The Good Gift of Peace (Good Gifts 2:3)

We are given a great amount of freedom in this life. Yesterday, we covered the freedom to be warm, to invite others in, to be in meaningful relationship rather than a loneliness vacuum. We also have the freedom to believe what we would believe, even in the face of very real oppression in some corners of the world. We have the freedom to dance in the face of trial, to laugh when evil rears its ugly little head, because we know a God who is bigger, who is smarter, and frankly who is better than any of it.

Knowing God doesn’t give us these freedoms; they were there all along. But knowing God introduces us to these freedoms, opens our eyes to the freedoms we would miss otherwise. Read 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 to see how this works.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

The veil is removed. If you look further back in your Bible at 2 Corinthians 3:12, which tells us we get to be bold.

I love bold. Bold speaks my language. I’m good for a soapbox and a heated discussion.

James comes in, to remind us again, of the two sides to every coin. As Christians we don’t just see one side in life, in conversation, or in any given situation. The veil is removed.

We are free to see two sides.

For the purpose of our study today, let’s look at the two sides of the coin that can be found in our words –

We can speak boldness.

And we can speak peace.

Read James 3:2-12.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

We all have some words. I know I have a few. Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they would be better off tucked away with my tongue against the side of my cheek, mouth closed.

Let’s connect some dots. Write James 3:18 out for yourself, or read it out loud.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

What does peace have to do with everything James talked about earlier in the passage? How is it connected to

a tongue setting the world ablaze

a ship of words that stays the course rather than being blown by the winds of time and raging emotion

words of sustenance for someone’s soul, rather than words of poison

tamed in the knowledge of the righteousness bestowed to every individual on the cross of Christ Jesus, rather than a rebel of selfish ambition, an animal that bites for attention and false affection

salt or fresh water?

fresh fruit or rotten?

James’s point isn’t that we will never be angry, that we will never go forth and proclaim the truth boldly.

Boldly go, friends. Boldly go.

But there are two sides to this coin. Even bold faith looks peaceable in Christ Jesus. The battle has been won. The victory claimed.

We just confess it.

Confessing is what helps us balance boldness and peace. We have a rudder, like James says. His name is Jesus. His Spirit guides our hearts and lives and, yes, our words.

Confessing is simply letting Christ guide, keeping Him at the center, considering in prayer before the words roll out – Dear Lord, help me find the boldness and help me find the peace, all in You.

Discussion:

Is your natural gift boldness or peace?

Can you tell us a time when you or someone you know had to speak boldly but peaceably?

Look back at James 3:2-12. Note any metaphors that James uses in this passage. He’s a word picture wiz. Isn’t it cool how God uses all our individual gifts to share His Spirit breathed message? The metaphors make hard truths, palatable. Which metaphor is the most helpful for you?

The forgotten gift of warmth (Good Gifts 2:2)

This January we bought a house that was built in 1885. I love it. It has nine foot ceilings, hobbit doorways, and comes in at just under 1000 square feet. It’s very “us” and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

I do miss warmth though.

Any historic homeowner knows that the struggle is real. Yesterday I dared to crank up my heat to a wild and aggressive 72 degrees, lest I actually freeze to death in my own home. Hot tea is no longer a nice little luxury, but a necessity for warming your hands on cold, cloudy days.

I layer on my cabin socks, my chunky Irish knit sweater, my slippers, and, let’s be real, sometimes a hat. I grumble and then I look out my front window and am reminded just what a lucky girl I am. Blessed in my place and time in this life with a home, blankets, a family to fill it all with joy. Blessed to have hats and scarves if necessary. Blessed to realistically crank up the heat to 75 if I so desired and still be able to pay the bill, albeit reluctantly.

James 2:14-17 talks a lot about clothes and food and the blessings of daily life. But what really spoke to me when I read through it again today was warmth.

Read James 2:14-17 so we can be on the same page:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When we look at this passage our eyes and ears immediately go to the word dead. It’s natural. It’s a shocking and dramatic word for us. Couple it with a big word like faith and all kinds of anxiety starts poking out. We also don’t want the relationship between faith and works to be misunderstood. It’s important that we don’t pile up expectations on ourself (see yesterday’s study 😉 ) or act like God could care less about our life here on earth, so we spend so much time explaining verse 17 that we never get around to hashing out verses 14-16.

So we glide over simple words like clothes and food and settle on the bigger words, haphazardly giving them a place of higher importance and in need of greater explanation.

But today, I want to talk about warmth. It’s a little word, so mundane and basic. James imitates the flippancy of a person who is slapping a Band-aid on a person’s gushing wound, in verse 16.

And the gushing wound of our current cultural context is warmth.

We may (or may not) be clothing the homeless, feeding the impoverished, caring for the brother or sister in need, but I think our bigger problem, the root of the problem, is warmth.

Christ Jesus is not only loving, caring, compassionate, holy, good, and true. He is warm. He takes time for people. He invites people in, even when he knows it’s going to hurt, when there will be loss, when there will be betrayal, when there will be drama.

We have so little time. I understand that. But how can we show Gospel-bred warmth to our spouse, to our families, to the people we pass along the streets?

Note the language in James 2:16. We are the ones saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” Rather than saying, “Come, take a moment. Rest a while here with me. Let’s pray together. Let’s tackle life together.”

What if “Go in peace” turned into “Come, let me help you see His peace”?

The Greek word for be warmed back in James 2 is thermainesthe. It’s related to our word for thermos. What if it was as simple as sharing food with someone rather than handing them food? Shopping for a coat with someone rather than putting it in a collection bin? Inviting a friend over, into our stack of dirty dishes and cluttered chaos, rather than, well…not?

The world is hungry for warmth, friends. It’s a door to the Gospel. It was as true at the time of Christ, as it is today. Read Matthew 14:13-21 in your Bible. Jot down or take a mental note. What kinds of things does Jesus do that offer warmth to the people?

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus also sees our need for Help and gives us the Holy Spirit. His Spirit is warmth filling our hearts and souls so that we ourselves can share it.

If you’re like me, you have a thermos tucked away somewhere, or a to-go coffee tumbler. Let’s put them to use today. Bring a warm beverage to someone in your life. It’s simple, I know. But it’s a start. Life-giving Gospel sharing is built on life lived together and that starts with some warmth. Go meet a neighbor. Bring a fresh bag of Starbucks. Put a Bible verse of encouragement with it. Bring a pot of tea to boil and pack it in a thermos for that mid-afternoon slump at work. Share it around and share a little bit of yourself and Jesus in the process.

We are free, friends. Free to live different, to take time, and to open our chilly but wonderful houses and hearts to those around us.

Discussion:

What’s your favorite hot beverage, warm piece of clothing, and/or thing to do on a cold day?

Make a list of what gifts of warmth Jesus has given you. I’ll get you started – love, compassion, fellowship…

When has someone shared the gift of warmth with you?

How can we connect the warmth that we share with the message of Christ, be it immediate or over time in relationship? We’d love to hear your examples and experiences or ideas!

Liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of Jesus (Good Gifts 2:1)

This week’s study is all about the good gift of liberty.

The good gift of freedom.

And I don’t know about you, but I could  use for a little more liberty, a little more wide open spaces, and a little less judgment in my own life.

So let freedom ring!

Let’s start by reading through James 2:8-13. Let’s look closer and deeper and embrace some freedom.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Count how many instances that James writes the word law in the passage above. He’s not joking around. In this passage, James reminds us that the law is an actual thing, not to be ignored. It’s weighty. It’s to be taken seriously.

Our culture and world would have us ignore this. The world’s definition of freedom is in the absence of work, the absence of responsibility, the absence of caregiving.

The reality is that our attempts to throw off life, to break free from any and all expectations of us are the very shackles weighing us down, tripping us up, wrapping themselves around our feet until we fall flat on our foreheads like a clunky AT-AT pitching into cold snow and lying helpless on the ground.

God’s law isn’t the problem – do not murder, do not commit adultery, love the Lord your God – it’s not oppressive, too ancient, asking too much. The problem is that we try to find the answers in life by pursuing the law rather than pursuing the One it came from.

We think the law will solve our own problems, will solve the world’s problems. For instance, when someone treats us poorly, we gossip to someone else, we turn cold. That’s the law. When we’re confronted with poverty and the need for homes for thousands, millions of refugees, we become aggressive and angry instead of acting. That’s the law. When we have an argument with our spouse, we cast blame, vent to friends, and give the silent treatment. That’s the law. Their sin, our own sin sits like an elephant in the room, so we throw extra law around, extra “you’re not perfect” and “you messed up” around, hoping to get it off our backs.

Read James 2:10 again to zero in on truth.

We all have failed at the law, not just in one point, as James gently offers, but in So. Many. Ways.

We think freedom would come if we were just released from the law, released from serving and giving and loving and other people’s baggage.

In our relationships, we start listing flaws, listing the wrongs, listing inconveniences. We think it’s freeing, the complaining, the frustration, but it’s not. Now we have our own sin and guilt, and we’re also wearing the jacket of all the wrongs that everyone has done to us.

We want perfection from everyone around us, because otherwise we have to look at the reality that we ourselves are imperfect.

We are continually pursuing justice, but the pursuit of Jesus is so much better.

Perfection, whether in ourselves or in others, James reminds us, isn’t what the King of Kings asks for. That’s what the law asks for and the law is necessary. Murder does matter, injustice is important. God will call us out when we stomp on one another’s hearts and lives. But we forgot the rest of the expectations of God.

God expected to send Christ into the world.

God expected to give Him the load of expectation and action that we never could carry.

God expected to roll the stone away.

God expected to triumph. God expected for mercy to win.

And God’s expectations always win out.

James gives us a clearer picture of the law, a whole picture of the law, when it’s coupled with what God intended for it to be coupled with – the sweet Gospel grace of our Savior.

Our expectations, whether of ourselves or others, put our loaded and weighed down hearts in the grave. God’s expectations all point us to Christ Jesus, so we can embrace real and genuine freedom.

The law of liberty is being honest, knowing we can’t keep one bit of the law, so we look to Jesus every day, every hour, every second to fill in all our gaps and let His mercy reign. It makes us call out judgement when we see it and feel it and say,

No way!

Not invited.

You may be excused now.

It also keeps us kind, knowing that our neighbor sure and certainly cannot keep the law either. Christ reigns for them too. It makes us want to pass out mercy rather than hoarding it up for ourselves.

After all, what’s freedom if it’s not free.

They will fail us – friends, families, store clerks, church members, whoever – but that means mercy wins, and mercy is so much bigger and better than junky old expectations.

James spurs us on. He helps us to see how the law and the gospel piece together so we can speak and act as one who knows and believes in both.

I pray that today you can embrace a little more free – for yourself and for your neighbor.

Let that mercy reign. And when it’s hard, pursue Him more, run toward His throne.

Write John 8:36 somewhere you can see it, in the margin of your Bible, on your open palm, on a post-it note, anywhere. Let it remind you of the truth of Liberty today:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

Free indeed. Less judgement, more mercy. Mercy triumphs.

Discussion:

How is God’s mercy different from what the world offers us or expects from us?

How would you define mercy?

What expectations in life are you currently struggling with? How can you apply Christ’s mercy to each of them?