God’s Word for You
James 5:5-6 Broken butterfly wings
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, August 26, 2020
5 You have lived in luxury on the earth and in self-indulgence. You have fattened up your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Doesn’t James have a way with words? The wicked wealthy people that he has condemned have not turned their hearts to God, but instead they have fattened up their hearts like a man getting a chicken or a turkey ready for butchering. The day of slaughter isn’t necessarily the final judgment, but it really stands for Today, the day when God will call the sinner to account. This is the day (or night) Jesus meant when he said in the parable of the rich fool, “You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded of you” (Luke 12:20). Luxury and self-indulgence have been in their hearts exactly in the place where God is searching for faith. Remember the warning Jesus gave with a strange gesture toward the beginning of Holy Week? “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves” (Mark 11:13). Someone might argue, “But Mark says, ‘It was not the season for figs,’” but Jesus wasn’t just looking for figs. He was demonstrating that we might not think he will look for faith on this or that day, because we foolishly think “it isn’t the season for faith,” but is faith ever out of season? Shouldn’t we show our faith when we’re taking a walk, driving to work, making our lunch, practicing the piano, taking Karate lessons, doing the dishes, listening to a friend grumble about wearing a mask all day, and so on?
There is also a little echo of the gospel in that scene where Jesus goes rummaging through the fig tree for leaves. Sure, it wasn’t the season for figs. But Jesus still went looking. You and I might say, “Why bother?” But Jesus still looked. And so it will be with unbelievers when they stand in the judgment. The rest of us and even the holy angels might get a little bored with it all and say, “Why bother?” But only God knows what’s in our hearts. Only God knows whether that unbeliever suddenly came to faith, a tiny little spark of faith, in the moments before he died. Who knows but that when a person’s organs are shutting down, or the blood is running freely from a dying wound, whether something that their mother said many years before will suddenly take root: “Just trust in Jesus and you will be saved”? And Jesus says with his actions, “I’m going to go looking, even if everyone else gives up on you. I will never give up until I’m certain.” Any amount of faith saves, and so keep sharing your faith. Isaiah said: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). There will be no tiny wisp of faith that will go unnoticed.
6 You condemn; you murder the righteous person. He does not resist you.
Another condemnation of unrepentant, wicked wealthy people is their hatred. Hatred is as much a sin as murder (Matthew 5:21-22), but here the actions of the powerful sometimes claim actual lives.
We could apply this verse to the murder of Jesus by the Jews. Certainly, Jesus is “the righteous person” (Acts 3:14, 7:52). But Stephen fits this description, too, and other martyrs of the church. The world hates God’s people, as one early church father put it: “The world hates Christians even though it has suffered no evil from them, because they are opposed to its pleasures” (Diognetus 6:5). And in Revelation, the portion of the church that will fall away into unbelief especially despises the faithful few: “The woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus’ (Revelation 17:6).
And what does the righteous person do? James says that “He does not resist you.” Perhaps “He cannot withstand you” would also be a good translation. Not long ago I was out for a walk and found a butterfly, a lovely black swallowtail, with a broken wing. I wanted to help; I wanted to heal it. But I knew from experience that you must not touch a butterfly’s wings. Still, with a leaf and a small stick I maneuvered the wing back into place, hoping that the poor creature would be in less pain at the very least. She (?) couldn’t cry out, and she still couldn’t fly, but she could maneuver more easily through the grass into the underbrush. I hoped she would at least be a more difficult target for a hungry predator. But all the while I knew that the biggest danger was my own clumsiness. She “could not resist me.” If I had been after her lovely wings or if I had been a bird out for a snack, she would have been utterly helpless.
I saw her only as one of God’s creatures, gorgeous in the daytime but with wings like a perfect starlit night. How do we see one another, men and women, God’s holy children? Some of the people around us, even the worst of the wicked, are people who might yet have that flicker of faith. They are people whose souls matter to God and therefore they should matter to me too, and to you. They might laugh when I talk about Jesus, so isn’t it all the more important that I make the things I say about Jesus be the most important things of all? What if my poor words come into the mind of one of those wretched wicked wealthy people who have wandered far away from God their whole lives through? Don’t I want them to hear “Jesus died for you” when they are in terror over the guilt of their sins as death falls like an evening shadow? Since any amount of faith saves, like a broken piece of grass or a candle flame that’s so ‘out’ that the wick is smoking and the fire is gone, don’t I want to be careful with their souls? The Lord of Armies does not see them only as outrageous enemies while life lasts. Jesus goes rummaging as if through the leaves of a fig tree to find faith in their delicate, broken butterfly-wing souls, perhaps ugly to me, but so beautiful to God.
Share your faith. Let the cross be what you explain if you ever have a chance to explain yourself. Let Paul’s words help to guide you: “By all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
O love how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
For us, by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us he gave his dying breath.
For us he rose from death again;
For us he went on high to reign;
For us, he sent his Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer. (Christian Worship 371:1,5,6).
Pastor Timothy Smith