James and Jude
Control. All humans desire it. Most humanists claim to have it. There is a poem, written by William Earnest Henley in 1875, entitled “Invictus” that embodies the idea of control. Written by a young man fighting tuberculosis of the bone, the poem gives a heroic picture of never giving up and conquering—not just illness and pain—but all the horrid circumstances that can bombard one’s life.
For believers, however, there is emptiness in it. The poem gives thanks to unknown “gods” and is full of arrogant bravado summed up in the ending phrase, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” It simply isn’t true.
Ultimately there is only One who is in control, the true Captain of all. Through Him comes true healing, courage, strength and power. This week, James continues to have us evaluate how in-control we allow God to be in our lives—whether with fellow Christians or over our future. James could have changed Henley’s poem to read, “I serve the Master of my fate. I passionately follow the Captain of my soul.”
I. DAY ONE
A. James 4:11 says, “Do not speak against one another, brethren.” Notice that James didn’t add, “Unless it’s for their own good.” Nor did he tack on “unless they spoke against you first,” and he didn’t insert, “unless the person you’re talking to really needs to hear this.”
1. Read James 4:11-12. According to verse 11, what three things do we do when we speak against a brother?
2. Gossip—also known as tale-bearing or slander—takes many forms and is followed by numerous excuses and justifications. Read Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13, 20:19; and Jeremiah 6:28, 9:4. How does Scripture further clarify the character of a gossip?
3. We covered the topic of judging in detail when we studied James 2. Review James 2:4, 12-13. How does being a gossip and the idea of judging mesh with one another?
B. A recent news article gave me pause over something researchers call “social contagion.” Researchers from the Universities of California, Brown and Harvard released a survey showing that divorce spreads rapidly if you’re associated with someone who has gotten a divorce. If friends of yours get a divorce, you are 147% more likely to get a divorce yourself. If a co-worker, 55% more likely. And if a sibling divorces, your chances are 22% higher.1 Could this be true of other choices made around us? It definitely makes me think, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”2
1. How might a “discussion” topic such as divorce be viewed differently in light of James 4:11-12?
2. Does it make you think differently when you replace “divorce” with “gossip” in the statistics?
3. As with any difficult circumstance, wrong choice or sin we see in others’ lives, what would be a better response than gossiping?
II. DAY TWO
A. In our study so far we’ve learned that we Christians have a propensity to wrongfully judge, are sometimes partial in our dealings with others, quarrel, often desire to satisfy our own pleasures and lusts, have a problem with bridling our tongues, and rely heavily on worldly wisdom. Now James points out yet another area in which believers need work: planning for the future.
1. Read James 4:13-14.
a. What, if anything, is wrong with the statement made in verse 13?
b. In verse 14, why should we approach such adamant scheduling with caution?
2. Proverbs 27:1 echoes this warning by saying, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
B. Tomorrow is one of those words used in Scripture that’s pretty straight forward. Saying, “the day after today” is solid and identifiable.
1. So, why does the word “tomorrow” seem to frighten or frustrate us?
2. Read Exodus 8:10, 23, 29; 9:5, 18; 10:14. These verses come from the Exodus story and how God miraculously released the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
a. From these verses, what do the “tomorrows” have in common?
b. Why do you think God wants us to hold the future a little more lightly?
III. DAY THREE
A. James 4:14 is pretty specific as to what our lives are like here on earth. Bible translations use words like, “vapor,” “mist” and even “morning fog.”
1. Read Job 14:1-12.
a. What other imagery do these verses give for the brevity of life?
b. How does God compare to man’s frailty?
B. The prophet Isaiah also discusses the vapor of human life from the standpoint of God’s greatness and power, ending with His deep care for our welfare.
1. Read Isaiah 40, looking for all references to man.
2. What does the chapter say about God?
3. In comparing Isaiah 40 to yesterday’s lesson, what encourages you regarding God’s handling of your tomorrows?
IV. DAY FOUR
A. As we come to James 4:15-16, we see that James does not completely discount planning ahead. It’s important to have schedules so that we can better keep commitments and more effectively serve one another. Such thoughtfulness is honoring to others and shows godly stewardship for the time God’s given us.
1. King Solomon, in all his God-given wisdom and then later in his wasted talents, knew a lot about the brevity of time. Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11, 17; 8:5-6.
a. How do Solomon’s words echo James’?
b. What do you learn about God’s control over time from the Ecclesiastes passage?
2. Read Matthew 6:30-34 for Jesus’ thoughts on time and the future.
a. How does Jesus want us to spend our time?
b. In verse 34, what does the Lord tell us not to do and why?
B. Isaiah 30:1 in the New Living Translation says, “Destruction is certain for my rebellious children,” says the LORD. “You make plans that are contrary to my will. You weave a web of plans that are not from my Spirit, thus piling up your sins.”
1. What plans are you currently making that you’ve not committed to prayer?
2. How can you begin to better align your planning with God’s timing?
3. What can you change in your thinking to avoid the kind of arrogance James 4:16 talks about?
V. DAY FIVE
A. Way back at the beginning of creation, just before Cain committed the first murder, God had a talk with the angry and bitter first-born of Adam and Eve. He said to Cain, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7)
1. In James 4:17, the author reminds us that when we know the right thing to do and choose to do something else, it is sin. It’s not as visible or socially abhorrent as murder, but it has the same result.
a. Connecting the dots God put forth in Scripture, what is the arrogant attitude we have regarding “our” time and future planning?
b. Is there something currently in your life you know to do and yet have not done?
B. God desires only the best for us. And being God, His plans and timing will be perfectly in accordance with that best. When we know what to do and do it, we’re working with God to that end. Read Proverbs 16:3, 9; 19:21; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 32:8; Jeremiah 29:11.
1. How do these verses encourage you to do the right thing God has set before you?
2. Challenge yourself to memorize one of these verses this week.
Christian music artist, Chris Rice, has a completely different view from that of “Invictus.” God has given him a deep longing to give up his own plans and have his time be spent according to God’s plan. The choruses of two songs in particular speak in line with the last verses of James 4:
“You know the number of my days
So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head
And come write Your wisdom on my heart
And teach me the power of a moment.” 3
“Teach us to count the days
Teach us to make the days count/
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot
Life means so much.” 4
[Author’s note: I’m using the New American Standard Bible for the study on James unless otherwise noted.]
1. “Could Divorce Really Be ‘Contagious’?”, cbnnews.com, June 15, 2010. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2010/June/Could-Divorce-Really-Be-Contagious/
2. Attributed to John Bradford, an English reformer burned at the stake in 1555.
3. Chris Rice “The Power of a Moment,” Past the Edges, 1998, Rocketown Records.
4. Christ Rice, “Life Means So Much,” Smell the Color 9, 2000, Rocketown Records.
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