Lesson Ten: Liberties We Do Not Have
What do homosexual behavior, flag burning, pornography, and abortion have in common? They are all defended on the basis of freedom. Freedom of speech. Freedom of choice. The freedom to act as consenting adults. Today, all kinds of irresponsible behavior are justified by a distorted definition of liberty.
An oft forgotten fact is that liberty is never enjoyed at the expense of responsibility. This is true whether we are speaking of citizenship or Christianity. Freedom does not mean we have the liberty to "live as we please." On two occasions (1:25 and 2:13), James has referred to the Word of God as the "Law of Liberty." That label reminds us that liberty is governed. It is not lawless. It comes with responsibility.
In this passage, James deals with issues of responsible behavior. We are reminded that there are freedoms the Christian cannot claim. We do not have the liberty to disregard or discredit the people of God, the will of God, or the Word of God.
I. To Exercise Judgment Over Other Believers – Verses 11-12
A. Passing judgment (11)
- The Prohibition – Speak not evil one of another, brethren
- The words "speak evil" literally mean to speak against – to discredit or slander; to be critical, harsh, and judgmental.
- This prohibition covers all kinds of negative, destructive speech that wounds the spirit, attacks personalities, causes division and damages the faith of immature believers.
- The Principle – He that speaks evil of his brother … speaks evil of the law
- The judgmental, critical brother assumes a superior position, elevating himself above other believers, setting aside the Law of God, and imposing his own brand of justice. (11b)
- Although this kind of believer usually thinks he is rendering God a service, James states that he behaves like a judge that has exempted himself from the law he claims to uphold. (11c)
B. Playing God (12)
- God’s Legislative Power
God is the only Lawgiver. When He imposes a law, we can be certain that it is based upon infinite wisdom. Obeying that law will both honor Him and benefit us.
- God’s Judicial Power
With God alone rests the power to save and to destroy – to withhold judgment or to execute the penalty called for by sin and rebellion.
- God’s Exclusive Power
James asks, "Who are you to judge another person?" Did God die and leave you in charge? Did a higher court find Him incompetent and appoint you as His successor? Just what makes us think that we are capable of filling the role of God, exalting ourselves above our brothers and sisters in Christ – making our understanding the standard by which they are measured?
II. To Exclude God’s Will From His Plans – Verses 13-16
A. A serious analysis (13-14)
- The days of our lives – "Today or tomorrow"
- We live our lives by the clock and the calendar – planning, scheduling, and pushing to meet deadlines.
- Time gives our lives a sense of urgency. If we are not careful, it becomes our master and we become its slaves.
- The desires of our lives – "Go … continue … buy and sell, and get gain"
- We want our lives to have a purpose – to know that we accomplished something worthwhile.
- We want our lives to show a profit – to know that we used our opportunities to better our lives and improve our circumstances.
- The dilemma of our lives – "Ye know not …"
- The uncertainty of the future
- In a moment of time, an accident or a disease can have us fighting for our lives.
- In the business world, downsizing, relocations, and changes in the economy put hundreds out of work every day.
- We can plan for the future, but we can’t predict the future. Proverbs 27:1
- The brevity of our lives
- Our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. 1 Chronicles 29:15
- The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off. Psalm 90:10
- For all flesh is as grass, and the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. 1 Peter 1:24
Every person comes into this world with a counter that is running down. Some run down more quickly than others do, but eventually they all register a zero and life comes to an end. Compared to eternity, the longest life is still only a wisp of fog that appears for a moment and then vanishes away.
An unknown author penned the following poem that puts the days of our lives into perspective:
When as a child, I laughed and wept: TIME CREPT
When as a youth, I dreamed and talked: TIME WALKED
When I became a full-grown man: TIME RAN
Soon I shall be passing on: TIME GONE
B. A submissive attitude (15)
- Submit our days to the will of God – "If the Lord will, we shall live"
- We can only live in the present, and the present must be lived within the will of the Lord.
- Time is a stewardship that must be subordinated to God’s purpose and governed by His priorities.
- Submit our desires to the will of God – "If the Lord will, we shall … do this or that"
- It is not wrong to make plans or have goals. The error comes in ignoring God’s will when making our plans.
- We need to have an attitude of dependency – acknowledging God’s sovereignty and seeking His approval in all we do.
- Concerning our family
- Concerning our future
- Concerning our finances
- Concerning our failures
D. Martin Lloyd Jones writes:
We cannot read the Bible without coming to the conclusion that that thing that really differentiates God's people from all others is that they have always been people who walk in the consciousness of their eternal destiny. The natural man does not care about his eternal future; to him this is the only world. It is the only world he thinks about; he lives for it and it controls him. But the Christian is a man who should walk through this life as conscious that it is but transient and passing … He should always know that he is walking in the presence of God, and that he is going on to meet God; and that thought should determine and control the whole of his life.
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by D. M. Lloyd Jones, pages 159-160.
C. A sinful arrogance (16)
- Self-sufficiency is an empty boast.
- The word boastings was used of those who made great claims concerning their abilities and achievements, but they were unable to live up to them.
- It was often used of those who peddled "miracle cures" but proved to be quacks.
James is saying that the kind of self-sufficient attitude expressed in verse 13 is an empty boast because we cannot be sure that we can accomplish the things we have set out to do. We do not know what will befall us with the rising of the next sun, or even if we will be alive to see it! It is exactly this point that Jesus made. SEE LUKE 12:16-21
- Self-sufficiency is an evil boast.
- To boast of our plans and ignore the will of God is evil – a serious act of wrongdoing.
- The self-sufficient lifestyle is totally unacceptable to God.
III. To Exempt Himself From Any of God’s Commands – Verse 17
A. To know what is right, and to do wrong is sin.
B. To know what is right, and do nothing is sin.
Verse 17 causes us to rethink our definition of sin. Sin is not just doing the wrong things. It is also a failure to do the right things. The Christian who thinks he is "safe" because he doesn’t do the "bad things" that the Bible condemns is mistaken. God not only holds us accountable for breaking His laws, He also holds us accountable for ignoring His will and neglecting to do that which is good.
In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus told a parable of two sons. Each was commanded to go work in his father’s vineyard. The first refused, but afterward changed his mind and did as his father commanded. The second readily replied, "Yes Sir!" But he did not follow through. At that point, Jesus asked a question, "Which of the two did the will of his Father?" Obviously, it was the first.
We are not told why the second son did not follow through. Perhaps he intended well, but got distracted by something else. Whatever the reason, he failed to do the will of his father. He knew what he was supposed to do, but he didn’t do it.
That is what James is telling us. Too often we are confronted with the truth of God’s Word and the immediate response of our heart is, "I’ll do it." But we don’t follow through. We may make all kinds of excuses for our failure. We may label it a mistake, or an oversight. But God calls it sin.
We need to remember that sin is not only doing what is wrong; it is also failing to do what is right.
Christian liberty is a great privilege. But liberty must be balanced by responsibility. We need to pause to examine our lives to make sure we haven’t abused our liberty in these areas. We are not at liberty to judge our fellow believers. We are not at liberty to ignore the will of God. Living by grace doesn’t mean that we can ignore the commands of God’s Word. It simply means that we depend upon God to supply all the resources to do the things he commands us to do.