Neither Can Salt Water Produce Fresh!
By Raymond D. Sopp
James 2:8-13: "If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,' also said, ‘Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." And James 3:9-12: "With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh."
Wow! What a sobering few verses we have from the book of James! As I read the above few verses of Scripture, they reminded me of the very high standard our Lord has set before us. Yet how easily all of us seem to suspend God's instruction in order to give preeminence to our flesh, while simultaneously not giving a second thought to the grave repercussions of disobedience. I could not help but feel a bit humbled as I considered my own Christian walk in light of the above Scriptures. How is it that we can read such verses in James about our relationship toward mankind one moment, and in the very next, act so contentious – so irreconcilable – so capricious in our relationships toward one another? Perhaps that's why James was also inspired by the Holy Spirit to write in James 1:23-24, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was."
I know for me, I desperately want to be a doer of God's Word and not just a forgetful hearer. I want to look INTENSELY into the mirror of God's Word for the image of my Father in heaven so as His child I can accurately project my Father's image to the lost and dying world which surrounds me every day. And once I found His image, I want to be sure that I will retain His image within my heart by being a doer of His Word. I also believe in their heart of hearts, most born-again Christians want the same. Therefore, let's take a closer look at these verses which deal with our relationship toward one another. But this time, with God's help, let us not forget what kind of person we are suppose to be and firmly set our hearts to be a doer of His Word and not just a hearer.
James 2:8-13: "If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well." How often do we personally miss the mark (sin) and yet so effortlessly judge ourselves to be basically good. And how exceedingly willing we are to show mercy toward ourselves and be reconciled to ourselves. But you may say, "But brother, in this we have NO leeway! Do you expect us to separate ourselves from ourselves?" Well, I guess that does sound kind of dumb! After all, can we damage a part of our own body (emotional or physical) without feeling the pain? Nevertheless, as dumb as that may sound, we are doing just that every day, inasmuch as, the body (Church) is one in Christ, even as a husband and wife are one in marriage. Every day we inflict damage and hurt through disparaging remarks and/or harsh words of condemnation. Every day we see husbands, wives, and church members become hard hearted, merciless, and irreconcilable toward one another and then so easily and capriciously separate. Yes, we would do very well indeed if we would remember that both a husband and wife, and the members of Christ's Body are one and say, "But brother, in this we have NO leeway! Do you expect us to separate ourselves from ourselves?"
James wrote, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." What an astonishing statement! You mean a person who has been diligent in his Christian walk all his life, yet misses the mark (sin) just once, needs the same measure of mercy from our Lord as a criminal? Yes, as astonishing as that may sound, it is true! This is a very important point to remember as it will keep us humble in heart, and thereby, keep us from setting ourselves up as judges. James 4:11-12: "Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?" Once again, as for me, I just want to be a doer!
Becoming a judge and not a doer of the law is a very grievous trap that the religious community is always falling into; therefore, let's guard our hearts from such evil thoughts least we find ourselves disciplined (humbled) by our Lord. Luke 18:10-14 reads: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
So how are we to act!? We can again look back to the writings of James for the answer. James 2:12-13: "So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." Here we also see an unbreakable link as God is not mocked, what we sow, we will also reap. NO mercy shown! NO mercy given! Knowing this, would it not be wise for us to always remember to treat others as we wish to be treated, i.e., mercifully!? Therefore, it would be wise for us to view every merciless word of judgment we speak against someone as if we're actually speaking judgment upon ourselves! Hence, if we find ourselves ill-treated to the point of persecution without cause, it would be wise for us to say what Jesus said as He was being crucified, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." We must leave all judgment and vengeance in God's hands as He alone knows the heart. To you and me, it surely looks as if they knew exactly what they were doing as the crowds spit upon and mocked Jesus while they watched the Roman soldiers hammer the nails into His feet and hands. But again, that is exactly why we MUST leave ALL judgment and vengeance in God's hands!
There is yet another benefit to showing mercy toward our enemies and those who despitefully treat us. Matthew 7:1-5: "Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
Wow! Look at the beautiful thing that happens to us as we project God's heart of mercy toward mankind; the beam in our eye is removed so we can see clearly to take the speck out of our brother's eye. That's right! We become effective ministers of reconciliation, inasmuch as we can now see clearly enough to remove the speck! And as we become effective ministers of reconciliation, we gain a peace within our own hearts, which is of inestimable personal value. 1 John 4:17: "By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence (great peace) in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world."
1 John 4:10-11: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." This ministry of reconciliation was of such importance to God, He was willing to have His Son leave heaven and suffer the excruciating pain of the cross for a people, shall we say, somewhat less than lovable. To say that God went the extra mile for you and me is a huge understatement! God's overwhelming love for us simply could not bear the sorrow of broken fellowship and separation. Therefore, not willing to wait for mankind to come to Him, He reached out to a hardhearted, unloving, obstinate people seeking to restore the fellowship and the oneness He once had with Adam. In Genesis 3:9, you can almost hear the pain in God's voice as He called out to Adam, "Where are you!?" And now that the wall of separation (sin) has been torn down by the blood of God's very own Son, God continues to this very day to call out to mankind, "Where are you!?" And yet, to my dismay, due to their hard irreconcilable heart most will close their ears to God's continued call for His sons and daughters to come home. With His arms longingly outstretched, God yearns to enfold us once again within His loving embrace.
In 1 John 4:11, we were told, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." But do we!? Or are we displaying an image of God to the world which is judgmental, irreconcilable, easily offended, unmerciful, temperamental, touchy, moody, capricious, and/or easily angered as we allow God's desire for reconciliation, fellowship, and oneness to take a backseat to the insatiable cravings of our flesh? Is it any wonder that the world remains so confused when we speak of a God who loved us so much He gave His only Son to restore us unto Himself, while simultaneously we display an irreconcilable, unmerciful, even a capricious God by our actions. And then, if that was not enough, we further exasperate the world's confusion by saying we are born-again with God's Spirit! Even as our children will learn by what we do and not by what we say, so the world learns of God by what we do and not by what we say.
Hebrews 12:14-17: "Pursue peace with ALL men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears." If God was willing to leave heaven and literally be nailed to a cross to restore fellowship and oneness, is it too much for God to ask us to nail our fleshly emotions (cravings) to the cross in order to restore peace and fellowship? Therefore, I implore you! Don't be an immoral or godless person like Esau and sell your birthright as a minister of reconciliation in order to satisfy some insatiable emotion (craving) of your flesh. Unfortunately, as with God, no matter what we do, due to their hard irreconcilable heart, there will be those who will both ignore and have disdain for our continued call for reconciliation. Nevertheless, that will not get us off the hook, as it is written, we must pursue peace with all!
1 John 4:20: "If someone says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, CANNOT love God whom he has not seen." Here, the Apostle John totally abandons any pretense of trying to be subtle, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes a very bold sweeping statement. Without question, our horizontal relationship with one another has a direct impact on our vertical relationship with God! We could even go as far as to say that our relationship with one another is a direct reflection of our relationship with God! If we hold bitterness and unforgiveness within our heart toward mankind, who is made in the image of God, we remain in darkness. 1 John 2:9-10: "The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him." As severe as that may sound, this passage of Scripture could be of great benefit to us if we use it as an "early warning system" of our overall spiritual health, thereby, avoiding personal judgment and discipline. I paraphrase the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:31-32, "But if we judge ourselves rightly, we should not be judged and thereby avoid our Lord's discipline." That is, if we are willing to humbly accept the Holy Spirit's admonishment.
James 3:9-12: "With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way." Here James makes it clear that our relationship with mankind in general (not just within the church) is also a direct reflection of our relationship with God. When it becomes possible for salt water to produce fresh, a fig tree to produce olives, or a vine to produce figs, then and only then, will the possibility exist that we can both bless God and curse our fellow man or woman with the same tongue, i.e., heart. But you say, "Brother, salt water cannot produce fresh that would be impossible!" And you would be right! It is impossible! Yet we try to do just that every day!
Did you ever have a quarrel with your wife or husband and then walk into church with a smile, raising your hands toward heaven to praise God? Well, you can do that only when a fig tree produces olives! Was there ever a time when someone cut in front of you as you were driving to church? You then shook your fist at the other driver and just moments later walk into church with a smile, raising your hands toward heaven to praise God. Well, you can do that only when a vine produces figs! Was there ever a time you harbored unforgiveness and bitterness within your heart and simultaneously walk into church with a smile, raising your hands toward heaven to praise God? Well, you can do that only when salt water produces fresh!
But until then, may I humbly suggest that you go quickly to God's throne of grace in the spirit of repentance. In other words, be extremely quick to sow to the Holy Spirit and even quicker to crucify your flesh. As it is written in Galatians 6:7-10, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to ALL men, and ESPECIALLY to those who are of the household of the faith."
I realize this commentary has the potential to bring with it great conviction, as no one has achieved perfection. But we must NEVER allow our ever-present frailty and/or past deficiencies to mitigate our obligation to press into the very high calling of God. The day we stop growing in the virtues of God -- the day we give preeminence to our flesh over God's Word -- the day we give preeminence to cultural morality over God's Word -- the day we will no longer welcome instruction and admonishment from God's Word -- the day we no longer endure sound doctrine -- the day we treat God's Word as just a book of suggestions -- the day we give our reverence to the gifts and not the gift giver -- the day we treat God and His Word with such contempt and disregard, will be the day our faith died and became totally useless! James 2:19-20: "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is (dead) useless?"
Finally, I'll end with the words penned by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians as they so beautifully communicate what was in my heart as I wrote this commentary. Ephesians 4:1-6: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being DILIGENT to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
Father, help me to never become complacent with mediocrity in my spiritual walk. Help me place and keep Your Word as the apple of my eye. Help me to always maintain in my heart the same attitude the Apostle Paul had when he penned, Philippians 3:13-14, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." In Jesus' name – Amen!
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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