Sabbath School Lesson for November 22-28, 2014
James, in the second half of chapter 4, presents us with several situations that are the opposite of that humble, heavenly wisdom that we studied last week. James calls church members out for several reasons:
- their slanderous criticism of others which shows a judgmental attitude
- their love of possessions which shows an arrogant, independent attitude
- their lack of good works which shows a selfish attitude
All three attitudes indicate an effort to put ourselves above others, which is actually putting ourselves above God, our Lawgiver and Judge.
We’ve been told that sin is a violation of God’s law, but James causes us to understand that there is another way of looking at sin that we sometimes overlook.
Key Text: “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who are thou that judgest another?” James 4:12 KJV
The verse prior to this one cautioned us not to speak evil of others, which is in essence judging them. We always make ourselves a judge when we choose to gossip or speak negatively about someone, which is a prerogative of God only.
Sunday: Judgment or Discernment?
One of the hardest spiritual lessons we must teach our children and teenagers is the distinction between judgment and discernment.
How do you educate your children on moral issues such as modesty of dress and purity of speech, for instance, when one of their aunts does not meet the standards of dress you’ve taught them, or their grandfather frequently uses profanity? How do we impress on them the need to still treat these wayward relatives with love and respect?
As parents of teens, we are often accused of being judgmental towards their friends, when all we are trying to do is show them the dangers of associating too closely with friends who will lead them into trouble and heartache.
This quality of spiritual discernment does not come easy, even for us adults. James point out one way that we adults, even Christian adults, wander off into the area of judgment, instead of discernment, when interacting with our peers.
“Brothers, do not slander [literally, ‘speak against’] one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it” James 4:11 NIV
The sins of speech here could include slander, criticism, lying, or even angry words. See Leviticus 19:15-18 for a more thorough listing of ways to NOT love your neighbor with your words.
Any form of criticism or negative talk about others is an indictment of not only the law being broken, but of the law itself. We are indicating that the law and the Lawgiver are failing to function well enough to handle the situation.
In our eyes, we are trying to right a wrong by spreading our tale or by angrily confronting our brother. But the means we are doing it are not those means that God has instructed us. So we are circumventing God and trying to do His job for Him.
Discernment looks more like this:
- “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God…” I John 4:1 NKJV
- “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they [the Bereans] received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11 NKJV
- “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 5:11 NKJV
- “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves…” II Corinthians 13:5 NKJV
Discussion Questions: How can we know whether we have crossed the line and become judgmental instead of discerning?
How do you handle rumors, gossip, and harsh criticism when it comes your way?
Despite the positive ways technology has enhanced our lives, in what ways has technology added to the problems in interpersonal relationships? How can we avoid these harmful effects?
Monday: The Lawgiver Is Judge
The next verse in chapter 4 causes us to consider who our Lawgiver is.
“There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:12 ESV
Just who made the laws we refer to as the law or laws of Moses? Jesus mentioned these laws, but claims that He spoke them and they were written down in the books of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. (“…’These are the words which I spake unto you…that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.’ ” Luke 24:44 KJV)
Nehemiah also stated that the law of Moses was in reality laws that were given by the Lord Himself. (“…to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes:” Nehemiah 10:29 NKJV)
These and other passages declare that the Lawgiver is none other than Christ our Lord. I Corinthians 10:1-10 makes it very clear that Jesus was not only the Rock, from which they drank (v. 4), He was also the One they tempted and complained to in the wilderness (v. 9, 10).
In our human judicial system with its lawyers and judges, we think of these officials as being very knowledgeable about the law. And truly only someone who knows the law very well is qualified to judge whether the law has been broken or not.
So Jesus is doubly qualified as our Judge. He not only is intimately acquainted with the Law, having created it in the first place, but after taking human form, He understands firsthand the pain and suffering breaking the law has brought to our planet.
Discussion Questions: How is engaging in gossip or feeding on the scandal of others the same as judging them? And how does that judging put you on the same level as God or even above God?
Could our negative criticisms make us guilty of a form of cannibalism? Have you ever heard of “having the preacher” for dinner after services…in other words, making the preacher your main dish or topic of gossip?
No matter who we gossip about, is not Jesus really the One we are hurting? How do we know this? See Matthew 25:40.
Tuesday: Planning Ahead
James shifts gears somewhat with the next verse. James 4:13 talks about a man who thought it wise to plan out his financial future. But much like the man who built bigger and bigger barns in Luke 12:13-21, he was not capable of knowing what the future would bring.
Although financial planning and budgeting is certainly a wise way to provide for our families, it is our attitude about it that James seems to call into question. When we think we have all the solutions to life’s problems all sewed up in our business portfolio, we may be putting ourselves in the role of God once again.
God must sit on the throne of our lives as the sole Provider. Our treasures must be laid up in heaven. We must place our will on His throne and let Him help us make every decision in life.
Discussion Question: Read I Corinthians 6:19-20. How does the worldly “rat race”, as it’s called, cause us to forget who we belong to?
What are some ways we can show God that He is included in our efforts to provide for our families? What part does the tithing system contribute to the development of a right attitude for this part of our lives?
Wednesday: A Mist
No one likes to be reminded of the uncertainty of life, but James does so here in order to adjust our independent, willful attitudes. He calls life a “vapor”, a “mist”, or even “morning fog”, depending on the translation.
The transitory nature of fog in the morning is probably a fitting illustration of how soon our lives are over. Every one of us are just a heartbeat away from losing it.
The word “vapor” used in this text is similar to the Hebrew word used in Ecclesiastes when it talks about “vanity”, which also means “breath” or “vapor”.
Without plans that include eternity, there is little satisfaction to be found in this present world, if for no other reason than the shortness of it.
James hopes to call us from that narrow, arrogant state of mind which focuses on the here and now. “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” James 4:16 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read Ecclesiastes 5:10 which says, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” NKJV Discuss the meaning of this verse. [Notice it didn’t say he who HAS silver…, but he who LOVES it.]
It seems that the older we get the faster time rushes by. Think of how long it took before school let out for the summer when you were a child, for instance. How does this compare with time passing by now? Is there any advantage to time speeding up when we are aged and probably not as healthy? Perhaps God had a reason for designing us this way. What do you think those reasons are?
Thursday: Knowing and Doing What Is Good
James sums up this chapter with these words: “Therefore to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17 NKJV
This is powerfully significant to our understanding of what sin is. The readers of James epistles must have lost sight of this thought. We all must remember that sin is not just doing bad; it includes not doing good.
Those who are just sailing through life, acquiring as many earthly treasures as they can, without using those treasures to benefit others, are sinning. Christians throughout the ages have been guilty of this.
On the other hand, this does not mean that our every waking moment must be filled with doing good deeds. Even Jesus took time to pray, and sometimes just to rest.
Let’s be aware that James is not encouraging good behavior as a means of our salvation. But our actions are evidence that salvation has taken place.
Discussion Questions: What is the difference between sins of commission and sins of omission, as they’ve been called?
Read John 5:30. How does placing our will in the hands of God enable us to keep from sinning, including both the wrong actions we commit and the right actions we omit?
How often must we seek God’s will? Is this the same thing as surrendering to God? Why does it have to be that often?
Christians are often guilty of different forms of gossip and materialism. These behaviors are sins because they in essence are attempts to put ourselves above or equal with God.
- gossip, slander, backbiting, spreading rumors, lying, or even words of anger spoken against another–all are forms of judging, when God is the only Judge
- materialism, love of worldly possessions, ignoring the needs of others, or even worry over finances–all are forms of providing for ourselves, when God is the only Provider
James also reminds us of the shortness of life, calling it a mist or vapor. Very hard to hold on to, and not likely to stay around long. We must not waste our life by engaging in actions that don’t draw us closer to God. Actions that instead drive a wedge between us and God.
Make a conscious effort this week not to engage in conversations that reflect negatively on other people. Think of strategies you can use to help avoid them, such as
- silent prayer,
- changing the subject, or
- simply saying something nice about the person being talked about.
With Thanksgiving approaching, determine what you will do to brighten the day for someone who otherwise will be neglected on that day.
- Invite them to dinner,
- bring them some food from your holiday meal, or
- simply give them a phone call to help fill their lonely day.
- You might even start volunteering at a meal site for low-income people.
Next week: Weep and Howl! Lesson 10
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