56. Recovering Sinners

Meditations in James: 56: Recovering the Wanderer

Jas 5:19,20    My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins

Someone in the past has said that the church is the only army that shoots its injured!  Having watched the church over quite a number of years, it does seem that there is this tendency that writes off, or ‘shoots’ those who fall. The only thing is, that when Jesus said, This is my command: Love each other,” (Jn 15:17), he didn’t add, “only when you are all doing all right!”  Paul, in his letter to the Galatians said, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). Note the word, restore. Yes, there are times, when there is no repentance, when it is right to bring spiritual discipline (see 1 Cor 5),  but we need to constantly remember that Jesus died for sinners and is there for us when we fail (1 Jn 2:1), desiring to draw us back into a good place with God.

Now why, I wonder, does James finish his letter on this note?  Is it perhaps that he is aware that he has spoken a lot about having a right relationship with the Lord and he has almost given ammunition to the ‘Pharisees’ among us to pick up on some of what he has said and use it like the Law to point fingers at those who appear less spiritual. This is the point, isn’t it, that living in the world as we do, we are prone to drift. Hence he says, if one of you should wander from the truth. It is easy to get distracted living in this Fallen World, and drift off the path. These are a whole range of things that James has covered, that indicate this possibility. So James is picking up on the possibility that his readers may be left pointing fingers at those who don’t quite measure up. It’s interesting that he seems to assume that the response will be and someone should bring him back but perhaps that is his gentle way of nudging his readers into that position.  The fact that he then continues, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins seems to indicate that he is having to remind or encourage them into doing that.

It’s as if he is saying, “Look, isn’t it much better that you should reach out to those who are drifting and draw them back. If they are left to themselves they could completely drift away to the worst possible end. If you draw them back you’ll be recovering them and their past failures will be just that, in the past!” Although there are times in this letter when James appears right in your face over particular issues, as he comes to the end of it, the real concern of the pastor comes out, grace abounding.

When we consider, as we have done all the way through, that this is a letter to the church that is now dispersed into the world these are word specifically for this situation. The final closing words of this pastor-teacher are basically, “Keep it together guys, pick up those who are falling, hold together and be there for one another.”  That in a nutshell, is what the corporate Christian life is all about – God is there for you; you be there for one another.  It may appear an abrupt ending when we first see these words, but when we consider the context and all that has gone before, we see they are words of concern for the church to be the church. Where else do you find a group of people who are not driven by discipline (army corps), competition (MP’s and companies), or legalistic rule-keeping requirements or cultural expectations (some world religions)? Within the church, the motivation is the love of God that has been experienced and the presence of God who is love (1 Jn 4:8). Love is the motivating and energising force that we know. May our lives reflect the heart the James shares as he closes this letter.

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55. Example of Elijah

Meditations in James: 55: The Example of Elijah

Jas 5:17,18 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Most of us can look back and see people who, if they weren’t quite role models for us, were certainly people who impacted our lives (for good or bad) in some way. Perhaps we took them for granted, but nevertheless they still made an impression upon us. They might have been a family member or they might have been a friend or a teacher or a leader of some kind. It is natural to look at other people and be touched by their good example, especially. Many Christians come across a character in the Bible who seems to stand out to them and impress them in some particular way. We learn, not only by direct teaching, but also by example.

James uses just such an example to help us focus even more on what he has been saying. Do you remember back in chapter four he called us to side with God against the world?  He called us to live lives submitted to God, lives lived out in the light of our relationship with God. Yes, it was our relationship with the Lord that he went on to talk more about, until in recent verses he comes to talk about prayer as a natural expression of that relationship. In trouble? Pray! Happy? Pray! Sick? Pray! Guilty? Pray! Oh yes, as we’ve said previously, prayer is the classic expression of faith, of this relationship with the Lord being lived out.

But now he wants us to also realise the impact of prayer, the power of prayer, the importance and significance of prayer, and to do that he uses Elijah as an example. Now he’s aware that because Elijah was a great prophet who was remembered for doing great things, we might consider Elijah was right out of our league and therefore not identify with him. Hence he starts off, Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, he did do some great things, but in many ways he was a very ordinary sort of person. Read Elijah’s story some time (1 Kings 17 on) and you’ll see that he really did have feet of clay sometimes, a very ordinary man. But He prayed. Elijah had a relationship with the Lord and it was that which made him stand out for some of the things the Lord enabled him to do.

But more than that, He prayed earnestly. As he came to God, he obviously caught something of God’s heart, and prayed it some more. As he prayed he found he was getting an assurance from the Lord about what he was praying so, He prayed earnestly that it would not rain. Now when we look up his story we don’t find that part recorded. All we find is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1). Because he was so sure that he had heard God, he conveyed it to Ahab the king. Now if you’re like me, I guess that at that point, he is really praying! Once you step out in faith on what God has said, you really want to be justified and see it happen!

Well, he prayed and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Was it Elijah making it not rain for that time? No, it was the Lord, but Elijah shared in it in as much as he shared in the Lord’s heart and was the messenger to convey it to those on the earth who would be affected by it.  Then James tells us,Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. Again we are not told in the Kings accounts exactly what he said. What we find is, And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:41,42). Still in the Spirit, following his episode with the prophets of Baal, Elijah turns to Ahab and finds himself basically saying, “OK, now it will rain, now the land has been cleansed of this apostasy.” What is this climbing to the top of Carmel and bending face down and puting his face between his knees? He is praying, and he carried on praying earnestly, for the same reason as before, until the signs of rain came, followed very rapidly by the rain itself.

Now did you see something in that? If we are right in our assessment of how things happened with Elijah, he had a relationship with the Lord in which, as he prayed, the Lord conveyed His heart to Elijah. All that it needed was for Elijah to respond, which he did, which then provided an even greater motivation to pray. In all this it was God taking the opportunity of the relationship He had with Elijah, to make His will known on earth before He acted. Both times He wanted to do something, and used Elijah to convey it. Both times, as James says, it was as Elijah prayed that he caught the sense of God’s will and was able to declare it. Prayer is the doorway to heaven whereby we catch the will of God and are able to express it on the earth. As we express what God has conveyed to us, He then does it and people realise that it is indeed an act of God and He is glorified.

This is why James wants us to maintain this relationship with the Lord, rejecting the world’s advances, so that we can become instruments to bring glory to God. Isn’t that wonderful! Let’s be that!

54. Confession

Meditations in James: 54: The Place of Confession

Jas 5:15,16 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Confession, in some parts of the church, has sometimes been turned into a ritual. If you “go along to confession” it becomes a ritual, something that is done because it is expected of you and it makes you feel better for a minute of two.  True confession comes out of a broken and contrite heart. In Scripture, probably the greatest example of confession comes in Psalm 51, where the heading tells us that David wrote this after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin over Bathsheba. It starts out, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (v.1,2) Confession comes to God with an awareness of needing God’s mercy, for having offended God. There is an awareness of needing to be cleansed and forgiven.

Look how he continues:For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight(v.3,4). David realized that all sin is against God and that it is evil! When the Holy Spirit convicts, this is what follows. Later he goes on, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (v.10,11) Real confession is concerned to be cleansed from the sin and reinstated in right relationship with the Lord (where the sin will not be repeated!)

Having heard a number of people on counseling situations, confessing to the Lord their sins, I have to say that rarely is there whole-hearted, unrestrained pouring out of sorrow to God for those sins. Mostly we have a great deal of difficulty in genuinely facing what we’ve done and genuinely saying, “That was wrong, that was evil, and it affronted God.” but that is real confession!

James’ references to confession flow in the context of healing and after the words we considered yesterday he says,If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”. Suddenly forgiveness and healing are linked. Not every sickness is linked to sin, but some is. Sometimes our sin has caused or made us vulnerable to the sickness, and so for the healing to flow, the sin has to be dealt with first. There is a very strong principle here which accounts, we suspect, for why there is so much illness in the world today. Having said this, James realizes that this needs further explanation.

He continues, Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. There can be no other explanation for what he says other that what we have said in the above paragraph. There is a divine order here: sin – sickness – confession – prayer – healing. It is interesting to note that TWO things are needed: confession AND prayer, confession by the sick person and prayer for healing by the elder. An Old Testament example of this is,Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again,” (Gen 20:17) after Abimelech had had dealings with God. He confessed but God required His representative, Abram, to pray for him. The prayer of the elder adds significance to what is happening and he acts as God’s representative to declare forgiveness and healing.

In the New Testament the classic example of this is Jesus and the man let down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said,Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 5:20). The man’s willingness to come to Jesus was equivalent to his confession but before he is healed, Jesus pronounces forgiveness. Jesus knew there was a sin and forgiveness issue here and so dealt with it. He subsequently brings the healing: He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (v.24). There is a clear link between the sickness and the need for forgiveness followed by healing.

We should note, however, that this is not always the case as John shows us in his Gospel. As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.(Jn 9:1-3) Sin was not the issue behind this man’s blindness. He was just part of the Fallen World, and so Jesus simply brought healing without the need of confession and forgiveness.

James concludes,The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The righteous elder praying for a sick member of his flock, is in the position of God’s representative and, as long as he is a righteous man, he is therefore in the position to bring prayer to bear that has a powerful impact – to bring healing.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions to ask, that arises out of these verses, is do we have an open and submissive and humble heart that is willing to seek out its spiritual leadership and confess, when we become aware of our sin? Such confession is an indication of a heart that is indeed open, submissive and humble, and that is the challenge, because that is the sort of heart we are all supposed to have.

53. Prayer and Healing

Meditations in James: 53: Praying out Sickness

Jas 5:13-15    Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.

There is one particular facet of the Christian faith that is so simple and yet so profound, and which goes to the very heart of belief and behaviour. It is that the Christian life is divinely supernatural.  What we mean by that is that our faith, our belief and our behaviour, if it is the faith etc. displayed in the pages of the New Testament, is to be saturated with the life of God. We are what we are because of God, we think what we think because of God and, finally and almost most importantly, we live lives that are guided and empowered by God. In other words we are people who are humanly impossible – but God enabled – and we do things that are humanly impossible – but are God enabled.  Nowhere is this divinely supernatural element more evidenced in us than in prayer.

James has just been exhorting us, as we saw yesterday, to live simple straight forward lives of transparent honest and integrity. He now peppers our consciousness with a variety of expressions of life involving prayer, as the most simple and straight forward way of expressing our relationship with the Lord. For James, prayer is a divinely supernatural activity that should be at the heart of our lives. He’s talked a lot in this letter about living in a world full of difficulties and so it is natural as he talks about prayer to ask, Is any one of you in trouble? because he almost expects that. Things do go wrong in this Fallen World, so he knows at any one point of time some of us will be struggling with difficulties of living in this world. What to do about it? He should pray. How simple, how obvious, but how often do we not think to do that?  Whether it is over such mundane things as a headache, or of losing or misplacing something, or of learning something new that seems difficult, is our natural first response to turn to the Lord and ask for His help?

We said this was both simple and profound. We said this was all about living divinely supernatural lives. We’re not going to pray unless we believe God will answer and do something to bring change – well, we might pray from superstitious belief or from legalistic ‘I ought’ motivations – but it is the belief that God is our loving heavenly Father who loves to do things for His children that brings the best motivation to pray.

But it’s not only when things go badly that we should pray; it’s also when they go well. Is anyone happy? asks James. We are happy when things are going well, when our horizon is not blighted by difficulties. Don’t only pray when things are going badly, implies James, but also let the joy that is in your heart when things are going well rise up in songs of praise directed to God. Sing praise to God. Songs are an expression of a joyful heart, so let your heart be released and let songs come forth that praise God for the good things He has done for you. Let this be your expression of thankfulness.

Is any one of you sick? asks James next, casting around to think of times when prayer should be the most natural of responses. It’s difficult to pray when you are feeling ill; it’s not a time when faith rises and you feel strong and good in Christ. Perhaps that’s why Jesus healed so many people, because he knew that sickness blights our relationship with the Lord and makes us focus on ourselves. No, James understood all this, which is why he knows we need help when we are sick. When you’re sick it’s difficult to see past the symptoms but the least we can do is call for help. The elders of the church are the leaders God has called into being (well they ought to be) to carry His authority and to exercise His power in such cases. So call for the elders and ask them to pray for you.

He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. There is the order of things. YOU call for the elders. YOU know when you need them. It’s not for them to come until faith in you accepts your position and is ready to receive their input. When they come they should do what the saints of old did as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit coming to enable, they should anoint with oil. This is simply a faith sign, a visible help to faith that conveys an important truth. It is the coming of God by His Spirit that will bring healing, not anything magical. Note the phrase, in the name of the Lord. It is as they come aware that they are simply God’s representatives, seeking His guidance and direction and power. As they come like this, they come in a right attitude and are open for that divinely supernatural leading.

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. How simply it is said. It WILL make the sick person well.  What is the ‘it’ we’ve just referred to? The prayer offered in faith. Remember faith comes from hearing God, and so this prayer is a prayer that is energized by hearing God’s word and believing it. These elders have heard God speak into them His truth about healing and they know He wants to bring it. They pray in response to that, and therefore because they pray in line with His will, He comes and answers and brings healing.

The Lord will raise him up. Have you been cast down by sickness? Then call for your church leaders and ask them to pray for you according to what James says, and the Lord will lift you up. It may be as He heals you instantly or it may be as He starts you on a path of healing, but in whatever way it is, you will find yourself being lifted up.

There is more to come about this in the following verses, but for the moment there is plenty here to stir our hearts and minds into faith. Go back over these things. Check them out, one by one. Pray, or seek prayer. It is the doorway to this life that is divinely supernatural. Be blessed in it!

52. Be Simple

Meditations in James: 52: Be Simple & Straight Forward

Jas 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

I don’t know if you’ve ever come across the practice of children crossing their fingers behind their backs to annul the promise they are making to other children, but that’s rather like what was happening in James’ time. Put in its most simple form, it is people excusing themselves from promises they have made. Children, especially, are good at using words to tie up friendships or try to bring honour to an agreement. Ah, that is what is at the heart of the whole problem of agreement; it is trying to bring honour to it. When someone swears an oath on a Bible in the witness box in a courtroom, the court are trying to make that person feel there is a solemnity in that oath-taking that will ensure they honour the court and tell the truth. People ‘swear’ by their mother’s grave, or goodness knows what, to try and give the other person a sense that they will honour their promise, or to reassure them that they are speaking the truth. Ensuring an agreement is honoured, or convincing others that you are speaking the truth, is sometimes difficult if your credibility or integrity is at stake. It’s a very important area of life.

It was to counter this dubious trend at that time that James wrote this verse. There had come a practice of distinguishing between oaths that were binding and those which were not. If God’s name was invoked, that made it binding, but otherwise oaths were not considered binding. Also oaths were used a great deal which also tended to undermine their trustworthiness. The whole point of an oath is that it is solemnising something that is special, something rare. The oath makes it special, the oath makes it something that everyone should feel MUST be kept. If an oath was used all the time, that would completely demean the use and value of oaths.

Oaths are all about validating the truth, but the truth should not need to be validated. If we are Christians we should, above all other people, be concerned to live in the truth and speak only the truth. This may limit our lives but it is what is required. Now this is such a simple yet profound thing that we need to repeat it again and again until we really do take in the significance of what is being said. The truth should not need to be validated by us, only on special occasions where there is a particularly significant or serious matter at hand, where we wish to convey to all onlookers that we are utterly, one hundred per cent, serious with no possibility whatsoever of doubt creeping in over our sincerity.

The writer to the Hebrews (Heb 6:13,14) cited God’s promise to Abraham (in Gen 22:17) which he considered an oath. A promise by God is the most serious of promises because God NEVER lies (Num 23:19), therefore if He resorts to a promise, it is a most serious thing. If He promises to do something that is the equivalent of taking an oath in His own name. Jesus clearly felt himself under a similar responsibility before the charge of the high priest: The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.” (Mt 26:63,64).  Paul involved God as his witness on rare occasions when he wanted to convince his readers: God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times” (Rom 1:9,10). Oaths should, therefore, be used very rarely, to ensure they keep their sense of seriousness, and they should also only ever be used to create that sense of utter seriousness, to confirm a promise in the eyes of the onlookers in such a measure that there can be no doubt about the integrity of the person making the oath.

Now James starts this verse with  “Above all.” Now remember that in this chapter he has been warning against unrighteous rich people who cause trouble for the poorer Christians or warning against the tendency to let riches bring you into unrighteousness. He has counseled his readers to be patient as they wait for God to come and sort out either the unrighteous rich or the struggle of the individual with sin and temptation. He has called them to be patient as they wait for the Lord to come and do this.

So what he is now saying is, while you are waiting for all of these things to be resolved, ensure that over all of that, you ensure that you keep your lives simple and truthful, avoiding the deceitful tactics that the rich (implied by context) and others use. YOU remain truthful and in simple honesty, having an integrity that ensures you don’t have to keep bolstering up your appearance by lots of oaths or other techniques to justify your position and integrity. May it be so for us today!

51. More on Patience

Meditations in James: 51:  More on Patience & Perseverance

Jas 5:10,11    Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

The temptation to give up is sometimes a very strong temptation. We have a poster which includes some of the following lines: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway….. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway…. People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway….. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got ANYWAY.”  Whoever originally wrote those words knew that sometimes life in this world is tough but we have to decide to keep on anyway. To give up is to let Sin and Satan win. To give up is to be trampled on and to lose wonderful possibilities of a better tomorrow.   When we’re tired, feeling jaded, worn out, and the enemy seems to jeer at us, he’s trying to get us to give up. It’s a strong temptation, but Paul wrote: No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Cor 10:13 Message version) The words of that verse tell us a) our temptation is common to life, b) God won’t let you be pushed further  than you can cope with and c) He’ll be there to help you.

James has just said, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (v.8), the ‘too’ referring to the example of the farmers he had just spoken about as having to wait patiently for their harvests. In the face of unrighteous people or, even, of having to struggle with our own unrighteous attitudes or behaviour and sometimes failing, the temptation to just give up is often strong. Hence we need these words of encouragement: be patient and stand firm and now these words about the prophets. Look what James says.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The subject of his concern is having patience, waiting for God, or God’s grace, to turn up when we are suffering. If you want an example of how this worked out, he implies, look at the Old Testament prophets. He goes on,As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” In the teaching of the day, the prophets were revered for their loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord. Despite the opposition they received, they hung on in.  The reality is that despite what was thrown at them, they survived and were triumphant.

You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James then cites the particular example of Job who persevered in the face of lots of bad things happening to him.  Yes, the enemy afflicted him but the end of the story was God blessing him and restoring him to what he had known previously – in fact twice as prosperous as he had been before! (Job 42:10).

“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.The fact that tough things happen in this world, doesn’t detract from the truth about God’s character. He is still full of compassion and mercy. He is still a God who feels for His people and is moved by the plight of His people.  Remember Moses’ first encounter with the Lord: The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8). Compassion is a heart moved by plight. God doesn’t stand afar off when we are going through tough times. No, He is right there and He feels and understands all we are going through and is there working to bring good through it (Rom 8:28). More than that He doesn’t assess every situation and say, “Oh well, they deserve it!” and leave us to it. No, He knows our frailty and despite our stupidity, so often, He comes and rescues us. It is an act of pure mercy. Not deserved but nevertheless given.

Yes, James knows that living in this world brings both opposition from other people and opposition from sin that we struggle with. He knows that we struggle with the temptation to give up, and so he encourages us to persevere, patiently waiting for the Lord to turn up and intervene. He cites working illustrations – farmers – and spiritual illustrations – Old Testament prophets. Having to wait and be patient is a familiar thing, a normal and natural thing in this Fallen World.  So his word comes: hang on! But it’s more than that; it is, hang on – because God WILL turn up, as surely as harvest does and as surely as He did for His prophets of old. So look up and look around. The Lord is coming for you in your situation!

50. God, the Judge

Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge

Jas 5:9    Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.

The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’.  Is it possible for salvation to be lost?  I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.

The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin.  Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.

But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t!  Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’?  Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).  He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing.  Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us.  The writer to the Hebrews understood this: My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote,No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!

We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today.  God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask?  Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert (Heb 3:6-8).  There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it.  Many of them died (Num 11:1-3).  Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15).  Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29).  Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.

So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go.  He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.

We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32).  The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him.  He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.

When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.

There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.