Stan Gale

Deo Volente: God Willing

To make plans in pen without regard to the sovereignty and supremacy of God is to usurp the glory that belongs only to God. James drives this home when he says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). By this pronouncement, James labels such autonomy, “sin.” 

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’.” (James 4:15, ESV)
We’ve seen that James doesn’t discourage our planning, just our writing those plans in pen as though they were indelible. Rather, we are to subject our plans to the will of our Father in heaven. Every event on our calendars should carry the subscript “D. V.,” Latin for Deo Volente, “God willing.” Another way to put it is that our plans should be written in pencil, ready to be revised or retracted according to the will of God.
What is it James wants us to understand? Is it simply that things change and we need to be ready to adjust? Certainly that’s true but there is a more fundamental matter to consider, and that is there is only one God and it’s not us.
In Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, the concluding plea is, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17). Through Moses, the Holy Spirit bids us to seek God for stability, success, and satisfaction. We do not have it in ourselves to ensure these things. We must seek our God.
Moses begins the psalm by highlighting the nature of God and the distinction between us as creatures and God as Creator.
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Judge Not

In a Christian family it is not only the children who must abide by the law of God but the parents must as well, even though they are the ones who exercise discipline. We are all sinners in need of grace. None of us occupies the high moral ground. Any judgment on our part must be rendered with humility, in full knowledge that we stand only by the grace of the One who is able to save and to destroy (Jas. 4:12). 

There is only one lawgiver and judge. (James 4:12, ESV)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” James tells us how to avoid sabotaging that noble goal. “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (Jas. 4:11).
Speaking evil can be toxic to a relationship, introducing a pollutant that can poison the waters and be difficult to clean up, and even once cleaned up can leave traces that might never be purged. We might think in terms of slander or berating another.
James describes this evil-speak as emanating from someone who has assumed the position of a judge. Jesus also addressed the matter in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
How many times have we heard people excuse and enable wrong behavior by saying that the Bible tells us not to judge? But the Bible doesn’t say that. In fact, we are enjoined to judge (1 Cor. 5:12), including providing a kingdom assessment of the righteousness or unrighteousness of actions (Mt. 18:15-20).
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Power in Weakness

We submit ourselves to God, deferring to His rule and provision. We resist the devil, standing against his temptations, deceptions, accusations, and ambitions. We draw near to God, with the promise that He will be with us and for us as our fortress, shield, and strength (Ps. 18:1-3). We cleanse our hands and purify our hearts from double-mindedness, repentant of our waywardness and confident of victory in Christ, through which Satan is disarmed, defeated, and repelled. 

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6, ESV)
Underlying James counsel to us is awareness of the kingdom of God. True faith, saving faith is a hallmark of those who by God’s grace have bowed the knee to Jesus Christ. Paul describes the work of God through His Son: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13–14).
Our allegiance, behavior, outlook, and goals are all to be defined by our participation in this redemptive kingdom. One of the challenges we encounter, however, is that while we are no longer of this world, we continue in it. It is with this in mind that our Lord Jesus prayed: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
James and every other New Testament writer operate with this worldview in mind, that while we are in this world, we experience opposition from the evil one and his demonic minions. When James contrasted demonic, earthly wisdom with that which is from above (3:15-17), he envisioned not simply different ways of doing things but contending with Satan as an active agent seeking to pit us against Christ and His kingdom.
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Wisdom from Above

We want to sow in our minds and in our relationships what we want to harvest in our lives. The seed we reach to scatter must be taken from the bag marked “wisdom from above,” not “wisdom that is demonic.” Both stand open before us. 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17, ESV)
Contrasted with demonic wisdom is wisdom from above (Jas. 3:15). James gives us a bio of genuine wisdom that has its source in God.
He begins by describing genuine wisdom as pure, even giving purity a position of first importance. We might think of purity in terms of chastity where we are fully and exclusively devoted to God. Everything about us is sacred, set apart as holy to our God. That’s how wisdom operates from the perspective of the fear of the Lord. Purity contrasts with what is defiled.
From the starting point of purity the operating system of wisdom works itself out in all the fruit of saving faith forged by the Spirit of God and founded in the person of Christ. Gentleness serves well as a trait of the tongue. Listen to how Paul uses gentle as a governor to our speech: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).
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Priming the Pump for Revelation

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it (Revelation 1:3, NKJV).
There seems to be an uptick in preaching through the book of Revelation. And not just messages on the letters to the seven churches or selected passages, but series that work through the entire book.
This is a healthy and necessary thing for Christ’s church.
Revelation can present a challenge with its strange imagery and confusing structure. Plus, there are so many different approaches to understanding the book. It’s much easier to stick with a Gospel or an epistle.
But in Revelation our Lord gives His church a perspective unmatched by any other book of the Bible. It is uniquely presented to encourage and equip God’s people for the challenges they face in this period between Christ’s ascension and return.
Like the psalms, the book communicates in a way that informs the mind, excites the imagination, and stirs the soul. Vivid imagery opens wide believing eyes in awe and expectation, and stirs longing for the return of the Champion of God’s elect.
Revelation must be preached but for more than intrigue. It is far more than a key to understanding world events, although it gives categories that encompass those events. It conveys redemptive rhetoric rooted in the Kingdom of God and His Christ that offers strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
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Window on Wisdom

Wisdom that is consistent with genuine faith comes from God, looks at life from the perspective of God, lives life God’s way and serves God’s ends. Wisdom involves a Godward life. Like the flower that bends toward the light of the sun, so wisdom causes us to incline our faces to our God. 
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13, ESV)
I live about 20 minutes from Longwood Gardens, a sprawling botanical garden that covers over a thousand acres. Between the Terrace Restaurant and the Conservatory, there’s a lot of construction going on to improve and expand visitor experience. You can hear the roar of the heavy equipment moving the earth out of the way in service to the construction plans. They’ve got a big wall set up around the area to keep the public out and to allow the equipment its space to maneuver. In that wall, they have placed windows so that people can look in and see all that’s going on, and see the project as it takes shape.
That’s what James does in this text. He says our hearts are loud with the sound of activity. The construction crew of wisdom is at work, busy with the building project of our lives. James calls us over to the window to peer in. And what he calls our attention to is not just all the fascination of the heavy equipment rumbling around. He calls our attention to the manufacturer of the machinery, and tells us to take a careful look.

Domesticating the Tongue

The capacity of the tongue to trip up and to cause harm resides with each of us because we all have words at our disposal. Each word, improperly placed, can be an IED to a relationship and inflict serious injury to others, and bring dishonor to our Lord. This entire second take on the tongue (Jas. 3:1-12) is couched in the negative. James casts it as an incendiary device, a deadly poison, a restless evil, a world of unrighteousness.

No human being can tame the tongue. (James 3:8, ESV)
James has already touched on the topic of the tongue. In chapter one of his letter he urged us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). There we saw that our words are the weapon of choice in the hand of anger.
At the close of chapter one, James describes true religion in terms of bridling the tongue. The religious tongue is not one of lip-service that talks a good talk but the expression of true faith consecrated to Jesus Christ.
Now in chapter three James returns to the tongue, where he gives us a fuller picture of its power and potential. With this fuller picture comes a dire word of caution. It’s like those triangular warning signs on the back of tanker trucks: “DANGER! Highly Flammable.”
It’s curious how James broaches the subject: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
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Functional Faith

We don’t want to get the idea that justification (our standing as righteous in the sight of God) is by works, or by faith plus works. But we do want to get the idea that while we are saved by faith alone it is not by faith that is alone. Genuine, saving faith carries in it the seeds of new life in Christ, and they will bear fruit.

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26, ESV)
Like all good preachers, James provides his audience with examples to drive home his point. His point is “faith apart from works is dead” (v. 20). He brings to bear two figures of Old Testament history to illustrate.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (James 2:21–25)
In these two figures, James wants us to see a functional faith, a faith that shows itself in practical ways.
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Holiness is More Than Behaving Yourself

When we think of holiness, our first thought can’t be “I need to try harder to obey.” Rather, our first thought must be “I am set apart for God.” When we dwell upon that reality and all that means, the rest will follow as the tail follows the dog.
If we are going to take holiness seriously and see progress in our lives in the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit, the place to start is…

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2, NIV84)
We try so hard to be holy. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The pursuit of holiness is constituent of the Christian life (1 Thess. 4:1-8). God’s will is for our sanctification, wherein we die more and more unto sin and live increasingly unto righteousness. We are to be holy as He is holy, a calling expressed in terms of obedience and the conduct of our lives (1 Pet. 1:14-15).
Yet we regularly, often emphatically and even willfully fall flat on our faces, plunging back into the dissipation from which God rescued us, despite scriptural warning to the contrary (1 Pet. 4:1-3). The Spirit convicts us of our sin and, once again, we repent and confess our sin, claim forgiveness in Christ, and purpose with the Spirit’s help to try harder – all quite sincerely.
And on it goes. It’s reminiscent of the cycles in the book of Judges. We forget God, presume upon our position as His people, and give ourselves over to sin. From the bondage into which we have subjected ourselves, we cry out to God and He points us to His Deliverer, only for us to wander again.
What can we do? Simply try harder? God shows us a better way.
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Devotional Reading

I don’t read through the Bible for knowledge particularly, although I will come across something I hadn’t noticed before or perhaps had forgotten. I read devotionally, that is, devoutly in communion with the true and living God whose word it is, and devotedly to Him who has taken me for Himself. In reading, I am reminded, refreshed, nourished, and renewed in the grace and knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. 

Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. (Psalm 119:18, NKJV)
Today is December 31, my final day of reading through the Bible in a year*, something I’ve done for the bulk of my Christian life. There is a certain satisfaction to completing the course and a marked anticipation to beginning anew the daily reading of God’s Word.
As a pastor who preached weekly, much of my time in the Bible required a deep dive. Reading and praying over a text. Exploring the original languages. Consulting commentaries. Reflecting, refining, and relaying. In other words, preaching required rigorous study with an eye to communication.
My reading through the Bible in a year, however, is different. It’s devotional rather than didactic, personal rather than pastoral. My goal is not to study the text, although that happens as the Spirit opens my eyes to content, context, and connections. These observations may lead to teaching occasions.
But my goal in daily Bible reading is devotional. I meet with God to open His Word and I open my heart to receive it. I see His character and His hand as I read – His might, providence, love, wisdom, mercy worked out in His dealings with His people. Seeing that, I respond with a continuous sense of wonder, punctuated with words of praise or thanks or lament.
Sometimes the Spirit will arrest my reading and lead me to reflect on a passage or a word or a phrase.
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