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April 30, 2023

Just Take the Next Step: Week 7

It's actually pretty cool. We've had some lighting issues because we're doing some pulling of stuff, and I can actually see you. It's pretty cool. Normally, I’ve got this train of lights, and all I see is lights. It's like, “I hope it's not a train.”

Anyway, I want to share something with you. When I was in eighth grade — and this would've been in Tampa because we moved out of Kentucky — I was like 11 or 12 years old. I was at Buchanan Junior High School in eighth grade, and I remember — you know, you have things that you sort of remember in school; good, bad, indifferent, but you sort of remember them. I remember being in school, I was in a literature class, and the teacher, a great guy, passed out to us, at the end of class, a sheet of paper that just had a piece of poetry on it. No title. No anything. It was just a piece of poetry. Back then, I don't know if you remember, but when you'd get stuff, it was like it wasn't centered. They'd do copy machines, and it'd be sideways. Remember those days? Some of y'all remember. I mean, everything's really nice and it’s on a phone now. It’s justified. If you don't even like it, you can tweak it. Back then, it was like this, and whatever.

Anyway, he sent it to us, sent it home, and said, “I want you to take the poem here., I want you to read it, and then I want you to write, in your journal, what this is about.”

I remember doing that. Then I remember, over the next couple of days — this was back when you would go to school Monday through Friday.

I don't know if you all know that used to happen. My kids are off all the time. Spring break, fall break, faculty break, we just need a break in March. I mean, we went to school all the time. Does anybody remember that? I mean, seriously. I don't know. It's sort of crazy because whenever the sun would rise, your parents would nicely put you out on the front porch, and then lock the door. The door would open back up when the sun went down. Anyway, that being said, I went home, wrote it down, and then, over the next couple days, what we did is everybody got to get up and read what we had interpreted this piece of poetry to mean. Now, I knew, when I went home, I had it figured out. I mean, I knew. I remember, as I was maybe the third or fourth person who had to speak, I was like, “Man, hold on. How did they get that?”

I mean, I'm listening, and I'm going, “I didn't see that.”

Some people were reading stuff, and I'm going, “That’s better than what I got.”

But what I realized was that everybody had something a little different from what they had read, and then the teacher sat us down, told us who had written it, why it had been written, the time that it had been written, and all this stuff. We all realized none of us got it right, although we thought we had got it right. That didn't really settle deeply in me until later on in life when it sort of came back up as a recall. I was studying the Bible academically, and I remember, very specifically, at a point in my life, where it dawned on me that all these passages that I had grown up hearing at prayer meetings, or hearing quoted at different times — I started realizing, “Wow, almost every single one of these passages is not what these passages are saying.”

I almost felt lied to. Then I started thinking, “No, the people who taught me these things, they meant well.”

It wasn't that they were malicious or anything, but what I started realizing is that I would study the Bible, study background, context, language, idiom, grammar, and all this stuff, and I was like, “Man, I'm quoting a lot of Scriptures as passages, as if this is what it means in the context of the book or in the context of the passage. It’s not what it means.”

Now, it might not have been necessarily bad, what I was saying. It might have been something true that was about God, but it wasn't true about that passage of Scripture. I say all of that because, this weekend, we're going to look at a passage of Scripture that we'll just be reading through, that you probably have heard. If you've grown up in church, you've heard it. If you've ever been to a prayer meeting, you've heard it. At some point, someone has quoted it. I think we're going to see that it has probably been quoted or probably been taught in a way that you go, “Oh, wow. I didn't realize this was what it actually was,” but I think we'll see that it's more profound, and actually more deep, as we read through it. So, that's where we're going to go. Last weekend, I started talking about taking the next step. We're in a series called “Take the Next Step,” and I've been talking about different things that we can take the next step in, like worship, and other things like that. But I got on this idea of Christian maturity, taking a step forward at maturing in our Christian walk, and actually going a little bit deeper in our understanding of God. I got into the book of James. I told you I wasn't going to get through what I needed to get through last weekend, so I said I'm probably going to have to speak this weekend, which I'm going to do. I'm not going to get through what I need to get through this weekend, so I'm going to go through it next weekend, also. Then if I don't get through it next weekend, I'm going to do it the following weekend because I'm just committed to making sure that I get through what I need to get through. I’m not putting any timetable on what I'm doing. Is that okay? We like the Bible here, right? Okay. Good.

Anyway, we're going to be sort of hunkered down. I think the weather's bad, so there's nowhere to go. Just hang out with me. It's okay. Eight o'clock. Whatever. I mean, it's good. No, we’ll get out of here on time. But I want to bring everybody back up to speed because if you weren't here, I don't want you to feel like you missed out on something. If you were here, I want to make sure that you feel like, “Oh, yeah. That’s what we were doing. Even if you were here, you might not have paid attention, and it'll be good to hear it again so that we're all back on the same sheet of music.

So, we started off with James, and we talked about how James was the brother of Jesus, and he was writing to predominantly Jewish Christians, but Jew and Gentile Christians he was writing to. They were going through a lot of problems and difficulties, and he was trying to get them to mature. He was trying to get them to grow in their relationship with God. In many ways, in James 2, don't make partiality between rich and poor. God doesn't do that. Watch the teacher, the tongue of the teacher, and how that works. In James 4, greed and all those things. James 5, learning how to pray and be patient.

He's drawing on this sense of the Old Testament understanding of wisdom, and we're going to get into that a little bit more, this weekend. But just to bring everybody back up to speed, we started off talking about James, the brother of Jesus, and he was writing to people. We found, in James 1:2, that he told us to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds. We talked about how that's a little counterintuitive because, most of the time, when we meet trials, we aren't excited or wanting to have joy. We explained why we could do that, because you know — and this ties to what was said about the trials, counting them joy — that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. The reason we can count it joy is because God's at work.

This word “steadfastness” means to hold up under. The idea here is when we can hold up under whatever life throws our way, we're living the life that God wants us to lead. We're showing Christian maturity, which is why he says, “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

In other words, you're ready to go. You can handle whatever life throws your way, which is where all of us want to be because, let's face it, many of us, when life throws stuff our way, we question God. Many of us pull away. Many of us get mad at God, or frustrated. There are people all over this town, all over every town in America, who used to go to church, but something didn't work the way that they thought it should work, and they gave up on God, they gave up on church, and they weren't at this place where they could hold up under. James wants us to get there. And then the next verse happens. This next verse, you’ve probably heard it at prayer meetings and other places, but we’ve got to talk about it because it is in this passage. It's in the context of what's going on, and I think we'll probably see it a little bit differently by the time we're done.

The next verse says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

If you've ever been in a prayer meeting, and you needed to make a decision between maybe what school to go to, or maybe you were tossed up with, “Should I like this guy?” or “Should I like this girl?” or, “Should I marry this person?” or whatever else, you might have had somebody along the way go, “Hey, just ask God for wisdom, and He’ll give it to you.”

You may have quoted that. That’s not what James is talking about here, at all, in any way, shape, or form. There's more going on here than that. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn't talk to God, it doesn't mean you shouldn't ask God for help, but that's not what James is talking about. So, we’ve got to figure out what James is saying, contextually, because we cannot divorce this passage from what he's talking about. He's talking about trials. He’s talking about holding up underneath trials. In just a few more verses, he'll talk about trials again. Those who can endure the trials will get the crown of life. This whole thing is contextualized with trials, holding up, realizing that God's at work, and that God is sovereign. So, we're going to have to really pay attention here — pay some really close, attention — to every single word in this verse. Hopefully, what we'll do is we'll see something much more profound and much deeper than just this idea that wisdom is how to apply something knowledge-wise. Wisdom, biblically, is far more profound than that. We’ll see how James is using it, what he's saying, and I think it will be something that is incredible for all of us.

First of all, when we get here, he starts off with “if.” Now, you may not notice this, and it might not be something that you'd pay attention to if you were reading it, but this is really a nice way of saying what he's saying. He could’ve said, “Hey, you guys. All of y’all lack wisdom.”

He could have said it that way, but he doesn't say it that way. He says it in a nice way to try to get their buy-in. I only mention this because — just listen to me here — we live in a world where nobody knows how to say anything nice anymore. Everybody's just nasty. Stop being nasty, in the name of the Lord. Let's be people who are kind, generous, and learn to speak nice things rather than — I mean, didn’t your mom tell you that if you don’t have anything good to say, don't say it? I don't know where that wisdom went, but we need to adopt that a little bit.

So, he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom,”

Well, we’ve got a number of things to talk about here. First of all, when James talks about wisdom, what does he mean? Because that's an important concept here. What is biblical wisdom? Then wisdom about what? What do we lack wisdom about? So, we’ve got two questions here. What are we lacking wisdom about, and what is true biblical wisdom? Because if we don't know what those things are, then we're probably not going to know what this passage is talking about.

First of all, we know that the wisdom that you would be lacking about is how to hold up underneath trials. That's the first part of it because that's the context. The second part is understanding biblical wisdom. James is drawing from the Old Testament and the wisdom tradition, but he's really drawing heavily from Proverbs 2, because we're told in Proverbs 2 that the Lord gives wisdom just like he's going to tell you here that the Lord gives wisdom. So, it might be good to go back to the Old Testament, for a moment, read a little bit out of Proverbs 2, and start to get the flavor of what wisdom means to Jewish people, what it means in the biblical passages of Scripture. Because for us, we just think of wisdom as a wise person that can make a decision between this or that. There is an element of that, but wisdom is far greater than that. Wisdom's actually a path. Wisdom is, actually, a journey, and you're either on the path of wisdom, biblically, or you're on the path of foolishness. So, let's read here, together, and let's see if we can maybe get a better understanding of biblical wisdom, and then we'll jump back into the passage of James. I think this will help us out a lot.

So, Solomon's writing, and he says, “My son, if you receive my words…”

Now, of course, he's writing to his son, but there's this element, too, as if this is sort of like God speaking to you and I about His Word, and are we going to listen to His Word or are we not going to listen to His Word? The book of Proverbs is littered with all of these stories about people doing things and making decisions that are bad decisions because they did not walk in the way of wisdom. They walked in the ways of foolishness. It's a path. It’s a way.

He says, “My son, if you receive my words…”

This is something that we have to sort of figure out. do we really receive what God has to say to you and I?

“…and treasure up my commandments with you,”

In other words, we’re sort of an active participant here. Do we really spend time in the Word of God? Listen, let's be honest. There’s no snarkiness here. I'm not trying to give anybody a hard time, but you know as well as I do that all of the statistics say that most people who go to American churches know the Bible very little. So, we're already at a deficiency because the whole premise here is that we have received and treasured up the commandments.

He says, “…making your ear attentive to wisdom…”

In other words, if you're constantly in Scripture, ingesting Scripture, treasuring it up, listening, receiving, and taking what God has said, what happens is you start to train your ear to be attentive to God's ways. The ways of wisdom.

“…and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,”

In other words, “I want to do it God's way. I am going to figure out what God's way is. I'm going to study this, I'm going to meditate on this, I'm going to learn what God says about these subjects because I want to walk in the way of wisdom.”

He says, “Yes, if you call out and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,”

This is for all of us. Do we really see the Word of God as something that's more precious than silver? Do we see it as greater than a treasure? I guarantee you if I told you all, “Okay, I'm going to give you a map here. Right outside, you go out here and, in this area out here, there is a chest that has a million dollars in it,” you all would not listen to any more words that I have to say right now, and you'd be out there digging in stuff. I'm not saying everybody would do that, but you know what I'm talking about. We would dig. We would try to figure it out. We get that. He’s saying, “Hey, this is more significant than that. This is like seeking for this.”

He says, “…then…”

If/then. If these things, then.

“…then you will understand the fear of the Lord…”

You'll understand why you should really do it God's way, why there should be an awe for who He is, and what He says to do. Then, if you're robustly seeking and wanting.

“…and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom.”

James is reminiscing, here, on this. He gives it. He doesn't hold it back. He's more than happy to share with you and I the things that pertain to life and godliness. You know where you get most of that from, right? The 66 books of Scripture. I can't tell you how many times — and there’s no way most people who go to Grace know me super personally, but sometimes I've been in meetings, and staff people will tell you, “Oh, well, we need to pray.”

I'm like, “We don't need to pray about that, at all. God's already told us what to do. Go do it.”

You don't need to use prayer as a way of not doing what God's called you to do. Go do it. You don't have to pray, “Do we need to feed the poor?”

Go do it. You don't have to pray if you should forgive someone.

“Well, I don't know if the Lord really wants me to forgive him or not.”

I’m being serious. He gives it from His mouth. What does He speak? His Word.

“From his mouth comes knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,”

I say this all the time here. If you do it God's way, you’ll have a lot less regrets in your life than if you don't do it God's way. If you walk in the path of wisdom, if you incline your ear, if you search for it, if you absolutely want God's Word in your life, it will be a shield to you. It will protect you from things that you could have never even known you were getting protected from, by just doing it God's way.

“…guarding the paths…”

Paths. Ways. A journey.

“…guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path.”

His Word illuminates the path for you and me. It shows where to go. The way of wisdom is a path. The way of wisdom is a journey. The way of wisdom is doing it God's way. He says, “Every good path.”

“For wisdom will come into your heart,”

You'll understand what it means to do it God's way, and why it's so important.

“…and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.”

Have you ever read Scripture like, “Man, that's tough. It is because it doesn't always go in easy, sometimes, but the more you learn the ways of God, the more you start to realize, “Man, He knows what He’s doing. He knows why He’s doing it.”

It becomes something that you want.

“Discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you,”

Like, you'll know because you've ingested it. You just know what God's Word says. You’re not questioning it anymore. You're not trying to go, “Well, I don't know. I don't like this.”

No. It becomes who you are, you start walking in that, and it guards you and watches you.

“…delivering you from the way [the path] of evil, from men of perverted speech,”

What does God speak? His Word, out of His mouth? What do people do? They say things out of their mouth. Which word are you going to listen to? He says, “It’ll deliver you from men of perverted speech…”

“…who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil…”

Is there anybody in here who doesn't look around the world, today, and just think, “What is going on?”

People are like just rejoicing doing evil. Good has become evil, and evil has become good because we don't walk in the ways of wisdom. We walk in our own ways. We do what's right in our own eyes. We don't have time for God's Word. We don't have time for that stuff. We’re going to do it our own way.

“…and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths…” — see the word “paths” — “…are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.”

Here's the reality. Living out God's ways are living the ways of wisdom. In fact, James is going to draw on this again in James 3. Listen to what he says in James 3.

He says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts,”

In other words, if your whole life is resolving around you.

“…do not boast and be false to the truth.”

Don't fool yourself here.

He says, “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

This is strong. I mean, this is the stuff that we need to hear. People are like, “We want you to preach truth.”

That, right there, is truth. It’s not the issue that you want me to preach on that nobody else is probably dealing with, here, in the sanctuary. This is the truth that we need to hear. This is the truth.

He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,”

Where everybody's just in it for themselves.

“…there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

Look around.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable,”

Do you want to know if what you're listening to and paying attention to is wisdom? Does it bring peace? If it doesn't bring peace, it’s unspiritual, it's earthly, it's demonic.

“…gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

James is like, “This is the way of wisdom.”

He says, “If any of you lacks wisdom,”

“If you don't know the path to lead to deal with the trials of life, if you don't know how to hold up underneath it, let me tell you where you go.”

“…let him ask God.”

Because you and I don't have it. We don't have the wisdom that will get us through the difficulties of life. Only the Lord does. And do you know how you ask the Lord, primarily? It’s in the 66 books that you have on your shelf at your house.

“I want God to speak to me.”

Brothers and sisters, listen to me. He has. He's told you just about everything you need to know, but if we don't know what the book says, we're not going to be able to walk in the ways of wisdom.

He says, “…let him ask God, who gives generously…”

He's not going to hold back wisdom from you. He's not going to hold back how to live from you. In fact, the word “generous,” the essence of the word, is a single-mindedness because it's going to be contrasted with somebody we’re going to meet in just a minute. The double-minded person. He's not double-minded. God's single-minded.

“…who gives generously to all look without reproach,”

What does that mean? It means He doesn't find fault. He's not upset when you and I go to Him and say, “God, we don't really know what to do here. There's a lot going on in life, and I need some help to walk in wisdom.”

He's like, “I'm here for you. I’m not going to give you a hard time.”

This is why I also know he's writing to Gentiles, because Jewish people wouldn't have had any question about God giving wisdom because they knew the Old Testament, but the Gentiles had views of God that were sort of warped, and they thought gods would hold back stuff from them. He’s saying, “No, no. He'll give it without finding fault. You’ll get it. The wisdom of God is there for the taking.

However, “But let him ask in faith,”

What does that mean? We’ve got this idea of faith that you got to sort of gin up yourself to where you get — “I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it. Now I’ve got faith.”

There’s nowhere in the Scripture where it talks about that. Jesus said, “If you’ve got faith the size of a…”

It’s not how big your faith is. It’s not the quantity, it's the quality. What's faith? Faith is simply taking God at His Word. If He says it, do we believe it? If He says this is what's right and wrong, do we try to figure out — “No, no. I'm going to rearrange because I feel this way, I think this way, or this is the way I sort of want to behave, and I just don't really…”

No, no, no. Let me tell you, Steven Runge, who's got a commentary on James, this is what he says. I love this. He says this: “If our faith is determined by the argument for or against something, we, too, will be swayed as circumstances change. Our faith and confidence must not be built on our own understanding, but on God's proven character.”

Our faith is in the God who doesn't change. Our faith is in the God who says, “If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it.”

He'll do it again. He won't fail you, ever.

“But let Him ask in faith, with no doubting,”

What’s the doubting here? Wondering whether or not God will. How do you go through trials and hold up? Well, you’ve got to believe that God's got something on the other end, that God is working all things together for good. That's called faith because you don't see it. And what pleases God? Without it, it's impossible to please God. Good. Y'all learned from last week. Three people.

“…with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea…”

A wave has no structure. A wave's blown by the wind, moved by gravity, and it can move and form in different ways. He's like, “Don’t live that way. It's driven and tossed by the wind.”

“For that person is not going to receive anything from the Lord.”

What's the “anything” here? It's not the answer to your prayer for the house that you should choose. It's not the answer to prayer for who you should marry. It's saying that you're not going to receive the wisdom that you need to hold up underneath the trial so that you can become all that God has created you to be, because, at the end of the day, you're doubting God's character.

He says, “He is a double-minded man, unstable…”

Because what are we supposed to be walking on? A path, and He makes our paths straight. We don't stumble, we don't trip because we're living in the wisdom of God. He says that the person who doubts whether or not God would really do what He does — he doesn't say you're not a Christian, he just says that you're not in a good place.

We’ll continue on, next week, in James, and we'll find a couple of other passages that are maybe out of context, and some other things, to see how deep these things are. Two quick things, really quickly. Taking the next step in Christian maturity will always include trusting God's character by taking Him at His Word. You go, “Why do we preach Scripture here so much? Why do you read through the Bible so much?”

Because that's what we're supposed to know. We're supposed to be able to know what He says and who He is. That's how we spend time in the Bible. Let me just make a couple of quick comments here. We can't take God at HIs Word if we're unsure that it’s actually His Word. There are people who are like, “Well, I don't know. I think maybe there's some good in here, and some bad. I'm not quite sure. Some of this is sort of cold. I think I watched something on TikTok…”

If you're getting your theology from TikTok, please come talk to me because it's not the place to get it. Or YouTube or these other places. Just stop. You know? You’ve got to know. Or how about this? We can't really take God at His Word if we aren't willing to submit to it. It’s either the Word of God or it's not. I told you — I mean, I'm going to say this. I'm going to be an old man up here. I can't wait to be old enough to have one of those things. I want the two tennis balls on the back, and I want to roll up here and go, “I told you all.”

My dentures are falling out or whatever. So, I want you to think about this for a second. Listen, when Jesus was tempted — you can read it; Matthew 4, Luke 4 — when He was confronted and challenged — you can read it all through the Gospels — and when He was crucified, do you know what He did? He quoted Scripture every single time. Do you think it was important to Him? I don't know who said it, but I want to give credit where credit's due. I'm not sure who said it, but I know that somebody said it, and it wasn't me.

They said, “Christians should be in such a way that when we're cut, we bleed Scripture.” Because see, when you’ve got it in you, what happens is it starts to come out of you, and you start walking in the paths that God wants us on. We’ve got to take Him at His Word.

Secondly, taking the next step in Christian maturity requires us to realize that feelings, arguments, and/or even sympathy are not the sources for our wisdom. That's what's going on in the world today. Everybody's getting their sense of what to do, how they should live, and, “Why I don't feel this way,” — and I'm not saying you don't have feelings. Everybody has feelings, but feelings are not what we base ourselves on, as Christians. We don't base ourselves on arguments. We don't base ourselves on how we feel sympathetic towards something or whatever else. We have to figure out what is the source for our wisdom. I'm going to take you back to the book of Proverbs. It’s something you probably learned if you grew up in church. Just listen to it, and then we're going to sing a song. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. That means, “God, You get everything.”

Do not lean on your own understanding. Why is that? Because wisdom comes from God. If you lack wisdom, what do you do? You have to ask of God. If you lack wisdom, you can't ask yourself. You can't base it off what you feel, what you think, what argument you heard, or what book that you read. That’s not the way it works. You can't lean on your own understanding. It's not something that you and I bring to the table. This is why we believe God's Word is so important, because He’s telling us things that we wouldn't know by nature, that we wouldn't be able to lean on because most of us wouldn't turn the other cheek, we wouldn't walk the extra mile, we wouldn't do the things that God's called us to do. We sure wouldn't love enemies.

Don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, in everything that you do, and He will make straight your paths. That's why James says, “If you lack wisdom, if you need to know what God wants you to know, how to endure, hold up, and get through life so that the steadfastness of God can be built in you, and you can be complete and lacking in nothing, ask God. Ask God what He says. Spend time with God. Spend time in His Word. Spend time.”

He’s going to tell you that just a few verses down. He's going to say, “When you look into the Word of God, it's like a mirror. Oftentimes, we look in it, it shows us who we are, and then we go away and forget it.”

He says, “No, no, no. Pay attention.”

So, as your pastor, I'm passionate about this. If I could get everybody as excited about Scripture as I am, I would love it. I can only do the best that I can do. I can only preach to the best of my ability, saying, “Listen, get into the Word of God. It will change your life.”

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