In the last issue we considered the need for spiritual growth and looked at the first 4 of 12 areas we can focus on as found in the book of James.

These are:

  • Key 1: Count trials as a joy to grow
  • Key 2: Saying ‘no’ will help us grow
  • Key 3: Read and obey the word of God to grow
  • Key 4: Love thy neighbour to grow

In this issue we will continue looking at the 12 keys to spiritual growth from the book of James.

Key 5: Practise genuine faith to grow

James 2:17 says, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”. If we profess to know God then we have a measure of faith. We believe in the doctrines, we believe in God and we believe in Jesus. We have a confident anticipation in our hope of the Kingdom of God and we believe that the Bible is true. However, if this faith is purely academic, if it’s only in our head and only impacts our intellect, then James tells us that this is a counterfeit faith – it isn’t real.

Paul says the same thing in Titus 1:16: “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him”. There is always a risk for any believer that the knowledge stays in the head but doesn’t impact the person.

The heart of this 5th key is that spiritual growth involves genuine faith. Genuine faith is alive and dynamic. Dynamic faith changes us, it becomes manifest in our life and it makes a difference.

What is genuine faith? The nature of genuine faith is where it:

  • Talks the talk and walks the walk
  • Proves its sincerity by its action
  • Believes to the point of commitment
  • Loves to the point of obedience
  • Denies self
  • Moves mountains
  • Loves others
  • Seeks to please God

Spiritual growth means a progression. Firstly our head comprehends the truth, next our heart desires the truth and  finally we act on that truth.

In his second chapter, James gives us three examples of practising genuine faith:

  1. v15–16 Practising genuine faith means that if our brother or sister is destitute we don’t just send them away with well wishes. We invite them in and we take care of their needs.
  2. v21–23 Practising genuine faith is to be like Abraham when he offered up Isaac. Abraham had faith that God is just and merciful to the point that he committed his knife to the sacrifice and the death  blow was only avoided by the intervention of an angel.
  3. v25 Practising genuine faith is to be like Rahab when she hid the messengers and helped them escape. Her initiative saved the lives of the messengers, her own life and the lives of her family.

There are other examples we can use to consider how faith has impacted our lives such as the way we behave around our colleagues, school friends and neighbours, the activities and hobbies we enjoy, our prayer life, the websites we visit and the type of conversations we have.

For anyone who looks inwardly and concludes that their faith is alone and dead as described by James, the good news is that it can be resurrected. All it takes is spiritual growth and a refocus of our lifestyle, activities and thinking to the ways of God. God wants us to grow spiritually by living a life that reflects our faith and we have opportunity to do this now.

Key 6: Tame the tongue and grow spiritually

In James 3:3–5 we find the analogy of the bit, the rudder and the tongue. The bit is placed in the mouth of a horse and assists a rider in communicating with the horse. The bit is very small compared with the size of the horse. Yet this very small thing can assist in controlling the horse. A rudder is a device used to steer a ship as it moves through the water. The rudder is very small compared with the size of the ship. Yet this very small thing can control the direction of the ship. The tongue is a very small member and has the ability to boast great things and be a destructive force that spreads like a fire. James leaves us in no doubt of this when he says in 3:8, “It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison”.

James laments the fact that out of the mouth can come both blessing and cursing (v10). We have the ability to speak words of love, comfort, encouragement, wisdom, inspiration and, yes, even rebuke. However, if left uncontrolled, what can also come out of the mouth are sarcastic remarks, insinuating comments, a lie, unfounded rumor or a piece of misinformation. The good things we say will build others up. The bad things can destroy people, relationships and reputations.

Why does James say in 3:8 that no man can tame the tongue? Is it really impossible? Should we not even bother? Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 12:34: “Out of the over_ ow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (NIV). The tongue reveals what is in the heart. He expounds even further in verse 35: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” So really the issue stems from what is in our heart. The tongue is reflecting audibly how we think and feel.

Think of it this way:

  • If our heart is thankful then our lips will praise God
  • If our heart is filled with a critical attitude then our lips will always be criticising others
  • If our heart is occupied with cursing then out of our mouth will come cursing
  • If our heart is bursting with love and encouragement our words will be full of love and encouragement
  • If our heart is longing for the Kingdom of God then our lips will reflect this hope

As the psalmist wrote, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psa 19:14).

Spiritual growth is not just about learning to ‘bite the tongue’ every time we are about to say something evil. In this sense it will be impossible to tame the tongue because eventually our true colours are revealed. Spiritual growth is about filling our hearts with joy and love, learning to overcome a critical attitude or a grudge and developing respect for our fellow brethren and sisters to the point we will only speak words that build them up.

God wants us to grow by filling our hearts with the ‘good treasure’, learning to tame the tongue, to think before we speak and to use words that can help others grow spiritually. In doing so, we will bring forth good things as mentioned by Jesus.

Key 7: Replace earthly wisdom with godly  Wisdom

In James 3:14–17, James contrasts earthly wisdom  with godly wisdom. The earthly wisdom is full of  bitter “envying and strife” which leads to “confusion  and every evil work”. On the other hand, godly  wisdom is “pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to  be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without  partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

Think about the wisdom of man. This type of  wisdom tells us that man must be in control of his  own destiny. The main objective is to get to the top  and enjoy the ride along the way – to focus on our  career, have all the latest gadgets and store up our  treasures on earth. Or as Scripture puts it – to eat,  drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. This is the  type of wisdom that will cause envy and strife and  confusion and every evil work.

We can understand how this type of wisdom  leads to bitter envying and strife. If we are trying  to get to the top then our neighbours (those we  are meant to love) are potential competition. We  can fall into the trap of begrudging the success of  others. If we spend our lives building up wealth and  having the latest gadgets, we will always be looking  for the next thing to own.

Jesus identified this type of earthly wisdom in  Matthew 6:19: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.”

Contrast this to the wisdom from above – godly wisdom. This type of wisdom says that God is in control of our lives and we should submit to Him, that we should manifest the characteristics of God, develop spiritually and help one another.

Solomon saw the advantage of godly wisdom. When God said to him in 1 Kings 3:5, “Ask what I shall give thee,” there was only one thing Solomon desired: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart” (v9). Solomon wanted wisdom from above to help him discern between good and bad. This is the type of wisdom we need to build in our lives.

We grow spiritually when we replace earthly wisdom with godly wisdom. Jesus identified this as well in Matthew 6:20: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

We saw from James the attributes of godly wisdom. We can conclude that developing godly wisdom will also develop these same qualities within us:

  • Pure: The first impact it has on the mind is to make it pure and holy and provides a single minded determination to follow godly principles.  • Peaceable: We become peacefully confident in the wisdom we know to be divine, which will enable us to live in peace with others.
  • Gentle: We become inoffensive and forbearing because we know that the wisdom we have is pure. Rather than arguing we gently convince another person of the truth of the matter.
  • Easy to be intreated: _ is type of person is not obstinate and unyielding. We do not take a position and then hold it whether right or wrong, but are ready to yield when truth requires it.
  • Full of mercy and good fruits: We become conscious of our own failings and realise that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our approach toward one another keeps this fact in context and helps us to treat others like God does – as the Father of mercies.
  • Without partiality: We have no doubt in the godly wisdom, giving us confidence in its guidance. Without hypocrisy: Godly wisdom is exactly what it professes to be. There is nothing wrong that needs to be hidden. In a similar way,  godly wisdom teaches us to accept when we are wrong rather than dogmatically trying to justify our position.

God wants us to grow up relying on His wisdom  rather than earthly wisdom, to realise the limitation in human thinking and let our minds be filled with the wisdom from above.

Key 8: We are engaged in a battle against the flesh and the world

James 4 opens with a scene of battle and brawling raging between the believers. He picks up this  analogy of a military campaign and drills down to  the heart of the problem in 4:1: “Come they not  hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”

The Apostle Paul knew all too well of this war.  He wrote in Romans 7:23: “But I see another law  in my members, warring against the law of my  mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of  sin which is in my members.” Here we have Paul  engaged in an active battle against the flesh.

James continues this idea of the warfare in 4:4  where he says, “Friendship of the world is enmity  with God”. We get the sense of a battle because  there is a need to choose sides. If we choose the  world, we battle against God. If we choose God, we  battle against the world. As Jesus said in Matthew  6:24: “No man can serve two masters: for either he  will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will  hold to the one, and despise the other”.

  • What we end up with is a war on two fronts:
  • The war that comes from within – our fleshly passions or lusts.

The war that comes from choosing between  God and the world.

The flesh says, “Forget about what is right or  wrong, do whatever pleases you”. The world says,  “Forget about God, He doesn’t exist. Enjoy life  while you can”.

Both of these seek to stunt our spiritual growth.  If we continually lose the battle to the desires of our  flesh, we become a slave to those desires. If we spend  more of our time doing the things of the world, we  become a slave to the world.

Scripture provides us with the approach we  need to take:

  • War against the flesh As Paul describes it: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and  covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).
  • War against the world As John directs us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the  love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

To grow spiritually, firstly we need to continue an active battle against the flesh and the world. If we are not even trying, or if we have already given up, there isn’t even a battle. The first step is to acknowledge that continually succumbing to the flesh and the world will put us at odds with God.

Once the battle begins, spiritual growth will continue as we learn from our errors and bad choices. When we fight the good fight of faith, when we lay hold on eternal life, when we battle against the flesh and the world, we are building up characters that are pleasing to God and we are growing spiritually.

God wants us to continue fighting the battle, and never give up. Even when we fail, the objective is to keep on trying. God doesn’t want the world to swallow us up. He wants us to grow spiritually so we can stand apart from the world and have control over our desires.