James 1:17-18 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
The church that God has blessed me to pastor and to be a part of is a church that reaches out to people. However whenever I look at this passage of James 1:17-27, I discover that there are specific ways in which we or any church can be more effective in being a church that reaches to make a difference. Today's post, like yesterday's, is all about encouraging every church and every born-again child of God to be the type of church or disciple that reaches to make a difference. Five specific ways of reaching are mentioned here in James 1:17-27. We explored the first three yesterday, namely....
1. Reaching out with the Gospel 1:17-18
2. Reaching up in prayer 1:19-21a
3. Reaching for the Bible
Today we continue this study on reaching out to make a difference. How can a church or an individual follower of Jesus Christ reach out to make a difference? Notice...
Churches must reach towards holiness 1:26James 1:26 states: "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." The tongue in James' epistle is discussed quite a bit as being an major indicator of one's inner spiritual condition. Towards the end of James 1:27 we see these words: "and to keep oneself unstained by the world." The world in this context refers to the system of unbelief opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. (compare 1 John 2:15-17). The tongue transmits the contents of the heart through the speech, whereas the world brings it's agenda to us through our senses (1 John 2:15-17).
In the scriptures we see several references to a person's speech indicating the contents of their heart. Psalm 140:3 describes the mouth of the wicked as having the poison of a serpent. According to Proverbs 6:17-19, a "lying tongue" is one of the seven things God hates. Romans 3:13-14 includes this description of unbelieving man: “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”. Jesus warns us of the accountability we have for our words before God in Matthew 12:36-37 "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.” (also see Luke 6:45) Truly then we can discern how much we are concerned about holiness by how well we control the tongue.
Holiness is not so much concerned with longer dresses and shorter hair as it is an attitude of the heart set on making one's life an act of worship to a Holy God. According to James, how one expresses one's holiness is measured by what rolls off the tongue. On the one hand people cannot tame the tongue by natural power nor the flesh. (James 3:8) Yet James tells us here in James 1:26 that the ability to hold one's tongue is a measurement of one's inner spiritual vitality - which indicates that only when we are under the Spirit's control and direction can control of the tongue be achieved. (Ephesians 5:18)
Whenever we exercise how we express our words in our individual life, that in-and-of itself demonstrates how much we are under the control of the Holy Spirit.
In as much as holiness concerns the inward condition of the heart, it also has to do with how much we have set ourselves apart from the world. Without resorting to crass legalism, holiness ought to be discerned by asking the simple question: can anyone tell by looking upon my life that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ? This is why James includes this instruction in 1:27 of "keeping oneself unstained from the world." We are after all called by the Heavenly Father to "come out and be separate" - i.e. holy (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). Holiness is just as much about knowing "who we are" as "knowing who we are not". Avoiding worldliness and controlling the tongue deals with the respective outside and inside areas of practical holiness.
Imagine if you will an entire church body exhibiting this same type of concern. Clearly a church that is given to reaching for holiness in its speech, its actions and its attitudes will be effective in reaching forth to make a difference. Sadly our fellowships are more often characterized by cynicism and back-biting than edification and building up of one another - as we ought to be. (Hebrews 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24-25) The church so often tries to be like the world in reaching the world that it ceases being effective in the world. We are called by Jesus to be salt that slows the advances of evil and sheds light in a culture of darkness. (Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:14-16).
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