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About this series
Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Wrong Beliefs Produce Wrong Behavior
Have you ever looked back over a situation or relationship in your life and wondered how it became so messy or difficult? In the series from the book of James, Five Lies that Ruin Relationships, we'll define five of the most common lies that have the potential to ruin relationships with those we love. We'll also uncover the source of quarreling, how our words wound, and how not to make decisions. And together, we'll ask and answer the question: do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior? We will discover that when we confront the lies we believe, there is power in knowing and applying God's truth to our relationships.More from this series
Notice, there’s a second lesson, not just from the farmer, but there is a lesson to be learned from the prophet. And notice what he says here about the prophets. He says, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets” – plural – “who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
And you think to yourself, Well, what’s amazing about that? It says, “Well, we’re commanded to be patient, even when our circumstances are unfair and unjust” – verse 10.
See, that’s what I get from the prophets. When I study the prophets’ lives, I’m just thinking, If you really love God, if you’re really for God, if you’re really willing to take a stand, if you’re going to live a righteous life then life is going to be good. You’re going to be happy! Right?
Yeah, Daniel – happy, happy, happy with all those lions. “I’m the lion tamer. This sure is fun.” Jeremiah – happy, happy, happy. “I’m in a cistern, down in a well. Now I’m in prison. Happy, happy, happy.”
Study the lives of the prophets. My lands, they do exactly the right thing, and they’re treated with injustice, and lack of fairness. Or Joseph! Here’s a guy that, “All I want to do – You gave me a dream. I want to do Your will, Lord.” So what does he get? Falsely accused; sent to prison unjustly. His whole life, the first thirty years, is like a bad dream.
God wants us to learn the lesson of the prophets. They spoke God’s Word. They were in the center of God’s will. We have skewed expectations about what it means to walk in the will of God.
See, it’s the happiness cult that we’ve produced in America. I’m a Christian. I should be happy. If I’m not happy, something is wrong. God, change it – quickly, quickly, quickly. I want to put it in the spiritual microwave – zing! – oh goody, happy, happy, happy. Now everything is great.
And he says, “Learn a lesson from the prophets: Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph, Elijah.” They were in the center of God’s will and being in the center of God’s will meant pain, and suffering, and injustice, and difficulty, and being light and salt in a perverse and dark world.
Even in Jeremiah’s case – I happen to be reading there right now. God even tells him, “Guess what you just obey. And, by the way, they’re not going to listen.” How would you like that job assignment? And he didn’t say, “Well, could I get a transfer? I’d like transferred out of this one. I’d like to be a prophet in some other…” “No, no, Jeremiah.” Remember what He said in the first chapter? “Before you were in your mother’s womb, I have called you for this.” Life is not certain, life is not easy, and life is not fair. That’s a biblical appraisal.
When you do what is right, when you’re in the center of God’s will, if you are expecting that everything lines up and goes your way, that your circumstances align, that people are going to be wonderful, that all your kids are going to make great decisions and turn out right, that you’re never going to have a major problem in your marriage, that you’re never going to go through difficult, painful health issues, that you’re never going to be betrayed by a friend, that you’re never going to have to have a messy church situation, you’re never going to have someone in business cheat, or lie, or do something difficult to you, then you set yourself up, wrongly, for a life of despair and discouragement, and you’ll get disillusioned with God.
I meet Christians all the time who are disillusioned with God. “God promised the abundant life! God promised I would be happy! God promised!” And I’m thinking, Yeah, God promised persecution! God promised suffering! God promised character building! How come no one is writing books on that?
Seven Steps to Great Character Through Intense Suffering Over a Long Period of Time. I could just see that baby flying off the shelf!
See, the premise of the New Testament is not that God wants to make you happy. You know what the correct premise is? God wants to make you holy. It changes everything, doesn’t it? That’s His agenda! That’s His agenda.
“He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, pastors, teachers, for the work of building up the body of Christ, until they all attain to the unity of the faith of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man.”
What is a mature Christian? It’s one who looks like Christ. How does God produce maturity, or holiness, or a Christlikeness? It’s not because we’re happy all the time, and everything goes our way. It is when He takes us through things that the pressure, and the difficulty, like a piece of coal in the heart of the earth, the pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure, pressure takes it and makes it a diamond.
Or it’s like the piece of sand inside of a pearl, where all the rubbing, and the difficulty, and the irritation, produces a pearl. God is looking to create men and women whose character, and whose hearts, and whose lives, from the inside out, are diamonds and pearls reflecting the fragrance of Christ. That’s His agenda. But if we think it’s to make us happy, we get very ticked off with God, and disillusioned when He allows us to experience what the prophets experienced.
Jot down, if you will, Genesis 50:20. Here’s the principle. Here’s what we learn from the prophets. It is a fallen world. Life is not fair. Life is not certain. But all the evil, all the difficulty that came into Joseph’s life, he could, when he saw it all, look backwards and say to his brothers, “As for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
He said, “Your motives were bad. You were evil. You did the wrong thing. Some of you” – and I’m reading into the text here. Don’t look for this in Genesis, but a little elaboration here. “Some of you wanted to kill me. Thank heavens, some of you wanted to put me in slavery. Potiphar, his wife did me in; he treated me wrong. The baker, he didn’t even remember my name. All these things happened to me, thinking directed for evil, but God meant it – He’s sovereign. He’s all knowing. He’s all powerful.” And notice the text: He’s compassionate.
That word means there is something down – literally, the idea is out of the bowels of God, out of the inner parts of God, that when He sees your need, He wants to rescue and help. He loves you.
“God, out of His mercy and out of His grace meant it for good, to bring about” – what? “He delivered all these people. He wanted the nation of Israel to be a little incubator over here. And the way He did it is, He sent me. And He knew there would be a famine, and He knew what He wanted to do, and He knew the promises He made to Abraham. And what He did is, He brought me here so that, by the time the things happened, I would be the second most powerful man in the world. And I would be able to be the shepherd and take care of God’s people.”
Other people don’t have the power to ruin your life. Circumstances do not have the power to ruin your life. The only thing that can ruin your life is failure to believe that God is good, God is sovereign, and God is faithful to His promises.
And so, he says, “Learn, first, the lesson of the farmer.” There are seasons in life – patient, wait, patient – until you see God bring about what He is going to do. Don’t miss out.
Second, learn the lesson of the prophet. Even when life is unfair, or unjust, don’t get your expectations skewed thinking that God has left you.
If He left you, He left Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph, Elijah, Paul. Eleven of the twelve disciples – does anyone know how they happened to die? They were martyred. And the only guy left is on an island, writing down Revelation for us.
The prosperity gospel won’t work through the New Testament. It didn’t work for Paul; it didn’t work for James. He’s saying, “So, I followed Jesus.” “What happened to you, Paul?” “They killed me.” “Peter, what happened to you?” “Well, I followed Jesus. They killed me.” “James, what happened to you?” “I followed Jesus. They killed me.” There’s another good book title: How to Walk with God and Die Young.
And you know when they did it? Church history says Peter didn’t do it like, “God deserted me.” Peter requested to be crucified upside down, because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way as his Lord. Paul would understand that it’s not frivolously being happy, and all the circumstances lining up.
In Philippians chapter 3 he will say, “For me, forgetting what lies behind, pressing forward, I want to apprehend, or gain, or get, what God has called me to, and so what I want to do, I want to know Him. And I want to know the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering.”
You will never be closer to God, you will never have more intimacy with God, God will never speak more loudly, or more clearly, than when you are in pain, when you need Him. You know what? When sex, and food, and trips, and money, and possessions, and houses, no matter how nice they are, all in the right frame of mind, with all the right people, can’t deliver, Jesus said, “I’ll be there for you.”
The third lesson we learn is the lesson from Job. We are commanded to persevere, even when we don’t understand why God is allowing such adversity in our lives. Notice, it changed from patience, patience to persevere.
The third picture, with Job, is this idea of – I alluded to – patience is having a long fuse. But with Job, it’s not just patience. It’s perseverance. Perseverance is holding up under pressure.
The word picture that I have – I have a little stick figure in my notes that when I think of this word, hupo – under – menō, is I have a little stick picture. And I take a bag with a bunch of weights. And the bag with a bunch of weights is on his shoulder, and on it is stress, pressure, life demands. And hupomenō is, I’m under this, and what happens is, with a lot of people, if you put weight on their back, it crushes them.
But these people just, one day, one moment in time, This marriage is difficult. This health is difficult. This financial situation is difficult. This conflict at church is difficult. But I’m going to hold up today. I’m going to hold up today. I’m going to hold up today. It hurts. I’m going to hold up today. And when you persevere and persevere and persevere and persevere and persevere, all you people out here who are athletes, you know there are some people that actually pay to get to do this.
But instead of a bag, it’s actual weights. And if you take actual weights, and you put them on your shoulder, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you persevere, and you do about three sets of that, with just a little bit more, then your legs will burn, and then your core will get strong. And you do that for about six months, and you know what? You can get under that thing, and it’s no problem at all, because the weights don’t change, but the person under the weight gets stronger.
Did you ever consider that part of God’s plan may not be to deliver you out of your difficult circumstance, but He might want to deliver you through it? And there’s biblical precedent, isn’t there?
The apostle Paul, it wasn’t, he had enough faith. The apostle Paul had a pretty powerful prayer life. The apostle Paul had seen the third heaven. Who knows what that is, or what it looks like, but we’re going to find out soon. And he asked God, one time, two times, three times, “Take the adversity away! Take the thorn in my flesh away.” We don’t know what it was, but some difficult, painful, physical thing that just bugged him to death. And what did God say? “No.”
See, if he went to a meeting today, people would say, “Well, Paul, you just don’t have enough faith. That’s your problem. If you just believed God then…” No, no. God’s will, in this situation, for him, was “no.”
But then, in 2 Corinthians 12, verses 9 and 10, He tells him why. He says, “Paul, My grace is sufficient for you. Because power is made perfect in weakness.” I’ll do something in you. You hupomenō. You allow Me to strengthen who you are, as a man, in your inner man. My power is perfected in your weakness, and in your pain.
In fact, we learned the reason he got the thorn was that he saw and had such a revelation of who God was, and what He had done, that arrogance would have been impossible. And so, it kept Paul in this sense of dependency, out of his pain.
Could it be that God has something so wonderful to do in you, and through you, that He has chosen – not because you’ve been bad, but because you’ve been good, and He knows that He can trust you with it – to allow you to endure through the pain of the relationship, or the health issue, or the difficult situation? And that through the pain, His grace will be sufficient and one day you will be able to say, “Therefore, most gladly, I will take joy, or rejoice, in difficulty, in suffering, in persecution.”
And he goes on and lists about everything bad that could ever happen in your life. “Because when I am weak, I am strong.” That’s the lesson of Job, isn’t it? Persevere. Persevere. Why? Because God’s plan is at work, even when we can’t see it, or understand it.
Did Job know what was going on? He didn’t have a clue! He did not have a clue, and his friends were not a lot of help. But he knew God.
There’s a song I heard years and years and years ago, and who knows who wrote it, and who knows the melody, but there was one line in it. It says, “When life is hard and difficult” – I’m paraphrasing here, because I’ll get to the line that I really like – “and you just don’t think you can take it,” it says, “when I can’t see Your hand, God, I can trust Your heart.” That’s a great line.
There are times where you’re a Christian, and you love God, and it just stinks. Okay? It’s hard. There are probably stronger words the youth would use. I don’t know what they are, because they don’t come to my mind, but you could probably think of one or two.
And there are times, as a believer, it’s like that. And you pray. And you know it’s not sin. At least you don’t, unless, if it is, you’ve asked, and prayed, and confessed, and you look back on your life, and you say, “I’m walking with the Lord. I’ve been obedient to what I know. I feel like I’m meeting with Him. I feel like I’m honoring Him with my life. I want to be used by Him. And life is just hard, hard, hard.” And you pray, and you’re waiting for the breakthrough, and there’s no breakthrough.
And it gets harder and harder and harder and harder, and you just get to where – there’s one thing where it’s times where you cry out to God, and there are some times I’ve had, at least, and I’m sure you have, where you just cry. You just get before the Lord, and you cry, and you go, “I don’t get it.”
There are times there’s a veil. And what He says to do is you persevere, even if you can’t understand.
The final thing he says here is, there’s a lesson from the farmer, there is a lesson from the prophets, and a lesson from Job. And then, the application: We’re commanded to demonstrate. How do you demonstrate your patience? We’re commanded to demonstrate our patience and our perseverance by keeping our words and our vows.
Verse 12 – did you notice what it says here? “Above all, my brothers” – “Beyond all that I’ve said” – “do not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything. Let your yes be yes and your no be no.”
Don’t bail out. If you made a commitment to God, keep it. If you made a commitment to a marriage partner, keep it. If you made a commitment to your kids, keep it. If you made a commitment to your church, keep it. If you made a commitment to someone else, keep it.
Psalm 15:4 – “He who swears to his own hurt and changes not, those are the kinds of people that can enter the temple of God, the holy hill, and be honored by Him.”
Now, are there – please hear – are there unique situations where immorality or things happen in a marriage? Are there unique situations where churches go off doctrinally, or there are dysfunctional things that you have done all you can, and God releases you? Yes. Okay?
But we’re living in a world of exception clauses and loopholes. We’re living in a world where, “It really wasn’t adultery. It was kind of this, and kind of that. And I am miserable and unhappy, so I’m going to get a divorce.” “Well, yeah, the church really isn’t all that bad, but I’m just so sick and tired, and it’s so much work, so I’m just going to…”
Keep your commitments. Keep your commitments until God tells you, “This is what I want you to do.”
And if He tells you, “This is what I want you to do,” you better be able to open your Bible and say, “And here’s the biblical basis for it, not because I felt it, or even because some ‘Christian leader’, person, or pastor said it was okay.” We have all kinds of pastors and leaders telling people unbiblical things to justify our immoral behavior in the Church right now. And it has to stop. And it has to stop by starting with us.
“‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for good and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future.’” Part of that plan will mean times where you have to patiently wait. Part of that plan will mean that you’ll have to be like a prophet and say, “This isn’t fair, and this really stinks, and I’m not giving up.” And part of that plan will mean you will persevere, when you don’t understand why God is doing what He is doing. And so, you will have to trust His heart, because you can’t see His hands moving.
But what I want to remind you is, all the cards aren’t dealt yet. All the cards of your life, and His purposes, aren’t dealt yet.
And forgive me if I’ve watched a couple of those ESPN, or those poker shows, now and then, but I always like it. And it looks like one guy is going to lose, you know? And then, they have the low hold card, right? Card on the river! And I know they’re only playing for fun; there’s no real money exchanged. I don’t endorse gambling in any way. People take these illustrations wrongly sometimes. But you know what? The whole thing looks like this, but there’s one card left, and you turn it over.
God has a card He’s not turned over in your life yet. Don’t give up. In the words of Winston Churchill to his alma mater, when the war was going desperately wrong for England, he gave a very short meaningful speech: “Never give up! Never give up! Never, never, never, never give up!” And England responded to the call.
And that’s God word to some of you. Never give up.