Fractions are the evil underbelly of basic math.
They are certainly necessary, but they are rarely anyone's favorite digits with which to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. We love using whole numbers simply because it's easier. It's easier to count dollar bills than coins because they represent a whole instead of a part (and because such, are worth more).
The same is true of people.
We build better relationships with people who are "whole" instead of "fractioned." When we realize someone is not who they seemed, we are hurt, disappointed, and confused. Living a "divided" life usually starts in response to the craving to be liked by everyone. Somewhere we wrongly assume that our challenge to be kind and likable means we must make everyone approve of us. Since people around us are different, we mold our personality and choices based on the people we're around at any given moment. Before long, we're juggling different parts of ourselves, none of which are authentic.
The English word "integrity" is built from this same premise. By definition, it's tied to honesty, ethics, and simply doing right things. By etymology, it's tied to "integer" which, in math, refers to a "whole number." Doing the right things--simply because they're right--will certainly rub some people the wrong way. But men and women of integrity acknowledge that there are more important things than others' opinions. They also know that integrity is the only path to success. The false, divided, unethical, dishonest person never accomplishes truly great things nor receives others' approval, which is what he or she so desperately wants.
The Old Testament Wisdom writers leaned heavily on the importance of integrity. Notice a sampling:
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3)
The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him! (Proverbs 20:7)
More important than the practical necessity of integrity, a life of a "whole" relationship to God is the only life He accepts. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 22:37-38, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment."
All your heart.
All your soul.
All your mind.
In the Bible I used as a teenager, I have 10/10 written next to this passage. I remember our Youth Minister saying "ten-tenths" to describe these important words.
On January 1, 1979, Alabama and Penn State met in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to crown the 1978 National Champion. Most fans in our area, if not across the country, remember this game for its fourth quarter "Goal Line Stand." Penn State ran the ball twice from the 1 yard line and the Alabama defense denied them both times. Alabama won 14-7.
Alabama Linebacker Barry Krauss is heralded for making the tackle on the 4th down play that kept Penn State out of the end zone. Earlier this Fall, when Alabama played at Penn State, Barry was interviewed about that play. When asked to describe what happened, he simply said, "Everyone just did their job."
He then explained the difference between that play and the third down play when fellow linebacker Rich Wingo made the tackle. On third down, Krauss was assigned to defend the lead blocker, thus freeing up Wingo to tackle the ball carrier. On fourth down, the assignments were swapped. Wingo absorbed the blocker, while Krauss leaped to stop the Penn State running back.
We as the Lord's church can learn a lot about teamwork from the sports world. Those linebackers did what they were assigned to do. But everyone else on the field--the defensive line, outside linebackers, and defensive backs--also did what they were assigned to do. In the moment, they were concerned about doing their jobs. They didn't care who would be featured on the best-selling Daniel A. Moore painting.
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Peter says each one is to use his or her gift in serving one another. Doing so is how we show we are good stewards, or caretakers, of the gifts God gives us. Living for ourselves is not only a detriment to the church, but it is irresponsible and disrespectful toward God and what he's given us.
Our goal should always be, "...that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Search your heart for what you do best (not necessarily what you want to do best). Commit to using it for God's glory in the lives of others. The church is already victorious. But we can "win" everyday if we all just do our jobs.
The easiest people to blame are:
- Those who are bigger than we are and
- Those with whom we don't have a close relationship.
As you can expect, the bigger someone is, the easier they are to blame.
- Governments. The bigger the political level, the worse they are.
- Big banks, credit cards, Wall Street.
- School systems, Boards of Education, Superintendents, school administration and staff.
- Hospitals, Healthcare providers, insurance companies, drug companies, doctors.
- TV shows, movies, musical artists, celebrities, news media.
I wouldn't dare suggest these always display responsibility. The bigger the stage, the greater the responsibility (Luke 12:48). They'll be held accountable for how they've occupied the world through their large influence. Which means our finger-pointing is ultimately pointless.
The other group whom it's easy to blame is composed of those with whom we are not very close.
To test this, did you object to any of the groups I mentioned above?
If you are an educator, because of your personal passions, relationships with other educators, and your view "behind the scenes," you may object that any overall scholastic shortcomings are the fault of the system.
If you work in the healthcare industry as a nurse, doctor, or sales rep, you may be slower to gripe about your industries' shortcomings.
How many spouses in close-knit, intimate, and trusting marriages frequently blame each other? It's hard to play the "blame game" within a thriving relationship.
What does all this mean?
There's no one bigger than God. So it's easy to see why so much blame can be cast his way (James 1:13-15). Whether it's for natural disasters, a cancer diagnosis, the sudden loss of a loved one, or the rock-bottom crash of irresponsibility, it's easy to pin our trials on God because there's no one bigger. There's nothing we can do to change God's "bigness" (Psalm 139:7-12). From day one, he's forever been the Creator, Provider, and Loving Judge.
But we can close the loophole of blame by drawing closer to him daily (Hebrews 10:22; James 4:8). The more intimate we become with his heart and mind, by staying in his word and talking to him in prayer, the more we see his infinite wisdom, mercy, love, and compassion. We won't allow ourselves to blame him because we recognize his complete perfection.
Constantly drawing near to him forces us to see that He Himself has done everything possible to win us back (John 3:16; Hebrews 7:25). The only way we blame God because He seems far away is because we've distanced ourselves from His love and provision.
Blame is useless at best and destructive and debilitating to personal responsibility at worst. There are a multitude of practical reasons to eliminate it from our hearts and tongues. As we continue pruning, we must draw near to God daily to remind ourselves that He's in control. And thus, we have nothing to blame.
Throughout his treatise on practical, everyday Christianity, James' golden thread is godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom.
Everyone makes decisions everyday. James imperatively stresses that these decisions must be made in light of heavenly wisdom, not earthly.
After outlining the process of temptation, James tells early Christians, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:16-17).
What wisdom is found in these two verses? Specifically, he warns Christians about the danger of deception. The power of a lie lies not in its telling, but in its receiving. False statements are hurled toward our hearts and minds daily. Our responsibility rests not so much in not hearing lies as it does in not believing them. James makes it clear that Christians bear the responsibility to not fall prey to deceptive schemes.
In the context of this passage, he's specifically reminding the brethren about the danger of blaming their difficulties on God. He shows temptation and deception are against God's very nature in verse 13; he then outlines the starring role our personal desires play in the temptation drama in verses 14 and 15. Verse 16 serves as a bookend to this section of thought. "God tempts us with evil" is as bold and dangerous a lie that we will ever hear.
We cannot believe it.
But James isn't finished. Not only does God not tempt us with evil, but he is the ultimate source of everything good. The Psalmist said, "You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told" (Ps 40:5).
God is not the villian, and is indeed the ultimate hero.
To cast blame for bad upon God and his grandiose goodness is blasphemous to his nature. Falling prey to the lie that he is responsible for our misfortunes is disastrous to our souls.
What we commonly label "birth control" is more correctly "conception control." The goal is to prevent the joining of the male and female sex cells, which always creates life. (Thus, to destroy an already-joined-pairing, whether it's as a fertilized egg, an embryo, or a 24-week-in utero-fetus, is destroying life, and thus, murder.)
Married couples use any number of forms of "conception control" to morally and ethically control the number and timing of children they bear.
We would do well to look at this common practice when we analyze the temptation process as outlined by James in chapter 1:14-15. There, he says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
In verse 15, he turns toward one of the most natural processes known to man: conception and birth. When the two sex cells join in a mother's womb, barring rare circumstances or man's heinous crimes, it creates an embryo, which is eventually born into the world as a baby human being.
It is a divinely-designed and naturally-occurring process.
James says the same about our desires, which lead to temptations, which lead to sin, which leads to death.
We can, and should constantly try to, improve and replace our sinful desires with good attitudes and the supreme concerns of our Creator. But we will never eradicate all of our fleshly desires. This begs a legitimate, and concerning, question.
If our desires are within us, and the process of sin is as dependable as the child-bearing process, how can we successfully resist sin?
Though we all sin and fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23), we don't always have to sin. James himself says in chapter 4, verse 7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
The answer to our alarming question lies in the same neighborhood as our modern practice of "birth control." Once an embryo is conceived, a mother gives birth. Once our desires conceive, they give birth to sin. We cannot rest all of our hope upon controlling or changing our desires. But we can keep our desires from conceiving!
If we continually allow our desires and external opportunities to sin meet, we're doomed to lose the battle with sin. But if we intentionally control our environments, in order to limit and eliminate opportunities, then we begin to win.
One of my professors at FHU counseled a Christian gentlemen who was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. During one session, the man said something to the effect, "Every day when I come home from work, I convince myself I'm not going to stop and pick up some booze. Then I see that Big Dog liquor store and I just can't resist. It happens almost every day."
So my professor, in his direct, matter-of-fact, country-boy ways, said, "Son, sounds like it's about time you find another route home."
Change the environment.
The process of temptation and sin is frightening, but only if we allow our desires to conceive with opportunity, thus leading to sinful action. Because of James' detailed and nature-based illustration, we can highlight the course of victory over sin and temptation.
May we lean upon God as we practice spiritual "conception control."
Humanity shares several "common lots." All human beings require food and water for physical nourishment. Every person desires love, affection, and companionship for emotional health. Everyone suffers pain, disappointment, and heartache.
Spiritually, all mankind faces--and gives in to--temptation.
James says, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
We face plenty of uncertainties in life, but we are certain to face temptation and sin.
Temptation's certainty is sobering. And knowing we are drawn away from within our own hearts, much like a fish is lured by its belly toward a dangling worm, can be discouraging as well. But these revelations must not drive us to guilt. Harboring guilt for being human can be dangerous. We can attempt to ease the pain through ungodly, selfish, or fleshly pursuits.
Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted while on earth, and yet never sinned (Heb. 4:15). While sin is born from temptation, temptation is not sinful. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, he used the very things Jesus wanted and was sent to earth to accomplish. Satan tempted Jesus to do good things in ways contrary to God's ways.
We also cannot allow our missteps into sin to fuel our temptations. Though we can never be perfect, we must be aware that sin creates new temptations more powerful and destructive than we anticipate. For example, resisting the temptation to drink after 20 years of alcoholism is more difficult than resisting the first drink. If we feed temptations with the flesh, they grow into gigantic beasts.
Reality. Knowing sin's deceptive and deadly power helps us develop healthy fears of temptation. Though we all face it, we must never grow comfortable with it nor welcome it. The price for playing with temptation is steep. James follows verse 14 with this, "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (1:15).
This harmonizes with Paul's words in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Water, carbon monoxide, and other natural compounds are abundant on earth. But we must always respect their power to destroy humanity. Temptation is no different.
Replacement. Knowing that temptation results from our own desires can be discouraging if we're not careful. We must be intentional to continually replace our wants with God's desires. When the two compete, we must always submit to God's will.
But over time, we can also develop the heart and attitude that above all longs for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The more we try to be like God from the inside out, the less power we give to our human desires and tendencies.
The Psalmist once said, "With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Ps. 119:10-11).
The truth about temptation may be discouraging at the surface. But a complete appreciation for God's forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:7) and continual providence in the face of temptation (Jas. 4:7) gives us every motivation and all strength to resist.
Blame is funny.
We're often tempted to blame someone or something else for our shortcomings and mistakes. We hope, that by successfully shifting blame, to avoid punishment and accountability.
Not only is the "blame game" deceptive--because no one or nothing is responsible for our lives except ourselves--but it cripples progress. Once we convince ourselves we've shifted the blame, we've also given up control to fix the problem. Those who rely on blame instead of responsibility create a prison where improvement is impossible.
We can attempt to blame other people at every turn, but we always face the truth that we can't change others. We can try to blame external circumstances, but then we find out we can't change those either.
Courageously accepting responsibility grants the possibility of freedom. Only those grounded in responsibility and accountability make great strides of improvement and growth.
It's sad that many would rather wallow in negative situations than accept responsibility and thus be empowered to improve them. As Christians, we should not allow this attitude to thrive.
And we cannot allow it to exist when it comes to temptation and sin.
James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." I almost think James anticipated a response to that statement something like this, "Well, it'd sure be a lot easier to endure temptation if that same Lord would stop tempting us to get us to give up!"
So James says in verses 13 and 14, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."
It is impossible to blame God for temptation and sin. Just as it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), it is impossible for God to be tempted, and thus to tempt us. Not only is it futile to cast blame at God's feet, how dare us do so in light of all he has done and all he promises!
God wants the best for us. We must develop a trusting attitude toward him and his word that dares not blame him for shortcomings, mistakes, and sin.
It is impossible to blame anyone or anything else. Instead of listing everyone or everything we cannot blame, James tells us the source of temptation: our own desires. You and I cannot successfully blame anyone or anything else for sin because it all starts in our own hearts. We are "tempted" to sin because it, in some way, appeals to us individually. Temptation, and thus sin, are controlled and guided by our own selfish desires.
Bummer? Maybe, if we're lazy. But not if we truly want to change things.
Jesus' power has defeated the strangling power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). And he gives us the opportunity to obey him instead of our own desires. If we destroy, suppress, and manage our earthly desires, we can successfully navigate the labyrinth of temptation in this life. It will never be easy. But it will always be possible; provided we accept responsibility and cut out the blame.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (James 1:9-11)
In addition to writing his book full of imperative statements, James also relies heavily upon contrasting elements. In 1:9-11, he contrasts the "lowly" against the "rich." He challenges them with action in the present, but does so by previewing the future.
We must take note that James' emphasis is not upon their bank accounts; it's upon their attitudes. The lowly (humble, 4:1-10) brother acknowledges the utmost importance of God in all that he does. He will be exalted in the life to come. The rich are not necessarily all who are financially blessed, but those whose pride and boasting are founded upon their possessions--and the status in life they provide (cf, 5:1-6).
When Jesus came to earth, he turned it upside down--especially for the Jews. He didn't come with the purpose of doing away with rich and poor designations while on earth. He came to show that man will not be judged by their political, socio-economic, or even religious status. He will judge all men by their hearts (Matt. 5:8).
To illustrate this reversal of standing, James turns to nature in a way where first century Palestinians could not misunderstand him. He compares those who are rich to the grass and flowers of the land. Though beautiful, they don't last forever. Though beautiful, they don't withstand the elements of heat. Likewise, he says, the rich man will perish "in the midst of his pursuits."
These few verses are not James' final word on proper attitudes, partiality, riches, and the brevity of life. He further develops those themes throughout his letter. But we cannot gloss over these specific instructions. Humble and lowly Christians should take courage from their relationship with the Creator of the universe; Christians who choose to build their lives on possessions should repent. Soon, there will be a day when those possessions are nothing but dust.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matt. 7:24-27)
In early 2003, while in college at FHU, we had our social club officers' retreat at a house on Kentucky Lake. We arrived late Friday evening, so we didn't see the lake until Saturday morning. When we awoke to see it and its surroundings, we were amazed that the lake's surface was totally frozen. Prior to that morning, every time in my life I had seen a body of water, it was always moving. But not this time. It was still and it was solid. I always think about that lake when I read James 1:5-8.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The first clause of the passage reflects some of James' almost-sarcastic humor. Who, exactly, does not need more wisdom? The "if" sounds as though it's a limiting condition, but realistically, it's a universal statement. Everyone needs more wisdom.
What are we asking for when we ask for wisdom? We commonly think of wisdom as more than just knowledge. It's the practical application of knowledge. Another concise definition I've heard is, "Wisdom is the ability to see potential results before making decisions."
During what situations, then, should we ask for wisdom? The easy answer is, "in everything." But the contextual answer is that of trials that test our faith and reliance upon God (1:2-4). We need the Lord's guidance, direction, and peace when our souls are tested by life's hurdles. Trials easily become watershed moments; we either draw nearer to God and His people, or we push away from His goodness. Thus, we especially need wisdom in the face of trials. So we must ask for it. Additionally, the verb in the Greek emphasizes the process of "keep on asking." We need wisdom continually, thus we must ask continually.
God guarantees that he gives wisdom. But it's not a blank check. Notice how we are supposed to ask: without reproach, in faith, with no doubting. This is where it hits us the hardest. It's easier to simply ask for wisdom than it is to confidently ask for wisdom.
James illustrates our doubting with the simple, but common, sight of water. Its waves are continually driven and tossed, he says, by the whims of the wind. Their direction, strength, and frequency are determined by forces beyond their control.
We will encounter countless storms, criticisms, and confusions in this life. But we cannot be controlled by them. We must be confident, trusting, and solid as we ask God for direction and guidance.