What Can We Learn from James and John?

As we continue our series on Ordinary People, we go back to the disciples. In Scripture, when they are listed, we see three groups of four. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are the first group. We have already looked at Peter and Andrew. Today, we look at the Sons of Thunder, James and John. In this dynamic duo, I want you to see four qualities or virtues they possess that we should all aspire to.

In Matthew 20, we see James and John’s mother ask Jesus if “these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right and the other on your left, in your kingdom” (v. 21). This was not the first time the topic of greatness has been discussed. It was a question asked and answered in Matthew 18:4, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” We see it again in Mark 9 and 10, and it continues all the way to the Last Supper in Luke 22. In Luke 9:46 an argument started among the disciples about who was the greatest of them. Jesus once again referenced a little child and then said, “For whoever is least among you—this one is great” (v. 47-48). Jesus did not put the disciples down for their desire to be great. He did the very opposite. Whoever wants to be great must humble themselves and become as a child. There is a difference between being childlike and acting childish! True greatness is when you realize your God-given potential, stop living a self-serving life, and serve God and others. Do you want to be great in the Kingdom of God?

In Luke 9, Jesus was not welcomed in a particular village. “When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’” (v. 54). James was a man of passion, fervor, dedication, enthusiasm, and commitment. He was intense. Have you ever met a person who is wound tight? That was James! Zeal is a virtue. You can’t be successful without it. Leaders like Nehemiah and John the Baptist had this virtue. But zeal without wisdom will get you in trouble. If you open your mouth without thinking, you will live to regret it. There is so much to say about James on this topic that I don’t have the space for here. But, in Acts 12, we see the impact his zeal had. King Herod executed him. This is the only time you see James mentioned without John. When Herod wanted to attack the church, he went for James. He only arrested Peter when he saw that killing James pleased the people. What does that tell us? James was viewed as the greater threat. Why? Because of his zeal. James became the first martyr of the disciples and his is the only death of an apostle recorded in Scripture.

John was not meek and mild. He was a son of thunder! He is a defender of truth. John wrote the gospel of John, First, Second, and Third John, and Revelation. He used the word truth 25 times in his gospel and another 20 times in the epistles. That’s 45 times! The kingdom of God needs people today who are zealous for the truth. The only time John’s name appears alone in the gospels his when his zeal got him in trouble. In Mark 9 and Luke 9:49 John responded, “’Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.’ ‘Don’t stop him,’ Jesus told him, ‘because whoever is not against you is for you.’” John is eyewitness to a miracle, but he is not happy about it because the man was not part of John’s group. John was sounding more like a Pharisee than a disciple! There are good and necessary distinctions in life: good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and hell, truth and error. Some things we should draw clear lines on and defend. But the problem is when within the church, those who know Jesus as Lord and Savior divide over “well they are not with us on every other issue.” Jesus calls for a spirit of cooperation within the church. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Ephesians 4:15 says we are to “speak the truth in love.”

“The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Truth must be governed by love and love must be governed by truth. John got in trouble when he had zeal and passion that was not balanced by love. We all know good people who are zealous for truth, but they show no love whatsoever. Some people have a sentimental love that is void of truth. Both extremes are wrong. (We need to look close in the mirror of God’s word and make sure that is not us.) John learned the lesson. John used the word truth 45 times, but he would go on to use the world love 85 times. His message was that God is love and that we are to love one another. Zeal for truth must be balanced by love for people. Truth and love are perfectly balanced in Jesus. God is love. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Jesus is full of grace and truth.

How is your desire for greatness, zeal, truth, and love?

Works Consulted:
The Master’s Men by MacArthur.
Luke Christ-Centered Exposition by Anyabwile
Turning Mountains into Molehills by Wiersbe
Women of the Bible by Spangler and Syswerda
Woman of Character by Kimbrough

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