James: Trimming the Truth


Heavenly Wisdom

But the wisdom from-above is first pure, then peaceful, kind, yielding, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, sincere.

James 3:17 (DLNT)

Trimming the Truth

In his description of heavenly wisdom, James had ended on being sincere, and sincerity requires honesty. Whenever you and I are dishonest or “trim” or shade the truth, we are loving ourselves more than God or others.

Trimming the truth: Saying less than needs to be said. Dishonesty happens when you and I look out for ourselves first.

  • I want your respect or acceptance, so I trim the truth to hide my faults.
  • I want your trust and confidence, so I am dishonest about my failings.
  • I find confrontation distasteful, so I avoid issues that lead to conflict.
  • There are things I want from you, so I shade the details to my advantage.
  • I do not want the shame of confessing wrong to you, so I talk about events and people in a way that is favorable to me.
  • I do not want you to know that I failed you, so I make up some acceptable excuse.

Truth is the casualty when I love myself more than I love you.

You and I need to recognize how powerful our desires are for self-protection, for ease and comfort, for vindication, for acceptance and approval, for love. How much you and I want to be the center of attention, to live free of conflict, and to have our desires and dreams fulfilled!!

Yet, as James says, bitter water cannot come from a stream of fresh, sweet water. The River of Life—when we open the sluice gates of our souls—sweeps our hearts clean and leaves only the sweetness of Christ. When our hearts are pure, our words will be pure, that is why the transformation of our minds turns out to be so crucially important, so core to who we are.

The Apostle Paul absolutely supported this teaching, writing,

Therefore I urge you, brothers [and sisters], by the compassions of God, to present your bodies as a living holy sacrifice pleasing to God, as your spiritual worship

And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may be approving what is the good and pleasing and perfect will of God.

For I say to everyone being among you through the grace having been given to me not to be thinking-highly of yourself beyond what you ought-to think, but to be thinking so as to be sound-minded, as God apportioned to each a measure of faith.

Romans 12:1-3 (DLNT)

The transformation of our inner beings through the divine work of the Spirit along with our own cooperation affects every aspect of life, in the dailies, and overall, in our personalities and in our characters.

You and I begin by admitting that people and situations do not cause us to speak the way we do.

Our hearts control our words.

All people and situations do is provide the setting for our hearts to express themselves. You and I may say we cannot help what we think, but the fact is . . . we can. It simply is very hard work, taxing work, laborious work. Yet also very worthwhile work.

For [though] walking in the flesh, we are not waging-war in accordance with the flesh

For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful in[ God for the tearing-down of fortresses. We are tearing-down considerations and every height being raised-up against the knowledge of God, and taking-captive every thought to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (DLNT)

You and I can decide to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We can refuse to think certain things, we can discipline our thinking.

Be rejoicing in the Lord always; again I will say, be rejoicing!

Let your kindness be known to all people.

The Lord is near. Be anxious-about nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgivings, let your requests be made-known to God. And the peace of God surpassing all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers [and sisters], be considering these things

—whatever things are true,

—whatever things are honorable,

—whatever things are right,

—whatever things are pure,

—whatever things are lovely,

—whatever things are commendable,

—if there is any virtue, and

—if there is any praise.

Be practicing these things which you indeed learned and received and heard and saw in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (DLNT)

Our tongues will reveal our hearts.

What comes out of our mouths in times of trouble? What do our hearts think and our mouths say when our plans are obstructed or just fall flat? How do you and I respond when people fail us or do not do their part?

If I linger in evil thoughts, indulge them, or even simply allow them to take up residence in my mind, then eventually they will come out of my mouth.

If I concentrate on the good, then my thought life will reflect that, and it is likelier that is what I will talk about.

Legalism?

I have heard people complain about James’ epistle, claiming it is all about works, about legalism, about human effort seeking to attain godliness, about pressure to produce a holiness that in reality is only accomplished through the divine work of the Holy Spirit.

(Such complaints would also need to be leveled against the Apostle Paul, as you can see. And also the Apostle Peter. Oh, and also the writer of Hebrews.)

Apostle Paul actually wrote a lot on the tension between antinomianism and legalism.

Here are my own thoughts.

Antinomianism 

Expressing freedom in Christ by getting rid of all law and going by whatever feels right and good instead. 

Paul exhorted believers to remember once we are saved, we become obligated by love and thankfulness, not to mention being bought at an incalculable price by Jesus, to do whatever pleases God.

Legalism

Strict, literal adherence to the law. 

Among Christians legalism refers to an improper fixation on law or codes of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying pride, neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God. Legalism is a belief, stated or implied, that law, not faith, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.

Sometimes peoplebelievers and unbelievers alike—can get so caught up in following rules for rules’ sake, they lose sight of what the rules are for. That is an improper fixation. But the rules themselves are not the problem.

The problem is the heart. Our sinful natures won’t like a rule when that rule stops us from getting something we want, or are determined to get. 

Legalism is different than the “obedience of faith.” Obedience of faith is expressed in exercising great discipline in the power of the Holy Spirit, completely obedient to God’s word, which includes the law and even more, beginning with the law of love. 

Not to gain God’s favor, but out of a humble overflowing gratitude for what God has done and is doing. 

Not to gain life, but to sacrifice one’s own life to God’s glory and for others’ good. 

But how do you and I gain great discipline? 

Studies have shown that children who are not taught by others how to discipline themselves do not have an ability to teach themselves discipline, even as adults. Even adults will have to go through the same process as children go through, of learning discipline with the help of others before they can have it for themselves.

That process is a painstaking, years-long training, persevering in obedience, being corrected when we err, being rewarded when we succeed, until finally the discipline is inside us as lifestyle.

Being disciplined in small things makes us able to tackle the big things.


[Live the Truth | Sharon Tate Soberon, https://www.flickr.com/photos/4thglryofgod/8055287027, flickr, (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

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