09-16-18 – “Faith that Works: The Good Life”

09/16/18

“Faith that Works: The Good Life”

Rev. Kevin Hay

 

James 3: 1- 18

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, 

(apparently James didn’t know the good people 

of Romney Presbyterian Church…full of teachers!  😉 )

for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. 

Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, 

able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.

3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, 

we guide their whole bodies.

3:4 Or look at ships: 

though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, 

yet they are guided by a very small rudder 

wherever the will of the pilot directs.

3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

3:6 And the tongue is a fire. 

The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; 

it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, 

and is itself set on fire by hell.

3:7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature,
can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,

3:8 but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, 

and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. 

My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening 

both fresh and brackish water?

3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? 

Show by your good life 

that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

3:14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, 

do not be boastful and false to the truth.

3:15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, 

but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.

3:16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, 

there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, 

then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, 

full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace 

for those who make peace.

 

Today we have a passage with 2 contrasting but related topics

as we think about the challenges of taming the tongue

alongside the encouragement to live the good life.

James sure does know how to call us out on our struggles…

taming the tongue is one of the age old challenges in life

for as James reminds us

we all make mistakes

and say and do things we shouldn’t

it’s human nature…

and we try to keep ourselves in check

we were all taught from a young age…

if you can’t say anything nice…

don’t say anything at all

but we still sometimes let things slip out of our mouths

that maybe we shouldn’t…

and here we have James – not only calling us out…

but also reminding us just how powerful the tongue

our words

can be…

as James says…

the tongue is a fire

and…

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, 

and is itself set on fire by hell.

a fire that…

no one can tame…—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James isn’t messing around when it comes to this topic…

he uses some strong imagery and language to describe 

the power of words to do harm…

and then he goes on to call us out some more 

for both blessing and cursing with the same mouth…

saying, this ought not to be so…

James basically says to us the equivalent of

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Do you kiss your father with that mouth?”

saying…

3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, 

and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.

3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. 

and just as James says…

My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

but often, if we’re honest with ourselves…

it is so…

as much as we try to tell ourselves

if you can’t say anything nice…

don’t say anything at all

there are still times when we end up thinking to ourselves

or hearing someone say to us…

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Do you kiss your father with that mouth?”

as… we all make mistakes

but James uses the example of a teacher

to remind us, that as Christians…

we are held to a higher standard…

any teacher can tell you

and as James points out…

for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

teachers are held to a higher standard

judged with greater strictness

and it’s true for many of us

in various roles of leadership…

those of us in the public eye…

whether we’re..

teachers or preachers

(or preacher’s families – spouses and children)

doctors or lawyers

community leaders or government officials

session members or sunday school teachers

youth leaders or choir members…

in some way or another, everyone here, knows what it’s like

to find ourselves in various roles of leadership

in the public eye

where we are held to a higher standard

judged with greater strictness

and any good teacher will tell you…

that there’s a lot more to being a teacher than just lesson plans…

that making it, in a position that is held to a higher standard

that is judged with greater strictness

requires a way of life… leading by example…

especially as judgmental as today’s kids can be…

you can’t get away with simply saying..

“Do as I say, not as I do”

part of teaching is also leading by example…

if your students catch you saying or doing something

that they’re not allowed to do, you’ll lose the ability to teach them anything…

and the same is true as follower of Christ

as leaders in the church

and that’s where James goes next too…

after calling us out for our struggles

and reminding us just how powerful the tongue, our words can be…

both blessing and cursing with the same mouth…

James encourages us, instead

to live the good life

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? 

Show by your good life 

that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

so how do we live the good life?

with gentleness born of wisdom?

James seems to think that the root of all our struggles

with taming our tongue

and both blessing and cursing with the same mouth

comes down do Envy

3:16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, 

there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.

Because we are envious

envious of others possessions

success

happiness

status

power

whatever it may be…that we wish we could have…

Envy – is what leads us to our struggles 

Envy – is why we forget what we were always taught growing up…

if you can’t say anything nice,

don’t say anything at all

Envy

is why we think to our selves

or find others saying to us…

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Do you kiss your father with that mouth?”

but if, as Christians… just like teachers…

and anyone int he public eye, for that matter…

we’re held to a higher standard

judged with greater strictness

as James says…

My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

so James encourages us to let go of our Envy

and stop speaking with tongues of fire

and instead, to live the good life…

to be teachers, leading by example…

and when he says good life

it’s not what you and I might initially think…

James isn’t talking about

relaxing on the beach

with our toes in the sand

and an ice cold drink in our hands…

though that certainly sounds nice 😉

that’s not the good life James is talking about…

he’s talking more about a state of mind

a way of being…

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? 

Show by your good life 

that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

as Magrey DeVega explains…

“The better life is not found in amassing more material goods. 

Instead, it is found in works that are done with “gentleness born of wisdom.” 

This is the only place in the entire Bible where this phrase is found.  

One does not usually associate gentleness with wisdom, 

as it is not often assumed that the two necessarily go hand in hand.  

It is possible, for example, for someone to have a gentle disposition 

but do things that are foolhardy.  

And it is equally possible for wise people 

to be arrogant and domineering in the way they relate to others.

But this passage is clear:

to live the best kind of life,

one needs to have both, for they offer an important balance to each other.

When one is truly humble, self-giving, and kind,

then the wisdom that one gains will be used for the benefit of others 

and in service to the world.

When one seeks genuine wisdom from God,

then one is able to be self-composed, content, and disciplined 

in the way one relates to others.

Ultimately, having a “gentleness of wisdom”

provides the clearest, most effective antidote 

to the problem of envy: CONTENTMENT

To be content is to believe (wisdom) that one has all that one needs and,

therefore, to refuse to mistreat or demean others (gentleness).

When one is truly content with what one has, 

then there is a freedom that is unlike any other in the world.  

It truly is the best life.”

The Best life…

Contentment…

Gentleness born of wisdom…

DeVega reminds us of an example

from the young adult novel series

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,

there is an important conversation

between the young student wizard Harry Potter

and the headmaster of the school, Albus Dumbledore.

Harry had discovered a peculiar artifact called the Mirror of Erised,

which reflected back to the observer

that which they most deeply and desperately desired in their lives.

For Harry, it was the image of his long-deceased parents.

For friend Ron, it was an image of himself holding the house trophy.

Dumbledore explained the power of the mirror to Harry in this way:

“The happiest man on earth 

would be able to use the Mirror or Erised

like a normal mirror;

that is, he would be able to see himself exactly as he is.”

James suggest to us that the best life can be defined in precisely that manner.

It is a life in which contentment, rather than envy, is the rule of life.

That can be achieved only when one has gained 

two important personal attributes: gentleness and wisdom.”

sounds a lot like the best teachers I’ve ever known…

sounds a lot like what disciples of Christ ought to strive for…

that what we most deeply and desperately desire is…

The Best life…

Contentment…

Gentleness born of Wisdom…

Show by your good life 

that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.

3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, 

then peaceable, 

gentle, 

willing to yield, 

full of mercy and good fruits, 

without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace 

for those who make peace.

AMEN

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