James 3:16

August 21, 2016

James 3:16
The date was October 1st 1770 and the event
was the funeral of noted evangelist of the time George Whitfield.  Whitfield was a contemporary of John Wesley and
Wesley had been asked by Mr. Whitfield to deliver the funeral message.
It is interesting to note that their
relationship went back to their days at Oxford and they had both been part of
the group who formed what was known as the Holy Club, a group that would
eventually led to the formation of the Methodist Church.
Whitefield was a number of years younger
than Wesley and although he was close friends with Charles Wesley, John’s
younger brother, his relationship with John was more mentor and protégée.
A few interesting facts about George
Whitefield.   In 1739, when he was 25, he
visited the Colonies, in what would eventually become the United States, and
held evangelistic meetings.  One
historian said that George Whitefield became America’s first celebrity and by
the time he returned to England that 80 percent of all American Colonists had
heard him preach at least once. 
It is said that outside of royalty he was
perhaps the only living person whose name would be recognized by any person
living in the Colonies.  It was during
that time that he became close friends with Benjamin Franklin and Franklin once
estimated that without amplification Whitefield could be heard by more than
30,000 people.
After Whitefield preached in one community Benjamin Franklin wrote, “wonderful…
change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or
indifferent about religion, it seem’d as if all the world were growing
religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without
hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
One source stated that during this
relatively short ministry, he died at 56, which used to seem really old, that
he had He preached at least 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million hearers.  So you can understand what Whitefield meant
when he said “I would rather wear out than rust out.”
But back to the funeral.  I’m sure that there were those who were
confused by the fact that Wesley was asked to preach Whitefield’s funeral,
especially when they discovered that Whitefield himself had requested Wesley.
You see even though John Wesley had been
George Whitefield’s mentor during the early years of Whitefield’s ministry the
two had a falling out over doctrine.  And
for the past twenty years were at odds. 
You see Whitefield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Armenian.  And if you know what that means then you
understand the rift, and if you don’t know what that means you’ll have to buy
me a coffee because we don’t have the time to get into it this morning. 
Suffice to say that Calvinist and Armenians
often find themselves on opposite sides of the theological spectrum.
And for years their theological views separated
these two preachers.  They spoke
publically against the others views and wrote theological discourses defending
their stands.  It wasn’t bitter or nasty,
they didn’t call each other names they just didn’t agree and they didn’t
pretend they did. 
Neither one of the men was a stranger to
opposition or disagreement, as a matter of fact we are told that Whitefield
welcomed opposition, he was quoted once as saying “The
more I am opposed, the more joy I feel”.
And then something happened. Listen to how John Wesley described what happened at
Whitefield’s funeral.
“There
are many doctrines of a less essential nature … In these we may think and let
think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’ But, meantime, let us hold fast the
essentials…”
Wesley and Whitefield had come to a place
where they agreed to disagree.  They
decided that the kingdom was greater than their personal views.
I heard that phrase when I first began my
ministry, when I discovered that one of my greatest supporters in our church
and I differed theologically and Russell explained that we just needed to
“Agree to disagree” and it worked.  And
through the past thirty years I have agreed to disagree with a pile of people.
It was only in the past couple of years
that I discovered that was a Wesley phrase, but it wasn’t original with Wesley.  In a letter to someone a few years earlier
Wesley had written,  “If you agree with me, well:
if not, we can, as ‘Mr. Whitefield used to say, agree to disagree.’”
We are in week nine of our 3:16 series,
which if you haven’t been with us through the summer we been preaching from
various Chapter 3 verse 16s found in the Bible. 
We began back in June with the obvious one John 3:16 and have gone from
there, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  And the staff has been really enjoying the
series.  Hope that you have as well, but
if not then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
This week’s 3:16 comes from the book of
James.  We might be tempted to think this
book was written by the Apostle James but it was in fact written by James the
half-brother of Jesus, same mother different father.
And I love the book of James, it is so full
of practical advice.  Not everybody agrees
with me,  Martin Luther once wrote, “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle
of straw
.”  But
that wouldn’t be the only thing that Luther and I would have to agree to
disagree over. 
And James writes about the dangers of the
tongue and warns about playing favorites in church, he tells us that faith
without works is dead, that’s a part of what upset Luther. 
Over and over again James addresses issues
that have the potential to damage the church. 
And in this particular section James
reminds his readers of the dangers that can arise when we disagree with one
another.  Which is where this week’s 3:16
comes in.   In James 3:16 we read, James 3:16  For wherever there is jealousy
and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
But like all the other 3:16 this verse
can’t stand alone, and it begins in James 3:1  Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you
should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more
strictly.
So specifically this passage is directed
toward those who teach in the church, and while we might be tempted to narrow
that down to pastors it really goes much broader. 
And so it is in the section that Shawn read
for us that James lays out guidelines for “Agreeing to Disagree”
The first thing we need to realize is that We All Teach    While this scripture was specifically
directed toward those who taught formally in a church setting it really applies
to all of us.
Because anytime we attempt to persuade
someone of our particular view we step into the shoes of a teacher.  And that is where difficulties arise, because
the only things we attempt to teach are those things that we feel passionately
about. 
Which is why Barclay
wrote “One of the most difficult things in the
world is to argue without passion and to meet arguments without wounding. To be
utterly convinced of one’s own beliefs without at the same time being bitter to
those of others is no easy thing; and yet it is a first necessity for the
Christian teacher and scholar.”
We might be trying to convince someone of
our particular theological view, or political view, or preference for our
favorite sports team or food or music choice but in all of that we are teaching.  Or attempting to teach. 
There was a time that was done face to
face, or if you wanted to reach a broader audience you wrote a letter to the
editor of the local newspaper.  My dad
loved to write letters to the editor, he was that guy.  And I must confess that I have written a
letter or two in my day.
Today we have social media and people try
to convince others of their view via Facebook or Twitter or whatever platform
they choice to use.  And because sharing
a link or cutting and pasting is much easier than actually sitting down,
composing a letter, writing a letter, finding an envelope, addressing the
envelope, buying a stamp and mailing a letter, more people attempt to persuade
others of their views. 
Unfortunately, because it’s that easy we often
don’t think about what we are saying or conveying.  It’s a very passive aggressive way of getting
our opinion across.
So what can we learn in today’s scripture.
James 3:14-16  But if you are bitterly jealous and there is
selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and
lying.  For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such
things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  For wherever there is
jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every
kind.
The
Wrong Side of the Argument
There seems to be a lot of stuff here but
when you boil it down there are two factors that come into play here and colour
our teaching in a very negative way.  Two
things that will make things go south, and James identifies these as Selfish Ambition and Jealousy.
Selfish Ambition is the need to win the
argument no matter what.  Ultimately that
is what it’s all about.  And this is the
one I struggle with the most.  Before I
was a preacher I was a high school debater. 
And when I debated you argued both sides of the issue.  So you weren’t crafting your arguments because
you were passionate about the issue, you were crafting the arguments so you
could win.
That for right or for wrong the goal was to
convince people to believe how you believed. 
And when you are being scored on a win lose basis there is no problem,
but in life it’s normally not that simple.
Not everybody will believe what you
believe, no matter how passionate you are about it, and if your goal is to make
sure everybody believes what you believe you will a very annoying person to be
around.
I realize that not everybody will believe
everything that Denn believes.  That
would require that everybody was a Habs fan, that everybody thought a really
good hamburger was the perfect food, that everybody crossed their theological
Ts and dotted their doctrinal Is just like I do, and everybody would roll their
eyes when people talked about the moon landing. 
Sometimes even I have a hard time believe everything I believe. 
And if my goal in life was to persuade you
to believe as I did. . .I would probably alienate you and possible that would
stand in the way of my sharing the really important thing that I have to share
with you, the love and grace of Jesus.
You might not know it but I’m fairly
passionate pro-life, and early in my ministry it coloured a lot of what I said
and how I said it.  And I was very public
and very loud about my beliefs.  And
there were people who didn’t attend our church because of that stand.  Was it a bad stand?  Nope, I am still passionate about what I
believe when it comes to protecting life from natural conception to natural
death.  But that can’t stand in the way
of what I have been called to do and that is to help depopulate hell.  And my political views, or how I feel about international
situations, or the Habs, or the moon landing are all secondary to my calling.     Now
if you ask me how I feel about the subject I will tell you, and if I’m in a
situation when I need to speak up, I do. 
But it no longer defines who I am.
And even in spiritual issues, I know what I
believe but if my only goal is to make you believe the same way, it probably
won’t happen.
There isn’t a person at Cornerstone or
maybe in the world who would be in 100% agreement with me on everything.  And that’s fine, hopefully we can agree to
disagree.  
And I have to realize that the Apostle Paul
didn’t convince everybody to believe the same way he did, for that matter Jesus
didn’t convince everybody to believe what he said.  I can preach into your head but only the Holy
Spirit can preach into your heart.
The second side of the equation is
Jealousy.  And maybe you are wondering
how that works.  I think that comes into
the equation when you are arguing one side of the argument but wish you were on
the other side.  
And in this situation you are really trying
to convince yourself that what you believe is right and in order to do that you
belittle the other person’s beliefs and arguments.  Because if you can convince yourself that
their beliefs have no merit than you will feel better about what you believe. 
Sometimes when I hear or read the arguments
of those who deny faith it seems that they are jealous of the faith they don’t
believe in.  And there are times that I
hear Christians argue against immoral behaviour that it seems that they are
jealous of what they are missing.
James
3:13, 17-18
 If
you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life,
doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.  


But the
wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all
times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It
shows no favoritism and is always sincere.  And those who are peacemakers
will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
The
Right Side of the Argument:   
In this section James speaks of the characteristics of Godly
wisdom.  Remember he is telling folks how
they should teach, and it is apparent that that if you are going to make an
impact it has to go beyond the words that you use. 
And he so starts by telling us that if we
are going to teach then need to start by living your message.  Doesn’t matter what you are teaching about,
if your example is inconsistent with your message, your example will win
out.  And it all goes back to you have to
walk the walk and talk the talk but you also have to walk the talk and talk the
walk.
If you say you are concerned with the
environment and drive a hummer, the environmental message might be lost.  If you say you love God but you live like the
Devil, you will have a pretty shaky witness. 
If you say church is a priority but you only make it out every six weeks
or so. . .
And listen to the attributes of this type
of this type of wisdom.  We are told this
type of teaching is Pure, Peace loving, gentle, willing to yield to others,
full of mercy and good deeds.  It shows
no favoritism and is always sincere.
Are they the attributes that you
demonstrate while you are trying to convince someone of your point of view?
How many have been watching the Olympics,
even a little bit? 
So have you watched the sprints?  It seems like the eyes of the world are on Bolt
and De Grasse,  this has been so
surprising for so many.  Here are two
competitors, one will win one will lose. 
It’s that simple.  And at least during
the past week we’ve seen that they can still enjoy one another’s presence.
Here are some things I’ve learned, though
years which are some practical ways you can demonstrate those attributes.
Don’t
be Anonymous:  
If you have a problem with somebody or something then own it.  It is really hard to deal with anonymous
complaints or differences of opinions.  Though
the years I have received my share of “Suggestions”, and when there is a name
signed to the “Suggestion” then you can at least talk about it with the
person.  But when there is no name you
can’t enter into a dialogue and you don’t even know if it’s valid, a suggestion
coming from someone who is committed to Cornerstone and it’s ministry has to
carry more weight than the same suggestion coming from someone who attends
another church.
Don’t
draw Lines in the Sand: 
There are somethings in life that I don’t like.  I don’t like anchovies on my pizza.  I don’t like rap music.  I don’t like Brussel sprouts and I don’t like
lines drawn in the sand.  You know what I
mean.  In the movie, the hero, or
sometimes the villain will use a stick to draw a line in the sand and then they
say something like “If you step over that line bad things are going to happen.” 
And sometimes we do that, we get to the end
of the argument or disagreement and we finish with an ultimatum, “If you don’t
do this, or don’t do that then . . . “ We draw a line in the sand, and it’s
really hard to back away from that.
The year I graduated from High School I
went to work fishing with my father and that winter the boat was laid up having
some work done so the crew scattered and found different work.  I was working back at Tip Top and  a situation came up and I told my manager
that if it happened again I would quit. 
That evening I was telling my father what I had done and he said “You
know if it happens again you are going to have to quit.”  And he told me about a captain he worked with
on the tugs who was always threatening to quit, and it became a joke and so did
he.
Well you can guess what happened, the
situation came up again and I had to quit, didn’t really want to but the line
had been drawn in the sand.
I was wisely counselled when I accepted my
first positon as a full time solo pastor “Choose carefully the hill you want to
be crucified on.”
In the past couple of months, I’ve had a
couple of people draw a line in the sand, one in effect said “If Cornerstone
holds the same view as the Wesleyan Church on this position we are
leaving.”  Seriously? Where do you go
from there? 
There was a fairly significant vote this
summer in how the Wesleyan Church defines membership, I voted against it, I was
in the minority.  But simply because I
didn’t agree with it doesn’t mean that I take my ball and go home when it
didn’t go my way.  Have I been convinced
that it was the right move?  Not
yet.  But it was a move that has been
made.
And finally,  Don’t
make it personal: 
This really goes
back to the agreeing to disagree philosophy. 
We live in a society that speaks loudly about tolerance but has very
little tolerance for those who don’t agree with society. 
Sometimes you may want to say “The world is
full of idiots, and you are their king”, 
but really, is it helpful?
The problem is that once you allow it to
become personal then it’s all downhill from there.  You eventually digress into name calling and
demonize the person you are arguing with. 
And if you’re not careful even offline arguments tend to follow Godwin’s
law to a certain degree.  Are you
familiar with Godwin’s law?  First stated
by American attorney Mike Godwin it states,
“As an online argument grows longer and more
heated, it becomes increasingly likely that somebody will bring up Adolf Hitler
or the Nazis.”
You don’t have to convince everyone of your
point of view.  And if they don’t agree
you’re your point of view, or your theology for that matter it doesn’t make
them less of a person.
As a matter of fact you can have relationships
with people who don’t agree with you. 
Reg Thomas is a Wesleyan pastor in Perth Andover NB, and we have been
best friends since we were 14.  And we
disagree on pretty much everything.  But we
are still best friends.
In closing, listen to the words of Peter, 1 Peter
2:17
 Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and
sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.