How To Strengthen Your Faith
Biblical text is James 3:13–4:17, and 5:7–20
We are taking another look at this Epistle of James, this challenging handbook for Christian living. Our goal is to clarify the most vital marks of our faith so that we can increase our commitment to live in accord with them as we ask God to “prune” away everything that hampers the production of the spiritual “fruit” that he seeks in our lives and ministries.
A brief summary of previous messages:
- We first examined the challenge of “Making Our Religion Genuine” by—
- facing trials with the perseverence of your faith, directed by divine wisdom, without putting your confidence in riches;
- facing temptation without blaming God for it, but recognizing that every good spiritual gift and power comes from Him and enables you to be “born again”, to resist temptation, to be forgiven for the times you yield, and to be cleansed from sin;
- doing what God’s word tells you to do, particularly by—
- being patient with others,
- getting rid of all immorality and evil attitudes in our lives,
- helping to care for those who can’t take care of themselves,
- keeping from worldly pollutants, entanglements, and heresies.
- Then we considered James’ instructions regarding “How to Demonstrate That Your Faith Is Alive” by—
- not showing favoritism toward the rich,
- doing it with deeds that display spiritual fruit and glorify God, particularly by—
- giving to the poor and actually helping those in need,
- establishing ministries of evangelism and discipleship training that will enable this congregation to make disciples, baptize them,and teach them how to live in union with Jesus,
- keeping a tight rein on our tongues, because the words we utter are “ambassadors” of our souls and the faith and values that are most important to us, and they should glorify God.
Now we are going to examine James’ instructions regarding “How To Strengthen Your Faith”. It can be done in these four ways: do not be misled by worldly wisdom, but in humility submit to the wise instruction and direction of God; be patient, even though you may suffer, and persevere in your trust of the Lord; don’t swear by asking God, Jesus, heaven, or anything on earth to confirm the truth of your words, but be consistently honest and concise in your declarations; and pray for each other and help anyone who “wanders” off into sin to return to the truth in Jesus.
Do not be misled by worldly wisdom, but in humility submit to the wise instruction and direction of God
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13–18)
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.”
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:1–17)
Don’t “have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts”. (James 3:14) They cause “disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16), coming from foolish and unwise decisions based on earthly wisdom from the devil. (vs 15) Some people wonder how such a wise political leader like Bill Clinton could have made so many foolish decisions in his contacts with Monica Lewinsky. It happens all of the time!
These (your waring “passions”) cause “quarrels” and “fights among you”: (James 4:1) racial and ethnic wars; as the Jews against the Romans in James’ time, or battles between Protestants and Catholics in the British Isles, or struggles between different groups of people in the neighborhoods of our cities; fights between labor and management in our businesses or various interest groups in our communities or political bodies; squabbles within families; even within congregations, where they cause churches to split and pastors to leave.
And they cause God to refuse to answer some of your requests in prayer. (see James 4:3) Jesus promised his disciples and us that his Father would give them and us what we ask for in prayer through his name, (see John 14:13) but the requests have to have the right motives behind them. “Jealousy” and “selfish ambition” are not right motives for our prayers. God will fill our requests that are for those resources and pruning treatments that will enable us to produce or to increase our fruitfullness for his glory!
In humility submit ourselves to God. (see James 4:7, 10) If we want to strengthen our faith, we must recognize that as we “have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” in our “hearts” and thus in our friendship with the world, we commit adultery (see James 4:4) with the world in our relationship with God, and this arouses his jealousy. This is the point that James is making in verse 5, which might best be translated in this way: “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?’” (New American Standard Version) The Spirit is the “breath of life” that God breathed into Adam at the time of his creation. (see Genesis 2:7) According to the second Commandment, which is against idolatry, God is “a jealous God”. (see Exodus 20:4–5)
“God opposes the proud….” (James 4:6) “The proud resists God; in his understanding he resists the truth of God; in his will he resists the laws of God; in his passion he resists the providence of God; and therefore no wonder that God sets himself against the proud.” (Matthew Henry Commentary) But he will give more grace to those who in humilty submit to him! (see James 4:6)
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) “Submit…to God”. (James 4:7) Yield to his authority and will. Commit your life to him and his control, and be willing to follow him. “Resist the devil.” (James 4:7) Don’t allow Satan to entice you and to tempt you. Say “No” to every temptation. “Cleanse your hands…and purify your hearts.” (James 4:8) Don’t be “double-minded”. (vs. 8) Recognize that “friendship with the world is enmity with God”. (vs. 4) We can’t stradle the fence. We can’t walk with God, if we like to dance with the devil. Be cleansed from sin, replacing your desire to sin with your desire to experience God’s purity. “Be wretched and mourn and weep.” Don’t be afraid to express deep heartfelt sorrow for what you have done, if you have not asked for and received God’s forgiveness. And recognize that any tendency that you have to live in “friendship with the world”, laughing and enjoying its pleasures is a serious threat to your fruitful union with Jesus. Don’t enjoy the pleasures of the world too much, but get your joy from the Lord and his blessings in your life and “weep” about every trace of sin that remains in your life! “Humble yourselves before the Lord”. (James 4:10) “He will exalt you” (vs. 10) above the world and all of its strife and temptations.
Do not slander or judge others. (see James 4:11–12) James gives us another word of warning and instruction regarding how we use our tongues and talk to and about each other. Paul tells us that a person who loves others “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”. (see 1 Corinthians 13:6) We have no authority to judge others by the law. As James says, “There is only one lawgiver and judge”, and he is not you or me!
Do not brag or boast about what you intend to accomplish in the future. (see James 4:13–17) We live our lives moment by moment without any sure knowledge of “what tomorrow will bring”, and our lives may be seen as “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”. (James 4:14) The moments rush along, as we are reminded by recent funerals. We should live each moment in commitment to God and his will, trusting him for each tomorrow and what he would have us to do as we seek to bring forth fruit for his glory! And recognize that anyone who “knows the right thing to do and fails to do it” sins (James 4:17) in his moments of living! Most of my moments present me with enough of a challenge to keep me from bragging or boasting about what I’m going to accomplish tomorrow!
Wisdom from God is different than that of the world. (see James 3:17–18) Previously James instructed us to ask God for wisdom when we face a trial that we don’t know how to handle. (see James 1:5) If you are in a friendly relationship with the world, you may just easily fall back on worldly wisdom or psychology or philosophy or even your own good sense to handle the trial. This is a serious threat to one’s strong faith, because even one’s good sense might be polluted by “bitter jealousy” or “selfish ambition” (James 3:14) or any other sinful attitude that the devil still has hooked in your “branch“. This is why it is so important to submit fully to God and to pray for his “pruning” and cleansing treatments in your life.
Notice these great qualities of God’s heavenly wisdom! (see James 3:17) It is—
- “Pure”, free from iniquity and pollution by known sin.
- “Peaceable”, with its heavenly purity it does make one peaceable.
- “Open to reason”, not insisting on one’s rights.
- “Full of mercy and good fruits”. A disciple who is living in obedience to God’s wisdom will have a life that demonstrates mercy and good fruit!
- “Impartial”, without showing favoritism toward the rich or anyone else or wrangling about “party” positions. Wow! Don’t you get tired of the constant struggles that go on between our political parties?
- “Sincere”, without hypocrisy or worldly spins! Wouldn’t that be refreshing from our politicians or news commentators?
Such heavenly wisdom can give us a strong faith that will enable us to serve as “those who make peace” who will produce “a harvest of righteousness”. (James 3:18) And such a harvest is what Jesus wants from us. And it would glorify God, his and our Father.
Be patient and steadfast—
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:7–11)
even though you may be frustrated by the challenges of our ministry in our battle with the forces of the world and devil; and even in the face of direct persecution and personal opposition. As you live in accord with God’s heavenly wisdom and in obedience to his will, he and Jesus will strengthen your faith that will enable you to be patient like the farmer who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth”, (James 5:7) like the prophets “who spoke in the name of the Lord”, (vs. 10) and like Job who“ remained steadfast” (vs. 11).
You can be patient and steadfast as you remember— Jesus is coming back, (see James 5:8) and his return is certainly closer than ever! And the Lord is “compassionate and merciful”, (James 5:11) so “do not grumble against one another, brothers…”. (James 5:9) Tensions, arguments, and fights between Christians are really signs of worldliness and weak faith that cannot produce any fruit for God’s glory!
Do not take oaths
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth, or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)
Profane swearing was very common among the Jews, as did Peter when he denied that he knew Jesus during his trial. He “began to invoke a curse on himself”, (see Matthew 26:74) which is like saying, “may God strike me dead, if I am lying”. Using the name of God or Jesus or anything in heaven or earth, which both belong to God is a serious sin! This throwns contempt upon God’s name and authority. The third commandment is against the misuse of God’s name. (see Exodus 20:7) Rather, be consistently honest and let your simple “Yes” or “No” responses to questions or inquiries confirm the truth of your statements!
Pray for each other
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner frrom his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:13–20)
When you are suffering, pray; when you are happy, sing. (James 5:13) When you are sick, get your Christian friends to pray for you. (vss. 14–15) We do a lot of that in our congregation! Understand that oil was used as both a medicine and a tool for God’s anointing. The good Samaritan used “oil and wine” to treat the wounds of the man who was injured by robbers. (see Luke 10:34) And Samuel used “the horn of oil” to anoint young David as the king who would replace Saul, and when he did “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David”. (see 1 Samuel 16:13) So we should understand that both medicine and God’s power have roles in healings through prayer.
Confession to each other with prayer may be helpful at times,(see James 5:16) particularly when the sin has been against that person. Pray for forgiveness and reconcilation of the friendship or relationship. Such confession and pray may be helpful, if we need the special support of another person or group to achieve victory over a tempting sin or addiction. And it may be helpful with a priest, pastoral counselor, or trusted Christian friend or spouse.
And pray for any fellow Christian that you know may have wandered from the “the truth”. (James 5:19–20) Pray, but also visit him or her to share personal words of concern and encouragement.
How to strengthen your faith.
- Do not be misled by worldly wisdom, but in humility submit to the wise instruction and direction of God.
- “Jealousy and selfish ambition” are from the devil, and they cause “disorder and every vile practice”, (James 3:16) and they cause God not to answer your prayers.
- Since God is jealous of your “friendship with the world”, (see James 4:4–5) come near to him in humble submission; resist the devil; don’t be “double-minded” (see James 4:8) in the allegiance of your heart, mind, and soul; and “mourn and weep” (vs. 9) for every trace of sin that remains in your life.
- Do not slander or judge others.
- Do not brag or boast about what you intend to accomplish in the future.
- Pray for and follow God’s heavenly wisdom, which is quite different from that of the world! True wisdom and understanding will be shown by one’s “good conduct”. (see James 3:13) A person shouldn’t claim to be wise if he or she acts like a fool.
- Be “patient” and “stedfast”, remembering that Jesus is coming back (perhaps very soon), so don’t “grumble”. (see James 5:7–9)
- Do not take oaths, but be consistently honest and respond to questions or inquiries with clear “Yes” or “No” answers.
- And pray for each other.
Our fruitfulness as individual Christians and as a congregation is dependent upon our union with Jesus the “vine” (see John 15:1) through our obedience, love for him and God, and prayers for ourselves, each other, and individuals in the world. Recognizing what makes our “religion genuine”, our “faith alive”, and how we can “strengthen our faith”, we should each seek to live in accord with these instructions for Christian living from James, and ask God to take away everything that hampers our fruitfulness.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission, All rights reserved.