Pastor Terry Tatum
Many times in church world we go a mile wide, reaching all kinds of people, but we only go an inch deep as far as actual teaching. With our current sermon and study series, How to Live, our goal is to go a mile wide AND a mile deep, to help as many people as we can go deep into God’s word.
How to Live is a church-wide study of the letter of James. The way this is set up will allow you to go deeper into God’s word by reading Scripture several days each week, hearing a sermon on Sunday based on the Scriptures you have just read, and furthering your knowledge through a weekly in-person or virtual Bible study (also available as a podcast). All of this information is available on the Grow page of our website.
Today we’re discussing how to live with others, specifically others inside the fellowship of believers. That’s right, how to deal with “church people.”
Let me start with a question: How many of you know a difficult person? How many of you are sitting by a difficult person? Don’t answer that out loud!
All kidding aside I believe being able to deal with people is one of the most important skills someone can learn. For me, I learned these skills while working for almost 20 years with about 50 truck drivers. Yes, the language and attitudes got a little rough sometimes.
Now being on a church staff for more than six years I can honestly tell you that dealing with people in church world isn’t that much different, minus the foul language. People are people, we come in all shapes and sizes, with all different types of personalities.
Some people see the glass is half full, others see it as half empty. But you know what? Every person in the world, no matter where they’re from, what they’ve done, or how they act can accept the love and forgiveness found only in Jesus Christ. And many of them have as evidenced by the more than 2.9 billion Christians in the world today (almost 30 percent of the world’s population).
And guess what, a lot of them aren’t the easiest people to be around … Can I get an amen? That’s where I would like to focus today: How to live with people, inside the fellowship.
In his letter, Jesus’ half-brother James shared many guiding principles of how to treat others, specifically how we are to live with fellow Christians.
How do we live with others inside the fellowship?
1) Listen to them
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)
Before we get too far into today’s teaching let’s take a quick look back at the beginning of James’ letter. In verse 1 he writes: James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…
All three of our passages today start off the same way, with James specifically calling out his brothers (and sisters) in the faith. In case you weren’t clear, He’s talking about us!
James says that “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”
Not just some of us, not someone else, but everyone.
How many times has someone walked up to you and before a single word came out of their mouth you knew what they were going to say?
For me, many times this happens right here on Sunday mornings. A lot of the time I’m right in my assumptions but most of the time I’m not. I constantly have to remind myself to be quick to listen. You see until we know for sure what the other person is saying, it’s foolish for us to do anything other than listen, I mean really listen.
And when we take the time to listen and hear what they are saying we don’t always have to be quick to speak. Remember what we just read? Be slow to speak. I don’t know about you but when I calm down and listen to someone and take the time to think about my answer before I speak, I’m generally pretty slow to become angry.
Think about it, all of this works together. When we are hotheaded, we often are unable to listen to what’s being said and in turn we respond poorly. As a matter of fact, when someone comes to me and asks me to pray for a difficult encounter with someone coming up, I usually pray more for God to let them know what not to say rather than what to say.
I’ve shared many stories about the experiences my wife Carrie and I have had with Lynn Haven UMC’s Small Group ministry. I have learned a lot from those groups but one of the most valuable lessons was how to listen to people. In a small group you come together with people who are likely different from you, who come from different places and backgrounds than you. To get to know them you have to slow down and listen. Sometimes we didn’t always get along but I’m thankful we listened to each other and now we have lasting friendships because of it.
To do what God wants you to do you have to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… I learned how to listen in a small group, and maybe being part of a small group would help you develop that skill also. You can get more information about small groups by visiting our Groups page or emailing Mindy@mylhumc.net.
The bottom line is when you are slow to listen and quick to speak, you do become angry more quickly. And James makes it clear that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20 NIV) The way to avoid all of this and live with others the way God wants us to is to LISTEN to others and really hear what they have to say.
2) Don’t JUDGE them.
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 NIV)
That one is sure hit close to home doesn’t it? Someone told me recently that when I read James I should wear steel-toed boots because James will step on my toes … I think they were right.
How many times do we say things like, “I can’t believe fill in the blank with the name of a fellow church member did that?” How many times do we think poorly of someone because of something we “heard” they did?
It’s common place in our world today to judge others, but God’s word clearly tells us not to: [Brothers and sisters], do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When we judge others, we are directly going against what the Bible tells us to do.
In my life I see a whole lot of things that to me are just crazy. But you know what? The only thing I have control of is me. No matter what I think, or how important and right I think I am, I can only control me.
This is important for me to remember because I have a 17-year-old son, Timmy. Timmy gave his life to Christ as a 10-year-old and I have all the confidence in the world that he is going to be a good Christian man someday. But to be honest, some of his daily decisions make me shake my head. It’s hard for me as a parent to not judge him, but that is what God’s word tells me to do.
Or how about this, you see someone on the side of the road with a sign asking for food. Do they really need food? Do they just want money? Why don’t they just get a job? The answer is, I don’t know, and you don’t either. We don’t know what has happened in their life that led them to where they are now. Maybe they lost a job, which led to marital struggles, which led to divorce, then substance abuse, then to standing on the side of the road begging for food. We just don’t know what led a person to that exact moment, and it’s not our job to judge.
In the United Methodist Church for years there has been a debate regarding the authority of Scripture. One side feels very passionately one way and the other side feels just as passionately the other way. It is a complete mess, but you know what isn’t a mess? How my fellow pastors treat each other in a time of need.
Over the past few years it seems like there is just one major event after another, and every time we have been affected it never fails, another UMC pastor will reach out to see if we need help.
This past week Pastor Craig reached out to several churches in the Mobile and Pensacola areas who were affected by Hurricane Sally. He didn’t ask any of them where they stood theologically, he just offered our help.
Right after Hurricane Michael I was bombarded with phone calls from fellow pastors and friends of friends that just want to help and none of them ever asked, “Hey, how do you feel about this passage of Scripture?”
You see even though we view certain spiritual things differently we are still brothers and sisters in Christ trying to do the right thing. The bottom line is, we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart, but God does and he clearly tells us: There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12 NIV)
So rather than judge someone, how about trying to live out our final point in today’s message:
3) Help them
Living with others, especially other believers, is a process. We have to LISTEN to them (truly listen), we need to AVOID JUDGING them (God is responsible for that), and finally, I believe our obligation to our other brothers and sisters in Christ is to HELP them.
My [brothers and sisters], if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Do you remember when I mentioned steel-toed shoes earlier? Yeah, it was for this passage.
“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back.” It doesn’t say that you should do this only if you like them. It doesn’t say you should do this only if you agree with them. It says “someone should bring him back.”
In each of the Scriptures we have discussed James begins by clarifying who is speaking to, his “brothers.” And that includes sisters as well. Clearly James is talking to us. It doesn’t matter if we lived in ancient Israel or not, he is writing to help Christian brothers and sisters live more holy lives. He is very clear that if one of us wanders from the truth, someone should bring that person back.
Why should we do that, other than the fact that God’s word tells us to? Because “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” You see, you and I have power given to us by God almighty. We may not be the one who saves people, but we know who can. We can tap into God’s power anytime we want and lovingly bring someone back to him.
I hate to say this but I’m a proud man, and not in a good way. I have to work hard not to give into that pride. But I have been humbled many times by helping people in need. Because of your generosity we are able to regularly help people in need in Bay County. We are able to give thousands of pounds of food away our Mobile Food Pantry events.
If you ever want to be blessed, volunteer sometime and listen to the people’s stories. It will amaze you. Some of our clients are former business owners, some have had very good jobs, some have just had life happen to them.
But you know what? God didn’t call me to hit those folks over the head with my Bible, he called me to LISTEN to them and NOT TO JUDGE them and then do my best to HELP them. And you, too!
Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are perfect and have it all figured out. It just means deep down inside we know who does have it all figured out. So, whether you are the person who needs help learning how to live with others, or you’re the one someone is trying to learn how to live with, the answer to your problems can be found in the same place… Scripture.
I hope I’ve explained this clearly enough for all of you, that’s always my goal. But I want to leave you with one final question: What are you going to do about it?