The Four Requirements of Answered Prayers
James moved from a discussion of peace (Jam. 3:18) to a discussion of wars and fighting (Jam. 4:1-2). Rather than a new discussion, it is really a continuation of the former discussion of wisdom. Fighting and wars come from earthly wisdom (Jam. 3:14-16) and peace comes from heavenly wisdom (Phil. 4:6); which, in turn, comes from prayer (Jam. 1:5). Now, the connection to the context is clear. In the context, James gives four requirements of answered prayers.
First, to have our prayers answered, we must ask. We read, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (Jam. 4:1-2). Some did not have because they did not ask. Someone noted that there are unanswered and unasked prayers. Their prayers were unasked. Because they didn’t ask, they couldn’t receive (Mt. 7:7-8). Instead of asking God for what they needed, they were trying to obtain it their own way.
Second, to have our prayers answered, we must unselfishly. We read, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses!” (Jam. 4:3). Some of James’ brethren didn’t have because they didn’t ask. Others didn’t have because they asked amiss or from evil motives. They were selfish and asked that they might spend it on fleshly pleasures. Clearly, they were guided by worldly wisdom (Jam. 3:14-16).
Third, to have our prayers answered, we must ask purely. We read, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?” (Jam. 4:4-5). A third group didn’t have their prayers answered because they were trying to love God and the world at the same time (Mt. 6:24; 1 John 2:15-17). Be being a friend of the world, they were making God their enemy and closing His ears to their prayers (Isa. 59:1-2; Jam. 5:16).
Fourth, to have our prayers answered, we must ask humbly. We read, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (Jam. 4:6). A final group didn’t have their prayers answered because they were proud. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Heb. 4:16; Lk. 18:9-14).
To have our prayers answered, we must ask. Furthermore, we must ask unselfishly, purely, and humbly. This is the wisdom that is from above (Jam. 3:17).
Heavenly Wisdom Versus Earthly Wisdom
The third chapter began with James addressing teachers and talking about their words (Jam. 3:1–12). The chapter ends with James still addressing teachers and talking about their wisdom (Jam. 3:13-18). James argues that it will be evident by their conduct whether teachers get their wisdom from above or below, from heaven or from earth, from spiritual things or fleshly things, or from God or Satan. He wrote, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jam. 3:13-18).
Earthly wisdom is characterized by bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, boasting, hypocrisy (lying against the truth), and fleshly pursuits (sensual). Teachers who are guided by this wisdom are bitter and envious of other teachers (Rom. 13:13; 2 Pet. 2:10). They are selfish (Rom. 2:8). They look only on their own things and not on the things of others. They seek their own things and not the things of Christ (Phil. 2:3-4, 21; 1 Cor. 10:24; 13:5). They brag about their accomplishments and pretend to be something that they are not (Rom. 1:30; 2 Tim. 3:1-9). Their focus is on earthly things and not on things above (Phil. 3:19; Col. 3:1-2). They leave division and disorder in their wake. That is the fruit that they produce.
Heavenly wisdom is characterized by purity, peacefulness, gentleness, submissiveness, mercy, goodness, impartiality, and sincerity. Teachers who are guided by this wisdom have pure motives. They are sincere and impartial. Rather than being self-seeking, they are meek, gentle, merciful, and willing to yield. Instead of producing confusion and evil works, they produce peace, order, righteousness, and good works (1 Cor. 14:33).
Whether teachers were guided by heavenly or earthly wisdom could easily be determined by examining their fruits (Mt. 7:15-20). If they were wise and understanding, then it would be evident from their conduct.
The Tiniest Troublemaker (James 3:1-12)
James is a very practical book. No where is it more practical than in the third chapter when it discusses the tongue. While the rest of the book discusses things that many of us struggle with, this chapter deals with a tiny troublemaker with which we all struggle. In simple, picturesque language, James gives warning about the size and strength of the tongue.
The Size of the Tongue
James wrote, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! “ (James 3:1-5). James begins by warning his brethren about being teachers. It was not that James didn’t want them to teach. If they had that talent, he wanted them and expected them to use it. In fact, they would have been condemned otherwise (Heb. 5:12). James was simply warning them of the tremendous responsibility connected with the tongue. The tongue’s size can be deceiving. It is small, but powerful. James makes three comparisons to picture the strength of this little member. The tongue is like a bit in a horses’ mouth, a rudder on a ship, and a match in a forest.
The Strength of the Tongue
James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 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, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh” (James 3:6-12). The tongue is extremely strong. Sadly, its strength is often exhibited in negative ways. James describes it as more destructive than fire, more dangerous than a wild animal, and more deadly than poison. Perhaps, James’ brethren were discounting the tongue’s destructive power. They may have been minimizing the occasional curse word or lie. They evidently saw this as no big deal. Yet, it was. James compared it to fire or poison. A little of either of these will kill you. James’ brethren also clearly didn’t see their lapses with their tongues as inconsistent with their faith. They were blessing God and at the same time cursing men made in the image of God. These things were as contradictory as a spring giving fresh water and bitter, a fig bearing olives, or a vine bearing figs.
James gives the longest, single discourse on the tongue in Scripture. It is a wealth of information on the tiniest troublemaker in the world.
That Which Costs Me Nothing
When David foolishly numbered Israel, God brought a severe pestilence into the land as a punishment. Seventy thousand men died before the punishment was finally stayed at the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam. 24:16). At the command of Gad the prophet, David determined to build an altar at that very spot (2 Sam. 24:18-19). When David spoke to Araunah about buying his threshingfloor (2 Sam. 24:21), Araunah offered to give it to David (2 Sam. 24:22-23). Perhaps, Araunah did this out of loyalty to the king. Better yet, he might have done it out of gratitude since the Lord had stopped the plague at His doorstep. Whatever the reason for Araunah's offer, David refused, saying, "Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing" (2 Sam. 24:24).
I love David's attitude, don't you? I believe that David had the right attitude concerning worship. Someone has suggested that David's words can be be broken in four parts to show four common attitudes toward worship.
The first attitude is: "I will not offer." There are some individuals who will not offer or give anything. They are very stingy with their time and money. If you invite them to worship on Sunday, they will tell you that Sunday is their day. They will tell you that Sunday is the only day that they have to rest and relax. They are just as stingy with their money. Like the foolish farmer, they store up what they have so that they can eat, drink, and be merry for many years (Lk. 12:16-21). They hoard everything that they have so that they can spend it on themselves.
The second attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord." These individuals are not Scrooges with their time and money as were those we noticed in the first group. These individuals are willing to volunteer for various causes and to give money to certain things. For example, they might volunteer at a local animal shelter. They might give money to support cancer research. They do some good things for good causes. It seems that they can give time and money to almost everything except for the Lord. Their affections are on earthly things, and not on things above (Col. 3:2). Their priorities are on the wrong things. God and His kingdom are not first in their lives (Mt. 6:33). While it is certainly acceptable to give time and money to good secular causes, we must never forget that the greatest cause of all is the Lord's cause.
The third attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord that which costs me." Unlike those in the first group, these folks will give their time and money. Unlike those in the second group, these folks are not completely secular in their thinking. They will give to the Lord. However, they will not give sacrificially. They will give as long as it doesn't cost them anything. No doubt, you remember those of Malachi's day who were giving the lame, the sick, and the blind to God (Mal. 1). They were giving, but they weren't giving their best. The best would have cost them something. They were giving that which didn't really cost them anything. The lame, the sick, and the blind were of little or no value in the marketplace. Some of these animals were probably going to die any anyway. God was highly upset with their offerings (Mal. 1:8-11).
The fourth attitude is: "I will not offer unto the Lord that which costs me nothing." David understood that in order to be acceptable, worship must cost us something. This principle is taught throughout the Old Testament. Repeatedly, God's people were instructed to give the first fruits of the land (Prov. 3:9). They were instructed to give the best of the flocks and the herds (Deut. 12:6). These offerings cost them something. With these sacrifices, God was well pleased. He remains pleased with sacrifices like this today. In Hebrews, we read, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb. 13:15-16). No doubt, the Bible student is reminded of the poor widow who cast in her whole living (Mk. 12:41-44). Like David, this poor widow understood the cost of true worship. This widow's offering cost her everything. With her sacrifice, Jesus was well pleased. Mark records that Jesus called His own disciples over to make sure that they didn't miss the lesson (Mk. 12:43-44).
As we get ready to worship this week, let's make sure that our attitudes are right. Let's make sure that we do not offer to God that which costs us nothing!
(The major points of this outline are from a class taught by Jim Dearman in the Memphis School of Preaching while I was a student there).
Faith With And Without Works
The whole second chapter of James is about faith. It begins with the faith of Jesus and ends with the faith of Abraham and Rahab. In the first half of the chapter, James discusses faith with and without respect of persons. I n the last half of the chapter, James discusses faith with and without works. Our focus will be on the second part of the chapter. First, we will discuss faith without works. Then, we will see faith with works.
Faith Without Works - Dead & Demonic
Three times James describes faith without works as dead (Jam. 2:17, 20, 26). You might say that faith without works is dead, dead, dead. It is “twice dead, pulled up by the roots” dead (Jude 12). It is body without the spirit dead. James wrote, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jam. 2:26). It is Eutychus falling out of a third-story window dead (Acts 20:9). James calls it dead because it doesn’t do anything. It just lies there. There isn’t any breath or life in it. There isn’t a heartbeat. The cold aren’t made warmer and the hungry aren’t made any fuller. It talks, but it doesn’t do (Jam. 2:15-16; Lk. 6:46). Just when you think that faith without works couldn’t get any worse, James calls it demonic. We read, “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:18-19). Like the demons, this faith trembles, but it doesn’t do anything (Mt. 8:28-29). There aren’t any works to show. Like the demons, this faith knows and acknowledges whoJesus is, but won’t obey Him as Lord.
Faith With Works - Dynamic
In contrast to a dead and demonic faith that doesn’t do anything but talk and tremble, James discusses a dynamic faith that is full of activity. It toils or works. It travels for days, climbs mountains, builds altars, and draws back the knife of sacrifice. It hides spies, lowers ropes, and keeps promises. To illustrate this kind of faith, James gives two examples - Abraham and Rahab. We read, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (Jam. 2:21-25). Two more opposite examples could not have been given. Abraham was a man and Rahab was a woman. Abraham was a patriarch and Rahab was a prostitute. Abraham was a heir according to promise and Rahab was spared from among the Canaanites. However, they had the most important thing in common - a dynamic faith. Abraham’s faith didn’t just talk. It toiled. It offered his son (Gen. 22:1-19; Heb. 11:17-19). Rahab’s faith didn’t just tremble. It toiled. It hid the spies (Josh. 2:1-21; Heb. 11:31).
Faith without works is dead and demonic. This faith talks and trembles. Faith with works is dynamic. It toils. Which faith do we have?