Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taking your spiritual temperature

James 1:25-26 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is 
this: to visit orphans and widows in        their distress, and to keep oneself unstained
                                     by the world.

How to practically assess one's Christian spiritual well-being- three areas in which to take your spiritual temperature
So how are you doing?  This common question can be a good question to ask yourself in evaluating the health of your Christian walk.  How do you practically do this? the Christian walk deals with almost endless variables and details.  James gives us a three-fold way for determining how well we have digested the Christian faith in its doctrinal, supernatural and practical dimensions:
1. How well does your current level of Christianity control your tongue? (James 1:26)
James' first area of evaluating your spiritual health has to to do with the area of your speech.  What he writes echoes thoughts from several Old Testament passages.  Psalm 34:1 for example states - "Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit." Psalm 39:1 tells us in the KJV - "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me."  

2. How much compassion do you have towards those whom we would classify as widows and orphans? (James 1:27)
As a regular reader of the Old Testament, James would know how God repeatedly throughout its pages modeled to His people the need to have compassion towards those less fortunate.  As the Holy Ghost moved upon James to write his words, passages like Isaiah 58:6 might have been on James' mind: “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke,  And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?"

3. How concerned are you about holiness? (James 1:27)
The three areas of speech, compassion towards widows and orphans and holiness carry their way from the Old Testament, through James' writing and into the New Testament.  The areas that measure spiritual health in either testament mark are spoken of by James.  Keeping oneself from being influenced by the world is mentioned again and again in such Old Testament texts as Exodus 19; Leviticus 11:55 and Isaiah 1:16-17.  
According to James, these three areas are the three benchmarks that will tell you and I how well we really are doing in our Christian walk.  I call these three areas the way in which one can take their spiritual temperature.  As James wrote with Old Testament categories on his mind, he clearly was writing about what God desires for every New Testament Christian in terms of a healthy spiritual temperature.

Jesus defined a healthy Christianity by these three benchmarks
When you look at what Jesus taught about the church, we can see evidence that His concern dealt with these three areas.  In regards to the area of the tongue, Jesus states in Matthew 12:36-37 36“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  

In terms of how people were to regard widows or orphans, Jesus throughout his ministry had much to say about the treatment of children.  In Matthew 18:5-6 5“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."  In the judgment scene where Jesus has the nations situated before Him, we read in Matthew 25:45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."

Then in regards to the purity and personal holiness of his church, Jesus placed it first priority.  In Matthew 18 we have Jesus giving the first set of instructions to his church as to how she is to restore her membership and how she is to promote holiness and restoration.  Before Jesus ever issued the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 or even the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:37-39, He issued what I term "The Great Concern" of Matthew 18. 

The remainder of the New Testament defines healthy Christianity by the realms of the tongue, treatment of children/widows and purity
Just like Jesus and James, the remainder of the New Testament took the spiritual temperature of Christian health by these three benchmarks.  For example, in Acts 6 we see the Apostles having to instruct the church to appoint Deacons to deal with the dispute among the Grecian and Jewish Widows.  The Apostles knew that if the early church could not minister to her widows properly, then their whole Christian witness would be questioned.  This is the main reason why the Apostle Paul had an entire chapter dedicated to the care and listing of widows in the early church in 1 Timothy 5. 

Numerous passages have the Apostles urging their readers to watch their tongues and to practice godliness in the realm of their speech-life. (Ephesians 4:21-24; 1 Peter 2:1-2, 3:9)  In fact, James himself at one point states that in the natural realm, no one has been able to tame the tongue - since it is an unruly member. (James 3:8)  So then if no one naturally can tame the tongue, then only the Holy Spirit governing the moral and spiritual dimensions of a person can tame it!  To have a Christianity that legitimately tames the realm of speech is to have a unique claim - since such a feat is not natural, but supernatural!

Then a truly healthy Christianity will hate worldliness and cling to what is holy.  Again numerous New Testament scriptures emphasize the believer's personal purity and holiness. (Romans 6:12, 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 6; 1 Peter 1:15-16)

So how are you doing? My prayer is that you and I will have a healthier Christianity that is strong in the realms of a controlled tongue, compassion and concern for holiness. 

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