Out of the Heart
(James 3, Matthew 12, Philippians 4)
Introduction: This weekend was graduation at my daughter's school. I attended the services and then helped move my daughter out of the dormitory. A critical part of the move was a wonderful Dodge mini-van that I bought several years ago for $700.00 (US). I love that van mostly because I paid so little for it. At graduation I noticed another parent who owned the latest model BMW 7 series. I complimented this parent on his beautiful BMW. Later, when I had filled my van with my daughter's "stuff," and was getting ready to drive away, it turned out the "BMW parent" was right there. My first impulse was to shuffle my feet for a little bit so that he would not see me with my old van. Why did my heart not want the "BMW parent" to see the "$700 van parent?" Let's dive into our lesson and learn more about our hearts!
- Disordered Heart
- Read James 3:13-16. What does James say causes disorder and evil practices in our life? (Envy and selfish ambition)
- Envy and selfish ambition are attitudes. Why do attitudes affect our actions? (James tells us that these attitudes cause disorder and evil practices. We will explore in more detail the link between attitudes and actions later.)
- What do you think is meant by "selfish ambition?" (It seems to mean wanting to put yourself ahead of others, or putting your group ("party spirit") ahead of others.)
- Have you seen anyone in your church (v.14) boast about their party spirit? (How about "Our group is better than your group?" "We are more pure, more honest, more careful about obeying God.")
- In my story about not wanting the"BMW parent" to identify me with my $700 mini-van, what attitude was reflected in my heart? (It is hard to judge my own heart. I was not unhappy that he owned the new BMW, I was concerned that he would think I was unworthy. However, I note that I felt a little better when I noticed that the dealer identification on the car showed he was not the first owner.)
- Was my attitude one of "selfish ambition?" (At a minimum, it shows a false attitude about life. I thought he was "worthy" because he had an expensive car and I was unworthy because of my old van.)
- Look again at James 3:13. What does James say should be the basis for deciding who is "worthy?" (James tells us that our wisdom and understanding should be reflected in a "good life" and "by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.")
- How about you? Do you determine worth based on money or on good deeds?
- Let's test you. Assume you are going to hire a lawyer. One lawyer has a new car, a nice office and wears expensive suits. The other lawyer has a run down office, drives a $700 van and wears worn out clothing. Which one will you choose to represent you? (Oh, the issue is not so simple, is it! You might correctly decide that a competent lawyer earns more money than an incompetent lawyer. Since I was not looking to be hired by the "BMW parent," my attitude about being seen with my $700 van was simply wrong.)
- Should you judge a Bible teacher by what kind of car the teacher drives? Is this like choosing a lawyer?(Part of my heart wants to report my Mercedes was sitting five cars away in the dormitory parking lot - just in case you say, "This guy drives a $700 mini-van? Why should I think he knows anything? Why listen to him?" James 3:15 tells us that when we make these decisions based on "things" as opposed to "good deeds" we are using the devil's wisdom.)
- Revealed Heart
- Read Matthew 12:33-35. Recall that I said it is hard for me to judge my own heart. On what basis does Jesus say that we can reliably judge our hearts? (Verse 34 says that what is in our heart flows out in our words.)
- Remember earlier I asked about why our attitudes affect our actions? What reason does Jesus give for our attitudes shaping our actions?
- Have you heard the saying "Actions speak louder than words?" Is Jesus' teaching just the opposite? (Verse 33 states Jesus' point very broadly. It refers to good "fruit" coming from a good tree. Both actions and words reflect what is in a person's heart.)
- Read Matthew 12:36-37. How important are our words?
- Should we be careful to watch our words since Jesus appears to say they are the basis for the judgment? (Your blood and your urine will likely reflect anything that is wrong with your body. However, no doctor would say, "You need to be very careful about maintaining the condition of your blood and your urine." That is because the blood and the urine are merely predictors of what is going on in the body. You cannot "fix" the body by changing the blood and urine. You address the problem by fixing the body instead of the blood. Fixing our words does not fix our heart.)
- What is a "careless" word? Strong's tells us the Greek word translated "careless" means "inactive, lazy, useless." The Dictionary of Bible languages adds "without thought, ineffective, indifferent." What kind of words are these? Give me examples. (The context would seem to tell us that when we use words and do not consider the evil effect they have, we violate this teaching against "meaningless" words. I have certainly heard prayers that were "useless." At graduation last year, I heard a prayer in which the speaker mentioned the level of oil production in his home country!)
- Let's go back to James. Read James 3:9-11. What is the answer to the question posed in verse 11? ( James 3:12 tells us the answer is "no.")
- We just decided that our words reflect what is in our heart. Here James says both good and bad words can come out of the same heart. How can that be? How can you reconcile what James says here with what Jesus said in Matthew 12:33-34? (I think James' point is that the "praise" that comes out of a mouth that also says evil things is not honest praise.)
- Protected Heart
- Read Proverbs 4:23. What is a "wellspring?" (It is the source of the spring. The starting point.)
- How is your heart the "source" or "starting point" of your life? (This is a slightly different repetition of what we learned earlier: our heart is the source of what we do and what we say.)
- Since we are concerned about what we do and what we say, how should we "guard" our heart?
- Read Philippians 4:8-9. We decided that the words and deeds we do reflect what is in our heart. What is Paul's prescription for guarding our heart? (Paul instructs us to concentrate on the good, noble and beautiful things of life. He suggests that we put in practice the teachings of the Bible. Focusing our mind on the good, reinforcing positive thoughts with good deeds, protects and strengthens the right impulses of the heart.)
- Friend, how is your heart? Is it filled with envy and strife? Do your words reveal "heart problems?" If so, why not repent, ask God to change your heart, and then determine to protect it in the future by keeping focused on the right things in life. Protect your heart by doing those things that reinforce right thoughts.
- Next week: Selfless Service.