Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures. Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
Sermon for Cantate Sunday 5/15/22
His Word, His Will
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Bible was written a long time ago. No surprise, right? It was also written in a different language, several different languages, none of which are spoken in their Biblical forms today. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek; a form of Greek that was spoken and written for about thirty or forty years, while this form of Greek was the language of commerce of the Roman Empire, just as English is the language of business today, throughout most of the world.
That is a good thing, in some ways, and not so good in others. The good thing is that the language has limited flexibility in terms of meanings. A word tended to mean specific things - and did not usually have the wide variety of meanings words often come to have if the language is widely used for a long time. Take English, for example: we have words which mean one thing here and another thing in another location, and often have many diverse meanings. Without working at it too hard, I can come up with soda, pop, trunk, boot, lift, elevator, ladder, run, and drunk. Each of those words has a number of meanings, sometimes connected to one another and sometimes not. Soda is a chemical used in baking and cleaning - or it is a drink, which some call pop, which is also what some people call their father, and others do to a balloon. A trunk is a box into which one places stored items, or it is that area of your car that you place things you don't want in the cab of the vehicle - and the British call it a boot, which is something one wears on one's feet in bad weather, in America. ‘Lift' is something you do to items to get them from the floor to the table top, or you give someone a ride, and call it a lift, or it is another word for an elevator. A ladder is something you climb, or it appears in nylons in England, also called a runner - when not referring to a jogger - and American women call ladders in their stockings "runs", when not referring to scores in baseball games, or the activity of jogging. And, of course, drunk can refer to drinking, or one who has had too much to drink, or the condition of having had to much to drink, or having experienced something, usually pleasant, or being overwhelmed by something or obsessed with it, as in when one is drunk with power.
The reason for this display of linguistic confusion is to highlight how good it is that Koine Greek was in use so briefly. The language of what I consider the most important part of what is unarguably the most significant book in history is relatively unambiguous, even if it is not our native tongue. Our distance in time makes for some confusion in translation, but not so much as one might imagine. That is the long way of saying that God's Word is clear. Nevertheless, we can still understand it better, at times, if we restate it in our own common way of speaking. The only issue is that we must not change its meaning when we restate it, or it ceases to be the Word of God and becomes our distortion of it. With all of that in mind, our theme this morning is, His Word, His Will.
God's Word speaks to us through the pen of James, the half-brother of our Lord, the leader of the Church in Jerusalem until his martyrdom in the middle of the first century. Our text begins, "Do not be deceived". We might rephrase that admonition in modern American English as, "Don't kid yourself", or "Make no mistake" about what is about to follow, or "Let us be clear on this one thing". What we want to be clear about is that every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down to us from God - the Father of lights.
This basically means that we should always understand that everything good - morally good or delightful to us and good for us, is from God. When it says "every perfect gift", the word "perfect" refers to being whole, or mature, or finished, and the word "gift" in this case is masculine. I noticed that because the words for the good things bestowed were feminine in gender in the Greek. That seems to be significant in that everything is embraced in these words about gifts, but the perfect gift is masculine. I read Christ as the perfect gift. The gift of salvation is complete, whole, accomplished, and identified personally with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He and our redemption and forgiveness comes down from God.
But more than that, James tells us that it comes down from the Father of lights, One in whom there is no change. James says that there is no shifting or turning - the Latin here is instructive - there are no vicissitudes or transmutation. God simply does not change - He does not change His mind, or His attitudes or His disposition towards us. The perfect gift of salvation is the gift of God without shifting, or subtle alteration. Your sins have been forgiven - the gift is perfect, complete: It is finished! God will not change His mind.
Which is good! It is particularly good in the light of the next words from the pen of James, that you are God's chosen and your faith is the work of God in you, and not dependent on you at all to work it out or make it happen! In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures. It is His Word and His Will at work in us and on us. He brought us forth as believers and He did it by His Word - the Word of Truth!
You are the child of God, a believer in Jesus Christ by the exercise of the will of God. And He does not change. You are secure in Him. He chose you to be among His chosen people. The translation we use calls us the first-fruits, but, at this point in time, we are not among the first to believe. If that is the meaning of these words, then this word, at least, does not apply to us. But I noticed in one of the translations that we were called God's "choice possession".
That inspired me to take a closer look at the original Greek word. It means "a first portion" - and the lexicon said that this was a Jewish term for anything set apart to God before the remainder could be used. Now, the verse did not say that we were chosen to be the first among those who believed, but the first among God's creatures - literally the "first-portion among His created things". We have been set aside by God to be dedicated to Him something like the holy tithe set aside for God before anything else can be done or used. These words, then, do apply to us - and to all who believe! We are the holy, sacred, set aside remnant of mankind, reserved by God to be His own.
This is the same meaning as when Peter said that we "are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION". As in Peter, James sees an appropriate response to our election - to God's will in making us His people: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls."
In short, because you are God's by His choice and through the agency of His Word, you should be focused on that Word. Be quick to hear. It was not human effort or wisdom that saved you or brought you to be God's own, but His Word and His Will, so be quick and ready to hear - and not so quick to speak and judge and act on human opinion. Listen to the Word of God. Find His will there and learn His values and His attitudes. Our ways do not match His, even as believers. We need to listen and learn. The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.
The reason that James mentions anger is that once we are the children of God, the ways of the world and the assaults of the world are going to inspire anger. What God holds out to men everywhere is so good and precious and free, and yet men reject it. The world hates Christ and attacks those who are His, and the injustice of it is offensive. But it is not ours to correct or address. It is the world and its master, Satan in their assault on God - and God will finally address it in the judgment. Until then, we are instructed to pray about it, and endure it with patience, trusting that God will finally resolve it all with perfect righteousness.
Our task is to set aside the filthiness and wickedness which so easily appeals to our flesh, and receive the Word. It is seed of life, the power of God coming to us in the most humble and unassuming way - His Word. He plants it in us by our hearing it, and causes it to grow up in us unto everlasting life. It is the same seed that Peter wrote about in his first epistle, 1 Peter 1:23, "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God."
That is the seed that is able to save your soul. God's Word. His Word and His Will. And we do not have to wonder what His Will is because He tells us in His Word, and He tells us that He does not change His mind - We are His people, His chosen ones. We are chosen to receive all that Christ has won for us on the cross. Your sins are forgiven, and you have been given the gift of everlasting life! You have been redeemed and rescued and salvation is yours. So all that is left for us to do is believe it, and live in this gracious choice and the reality of God's favor toward us, and live it out - walk in His Word and trust in Him. Putting aside all that other stuff, we humbly receive His Word implanted - planted like a seed in us, to bear fruit for everlasting life.
James was writing to a first century crowd who wanted to take control of their situation and make things happen, make them turn out right. There are a million differences between their situation and ours, but people are still people. We still feel the urge to make things happen. We want to feel it and make sure of it by what we do. But it is still from God. It is His will and His Word that makes the difference. Every good thing given is from God. And that perfect gift - completed by Him is still coming down to us from the Father. And God is still the same: unchanging and faithful. And He has chosen us to be dedicated to Him as first fruits of all that He has created - the holy portion, set aside for Him.
So, trust in Him, and expect Him to save you, and cling to His Word - be quick to hear it, and slow to take matters into your own hands. Once again, it is the message of salvation by faith, and trust in God. That is His Word/ His Will.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, May 15, 2022
His Word / His Will