Bible is a record of the various ways God has demonstrated these attributes.  He calls us to follow His example because He knows then we will truly act in ways that are in our best interests.  When we choose self-interest instead, when we prefer our petty dramas to His high standards, then we’re walking the toxic road of sin.

  1. Actions are more important than feelings (12).

We act differently because we live in our NEW SELF.  In v. 10 Paul wrote about “putting on” our NEW SELF, as if this new life in Christ were a change of clothes.  He continues that image in v. 12.  However, unlike a change of clothes which we can easily see, this improvement of character may be a little more difficult to perceive.  Here’s how we know we’ve made the switch; we know it’s happened when the virtues listed in verse 12 become part of our character.  These virtues closely resemble the Fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and there we learn that these marks of godly character are a gift from God by means of the Holy Spirit.

– COMPASSION = is one word made by combining the Greek words for affection and sympathy.

– KINDNESS is a friendly willingness to help the needy.

– HUMILITY involves seeing yourself as God sees you, not falling into the extremes of narcissism or self-loathing.

– GENTLENESS is consideration for others that goes so deep one is willing to waive one’s “rights” to revenge.

– PATIENCE endures trials without exasperation.

It’s genuine because it comes from God.  It’s true that putting on a red hat does not make me a fireman.  Similarly, verse twelve is not about putting on these virtues in a hypocritical way, to make others think we are God’s children.  These are all virtues that come forth through action and we all know actions speak louder than mere words.

  1. Make Christ the center of every conversation (16).

Verse sixteen is not limited to worship though it sounds like it, with the mention of teaching, admonishing, & singing.  It’s really about consistency; if our conversations have a different moral character inside and outside church, what does that say about the genuineness of our faith?  It says, as James taught, that we all struggle with our tongues (see James 3:2).

In the very next chapter Paul wrote, LET YOUR CONVERSATION BE ALWAYS FULL OF GRACE, SEASONED WITH SALT, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE. (Colossians 4:6).  This is what Paul meant by LET THE WORD OF CHRIST DWELL IN YOU RICHLY.  THE WORD OF CHRIST doesn’t only mean the Bible, but also the person of Jesus Christ.  The word RICHLY means “having ample room,” or “having great treasure.”  Jesus should dominate our thinking and as He does, He will be expressed more abundantly in what we say and do.

We should ask “WWJD?” and “WWJS?”  S = SAY.  If we would ask ourselves, “What would Jesus say in this instance?”  The act of stopping to think about it would help us avoid sins of the tongue.

  1. Passionately pursue personal peace (15+17).

We’re promised peace the passes UNDERSTANDING.  This is obviously not the kind of peace the world can give, the kind that is more than avoiding conflict or calming fears.

Instead, it is a settled state of mind, a feeling of contentment, and an attitude of patience that is BEYOND UNDERSTANDING because it is from God, not our circumstances.  This kind of PEACE is so profound that it cannot be lost because troubles or trials appear.

Peace is to RULE over us and our relationships.  The word RULE originally meant “to act as an umpire.”  This means every situation that pits Christians against one another must be resolved in a way that leads to PEACE.  There is nothing fake about this; this is the highest-possible-standard PEACE described in verse fifteen.

We are called to PEACE.  We are called to PEACE as much as we are called to salvation: PEACE is the foundation of our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.  If we truly follow Christ we will value this peace much more highly than we will the little things that tend to divide us.  We will prize this PEACE and guard it against self-interest and factions.

This kind of PEACE always produces a grateful response as it directs our attention to God: this response is described in two phrases in verse seventeen.

– WHATEVER YOU DO, WHETHER IN WORD OR DEED, DO IT ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. In these three different ways Paul expressed one thought; all that you do, do it as a disciple of Jesus should.  (This will logically exclude sinful activities.)  This includes all parts of our daily living but excludes all things that are not of Christ.

– GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER THROUGH HIM. When you think of this fantastic PEACE God gives, gratitude is the most appropriate response.  Plus, when we express our thankfulness, we direct the attention of others to God.

ENCOURAGEMENT AND ACTION:

  1. YOU ARE LOVED = Loving God leads to loving others
  2. THERE IS HOPE = Home and Church are the training sites for love and the world is the place where we practice love. With God, we can DO THIS!
  3. HOW TO GET STARTED = take the steps of “UNITE.”

U = “U” as in You (in texting language). Unless you seek peace, it will not happen.

N = Note your feelings & own them by talking about them with “I” statements.

I = Inform the other person about your desire for peace.

T = Talk about how to avoid this situation repeating itself in the future.

E = Enjoy a healthier relationship as you put your solutions to work.

What’re You Waiting For?

(Please read James 5:7-11 in your Bible.  I cite the NIV below.)

Patience makes all relationships better.

  1. We must be patient with God (5:7+8).

It may sound odd to say it this way, but there are a couple circumstances that require all followers of Jesus to be patient with God.

One is prayer.  We wait on the Lord for a “yes” answer to prayer.  Luke 18 instructs us that we do not stop praying, but continue to call on the Lord.

Another is Jesus’ Second Coming.  The Bible concludes on a promise that Jesus is coming again.  This time, His coming will signal a series of events that will bring this reality to an end, replacing it with a perfected and glorified reality, creation restored to the way it was before sin corrupted it.

This is what James meant when he wrote BE PATIENT…UNTIL THE LORD’S COMING (v. 7).  Our hope, whether we are currently enduring suffering or not, is that at the LORD’S COMING, our faith will be vindicated, all wrongs made right, and all losses replaced with rewards.

Patience with God is defined in the expression STAND FIRM (v. 8).  To STAND FIRM means to keep the faith.  It is to trust in God, confident that His promises will be kept.

James offers the illustration of a FARMER demonstrating patience as he waits for nature to follow its customary process.  SPRING RAINS were important for germination.  AUTUMN RAINS were important for maturation of the crop.  (Both of these rains were specifically promised in Deuteronomy 11:14.)  The FARMER can do nothing to hurry the process or change weather conditions.  He must be patient and so must every believer.

Whether we’re maturing crops or disciples, the periods of waiting are not wasted time.  Instead they are periods of development & growth.

Why should we STAND FIRM until the Second Coming? BECAUSE THE LORD’S COMING IS NEAR.  Paul expected the Second Coming in his lifetime.  It didn’t happen.  Does that mean he was wrong to have that expectation?  No, we’re all supposed to think that way and allow it to affect our decisions.  Is it right for us to think about the Second Coming as NEAR?  Of course it’s right.  One of the things that motivate our patience is the expectation that Jesus’ return is right around the corner.

In the Bible, true faith is distinguished retrospectively.  When we see that person remained true – stood firm in the faith – all the way to their end, we know they possessed true faith.

  1. We must be patient with each other (5:9-11).

One of the events connected with the Second Coming is Judgment Day.  Logically, it also is near; THE JUDGE IS STANDING AT THE DOOR (v. 9).

One of the aspects of judgment will be the way we have treated one another.  So James commands DON’T GRUMBLE (v. 9).  Though the word patience is not in this verse, we can easily see that choosing not to grumble is one way patience manifests itself in our relationships.  This echoes Jesus’ teaching about judgmentalism – if we are judgmental about each other, we can expect to face that same standard exercised against us on Judgment Day.

Another aspect of Judgment Day will be how we handled SUFFERING.  Was it with PATIENCE or not?  Being patient in SUFFERING means we don’t abandon our faith.  We stick with what we believe.

This kind of patience can be called perseverance and we have biblical examples of perseverance we can follow.  The PROPHETS (v. 10) spoke God’s messages in Old Testament times.  Their devotion to the truth put them at odds with their countrymen and made them the target of hideous acts of persecution.

Hebrews 11:35-37 summarizes their sufferings.

Job (v. 11) is, of course, the oft-used example of patience.  When you read the account of Job in the Bible, you note that he struggled with what he suffered and maintained his faith with a great deal of difficulty.  We are human, after all.  James mentioned JOB’S PERSEVERANCE.  This is attested to in Job 1:22 where we read, IN ALL THIS JOB DID NOT SIN BY CHARGING GOD WITH WRONGDOING.  James also mentioned JOB’S OUTCOME.  In Job 42:12 we read about God’s approval of Job in these words: THE LORD BLESSED THE LATTER PART OF JOB’S LIFE MORE THAN THE FIRST.

Our patience in suffering will inevitably result in our being blessed by God: WE CONSIDER BLESSED THOSE WHO HAVE PERSEVERED.  BLESSED means “happy.”  Life is a happier, better experience for those who wait on the Lord.

If we are patient, our patience in suffering will inevitably reveal that THE LORD IS FULL OF COMPASSION AND MERCY (V. 11).  At the end of our suffering we should be more convinced than ever of the loving character of God.

  1. How we can be patient with each other (1:19-21).

Patience is our first defense against ungodly anger as it allows us to slow down our reaction to offenses.  James writes to the BROTHERS, but EVERYONE should exercise the virtue of patience by setting a guard at their lips.

Verse nineteen is the thesis statement of the book of James.  His letter is organized around this proverb.  Here he outlined a 3-fold strategy for godly communication.

One, BE QUICK TO LISTEN to each other, but also to the Holy Spirit, who helps us understand the word of God.  Read the Gospels and you will be impressed by Jesus’ ability to LISTEN: He heard everything!  You will enjoy other people more if you spend more time listening to them and less time talking.

Two, be SLOW TO SPEAK: that means to guard our speech.  Maturing believers do not “let off steam” or use any other excuse for unguarded speech.  Instead, we take time to consider our words before we say them and keep from sins of the tongue.  In 3:2, James says that the follower who controls their tongue is PERFECT!  This gives us some sense of the import of sins of the tongue.

Third, SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY refers to misdirected wrath or selfish vengefulness.  Modern science has shown that anger is one of the emotions that takes the shortest pathway from brain to mouth.  In order to have a more considered response, we must involve more of our brain and that takes time.  Counting to 20 is as good a step to take as any.  When we are angry without a godly reason, we do more harm than good.

Why is anger a problem as regards the virtue of patience?  Anger is typically the opposite of patience; it is reacting quickly and overreacting.  It is reacting for the wrong reasons.  As a result, anger almost always impairs our spiritual maturity: MAN’S ANGER DOES NOT BRING ABOUT THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE THAT GOD DESIRES (v. 20).  When anger compels us to say or do the wrong thing, unrighteous results follow.  Harm comes to relationships, causing strains that can last a lifetime.  It is no good to God or man.

Ungodly anger is a sin; it is one aspect of the MORAL FILTH and EVIL that is PREVALENT in the world around us (v. 21).  It is PREVALENT because most people try to get through life without God.  Remember, Jesus said that it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

What makes a true follower of Jesus different from merely worldly folk is their decision to HUMBLY ACCEPT THE WORD PLANTED in them, to the effect that they are saved.  The word HUMBLY is of key importance because it is pride and self-centeredness that causes us to behave in ways opposite God’s will.  The sacrifice of self in order to love God and others will build relationships and increase happiness.  That seems backwards from a worldly point of view, but it is God’s honest truth.

One scale by which we can assess our spiritual maturity is the degree to which virtues are evident and sins are absent.  Another scale is the degree to which our words are helpful or hurtful.  On a personal scale, this means we must be more concerned about what comes out of us.  Our words and deeds are public revelations of our character; what are people finding out about us?  On a church-wide scale, it means that we value the unity God gives us above self-interests and work hard to guard it against deliberate attempts to create division.

How to Keep James 1:19 = A Serving of “P’s”

  1. Agree on the situation.

P = Paraphrase. “This is what I hear you saying.” (Relate your version of their words.)  “Is that what you want me to hear?”

P = Personalize. “When I hear you say that, this is how I feel.  Is that what you want me to feel?”

  1. Agree on the solution.

P = Partner. “What do you think we should do to resolve this situation?”  (Share ideas.  Negotiate a compromise.)

P = Perform. Work together to enact the solution you’ve agreed upon.

How to Recognize Sins of the Tongue

  1. If you are talking about a situation to anyone outside the group of those who are directly involved, that is gossip.
  2. If your desire is to make another person look bad or yourself look good in comparison, that is slander.
  3. If you are deliberately withholding any portion of the truth or including any portion of an untruth, that is a lie.
  4. If you are listing reasons someone is guilty of something you have not observed them doing, that is false accusation.
  5. If you find yourself talking more about things that are less important or trying to be funny without considering others, that is idle patter.
  6. If you are using words that you would not say in the presence of God, that is obscenity or swearing.
  7. If you are quietly muttering words that you would be embarrassed to speak aloud, those are evil whispers.
  8. If you are speaking out of anger or trying to “win” an argument, that is quarreling.
  9. If you are finding fault without working out a solution, you are complaining.

Notice that honesty does not figure in this list.  We can’t use honesty as an excuse for sins of the tongue.  We cannot justify any sin by claiming a virtue.

Notice that being “right” does not figure in this list.  No matter how accurate our words may seem, God is the final Judge of our words.  Being right does not give us the right to speak them.  So decide for yourself whether it is easier to be careful what you say or to just talk less.