Today is a deviation from the series on Titus, primarily because the Emery's were coming to speak to us about their mission work in New Guinea, but have been called urgently back to New Guinea as part of that work. Rather than re-jigging the services again, I have chosen to do a study on something that I read not that long ago, and it has been nagging at me. It comes from the book of James, chapter 4, verses 6-10, and was highlighted by a commentator, Haddon Robinson in his book: ‘Decision Making by the Book: How to Choose Wisely in an Age of Options'. As you can see by the title of the book, ‘Decision making by the Book', the ‘book' in title is of course being the Word of God, and relates to decision making, and how a Christian makes a decision about things in life, like a job, a wife or husband, a place to live, and so forth. These are the type of decisions we have all made, and some of us made or make better decisions than others. Robinson's bottom line message, as I see it, is this: God rarely gives you an answer in person, in fact, if you believe that God spoke to you and told you to do X or Y, really take a very close look at that belief, as God rarely spoke to people directly in the Bible, and when He did, it was often through an angel - very obvious, occasionally by a voice, for example, Elijah, after of course an earthquake, fire and massive wind, again obviously God speaking, and usually about something very big, not to move to Lobethal and live. Robinson says that God has provided His book, the Bible, in which is all the information we will ever need to make a decision. To paraphrase, Jesus has had no need to come to earth again, to give us an update, a refresher, as all that we need to know is in His Word, and the Holy Spirit who resides in us, is there to help us grasp the truths. That is the context of what I was reading.
These verses in James though don't appear that helpful in making decisions in the first read. In fact, they don't appear to be at all encouraging: James, chapter 4, starting at verse 6:
‘Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.'
The first thing that I noted when I re-read these verses was when I read ‘Lament and mourn and weep!' This is strong language - three action words. They are pretty bad emotional states really, are they not; lament, mourn, weep. But the next line is just as confronting: ‘Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.' Then I breathed a sigh of relief, it was talking to sinners was it not? The double minded, as shown in the preceding lines, so I was just fine!! How wrong one can be, and maybe this is how James came to write other words that appear in the same book ‘For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.' James was writing to the twelve tribes scattered. He was writing to Christian Jews. He was reminding them that they need to submit to God, and not be double minded. Being double minded is not something a non-Christian can be, (unless it relates to something other than God and religion), a double minded person is a person who lives with a foot in God's camp, and a foot in the world.
So these words have gotten to me, especially every time I am double minded which is more times than enough each day. It is so easy to be double minded! It is incredibly simple to forget that it is God whom we serve, 24/7. Let me illustrate this in two ways, so you can see how simple it is to fail, to be a sinner, to be double minded, to need these words of James to bring us back to submission.
Point one - too much food, the Bible calls gluttony, and the end result is being fat. How often have I been double minded when I take a double serve, because, I keep saying I need to loose weight, and I never ever need a second helping!
Point two - driving to work, busy roads, rude drivers and one cuts in front. How gracious is my response? I hope as I typed these words that maybe this is not what James means, but my conscience tells me it is. It is the everyday stuff in life that we fail in, when we do not meet God's standards, when getting up in the morning, or talking to people, or interacting with others.
How can I be so sure this is so? Staying in James we can read: ‘But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men' (3:8-9) - does that not relate to my response to the driver of the errant car? We do our morning devotion, then drive to work. It fits exactly with the verse, one minute we are blessing God, the next minute we are cursing a man for annoying us. Sure, I may not be swearing, but I am not turning the other cheek, my words are not gracious.
So I sin, frequently! How well do I repent? I pray, I ask for forgiveness, I drive again, I sin again. What this verse is telling me is this. Repentance is somewhat more than a quick prayer - a quick prayer is a great start, it is a recognition that one has just offended God, and the prayer may have brought the mind back before God, but He wants a little more sincerity, lament, mourn, weep. I am sure God does not use words like this without meaning it. I don't know about you as I say these things, perhaps you have learned these lessons, after all, I am young, as our friend Colin kindly pointed out last week, and some like Dr Don, have many more years of wisdom. But I think that for us all, a refresher in how God wants us to repent is a good thing, and not only that, we need to be mentors to the young, we need to ensure the young has some God given wisdom told to them, in a world where corporal punishment is no longer seen as reasonable when a child sins. This James' verse is needed in every home, to be reminded of regularly, starting with the words ‘submit to God', reminding us of our sin, and then reminding us of what a truly humble repentant spirit requires in terms of emotional output. To cry takes a deep inner emotion. It means we are truly sorry, and being this sorry creates the sorrow required.
What, you may say, has this got to do with decision making? Where are we with God? Can we make Godly decisions, based on His teaching, if we live a double minded life, never really in sync with God, lacking true submission that comes with lamenting, mourning and weeping, that is making ourselves humble before God? I guess this is where theses verses, and the commentary of Robinson took me. He speaks of wisdom and seeking Godly counsel as good Biblical principles. Wisdom can only come from God, and Godly men teaching the deep truths found in the Word. We need to remind ourselves of these things, as we all can, as humans, develop an immunity, and skim over words that may appear harsh, or uncompromising. Again, I say, maybe it is just me, even so, the lesson though you may have learned it long ago, needs to be taught openly to our younger brothers and sisters, I think, anyway.
I want to also look at two other aspects of this verse today, the first being:
‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you' (James 4:7)
‘Isn't that something? You, through resisting the devil, will make the devil flee. What does this mean? Acts 10:37-38 tells us more about us and the devil and what this verse is not saying: ‘"that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.' Here we see that healing came from Jesus as he went on His mission, and here we see that people were oppressed by the devil, and they were healed from this. There are a number of examples of this in the Gospel. These people may have been resisting, but were still oppressed, or possessed. When Jesus healed these people he did not mention this James' verse to them. There is no mention in the Gospels where Jesus tells the disciples that if only these people would resist the devil their oppression would be gone. So, this tells us that the James' verse is more simple, the devil provides temptations, we resist, he flees. There is no guarantee that the devil won't return with another temptation, whereas Jesus healed those oppressed by the devil. It is a different context.
William Kelly writes in his Exposition of the book of James: ‘But there is an adversary ever at work with whom we are called to have no terms, no compromises, even where appearances are put forward ever so plausibly. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Christ is the test: the devil always works to thwart and defame the Lord Jesus. He may preach righteousness, he may stimulate zeal; but he never exalts Christ's name in truth, any more than leads to suffering for His sake. Detested and resisted he will flee from us. To gratify flesh and the world are his ordinary snares. Let us never forget that to faith he is a vanquished enemy. Let us resist him in dependence on the Lord. On the other hand, we are called to "draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you."' This is why James starts with the exaltation to ‘submit to God'. We can do nothing, including make decisions, without this first step, otherwise it is our step, and this will mean we lack God's insight into what it is we are going to do, and opens the way for the devil to tempt, and deceive. If we live in submission, we can resist the devil, and he will flee. Our decisions are then based on God's ways, not the temptation.
The second point that I wished to cover whilst looking a this passage is the last line of the verses we read:
‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.' James 4:10
We are mourning, weeping, lamenting, we sorrow that we have added to the pain that our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. We acknowledge our part in hammering in the nails. We are somewhere where God the Lord can lift us from. He cannot lift us from an upright position. When I think of this, I am immediately brought to the great verses for the suffering and down stricken, for there is no caveat here, the lament with the humbling of the spirit before God in repentance does not matter as a context as to why, God has forgotten your sin as He forgives, but, He notes the humble position and the promise of God is the same in James as it was in Isaiah: ‘He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.' (40:29-31) and again with the promise in James: ‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.' It is all about how we bow, or kneel before God, it is about what our relationship is with Him. His promises are for those that wait on Him, humble themselves before Him, submit to Him. These are the richest promises we know of, for it tells us that despite circumstances, we can ride high with God. It does not tell us that our problems are over, that our pain will go away, that our mortal bodies become immortal in this world, not at all. It tells us that God gives the strength to overcome, even the worst of temptations, the worst of weariness, the valley of the shadow of death, those dark places.
God does have a caveat that is plain and clear in the question; where do we sit with God? What is our willingness to truly repent? This is between you and God. Job sat in ashes, and did not speak for days. After much bad counsel, and his own protests, he submitted to God, and God gave him much back. But, and this is a big BUT, so we do not fall into the trap of expecting prosperity for being humble, how many other people in the Bible received such a return? I believe that God gave Job back double because in all reality, and as God himself said, Job was ‘a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil'. In fact, by the time we reach to New Testament we have a completely different reward system in place. Matthew 5:11-12 tells us this:
‘"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'
I trust this does not sound too much like a sermon! I really was after a refresher, but for me it has to be a sermon. I need to make better decisions for God. If God does not generally answer prayer questions through sending letters, phone me, speak loudly to me at night, send an angel that I can see, or even speak through the Bible by me opening it and placing my finger on a verse with my eyes closed (lots of Christians do the latter, and God definitely does not answer questions this way), then how do I know how to make a good decision? I am learning that my repentance attitude is very important. I am learning that submission to God is absolute. I know that my reward is in heaven, so life is not really like Christmas every day, in fact, I read that I need to endure hardship, trials, refinement by fire, if I am to grow as a Christian. The decision I make may end up feeling like a bad one, when really, in retrospect, all it was a little refining by God, to get rid of more of the impurities, leaving behind a greater percentage of His gold. How do I know, without the glasses of retrospect on? I don't. God tells us that sometimes we won't know. Hitler murdered 6 million Jews. Jews then went to Israel and established their own nation again. God has let that nation survive despite the greatest of odds that it would not. If I was Jew, who moved to Germany just before this occurred, would I believe that this was a good decision as I was murdered. God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, allowing stuff to happen, in perfect planning. He knows and counts the very hairs of our heads, He knows our every down and every up, David tells us this:
‘Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.' (Psalm 139:7-12)
The reason I am exploring this, is that this is not what we want to hear, yet the Bible is full of this type of example! I don't want to know any of this, from the need to be humble and repent to the level of mourning, to that of having to be refined as by fire. Do my decisions matter? Can I know the will of God, can I walk the pathway He wants me to without making the wrong decision? God has given us the choice to make whatever decision we want to make. He let Eve take the fruit. He let Adam go along with Eve. There were consequences, but, God did not sigh and say, enough is enough, from now on I will make sure you do the right stuff. He has allowed us to wreck his beautiful planet, polluting it, covering it with false gods, with temples, idols and ways of life that are abhorrent. He tells us though that there is an end date, and we can choose Him or the world, that is Satan. It is our choice. That one, is easy, I choose God, Jehovah, the creator, and Saviour of the World. Many don't even make that choice right. But where should I retire to? How should I invest my superannuation (the Lord Jesus may come before I retire anyway? Therefore, this argument is mute, we are told to be good stewards).
Robinson says that the Word is enough. The Bible gives us enough information to know the will of God, even if it takes us to places we do not like. God has given us story after story. Think of Joseph, slavery, jail, false accusations, forgotten by men he helped, then out of the wilderness into light, to save his family from certain death, and this established the nation of Israel. Some of his decisions weren't his own to make, he certainly did not request slavery. But his attitude and his relationship with God was his own decision, and he made the right ones there. Think of Elijah, Samson - he died as he repented and became right before God, yet he made the right decision to bring the building down.
So what was it that makes these, and many, many other examples in the Bible the right decision? Again, I take the example Robinson offers. I trust that you will be like the Berean's and take these comments home and test them yourselves.
“ ‘…behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" So he answered and said, "`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and `your neighbour as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."' Luke 10:25-28
The story of the good Samaritan follows this interchange as Jesus gives an example of who may be a neighbour. The lawyer wanted to make the right decisions in life. He was wealthy, educated, successful, but obviously felt a need somewhere, but could not put his finger on it. He thought he might test Jesus, but one also can feel that he was looking for something to add to his already successful life. Jesus gave him the decision making recipe. To paraphrase: Love the LORD your God with everything you have, plus some; love everyone else the same way you have been loving yourself, and your decisions will be right. Agape love, the love here for the neighbour is that of asking the question, will my decision benefit someone else? This is not the usual question, for that for me the usual question is, will my decision benefit me, and maybe, will there be spin-offs that may benefit others? The other part of the statement is this: will what I do, glorify God, because if I love Him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength we should be doing stuff that benefits God 100%. Love is the key, our love of God and our love for God's fallen world - which needs to be brought into His presence. If our love for God hits these incredible heights, when we fail and sin, be double minded, we will weep and mourn and lament, as we feel the pain we have caused Him and the damage we have done to that love we have for God. Repentance will bring healing, as God will lift us with eagle's wings and wipe away our tears.
Where we live does not matter; the question is, if I move to Lobethal, can I love God and my neighbour as I should? In essence, the question is what is my motive for moving to Lobethal? Prestige, status, a good distance from my brother? Maybe I will need to change church. That may be OK, God may want you working elsewhere with His people, or maybe it is just a good excuse as I no longer am friend with any of my fellow brothers or sisters in the current church. We need to ask ourselves these searching questions, how will what I do affect my relationship with God, and neighbour that I need to be loving?
Robinson goes on to say that most people want to make painless decisions. However, if love is the motivation, then sometimes, for you, for me, the decision will be painful, but the benefit for someone else will be enormous. God tells us to take the painful decision, as loving someone else, with the agape love of selfless giving, may bring another soul to heaven, may show a family the way to God, may change a community to be one that knows Him. It happened in New Testament times. Those disciples in Acts made massive sacrifices in the name of agape love for their neighbours, because of their love for God, and in obedience to Him. They sold every possession, they gave their money away, and they wandered the hot dry country on foot preaching the Word, whilst being beaten, shipwrecked and imprisoned. Even in prison they could sing, because the decision, despite the circumstance was the right decision, it was one with God. Thousands upon thousands came to know Christ. That was decision making, stepping out in faith, knowing that with the right principles behind them, and without the benefit of the New Testament, but with the Old Testament as their guide. They were in prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to teach them the things of God, allowing Christ to be indwelling and cloaking them - total submission, and they forged ahead, deciding where to go, who to stay with, what boat to catch, which person to appoint as pastor - like our friend Titus and every decision we also need to make in our lives. It gave them heaven as a reward, whilst on earth crucifixion, the lions, the sword, being sawn in two, and all sorts of circumstances we don't like to think about happened, but the decision was the right one all the time. They made it by the Book, the Bible, the Word of God, and God, as the Word was God, and using His Word they used His will as shown through the Word.
 Discovery House Publishers, 1998