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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 1045am Svc, 2013-01-06

Text: James 1:1

As the New Year is just five days old, many people are wondering what 2013 holds in store for them . You may have heard the news yesterday that our national carrier (SIA) has asked its pilots to take voluntary no-pay leave. This is because the downturn in the economy has weakened deman for flights. A recent UN report has warned that this year’s economy will be gloomy, ‘fraught with major uncertainties and risks slanted to the downside. Some predict that another global recession is on the way. Others believe that we will see more droughts and typhoons due to climate change, and that there will be huge blackouts and breakdowns from a massive solar flare that is expected to erupt this year. Well, all these forecasts are still quite uncertain, and only God knows exactly what will happen.

But one thing is very certain for us this year: We will have to face many challenges. And perhaps these challenges may be greater than those of previous years – Challenges that will affect our work life, our family life and our spiritual life. We are all aware that our pace of life has increased tremendously – it is now among the fastest in the world! Everyone is feeling stressed by it. Recently, students from four polytechnics shared their vision for Singapore to become a stress-free society, with less competition in the workplace, and a 4-day work week. But the reply given to them was that this is not going to happen, as Singapore will find itself in an increasingly competitive world. These challenges are part and parcel of life in a modern competitive world whether we like it or not.

One particularly difficult challenge of living in a modern world is how to deal with increasing temptations to sin. For instance, more people are now gambling because it has become so easily accessible on-line, and is it has become linked to a glamourous and desirable lifestyle. The greatest concern is that more youths are getting into gambling than before, and counselors fear that youths will end up losing their jobs, their savings, social life, family and friends. Besides increased gambling, there has been a deluge of social media. Social media is good as it opens up more community dialog and interaction. But it also opens up a Pandora’s Box of gossiping, rumour-mongering, misinformation, and black-mailing. One juicy bit of information will go ‘viral’ within hours.

Some groups are making use of social media to influence public opinion and to pressure the authorities to push the limits of morality as far as they possibly can. A general decline in morality can already be seen from all the high-profile sex scandals last year involving politicians and public servants. What is frightening is that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a pervasive trend that is wrecking more and more marriages and families today.

I can go on listing a lot more challenges that we will have to face this year and in the years to come. But these are enough to make us aware of what we will face in our work life, in our family life and in our spiritual life. Our focus then as God’s people should be on how to have victory in facing them. A few days ago I received an SMS from a sister in our church which I thought was full of wisdom. I asked her permission to share it with you: “Many people wish for a better next year. But at the end of the next year we find that it had not been better than the previous year. So I think I will not wish for a better 2013, but I wish to be better able to handle whatever 2013 brings.” Dearly beloved, if we know that there will be challenges for us to handle this year, then we should aim for victory in handling them.

And this will be the church theme in 2013 – “Living Victoriously for Christ in a Modern World.” I hope that all of us will identify with this theme and make it our own personal goal. Each time you see this graphic, please take time to think of how it relates to you personally. If Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, then you must live your life for Him. This point is made clear in Galatians 2:20 where the apostle Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

The last part of the verse shows how greatly indebted we are to Christ that we should now live for Him alone – “He loved me, and gave Himself for me. But there is also a deeper reason why we must live for Christ – it is to fulfill our mission of making disciples in this world. This mission was spelled out clearly by our Lord Jesus in the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach [or make disciples of] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”(Matthew 28:19,20)

This is our mission for living victoriously for Christ in our modern world – so that we can make disciples of all nations, disciples who know what the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded and observe it faithfully. And so our church theme for 2013 must lead us to obey the great commission of Christ. Making disciples of Christ involves work in three areas – Salvation, Sanctification and Service. In Salvation, people are brought to Christ through the Gospel. In Sanctification, they grow into the fullness of Christ. In Service, they become used of God to build up the body of Christ. All of us should be involved in these three areas either in being discipled or in making disciples.

And our ultimate vision in doing all this, is to become what the Lord wants us to be: ‘A united church family committed to the glory of God.’ I hope that by understanding our mission and vision we will commit ourselves fully to fulfill it. I sincerely request all of us here to pray fervently that God will work in our midst so that we will all share this vision and seek to bring it into reality.

Coming back to this year’s theme – Living Victoriously for Christ in a Modern World, you may want to know how it will be implemented. Firstly, it will be implemented through this year’s Scripture memory verses, in a booklet entitled, “Wisdom for Daily Living.” In order to live victoriously you need wisdom, and God’s wisdom is found in the Book of Proverbs. The 52 memory verses in this booklet (one for each week of the year) are all taken from the Book of Proverbs. Please take time to memorise them and meditate on them prayerfully so that you will be well-equipped with wisdom to live victoriously for Christ in this modern world. Our church website has some resources to help you do this.

Secondly, the Church theme will be implemented in our Church camp in June this year with messages on“Armoured for Victory” by Dr Paul Choo. The details are provided in the weekly, and I urge you to sign up for it when the camp registration opens next month.

And thirdly, the Church theme will be implemented in the messages preached at our morning services. In this schedule that you received with the weekly last Sunday, you would have noticed that most of the messages have the word ‘victory’ in them (“Victory in the Midst of Trials” next Sunday; “Victory over a Materialistic View of Life” on 20 Jan, etc.) This series of expository messages will take us right through the entire Epistle of James which we aim to complete within the first half of this year.

Why have we chosen the Epistle of James? This epistle contains many useful principles on practical Christian living. This book emphasises practice rather than doctrine. It shows that the Christian faith is a faith that works. Someone has put it this way: “If Paul is the apostle of Faith, Peter the apostle of Hope, and John the apostle of Love, then James is the apostle of Works.” This makes James a very practical and edifying book to study. We will learn many useful lessons on how to live the Christian life, e.g. the right use of the tongue, the right way to treat one another, and the necessity of doing good works. We will learn what attitudes we should have toward the world, toward wealth and toward God. We will also learn how to seek God’s help in time of sickness, and in times of trial.

With that introduction, let us turn to the epistle of James now and see how it begins. Let us read the first verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” (James 1:1)

The first word gives us the writer’s name – James. Who was this James? Among the 12 apostles of Christ, there were two who had the name James: James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus. But it is very unlikely that either of them wrote this epistle. The testimony that has been passed down from the earliest times with much supporting evidence is that it was written by James the half-brother of Jesus Christ.You may remember that Jesus was born of Mary when she was a virgin. So Joseph was only His foster father. But after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had four sons and at least two daughters We know this from Matthew 13:55,56 – “Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” You may notice that James is mentioned first before all the rest. This indicates that he was the eldest among the half-brothers of Jesus, and probably the sibling who was closest to Him.

We would think that being so close to Jesus, and having grown up together with Him in the same home, James and all the rest of the siblings would surely have become His first followers, and given full support to their Big Brother. But actually the very opposite was true. John 7:5 tells us “For neither did his brethren believe in him.” Throughout the entire 33 years of Christ’s life on earth James did not believe in Him or follow Him at all. And yet later on he rose to become a devoted discisple of Christ and a leader of the church in Jerusalem. James was mentioned by Paul in Galatians 1:18,19 – “Then after three years I went up toJerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.” And Acts 15:13-21 records what he said during an important church council in Jerusalem:“And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me…Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them….” What James said here shows that he was the moderator or chairman of that council. He must have had the spiritual maturity, godliness and wisdom needed to serve in such an important capacity.

This point has been corroborated by other sources which tell us that James had such deep practical piety that both friends and foes alike called him  Ya’acov haTzaddik which is Hebrew for “James the Just” or “James the Righteous.” Isn’t it amazing that this brother of Jesus who did not even believe in Him at first, actually became “James the Just,” a great Christian leader of the church in Jerusalem? This tells me that James found victory in Christ. Let us find out more about this victory that James found in Christ. Firstly

I. It Originated from the Grace that Christ Showed to Him

If not for the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ, James would have remained in his unbelief and sin. But thankfully, Christ did not let him wallow in unbelief. How do we know that? The evidence is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 – “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.”

Here we have a list of the ones Christ appeared to after He had resurrected from the dead. You will notice that the last one He appeared to was Paul. This took place when Paul was on the road to Damascus. He was going there in unbelief to persecute Christians. But by the grace of Christ, Paul was not left to wallow in unbelief. Christ went after him and appeared to him in a blinding light from heaven and said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4) Through this appearance of Christ, Paul was soundly converted and he went on to become a true servant of God.

How about James? He was like Paul in many ways. By the grace of Christ he was not left to wallow in his unbelief. As the resurrected Christ was seen by Paul, He was seen by James also (as v.7 of this passage says). And as Paul went on to become a true servant of God, so did James. We do not know where, when and how Christ appeared to James after His resurrection. But this was the moment when James was soundly converted, like Paul. It may or may not have been as spectacular as Paul’s conversion – we don’t know and we dare not speculate where the Bible is silent. But this one thing we know – it was as much a work of undeserved grace in James’ life, as it was in Paul’s life. And James must have been thankful for the grace of Christ which had changed him from being a sinner to being a servant: God’s servant! Perhaps James recalled the wonderful grace that Christ showed him, as he began writing his epistle with the words, “James, a servant of God…”

There is only one source of victory over sin: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one thing that can change your life from wallowing in unbelief, to becoming a useful servant of God: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for sinners. If you have not found victory over sin yet, and if you are still living in unbelief, then you need the grace of Jesus to work in your heart. Come to Him now. Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ to make Him your Lord and Saviour, and then you will begin to experience the victorious life. You can never succeed in living victoriously until you find your victory in Christ. Let us go on now to learn more about the victory that James found in Christ…

II. It Led to the Lordship of Christ over His Life.

Looking again at the first verse of the epistle, you will notice that James does not make any mention of being a brother of Jesus. Think of this: If you had been James and you wrote a letter to instruct us or encourage us, wouldn’t you want us to know that you are a brother of Jesus? Wouldn’t it be good for us to know that all the words you wrote actually come from one who is a brother of Jesus Himself?

Why then did James leave this out? He may have done this in order to draw attention to Christ rather than to himself. Perhaps he did not want to put himself on the same level as Christ. Although he was so closely related to Him, James did not want to glean any honour for himself from that relationship. So, he would rather be known as James the Lord’s servant, rather than James the Lord’s brother.

We wonder what it was like for James to answer questions from fellow believers who knew that He was the Lord’s brother. Perhaps many may have asked him, “James can you please tell me what it was like to grow up and live with the Lord Jesus? What kind of games did you play with Him when you were kids?” The complete silence in his epistle about his relationship with Jesus, and of any anecdotes about their childhood days, tells us one thing: Nothing mattered more to James now than the Lordship of Christ. Jesus was his half-brother. But that fact is no longer as relevant as the fact that Jesus is the glorious Lord of all. This is how James wanted his readers to think of Christ, as seen in 2:2 – “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.”

We must learn this important lesson from James: Our eyes must be focused on Christ, and on Christ as our Lord. He must increase and we must decrease. This is the key to victorious living – Make Jesus the Lord of everything in your life! Let Him be exalted as Lord in all your thoughts, words, and actions. Let Christ be exalted in your life and also in your death.

There is evidence that James exalted Christ in his death. According to Josephus, in AD 62 the Jews were trying to pressure James into telling the crowds at the Temple that Jesus is not the Messiah. But James fearlessly proclaimed that Jesus is seated at the throne of God and is coming soon to judge the world. The Jews were so infuriated that they killed James by throwing him down from the pinnacle of the Temple, stoning him and clubbing him to death. His death brought much grief not only to Christians but to many non-Christian Jews as well. But his testimony also brought many to find salvation in Christ!

In more recent times James has exalted Christ even long after His death.  In 2002, a 20-inch-long limestone ossuary, which is a container for bones, was discovered in Israel. It is believed to have once contained the skeletal remains of James. It dates back to about AD 63 and it has an inscription incised on one side of the ossuary which reads in clear Aramaic letters: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Many experts who examined the ossuary and its inscription have no doubts that they are authentic. But the Israeli Antiquities Authority charged its owners with forgery. A 5-year trial ensued with over 75 people called to the stand and over 5,000 pages of written submissions from the prosecution and the defendants (This has become known as the forgery trial of the century). The final verdict was given by the Judge in Jerusalem in March last year (2012). He declared that the owners of the ossuary were not guilty of forgery. This means that this ossuary may have actually contained the bones of James, the eldest half-brother of Jesus Christ!

More importantly this inscription is the earliest archaeological evidence that Jesus lived 2000 years ago. It is very unusual that an inscription on an ossuary should include the name of the brother of the deceased. The Jews would only include the name of the father of the deceased. The fact that this one included the name of the brother as well shows that this brother must be someone who was well-known at that time. And so we see how James has exalted Jesus even today by the testimony of his ossuary. This discovery is regarded as one of the greatest victories in modern biblical archaeology.

If you want to have victory in living for Christ, do what James did – Exalt Christ! Will you make Christ the Lord of everything in your life? There is one more thing we can learn about the victory that James found in Christ…

III. It Made His Life a Blessing to Many Others.

Here at the beginning of his epistle, we see James writing to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”The 12 tribes here is a reference to Israel. Jews who have become Christians are the true Israel of God (cf. Galatians 6:16; Romans 9:6) They were originally from the church of Jerusalem and hence James knew them. But because of intense persecution, they were forced to leave Jerusalem and migrate to other lands as exiles. There they started to meet together and form little congregations. James continued to care for these displaced members. Though they were far removed from his sight, they were still very much in his heart. So He wrote this general epistle out of genuine love and concern for them, and it reveals his intimate knowledge of their circumstances and problems.

In our present age of increased travel we have do have a diaspora of church members who are scattered all over the world for work or for study. How much do we care for them? Do we keep in touch with them or have we forgotten them completely? Do we pray for them? James did. The early church fathers tell us that James was known to be a man of fervent prayer – He interceded for others on his knees daily until they became as hard as the knees of a camel. He was therefore given the nickname “old camel knees.”

James not only cared for his own church members. He also cared for Paul and Barnabas and gave them the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9) recognizing their calling to reach the Gentiles. He cared for the Gentile Christians who had been saved through Paul’s ministry (Acts 15:19) – He did not want to burden them with all the laws which the Jews kept, like circumcision and eating nothing but kosher food. James even cared for his enemies. According to an early church historian named Hegesippus (AD 110-180), the very last prayer that James uttered was for those who murdered him. This was what he prayed when he was martyred – “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” James lived victoriously and he died victoriously.

 
Here in the words of his last prayer we can see the secret of his victory revealed to us. These were the very same words that our Lord Jesus uttered as He was dying on the cross at Calvary. The secret of James’ victory was found in Christ. His life became a great blessing to many others because of the life and likeness of Christ that was in him. Let us therefore find our victory in Christ by seeking to have more and more of His likeness in us. And this is what we all need if we want to live victoriously for Christ in a modern world.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25