Proverbs 3:3-8

James 1:1-12

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”[1] 

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[2]

These are the words of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We need to hear Dr. King’s words today.  We need men like Dr. King today.  We need people with the singular mindset that Dr. King embodied in thoughts, words, and actions of peace dedicated to the proposition that all of us are created in the image of God and therefore are equals in all regard.  This past week, we have been witnesses, again, to dramatic violence across the country.  The violence from the first death in Minneapolis to the latest in other cities has been wrought by people who believe they have the right to inflict violence upon one another for no good reason at all or for reasons they may think as noble.  Those who initiated such violence and those who perpetuate it lack the single mindedness of Dr. King.  They who are violent are doubleminded people.  They who do violence are confused believing brute force is an instrument of justice and a weapon of peace.

At the heart of it all, this doublemindedness, particularly expressed through violence, is godlessness. Doublemindedness is an assumption that we understand the world better than does God and, therefore, God is rejected. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor.  That is a rejection of God.  God’s word from Proverbs today said to us, “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).  God is saying even when your heart is pounding within you with strong emotions to set the world right as you see it, do not yield to those emotions.  Instead, trust in God.  Follow His ways through the chaos, pain, and confusion.  When we go our own way, we necessarily have rejected God in favor of our own understanding.  We are doubleminded when we choose to make our own mind to be different from God’s mind. Instead of seeking to conforming our mind to His and become one with His, we seek our own ways.

Our New Testament reading today comes from James, the brother of Jesus, a man who was once doubleminded.  At one time, James did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.  In fact, in Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Mark we learn that James chose to believe that Jesus was delusional, out of his own mind.  James believed Jesus was mentally or emotionally disturbed in some manner. So, James, along with his other brothers and their mother Mary, sought to take Jesus into custody for Jesus’ own good. James was rejecting Jesus and Jesus’ claims and teachings.  Then one day, Jesus was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb.  James thought the life of his troubled brother was over. But then James was shocked into a new reality.  James encountered the resurrected Jesus and James believed.  James lay aside his doubleminded nature and became single minded. James believed in Jesus completely, and became a strong advocate for the Gospel message.  So, James knows what he is talking about when he speaks of being doubleminded and single minded.  To the person who is doubleminded, James said they are “unstable in all they do” (James 1:9).

            We can learn much from James’ experience for living life in the current days amid COVID-19, the offenses of the Minneapolis police officers, the rioting, and the chaos.  James began sharing his experience through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with these words from Chapter 1, verse 2.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).  James started his conversation in a difficult spot calling his readers to see trials, unwelcomed and unexpected hardships, as a joyful experience.  James’ words seem absurd and cannot be lived out in our own thinking.  None of us natural welcome trails and ordeals of life as an opportunity for joy.  Our own thinking is that we will do most anything to live pain free.  Consider the example of a headache.  We do not want to experience that pain, so we take Tylenol or Advil to make the pain go away.  If we encounter some who tries our patience by being argumentative, so we stop talking to them.  We make the pain go away.  Avoidance of pain and trails and difficulties is the nature of our culture and we do not call even the easiest of trials a joyful experience.  James’ point though is that trials, rather than being something to avoid are to be embraced not for having them, but for the change they will make within us.  James saw the trails of his brother Jesus, including rejection, humiliation, betrayal, desertion, flogging, and crucifixion.  And through all these trials, Jesus remained single minded and steadfast in the will of God and Jesus experienced the joy of union with His Father.  Jesus’ union with God, that single mindedness, introduced hope into each hardship and difficult experience. James was saying that the joy found in embracing trials of life is that in the process of going through them, we are brought closer to God and come more like Jesus.  Coming closer to God colors our life with hope even into the darkest of moments.  If we truly desire to be more like Jesus, then suffering and trials cannot be avoided because they are the undesired but necessary part of shaping us into the image of Christ.

            Let me share with you a power illustration of this type of thinking. The other day, my wife and I watched an episode of Family Feud with host Steve Harvey.  On the show that day was a contestant named Wesley Hamilton.  Wesley was confined to a wheelchair.  In a brief conversation between Wesley and Mr. Harvey, Wesley commented about being in a wheelchair.  He began paralyzed from the waist down after being shot.  Wesley said that he had the occasion to meet the man who had shot him resulting in Wesley’s inability to walk.  Wesley said in his conversation with this man, Wesley thanked the man.  Mr. Harvey was taken aback and said, “Why would you thank the man who shot you?” Wesley’s reply was, “Unless I had been shot, I would not be the man I have become.”  Pause and let that sink in for a moment.  The continuing trial of having been shot and now paralyzed, opened doors to Wesley’s life that would have remained closed if not for being shot. The most notable door opened to him was the power of forgiveness.  Wesley had chosen to embrace his difficulties with joy for the single mindedness he was now experiencing.  I think everyone would agree Wesley’s thinking is not natural.  Some would say his thinking is delusional, but James would say Wesley’s thinking is supernatural and colored with hope.

            Wesley discovered that the wisdom from God, wisdom, the mind of God, is necessary to make it through trying experiences.  James continued in his letter and said, “If any of you lacks wisdom [on how to get through such trials], you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:5-8).  We can only get through the trials of life by choosing to bring our situation to God and ask for His wisdom, that is to have the mind of God, so that we can proceeding through our trials.  If we try to go through difficulties on our own, then we are but a piece of driftwood upon the ocean that is tossed and blown about by the wind and waves.  Without God’s wisdom we would be a person who is perpetually restless and wandering from event to event seeking relief from our discomfort, often in self-destructive ways.  Without God’s wisdom, we would be a person who allows themselves to be driven by forces other than the Holy Spirit.  Without God’s wisdom, we would be that person who cannot maintain a direction in life and towards life.  This is what it means to be doubleminded.

            James continued and brought in some additional contrasts between single minded people with the wisdom of God and those who are doubleminded.  James wrote in verse 9, “Believers [those who claim Christ] in humble circumstances [meaning those going through trials] ought to take pride in their high position [the elevation of your life to being brought closer to Jesus].  But the rich [non-believer focused on the world] should take pride in their humiliation [their future without God] — since they will pass away like a wildflower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.  [But] Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”  (James 1:9-12).  James was drawing a contrast that pursuing God in amid difficulties with a single-minded determination leads to perseverance and preservation of your spirit and to life.  But being doubleminded and separated from God leads to humiliation, withering, fading, and eventually destruction.  James concluded with the words, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”  (James 1:12).  James’ language makes clear that perseverance in a trial leads to a reversal of circumstances.  Trials are expected to deplete our life.  James said trials, taken with the wisdom of God, does not deplete us but brings us the crown of life.  James’ language also makes us think about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus used the word “Blessed.”  Blessed here is an expression of happiness, almost a congratulatory expression.  In that vein, James was saying, “Congratulations is in order for the one who perseveres under trial because they have received life with the Lord.”  Listen to how James’ words of joy and reversal of trial find their origin in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Do you hear the congratulations in those words and the reversal of expected outcomes?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:5-10). Congratulations to those who follow God, for you shall be richly rewarded and the ordeal of your trials is reversed.

            How do we make all this fit into our lives today and the circumstances that confront us?  On the large scale of life, we are surrounded in an ocean of strong emotions each seeking to pull and push others to achieve their own purposes.  Those who inflict violence on others regardless of their motives have done so without seeking God.  They are like that driftwood upon the sea being tossed about by the strongest emotion they encounter.  We are free to join them and float along for the ride.  On a more intimate level, we are all experiencing personal trials and hardships.  You know the ones that are affecting you the most.  In many ways, those challenges of life can make us feel as powerless as driftwood upon the sea.  We might feel as though at this moment we are simply being blown along by the strongest force, the strongest personality, that is working against us.  We feel powerless because we are trying to experience this difficulty in our own strength, with our own mind.  We are free to do that and float along for the ride.

            But James said there is another way for believers. He said cast aside our doublemindedness because it will only lead to us being unstable in all we do.  Instead, take these hardships whether they are the circumstances of the nation or of our own personal life and expose them to the wisdom of God.  Go to God with honesty that we may present ourselves to God without fear of condemnation for what we have been thinking or experiencing.  Allow God to make His mind, his wisdom, known to you and see how through theses experiences He will make you more like his Son, Jesus.  Let God become your anchor in the stormy seas that surround you and hear and experience the congratulations He will send your way.  What James calls for is not delusional thinking, but it is supernatural thinking. Reverend King tried it and a nation moved.  Less than 24 hours before his death, Dr. King said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”  Dr. King was anchored to the wisdom of God and so was blessed and happy to know the love and light of God.  We too can know God and be equally blessed.  Amen and Amen.

[1] Struggle for Equality: Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.                 

[2]  Martin Luther King Jr. (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.