05 August 2012
When you were little your mother always used to say to you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Show of hands -- How many of you were chided with those words when you were children? How many of you have actually taken those words to heart?
- Sometimes -- I do.
- Too Often -- I don’t.
- Always -- I should.
Everyone is a critic – and that’s acceptable because in this egalitarian society everyone’s opinion counts -- theoretically.
So when we walk away from a movie our natural inclination is to discuss what we liked and disliked about it. The message, if any, is only secondary to how we think the actors were or how realistic the car chase was.
When we go to eat at someone’s home we tend to debrief afterward – “Oh, the salmon was really good but the rice was a bit over-cooked.”
“I enjoyed talking to Jim but Heather was wound a little tight tonight.”
When we go home from worship some of us go through a whole rating ritual – even those of us who say we don’t like much ritual...
- Well the music was okay – but it needed more ukulele. But there should definitely be more ukulele solos.
- The acoustic guitar was great -- really kept the music team together.
- The sermon – well, I didn’t get anything out of it. Too many big words – too complicated... Last week was a lot better.
- But the cookies were good today. Who made the cookies? Did Grace make the cookies again?
It’s the people side of this tendency that is a concern for James here in the middle of the fourth chapter. Remember the context -- which Daisy so capably reminded us of last week -- not that I’m evaluating her sermon. Well, actually I am -- and she was spot on.
James is about wisdom and right living. In chapter 3:17-18 he says that godly wisdom is about seeding peace -- peacemaking. But as he jumps into chapter 4 he chastises his readers. And he says that some people are looking to become influential teachers and James is suggesting that they are more about conflict than peace.
The solution he says is humility --
- and that involves submitting to God,
- resisting the devil,
- drawing near to God,
- and repentance.
In the portions of the text we’re covering this morning James adds two more aspects of humble living to that list. This is all about humility -- what it means to live as humble people -- and the unusual power behind that humility.
So, first of all James adds, HUMBLE PEOPLE AVOID BAD-MOUTHING JUDGMENTALISM.
James 4:11-12 (CEB) – “Brothers and sisters, don’t say evil things about each other.” Here’ the whole issue of the tongue again – controlling what we say. For words have consequences. They can build up or they can tear down.
The actual word that James uses here and which is translated as “say evil things about” can be translated as bad-mouth, malign, slander, or disparage. It’s talking about cutting others down.
And notice that James does not qualify his words and say – “except if what you are saying is true.”
It may be true that so and so is a total jerk and that he deserves everything you say about him – BUT – if you walk around freely sharing your criticism you are still engaging in bad-mouthing – evil speak. It doesn’t matter if it is true or not – when we cut others down we are not engaging in peacemaking – and we’re certainly not peacemakers.
I find this really really hard because I am so annoyed with so many politicians these days. I can be patient with most people but with politicians and political pundits I can let it zing before I realize my mouth is even open. And while it’s true that these people will never hear what I’m saying because they’re jerks and they don’t listen -- my words -- how I say my words -- what I’m saying is undermining the peace process.
Sometimes it’s not so much what you say but how you say it. Maybe your mother mentioned that, too. The judgmental or snarky tone -- it all creates a dehumanizing climate.
Jesus came to restore our humanity -- but when we reduce communication to the level of unbridled criticism and judgmentalism -- we’re pulling the opposite direction.
Vs. 11 continues:
"Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it.”That is, when we criticize one another we aren’t just assaulting each other but we’re actually leveling an assault on God’s standards. And that standard is, according to James 2:8 -- the royal law -- the law of love. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself...”
Go on with vs. 11 –
“Whoever insults or criticizes a brother or sister insults and criticizes the Law. If you find fault with the Law, you are not a doer of the Law but a judge over it. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, and he is able to save and to destroy. But you who judge your neighbor, who are you?”When we bad-mouth each other, instead of acting out the royal law of love we are usurping God’s rightful position as judge. But even God, the righteous judge, shows restraint. Hosea 11:9 (CEB) --
I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment.That is, God is different. And when we attempt to act like we’re gods, we’re cutting the God down to mortal status. We’re trying to take over his job as judge -- and not doing a very good job of it, either.
When we criticize and judge people –- when we are judgmental we are presuming on the role of God – the rightful judge.
This is why Jesus says, “Judge not or you will be judged.”
Who are you to be the judge? You’re a sinner just like the next guy -- so don’t climb up so high into the saddle and pretend that you’re different.
As Jesus tells the people, don’t worry about that speck in someone else’s eye until you extricate the plank from your own.
Fallen human nature is such that we try to build ourselves up by putting others down. It makes us feel good to know that we’re in a position where we can criticize.
John Calvin, the 16th century reformer says: “Hypocrisy is always presumptuous and we are by nature hypocrites, fondly exalting ourselves by slandering others.”
Obviously, the point is that we can’t be acting in humility if we’re engaging in bad-mouthing judgmentalism.
Well, then does this mean that we should never criticize anything or anyone? Doesn’t Paul say in 1 Corinthians 2:15 – “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.”?
Yes, but the point there is a little different – it’s about discerning what we’re going to take into our lives – not about walking around exercising judgment on everyone and everything.
And indeed, there are some who are called to exercise a level of judgment – prophets and apostles – and teachers of the Word – they're all called to speak “the truth in love” -- to borrow the Apostle Paul’s words.
The thing is that they aren’t speaking for themselves at that point – they are speaking on behalf of God – who is the judge.
How many of us can honestly say that we’re called by God to casually say cutting things about our neighbors or family members -- or even zing the politicians?
Remember, James is talking about the exercise of humility. And if at some point God calls you to go to someone to speak about issues in that person’s life – you better not ride in there like you’re some big shot – but you enter into the situation with humility – and the ongoing awareness that “Therefore but by the grace of God there goes I.”
If you find that being critical somehow charges your batteries, revs your engine, or gives you any kind of a buzz -- you are not on God’s team -- you are not exercising the power of humble.
Humility is the prerequisite for any kind of judging or criticism that we might be called by God to exercise.
Secondly, James says that HUMBLE PEOPLE AVOID ARROGANT PRESUMPTUOUSNESS. (Lots of big words today.)
Look at James 4:13 – another blast aimed at our arrogance – especially those of us who are wealthy – which includes most of us. Even if you don’t have much change in your pocket you are benefiting from living in a very affluent society.
I was with some of the pastors and one of them was sharing what he considers to be the challenge of his congregation. He said, “The greatest challenge we have in our church is our affluence. Before this I was in a church which was predominantly blue collar and this wasn’t a problem. But here I have trouble getting people to do ministry. They’re always gone to their cabins or taking their boats out or off on vacations.”
It’s not that his people aren’t committed people -- when they are around. It’s just that their affluence has made it difficult for them to be consistent present. He wasn’t complaining – just observing that our affluence is often a distraction when it comes to doing the things that God is calling us to do.
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the fact that 1% of the people in our country control a third of the wealth. The richest 10% controls 75% of the wealth.
Well, I’m not in the richest 1% or even the wealthiest 10% of Americans. But I am pretty wealthy -- even with our relatively modest income. I went to a website that calculates such things – typed in our family income and discovered that I am among the wealthiest 1% of the people living on the planet. I am a 1 percenter!
Even if you make only $14,000 per year you are still in the top 10% of the world’s population in terms of affluence -- flexibility and choices. And James is hinting that there is a certain amount of arrogance -- or presumptuousness that accompanies affluence.
The more you have the more you feel like you’re in control of your life – and life in general – the more you can plan out for yourselves.
Check it out starting at vs. 13 (CEB) -–
"Pay attention, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and making a profit.” 14 You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes. 15 Here’s what you ought to say: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast and brag, and all such boasting is evil.”This reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the rich farmer – Luke 12:16-21 (NLT) --
"16 Then Jesus told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”Does this mean that we should all give up our wealth?
At least this is true for at least some of us. Jesus told the distracted affluent young entrepreneur to give everything away and to follow him. And perhaps some of us need to do that in that way -- maybe not everyone. But I do know that all of us have got to get to the point where think differently about all the good stuff we have.
Instead of seeing our wealth as a license to plan our futures we need to be ready to qualify each and every plan with the phrase, “Lord willing...”
I knew a few people who literally qualified everything they said with that phrase and it drove me nuts because it became trite.
- “I’m going to the grocery store to pick-up a loaf of bread and I’ll be back in a minute – Lord willing.”
- “I’m going to pick the kids up from school, Lord willing.”
It’s a mentality thing -- where we recognize that our plans are not absolute – for it is only God’s plan that is absolute – and since everything we plan is subject to change, just because we have wealth, we ought to not act like we’re in charge of the future.
Sure we plan and make decisions – but we know that they are all conditional.
- Sherman Hemsley -- aka George Jefferson -- a very funny and gifted actor died a few weeks ago. He was only 74 -- relatively young these days.
- A few weeks before that it was Jon Lord from Deep Purple -- age 71.
- And then there was Ernest Borgnine (greatest actor of the 20th century -- if you were a McHale’s Navy fan)
- and Andy Griffith --
- and Don Grady, one of the Mouseketeers -- also known as Ernie on My Three sons.
"You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes.” (Vs. 14 -- CEB)
A few weeks ago I mentioned the song written by Kerry Livgren and sung by Kansas in the mid 70’s --
Dust in the wind.
All we are is dust in the wind.
Dust in the wind.
Everything is dust in the wind.
It’s not meant to belittle our existence but to humble us with the reality that James is pointing to.
We aren’t the final planners. It’s not all up to us – to you! So don’t act and fight as though it is.
"Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up...” in his time and in his own way.
You know, there is a certain amount of freedom and power in all of this humility. I don’t have to be the one who calls all the shots. I don’t have to get upset if things don’t go my way – because I’m not really trying to get MY WAY anyway.
Life and leadership in life is about humbly submitting to Christ – the true Lord and the true judge. So I don’t have to build myself up by tearing others down. So I don’t have to act like an arrogant fool – boasting about the future to impress everyone. Rather, James says that there is freedom and power in redirecting our energies toward doing what Christ wants US -- YOU to do.
That is the gist of vs. 17 – “It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it.” Through James, you’ve heard about the right thing to do --
- humbly approaching your wealth...
- about being humble in your relationship with others -- even the jerks...
- and you’ve heard over and over again about the value of holding your tongue...
It’s sinful to know what you should be doing without acting on it. So just do it.
Or as radio talk show host Dr Laura always signs off: “Now, go do the right thing...”
Let’s pray: What a great gift you’ve given to us God – the gift of salvation through your son Christ Jesus. It is on him alone that we rely for our salvation and our relationship with you.
However, we recognize that if we’re not allowing the Holy Spirit to act in our lives so that we’re doing the right thing – then it’s not too likely that there is really any relationship with you.
So it is our desire that you would continue to poke us and prod us on to doing right -- living fairly and justly – and closely with you. Help us to guard our mouths and to think humbly about our futures. Not because we want to keep a bunch of rules – no we simply want to be walking along the path which you have set out for us – so that you might be honored for who you are – the God, who is completely other – without mortality or fault. It is indeed in the name of Jesus that we pray. Amen.