Five Ts of the Christian Life
The Christian life is multi-faceted. At any given moment, I find there are a number of different things going on at the same time. In the passages for today we see five of these aspects, which all begin with the letter T.
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat –
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
The Christian life is not meant to be one of self-dependent toil, but of dependent trust. With trust comes peace and sleep.
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves’ (vv.1–2). As Victor Hugo wrote, ‘When you have... accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace; God is awake.’
It is easy to get caught up with our own plans for our lives, families and ministries. This psalm is a wonderful reminder that ultimately you are totally dependent on the Lord.
This is a message of great comfort, but it is also a challenge. Is God part of everything you do? Are there any areas of your life where you are going it alone, and therefore ‘labouring in vain’?
God wants to be involved in every area of your life. If you want your work to have lasting value, you need to make sure you are partnering with the Lord and not going it alone. Trust God with your children as well. Children are a blessing (vv.3–5) and you have to trust God for them and for their future.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Those who listen to the word but do not do what it says are like people who look at their faces in a mirror 24 and, after looking at themselves, go away and immediately forgets what they look like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
One of the things that you have in common with all Christians everywhere, is that we all face ‘trials of many kinds’ (v.2b). The letter of James is written to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (that is, to all Christians everywhere).
In one of the strangest verses of the New Testament, James says, ‘consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials’ (v.2). Rejoice in difficult situations. This turns the world’s view upside-down. ‘Trials’ are the challenges of life that test your faith and develop perseverance (vv.3–4).
As has been said, ‘Every storm is a school. Every trial is a test. Every experience is an education. Every difficulty is for your development.’
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘I finally realised that God was not going to do things my way. He placed people and situations in my life that caused me to want to quit this whole process, and he did not want an argument from me. He only wanted to hear, “Yes, Lord. Your will be done.”’
In the midst of your trials you need wisdom. As Eugene Peterson says: ‘Wisdom is not primarily about knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living.’ James says, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ (v.5).
There are two ways to handle a problem. One is to go it alone – that is the natural way. The other is to ask God for divine wisdom to help you to know what to do.
James speaks of ‘the testing of your faith’ (v.3). He goes on, ‘blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him’ (v.12). It is almost as if James is saying that the whole of life is a test. After you have stood the test, you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Lord, please give me wisdom for all the decisions I have to take and all the trials that I face.
‘Temptation’, wrote William Shakespeare, is ‘the fiend at mine elbow.’ Somebody else said: ‘Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.’ Temptation is when we feel like doing the wrong thing. Temptation itself is not a sin. Rather, it is a call to battle.
Where does temptation come from? Certainly not from God. James says, ‘when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone’ (v.13).
Often, in the Bible, temptation is seen as coming from the devil. Jesus was tempted by the devil. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent. Job was attacked by Satan.
However, the devil works on our own evil desires: ‘Each of you is tempted when, by your own evil desire, you are dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death’ (vv.14–15).
Sin is always a deception. James writes, ‘Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters’ (v.16). Good things come from God: ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’ (v.17).
You are deceived when you think that you need things that are not good. The deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve thought that they needed to experience evil as well as good. God only wants you to experience good. Every time you feel like doing the wrong thing and choose to do the right thing, you grow in maturity, strength and wisdom.
Lord, thank you that every good and perfect gift is from you. May I not be deceived into wanting to experience things that are not good.
One of the tests of your character is your tongue. James has a great deal to say on the subject of the tongue. Keep a tight rein on the tongue. Get your mouth under control (v.26).
He writes, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you’ (vv.19–21).
The word of God has the power to transform you. You need to allow time for God’s word to be planted firmly in you, to hear it and then do what it says. Rather than speaking too much, listen to God’s word and get rid of all the bad stuff in your life.
Listening in itself, though, is not enough. ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’ (v.22). If you do what it says, you will ‘be blessed’ (v.25). This includes looking after orphans and widows and keeping yourself from being polluted by the world (v.27).
11 ‘Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn!”’
God’s will is for ‘all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4).
The word ‘turn’ or ‘turns’ appears seven times in Ezekiel 33. God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman. He was to be held accountable. God told him to ‘warn the wicked to turn from their ways’ (Ezekiel 33:9).
Provided you speak the message God gives you, you are not responsible for the results. Ezekiel was only responsible if he failed to give the warning (vv.8–9).
This is an important reminder about family, friends and those you know who are not followers of Jesus, for example, guests on Alpha. Your responsibility is to love them, encourage them and give them the opportunity to hear the gospel. It is hugely disappointing when they do not respond positively. However, do not take the burden of their decisions on your own shoulders.
The message Ezekiel was told to give was this: if a righteous person leaves the path and turns to wickedness, their former righteousness will not help them. Yet, however ‘wicked’ a person has been, if they turn to the Lord, they will be forgiven (v.12).
God says, ‘I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around! Reverse your evil ways!’ (v.11, MSG).
God wants everyone to repent of their sins and start ‘living a righteous and just life – being generous to the down-and-out, restoring what \[was\] stolen, cultivating life-nourishing ways that don’t hurt others… living a just and righteous life’ (vv.15–19, MSG).
James 1:27 says, ‘... keep [yourself] from being polluted by the world.’
Someone once told me it takes two weeks to get pollution out of our lungs.
It is even more important to keep our spiritual lungs clean. It doesn’t mean we can’t work in a polluted area, but we have to be more careful not to get contaminated. We need lots of spiritual fresh air and input.
Verse of the Day
‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life’
Thought for the Day
‘When you have accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace; God is awake.’ – Victor Hugo
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Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords, 2018), p.2060
Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to James' (NavPress, 1993), p.1669.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act II scene ii (1596–1599).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.