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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Looking and Being: A James 1:21-25 Devotional

James speaks throughout his epistle about faith and works. In James 1:21-25 he says the person who considers him or herself a Christian, but does not show it through actions deceives him or herself. He uses the image of looking at one’s reflection in a mirror to explain this. Let’s examine this closer.
James begins this passage with a command. He said in the middle of verses twenty-one, “receive the word implanted.” Each person from the moment they accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior receives His Holy Spirit who empowers the person to live with His power to avoid and overcome Satan and His temptations to sin. James said the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection can save every person’s soul from eternal death - separation from God forever. He strongly encourages believers to put aside every wicked and filthy action, thought, and word, those things that defile and dishonor a person.
What can cause a person to defile or dishonor him or herself as a Christian? When a person does, speaks, or thinks anything that is impure and contrary to righteousness, a righteousness that is defined by the character of God. Being undefiled, being a Christian, requires action. Satan constantly combats the Christian and each of us must actively go against him with the power Jesus Christ implants in us when we trust in Him. Combating Satan is not just speaking against him, but acting and speaking for God and living like Jesus lived while on earth. James meant this in verse twenty-two when he said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” If you do not turn away from the temptations Satan puts before you and intentionally do the things God would have you do, you may be reckoning wrongly that you received salvation through Jesus Christ. Alternatively, if you truly trust you are a Christian, you are not living out your faith. Of those people, God said He would spit them out of His mouth because they were neither hot nor cold (Revelation 3:16).
Being a Christian means actively and intentionally following God and becoming more Christlike. James compares a believer who just hears the Word of God, but does not act upon it to a person who looks in the mirror. That person sees his or her face and then forgets what he or she looks like upon leaving the mirror. It appears impossible to forget what one looks like and yet Christians do that, James said. What we find James says in verses twenty-four to be more than that though. Two words help us see he speaks of something deeper. The verb “gone away” comes from the Greek word aperchomai. This word means departing and following another one, someone not God. Did you hear that? When the person who looked in the mirror turned away from the mirror, he or she no longer followed God, but someone else – him or herself or someone else, but not God. The other word in this verse we should understand is “forgotten.” It comes from the Greek word hopoios and means to no longer care for or neglect. Putting these words together in this verse means that the person looks in the mirror (God’s Word) and recognizes him or herself as God’s child, but then turns away from the mirror and neglects or forgets God just to follow his or her own desires even by following another person. Following is active, not passive. It is more than mental assent.
James contrasts this forgetful person in verse twenty-five with the person who intently follows God. He said, “But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” At the beginning of this verse, James says, “The one who looks at the perfect law.” This metaphor contrasts with the person who looks in the mirror in verse twenty-four. This metaphor means to look carefully and inspect curiously so to become acquainted. It means to examine closely to study and know the word of God intending to follow and obey Him. A person, by continuing to gaze in the mirror, the word of God, grows closer to God and becomes more Christlike. That person, by looking at the perfect law, the law of God that needs nothing to be complete and perfect, grows toward perfection in Jesus Christ. That one lives by the law of liberty and is free from the power of sin and death. Temptations become less compelling as the person gets closer to perfection, which only comes through Christ.
Besides continuing to stay and look in the mirror, the word of God, the believer who does not forget his or her face in the mirror abides by the word. The first action of a believer is to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Savior. The second act is to stay in the word and not turn away from God. Keep growing in the image of Jesus Christ, not neglecting or forgetting God. Remain in Him. The third act is to abide in the perfect law. Abiding requires more than reading, meditating, and learning the word, but acting upon it, living it out in one’s life. These last two things are what James calls being an effectual doer of the word.
Do we have to do things to become Christians? No. Nothing we can ever do would be good enough to erase our sins from us and allow us to be in the presence of Holy God. Yet James says our faith, if genuine, will live out in visible ways our belief in Jesus Christ and the implantation of His Holy Spirit. Our lives will show in our actions and words we stay in the word - we do not turn away and forget God, but stay near to Him and reflect His glory in what we do and say. For that person, James says, “This man will be blessed in what he does.” God will bless the person who lives out his or her faith in Jesus Christ with righteous, just, and loving works. John affirms this teaching, too. John recorded in John 13:17 Jesus’ teaching His disciples about serving other people, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
Has your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior gone beyond the mental assent stage? Remember, demons believe that God is one and shudder (James 2:19). Even they know Jesus Christ is God’s Son and is the Savior. Are you shallow like the demons and just believe God exists? Or has your faith gone deeper and does it affect your life? Do you stay focused on God and His word? Do you take the word deeply into your being so your actions and words show those of Jesus Christ? Do your actions and words show the righteousness and love of God?
We each must get to the point in our walk with Jesus Christ where we do and become more than a person who assents God and His Son, Jesus Christ, exist. Our belief must show we are effectual doers of the Word and not only hearers who turn away and immediately forget the person we are – a child of God bought with the price of His Son’s blood so we can be sin free and live with Him forever. Are you there yet? Are you a doer and not just a hearer? I urge you to take the time now to recommit your life to God and give more than mental assent. God waits for you.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Religion and True Worship: A James 1:26-27 Devotional



“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:26-27 [NASB])

James spent the entirety of his epistle teaching and reminding Jerusalem Christians and later Christians that faith without works was dead. Works for James included actions and words, just as he expressed in this passage with regards to bridling the tongue and visiting the orphans and widows..
In these two verses, James spoke about both actions and words. He equated the Christians’ religion to his or her words and actions. Religion, as James spoke about and as the world considers it, are two different things. Religion, no matter the faith system, always requires the worshipper to perform acts to prove the person’s faith and obedience, acts such as sacrifices, good works, and attendance at places of worship. Each of these must be visible for the person to be considered religious.
The difference between the Christian faith and other faith systems is that a person does not become a Christian by doing these things - actions, whereas in the other faiths they hope to attain to true faith and gain forgiveness and life after death by these things. Christians act and speak in obedience to God because of their love and gratitude to Him for saving them from their sins and giving them abundant and eternal life.
For James, being a religious person meant fearing and worshipping God with awe. Obedience to God and His laws comes from this awe and love of God. Therefore, when a person’s actions or words are not what God calls holy, pure, and undefiled, the person must question whether he or she is truly a Christian. If the person determines his or her faith is genuine, then he or she must adjust his or her life – actions, words, and thoughts – to reflect his or her faith in Jesus Christ. The ability to adjust one’s life so that it reflects the new life Jesus Christ gave the believer comes through the power of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus gave each person when he or she became a believer.
When James said, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart,” he meant living out the new life Jesus gave them because of His conquering sin and death. James meant the faith the person’s mind assented to did not affect his or her words. That person’s unbridled tongue showed he or she was not renewed in all way by Jesus. His or her tongue showed he or she was deceived in his or her heart. A person who finds this to be so must grow to become more like Christ. Jesus spoke about this when He said in Matthew 15:11, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” A person cannot truly worship God when he or she allows his or her old, sinful person to lead his or her life. That person’s tongue deceives his or her heart, the heart that thought it was worshipping God. When that occurs, the person’s worship is worthless. Something came between God and the person – sin and the old way of living.
James said worship of God only occurs when it is pure and undefiled. Pure and undefiled worship means the person is free from sin, guilt, falseness, insincerity, and anything that defiles the person and God. To be able to worship God this way, a person must be clean before God. That means a person must live a godly, Christ-filled life. Now none of us is perfect and we all sin; therefore, when we go to worship the Lord, we must begin with confession and genuine repentance of our sins so that God may cleanse us from our sin and guilt. Only then will we be clean enough to worship before God. That is what the word “religious” means for Christians. A religious Christian person is one who strives to walk daily with God becoming more like Christ, who obeys God in action, word, and thought so that his or her love for Him is evident, and who confesses and repents of sins so that true worship of the Lord can occur. The Christian faith is different in this way. We obey Him because of love for Him and what He did for us. Add that with reverential fear and true Christian faith is real and evident to others.
When worship of God affects our daily lives in ways that affect our words, thoughts, and actions, then we can say we are truly worshipping God.





Monday, September 21, 2015

Do Not Be Deceived: A James 1:16 Devotional

Let's consider today what James spoke about in James 1:16. He said, "Do not be deceived my beloved brethren."

Of what did he refer? Was it other teachings? Was it righteous indignation? Was it gifts? Was it testings versus temptation? Was it their salvation?

James spoke on each of these things in chapter 1. Verse 16 comes in the middle of the chapter and seems to be the axis upon which the teachings of this chapter surround.

Let's look at one of them

Do not be deceived by other people who say they are believers but then tell you things contrary to what you were taught and believe. When you became a believer in the gospel of salvation, Jesus Christ implanted in you His Holy Spirit. This word of truth will guide you to know truth from lies. As James said in verse 17, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

What you learned and had implanted in you by Jesus Christ is not something that changes with the situation. Truth is truth. Just as light is pure, so God is pure. He brings the light of truth and knowledge so we can discern His truth from lies and not fall prey to the teachings of other people. God does not change. What He says at one time is the same at other times. He is faithful to Himself and to us, unlike shadows which shift and move with the changing times and lights.

Do not be deceived, James said. Then he tells us how to stand firm, to endure and grow towards perfection. He said to ask God for wisdom in verse five to be able to endure your present trials. James spoke of this wisdom in verse seventeen when he said, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above." God gifts us with wisdom to withstand against trials and to come out from them stronger and closer to Christlikeness. In James 3:17, James defined wisdom as pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy.

We need wisdom to not be deceived. We need to rely upon God and His implanted Holy Spirit to endure and stand strong in our faith. To be able to stand firm, we must ask for and then put into action God's wisdom and we must ask without doubting.

Trials will come for all Christians, make no mistake about that. How we go through them determines if we grow more Christlike, toward perfection, or if we fall in the battle.


Do not be deceived. God is faithful to His children. 

Do not be deceived. God will give you strength and wisdom if you ask for them. Believe and act on what He gives you. 

Do not be deceived. God is the Father of light and has made you His child. He will not forsake you or leave you.

Friday, September 18, 2015

THE BOOK OF JAMES

Introduction

As we begin our study of the book of James, we need to understand whom the author of this book was, to whom he spoke, when he spoke, and the content of his message. The study of this book brings with it the question of its authorship. Scholars of the millennia pondered and studied over this. A few possibilities arose. Greater still than this question is what upon what James taught – faith.

Authorship

Over the centuries, Bible scholars pondered and debated over who the author of this book was. In James 1:1, the author identifies himself as James, yet there were several Christian men named James during the first century identified in the Bible. Some scholars proposed this James to be the son of Zebedee, Jesus’ disciple. Yet this James died by sword (Acts 12:1-2) between 41 and 44 AD which was before anyone wrote New Testament literature[1]. The other disciple named James, the son of Alphaeus, of him little is known. Mark mentioned him in Mark 15:40. Because biblical writers said so little about this James, scholars consider it unlikely he wrote the letter of James. James, the son of Alphaeus, would have felt the need to better identify himself with more than what he wrote in 1:1 if he was the letter writer since people knew so little about him.

The most likely candidate to be the teacher/speaker of this letter was the brother of Jesus, James the Just. Though he was not a follower of Jesus during His lifetime, he would have known Jesus and His teachings well. Jesus appeared to James, His brother, and the other apostles. Paul stated this in 1 Corinthians 15:7. From study of the Bible, readers know James, Jesus’ brother, stayed in Jerusalem while the twelve disciples traveled to tell the Gospel. This James became the leader of the Jerusalem church, sent out delegates (Galatians 2:12), presided over the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), and advised Paul about collections (Acts 21). He continued to lead the Jerusalem church until after Paul’s arrest in 57AD. We know this because the High Priest, Annas, arraigned James the Just on charges of breaking the law in 62 AD. For this charge, the judicial committee condemned him and had him stoned. Because of these facts, James the Just probably was the originator of these teachings to the church.

Dating

Since the original teacher of the book of James was just a carpenter’s son, he would not have received the education necessary to write this letter in the eloquent Greek in which scholars found it. He would have spoken Aramaic and Semitic Greek. Who then compiled and wrote the book of James? Scholars suspect an editor collected James’ teachings and improved the Greek to circulate it as a general letter[2]. The need for this arose most likely during and after the Jewish Revolt of 66-70AD. During the time of the Jewish Revolt, persecution occurred through Roman Rule - Nero and other Roman leaders - and through the struggle for control by the high priestly families. The Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and the Christians of the diaspora needed to hear again James’ messages of hope, living out faith, and the wicked do not inherit the kingdom of God. The original date of these speeches/sermons/teachings by James appears to be the mid-40s when significant economic need arose within Jerusalem. During that time severe famines occurred and the people of Jerusalem, being non-farmers, suffered most. One other factor attributes the dating of James’ sermons and teachings to pre-Pauline writings. James does not mention the Jerusalem council in his speeches. What occurred at the council was significant. If it had occurred before James’ teachings, he would have included it in his writings. Paul felt the councils decisions were significant and included them in his writings. Because of this, the dating of James’ teachings was before Paul’s epistles.

Historical Background

We read above James was the head of the church in Jerusalem. This church consisted of house churches, each led by an elder over whom James led. The members of the church met to worship and take part in the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps they continued to enjoy the Jewish festivals, too. The deacons of the church collected contributions and gave them to the poor.

Poor people comprised the members of the church. Peter David said these church members came from five groups of people – 1. People from outside Jerusalem who could not do their kind of work in the city because they were farmers, fishermen, etc; 2. Pilgrims from outside Jerusalem who did not return home; 3. People who went to Jerusalem to learn about Christianity; 4. Older people who went to die in Jerusalem; 4. People within Jerusalem who came upon difficult times due to the famines; and 5. Jewish bosses fired their employees because they were Christians[3]. Because the Jerusalem Christians were most often poor, James equated the poor as righteous and the rich as non-believers in his teachings.

During this time, Roman procurators were evil and took bribes. They despised Jews. Jewish zealots arose and attacked Romans and Roman sympathizers. This created animosity between Romans and Jews. Added to this, the high priestly families battled for control of their office. The Jews felt they did not have legitimate power and just the descendants of Zadok (descended from Aaron) should be high priests. While this occurred, higher priests oppressed lower priests. Battles occurred within the Jewish leadership and between them and the Romans. Besides these, the high priestly families oppressed the poor. This means that the members of the Christian church of Jerusalem experienced extreme hardship – food, safety, shelter, government, and religious persecution. The people of the church expected Jesus to return imminently and wondered why He had not yet returned. They might have felt disheartened about that, too.

Theme

The above-mentioned circumstances of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem help us understand why James emphasized a theology of suffering. The Christians of Jerusalem understood this emphasis because as Jews they had suffered at the hands of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and other nations. In their time, they suffered at the hands of Romans, zealot Jews, and the wealthier Jews. Suffering was not new to them. What James taught them consisted in how to live out a life of faith in action while suffering. James considered the suffering/trials an opportunity for a Christian to grow in virtue – endurance, patience, faith, and joy. He taught them to look to the future for their eventual and eternal hope in Christ Jesus, what many within society did not have because they were unbelievers. James, throughout his teachings, dealt with faith, testing, wisdom, poverty, wealth, virtues, actions, and words.

This book is set as short, exhortatory teachings. James used many imperatives. Biblical scholars call them paranetic teachings. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament, such as Proverbs, is similar to James’ style. The book of James is a book of moral and ethical teachings for those who trust in Jesus Christ. It balances life between the spiritual and physical; one’s spiritual life should impact one’s physical life through moral and ethical actions and words within society.

James spoke specifically to the Jewish Christian. The editor of his teachings addressed the book to every Christian of the diaspora. Upon reading and studying the book of James, one realizes it truly is a book for every Christian of the world, not just for the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, James’ original audience.

James 1:1-11

Identification of Writer and Greetings.

With verse one, the book of James introduced a broad greeting to Christians dispersed abroad. He said, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” [NASB] James identified himself as a bondservant. A bondservant was a person who chose to give up his or her will to another person. A bondservant served at the whim of another person. In this introduction, James gave up his rights to his will to serve Christ in advancing His cause – the Gospel - to every person he encountered. Little did he know that his greeting and serving Christ would reach people for almost 2000 years, people spread across the whole world, not just the Roman Empire. James might not have realized his teachings would reach people around the world, including Christians scattered and living among Gentiles outside Israel. What foresight the editor of James’ teachings had when he addressed this book to Christians of the diaspora.

Wisdom and Faith.

James’ first teaching in this book told Christians to “consider if all joy” when faced with trials (vs. 2). The Christians of Jerusalem faced many trials as noted in the earlier sections. They were poor, faced famine and hunger, and lived under the oppression of Roman and Jewish rulers. The Christians of Jerusalem encountered these and other trials yet James told them to consider all of it joy.

Why should the Christians count these trials as joyful? With verses three and four, James explained the answer. He said, “The testing of your faith produces endurance.” The Greek word used here for “knowing” is similar to the Hebrew word for “know.” The Greek word is ginosko[4]. It means to learn to know, to get knowledge of perceiving. This tells James’ listeners and readers that trials are not a once-off thing, but will continue to be with them. Get used to them and learn from them. Do not let them make you have a bad day and life. Instead, realize that this testing of your faith can teach you and produce endurance within you. This testing will prove and strengthen your faith. Luke also described endurance as “standing firm in faith” (Luke 21:19). As you come to know trials and that they will come against you, you become more prepared for them and they will not affect you as much. You will grow and learn to rely upon the strength of Jesus Christ given through His Holy Spirit. You can take heart from His example while He lived on earth. These can make you strong and endure. They can make you constant and have unswerving faith even in the greatest of trials. That is endurance, standing strong in the faith with the strength of Jesus Christ so you grow to perfection to mirror Christ.

James said this endurance would have a perfect result, so aim to grow strong in your faith. What is that perfect result? The perfect result is perfection and completion, lacking in nothing. The word “perfect” in this verse comes from the Greek word teleios[5]. It means wanting nothing to be complete, full grown, and mature. To be a full-grown Christian - a mature Christian, a person must go through trials and learn to stand strong and endure them with the strength Jesus gives. When the trials of life are over, God will find the person who stood strong to be perfect and complete through Jesus Christ. That person will be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Notice this maturity comes from applying one’s faith to one’s actions and words in life. You will come to understand James spoke on this theme of faith and defined it throughout his book. Faith requires action. Christians must live out their faith in witness to their testimonies, each person's assent to God that he or she is a believer. In that way, a person may be complete and perfect, found without blemish or defect, faultless. The salvation Jesus bought for each person, when lived out in the person’s life, will show his or her righteousness and wholeness/completeness through Christ. That person will shown no lack in anything. He or she will be sinless, blameless, and perfect/complete because of Jesus’ saving blood and the person’s enacting of his or her faith in daily life.

James continued this line of thought with verses five through eight. He said,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. [NASB]
James said that each Christian has resources available to help stand up to trials and temptations. He said each person who realizes they need help can ask for wisdom and God will give it generously and without reproach. The Greek word for “wisdom” is sophia[6]. It includes knowledge from intelligence, understanding, and logic. Later in James 3:17, James described the wisdom from heaven as being pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. With the wisdom from God, when a person knows he or she needs it to stand strong against trials, that person can acquire endurance and be perfect and complete. God does not leave His child to stand on his or her own, but offers His wisdom and strength upon that person’s asking. James said God would give generously and without reproach. He will not hold back anything, but give what is necessary for His child to be strong. God will not criticize or admonish a person for being weak. He will recognize that person’s admittance of weakness and reliance upon Him, give the wisdom the person needs to stand firm – stand with endurance, and grow into perfection and completion in Him. Jesus taught His followers to ask from God. He said in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” [NASB]

James said a person must ask in faith (vs. 6). For James, faith must be lived out in one’s life. If a person said they had faith, but it did not show in their actions and words, he questioned whether faith truly existed in the person (James 2:14-26). If a person did not ask with faith that meant the person did not trust God existed or that Jesus was the Messiah through whom people have salvation into God’s kingdom. A person with no faith would not receive wisdom because it requires faith in God to receive wisdom from God. Something cannot come from nothing. If you do not acknowledge God, then you cannot receive from God. If you are a true Christian, a person who believes God exists, created and rules the world, and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us through His death, then your faith would trust when you asked for wisdom from God. You would believe you received wisdom from Him and would act upon the wisdom He gave. That is faith. It does not doubt. Doubting means to be at variance within one’s self. The person would not trust him or herself to believe truly in something or someone. That doubting of self could make one hesitate and eventually drive one mad. Jesus taught about faith and doubt in Mathew 21:21-22 when he spoke of the mountain and the fig tree. In this verse, James said faith does not doubt. A person who doubts is tossed about like the surf of the sea or the wind. When that happens, things are not peaceful and a person does not receive peace. A person without faith is tossed about by every idea or teaching not knowing which to believe and never trusting any. Yet when he or she is faced with trials, he or she has nothing to draw on to combat the trials and stand strong, to survive. Matthew gave an example of this when he described Peter walking on the water to Jesus. Peter was okay until he saw the winds whipping the water, then he was afraid and doubted. For Peter, this trial helped him grow stronger in his faith in Jesus Christ. He became the rock upon which Christ built His church. Peter became a martyr for his faith in Jesus Christ. He could have failed with this trial and allowed his doubts to overwhelm him and pull him under the waves. Instead, Peter allowed the trials to make him stronger as he called out to Jesus and trusted in Him. Once again, James’ theme of “faith requires action” played out here.

James said about the doubting man in verse seven he should not expect he would receive anything from the Lord because he did not have faith. Faith is a gift from God, but for it to be faith for you, you must act upon the gift God gave you. Faith requires action. A person without faith cannot receive what he or she asks from God or what God promises to His children. James gave a final definition of a doubter in verse eight when he called the doubter a double-minded man. “Double-minded” comes from the Greek work dipsuchos[7] and means wavering, uncertain, and divided. The person who is double-minded is unstable, inconstant, and restless in all his ways, James said. The person’s actions and words would show he or she doubted and did not believe. People would know they could not trust what the person said. The doubter would be in inner turmoil because he or she did not know what to believe or on whom to call when he or she needed help. The surf of the sea and wind would toss the doubter. James told the Jerusalem Christians to believe in God, endure with Him, ask for His strength and do not doubt, then they would grow toward perfection and completion. They would become more Christlike with each trial. Faith, true faith, must be lived out in a person’s actions and words. It is not just a head knowledge, but something one trusts in upon which to anchor his or her life. Other people will see a person’s faith by the way he or she lives.

Poverty and Riches.

With James 1:9-11, another of James’ themes occurs. James often contrasted the poor and rich. For him the poor represented Christians (understandable since most Jerusalem Christians were poor) and the rich were unbelievers (though he alluded to rich Christians twice in his teachings in 2:2 and 4:13). James said in these verses,
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sin rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. [NASB]
      In verses nine and ten, James described two different groups of people. “Brother” of verse nine comes from the Greek word adelphos[8], which means fellow believer. “Rich man” of verse ten comes from the Greek word plousio[9]s and is a metaphor used to refer to the wicked or unrighteous person. How do we know James meant an unrighteous person in verse ten? We should consider other places in his writings when he spoke of rich people. In James 1:10-11, 2:5-6, & 5:1, he used the word plousios for rich man. Yet in 2:2 & 4:13, when he described wealthy people, he referred to them as the wealthy church members. James realizes the Christian faith is for wealthy and poor alike. Yet when he is comparing the believer to unbeliever, he uses the term “rich man,” plousios, to refer to unbelievers[10]. So the “rich man” of verses ten and eleven are unbelievers. For the Jerusalem Christians of the first century, this metaphor made sense because it was the norm for their time – poor people were Christians and rich people were unbelievers.

With the above understanding, we can now understand these verses better. Verse nine said the poor man is to glory in his high position. Most often a poor person did not hold a position of high stature in society. Here James spoke of the person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember “poor man” refers to Christians. Though the poor person did not have many possessions and little wealth that person could take pride and exult because he or she had a relationship with Christ and would claim an inheritance with Jesus Christ as a child of God. Though the person lived with diminished physical means, hr or she had a greater wealth - salvation through Jesus - and could proclaim it and hold on to it as their hope, comfort, and glory.

On the other side, the rich man, James said, was to “glory in his humiliation.” Since “rich men” in James’ writing meant unbeliever, what did he mean by this statement? Peter Davids said that the rich will glory in their stature and riches, but will find those things and themselves humbled[11]. The rich person will have nothing to save him or her from eternal death. In these two verses, James meant the rich would be brought low and the poor exalted. Death equalizes people. What a person acquires while alive cannot be taken to the grave. Those things will rust, rot, or be used by another person. What the rich person glories in while alive has no merit to help him or her after death. Verse ten can be read as an irony, Harold Songer said[12]. The rich then will be like flowering grass and will pass away. They will perish. One Corinthians 7:31b and 1 Peter 1:24 agree with this thought. The first says, “The form of this world is passing away.” The latter says, “For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off.” Peter quoted Isaiah 40:6ff in this verse. It was not an unknown thought. The unbeliever would find at the end of his or her life that his or her life was like flowers and grass. They flourished while alive, but would end with eternal death. The unbeliever would die because he did not have a relationship with God through belief in Jesus Christ and so did not gain eternal life with Him. The possessions of the rich person could not give eternal life, just gratification during physical life on earth.

James emphasized this with 1:11. Even in the midst of his pursuits, the rich man would find he met with scorching winds. His life would meet with trials and he would have no recourse to ask for strength or wisdom. An unbeliever who sins can experience God’s judgment during his or her earthly lifetime, as James expressed in verse eleven, or after his or her life when he or she died in unbelief and did not get eternal life in God’s kingdom. The rich person’s beauty and appearance, literally his good appearance, shapeliness, beauty, countenance, and appearance presented by one’s wealth and prosperity will wither and fall away. The rich person would be destroyed – completely abolished – because he or she did not believe in Jesus Christ and, by such, receive an inheritance in God’s kingdom with Him. “The rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away,” James said. His journey and purpose in life will fade away and become worth nothing because of his unbelief. The only glory of which the rich person could boast or take pride was in his or her earthly attainments. Yet they were ephemeral and did not give the rich person life after death, unlike the poor man’s glory of eternal life with Jesus Christ.

Recap

James dedicated his teachings to encouraging and training the Christians of Jerusalem and later of the diaspora to stand strong in their faith in Jesus Christ. He compared the life of a believer with an unbeliever to encourage them to stand firm with endurance and to convince hearers to become Christians. James taught that each trial brought with it virtue and would lead to perfection and completeness in Christ. He taught that the believer could stand strong and exult knowing that even in the midst of trials he or she would win the victory of life in God’s kingdom as His child. James encouraged Christians to stand strong and mature. To stand strong, he told them they must put into action and words their faith in God. True faith results in actions and words testifying to that faith. Those actions continue to grow a person and make him or her stronger. By the time the person reaches God’s kingdom, he or she will be perfect and complete, just as Christ is.

Conclusion

James’ emphasis in this lesson is relevant today. Are we standing strong in the midst of our trials? Are we making a stand that says we are born-again believers, children of God, shown to people by our actions and words? Alternatively, are we unsure, doubting, and tossed about by the wild surf of the sea of life just staying afloat with our heads above water? If the latter describes you, you must ask yourself two questions. What keeps you from trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to save you in every part of your life? Or, why have you not given your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
Today we each need to confront ourselves with the reality of God and Jesus Christ. Do you believe in Him? Do you want to believe in Him? God is ready to forgive all your sins and accept you as His child. What do you have to do to be saved? Accept Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Believe that He died on the cross as the complete sacrifice for your sins. Confess your sins to God receiving His forgiveness.

What will you do today about faith? James confronts us where we live.





[1]Peter Davids, James: A Good News commentary. (Harper and Row: San Francisco, 1983),  p. xv.
[2]Davids, p. xvii.
[3]Davids, p. xxiii.
[4]Thayer and Smith, The New American Standard New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999 (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/ginosko.html).
[5] Ibid. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/teleios.html).
[6]Ibid. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/sophia.html).
[7]Ibid. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/dipsuchos.html).
[8]Ibid. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/adelphos.html).
[9]Ibid. (http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/plousios.html).
[10]Davids, pp. 22-23.
[11]Davids, pp. 22-23.
[12] Harold, Songer, “James,” The Broadman Bible Commentary. (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1972), p. 109.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Never Leave You or Forsake You


(Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5)
When times become troubling and one is not sure what can be done, many people fall back on God’s promise never to leave or forsake them. God first promised this to the Israelites as they waited to cross the Jordan River and inherit the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 31:6). He restated this promise to Joshua two verses later when He told him he would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. In both these instances, Moses was the spokesman for God. God spoke to Joshua Himself relaying this promise to him in Joshua 1:5. In Hebrews 13:5, the writer of the book reiterated to the Hebrew Christians God would not desert or forsake them.
The three Old Testament passages use the word “fail” but the Hebrews passage uses the word “desert.” The Old Testament word for “fail” is raphah and means to let go, drop, abandon, forsake, and neglect. The New Testament word for “desert” is aniemi and means to send back, relax, loosen, give up, leave, not uphold, allow to sink. Note that both the Old and New Testaments then say God will not let go His grasp on His children, will not give them up (which means fiercely to protect and fight for them), will not abandon them, and will not allow them to sink. God is the strong right hand that leads, preserves, and protects His children. He will not abandon them to the world and evil.
This promise gives hope for the immediate future and reminds God’s children of their eternal hope. This promise should remind His children, too, of God’s requirements of them. In the Old Testament passages, God called them to walk with Him in obedience and faith, and to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land. As the smallest nation, the thought of routing a territory from an established people would have been intimidating and terrifying. Yet, with God going before them and routing their enemies as He did Sihon and Og, they could have strength and courage, not being afraid or dismayed. The Israelites remembered God went before them earlier and were reminded He would go before them now. He would not abandon them to a fate of death, but give them victory because He would go before them and cause the victory.
This is what the writer of Hebrews explained to the Christians of the New Testament. The people experienced severe persecution, but not yet to the shedding of blood. The Hebrew writer reminded them of God’s promise from the Old Testament. He told them God would not desert or forsake them. God would not give them up or leave them behind and helpless. He continued to be God and no matter the circumstances. The writer reminded them Jesus suffered to the point of giving blood and they had not. God did not abandon Jesus and He would not abandon them in the midst of Nero’s persecution  of them.
God’s promise continues down through the centuries. He does not change. God is always faithful – to Himself and to His children. What do we have to do to retain this promise? Be faithful to God. Be content with what God gives knowing He will give what is needed. Remember the Lord will not forsake, desert, or fail you. His promises hold true and are everlasting for His children.
What are you going through now? Is it to the point of shedding blood like Christ? No matter if it is persecution or trials of each day, God has not and will not forsake you. Continue to follow and obey Him. Continue go with Him wherever He says go. Have faith, be strong, and be courageous. God goes before you. He will give you your inheritance – salvation now and in His kingdom.

Each of us must choose to have faith in God, be obedient children of His, and persevere and have hope knowing God brings the victory.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Faith: What Is It? (James 2:14-26)

14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. James 2:14-26 (NASB)

Introduction

James addressed the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem with these sermons/teachings. An editor then compiled into one epistle near the end of the revolt against Rome or right after it. James taught the Jerusalem Christians during the mid-40s AD when famines occurred and the people of Jerusalem suffered from lack of food and money. Wealthy Jews sent food aid to the Jews of Jerusalem, but the Christians of Jerusalem received little of the aid. Because of this, the Jewish Christians would be tempted not to help another person with the meager amount they possessed. They would be tempted to recant their faith in Jesus Christ so they could receive aid from the wealthy Jews. With these things in mind, it makes sense James spoke to his people in Jerusalem about faith – what is it, what it is not, and what God expects from a person of faith.  

In James 2:14-26, James spoke about faith – what it is and how people show their faith. In verses fourteen, seventeen, twenty, and twenty-six, James defined true faith as bearing fruit – actions of love and kindness to other people and to God. He succinctly stated “faith without works is dead.” (vs. 26) What did James mean by this statement? What did he mean when he said, “Faith without works was useless?” (vs. 20) 

What is Faith?

James began this section of his speech saying in verse fourteen, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” Did he counter Paul’s theology of justification by faith? Through this study, we will learn James did not disagree with Paul’s theology of justification/righteousness. He spoke about the results of true faith. A true follower of Christ will produce fruits resulting in right actions and words. In James 1:22, James said, “But prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James believed and taught as did Jesus that belief in God and His Son produced righteous actions – a life lived out as a servant of God who enacted the two greatest commandments Jesus taught (Matthew 22:37-40). 

Faith - Mental Assent Only?

With verse fifteen, James began unpacking what he meant by works of the faithful. A believer in God and Jesus Christ cared about the poor. James specifically referred to a brother or sister - fellow believers - who could not meet their own daily needs. He asked, “What use is it to people needing food, clothes, or shelter to just receive words from a believer?” Of what use is the peace blessed on a person (vs. 16) if he or she does not have daily physical needs met? Jesus spoke of this same thing in Matthew 25:34-40 when he told of when the Father judged people at His return. He said God would bless the people who clothed, fed, gave drink, and gave shelter to “the least of these brothers of mine.” John the Baptist spoke of helping the poor in Luke 3:11. John asked a question related to this topic in 1 John 3:17. He said, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Each of these men taught children of God to put into actions his or her belief in Jesus Christ. They told fellow Christians to show God’s love in practical ways providing for the daily needs of others. To James, a faith with no actions shows the person does not have a genuine faith. True faith derived from the love God through Jesus Christ instilled in a believer always manifests itself with righteous actions. James emphasized this point with verse seventeen, by saying again, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” True faith and conversion shows itself in the actions of the person. If no righteous actions show, then the person’s faith is destitute of power (is dead). That person may not be saved from their sins because true faith produces good fruit/works in a person growing toward Christlikeness. Even people other than ministers are to show their faith in loving actions. They are to grow toward Christlikeness along with ministers called by God. 

Faith – More than Mental Assent

James asserted rightly that faith is more than a mental assent of God. A person may challenge you about your faith. That one might challenge that your faith cannot be seen if it has no works; whereas his or hers can because of his or her works. A person’s faith cannot be seen and justified by other people without it being put into action in real life. True faith must show right fruit/actions - give evidence or proof of its existence. A person can boast and say he or she is a Christian, but if no outward manifestation shows by actions, that person’s faith is of no value. Paul said this same thing in Galatians 5:6. He said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Actions of love show/express the faith a person claims and asserts. Jesus said this as well in Matthew 7:16. He said the fruit of a person’s belief will show the person he or she is. In the Matthew passage, Jesus spoke about false prophets and then he taught, “By their fruits you will recognize them.” This can apply to people who claim to be Christians. Their fruits – actions and words – will enable others to recognize them as followers of Christ or not. James acknowledged even demons recognize and believe the Lord God is the God of heaven and earth (vs. 19). He said they shudder in fear because of this knowledge knowing they are not good, but evil. The point James made in these verses is anyone can acknowledge God as God, but only those who produce acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior , God as almighty God, and bear righteous fruit – who do right and just deeds – are Christians. He repeated verses fourteen and seventeen again for emphasis in this section in verse twenty. He said in this verse, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” Faith is more than mental assent. 

Faith - Examples

Once again, James gave examples of true faith. In verses twenty-one through twenty-five, he spoke about Abraham and Rahab. Both people received no teaching about God and never saw Jesus Christ, but their faith in God justified them in God eyes. Their later actions justified them as true believers in the eyes of other people. 
Let us look at Abraham. When God promised him descendants who numbered more than the stars in heaven, Abraham expressed awe. He believed the LORD God. We read this in Genesis 15:6, “Then he (Abram) believed the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness in the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew word tsedaqah and means righteousness as ethically right, righteousness/justification/salvation of God. This righteousness reflects God and has the quality of being holy or right as God is holy and right. The New Testament word translated as “righteousness,” which James used in verse twenty-three, comes from the Greek word dikaiosune. It means righteous, virtue, purity, and rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. It has a judicial feel of being made right. It comes from right thinking, feeling, and acting. This righteousness is not the righteousness called tsedaqah of being holy and right as God is holy and right. The Old Testament word speaks of the being and the New Testament word speaks of the judicial use - doing and living. So when James said in verse twenty-one, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” justification for him came secondarily after being made righteous by God. This second justification came because he lived out his faith, by being obedient, due to his love for God. Abraham offered the only sacrifice he had to give God, his son, Isaac. He showed true faith when he lived out his faith with loving actions toward God and others (i.e. Lot at Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction). 
When faith works with actions, the result is faith being perfected. “Perfected” comes from the Greek word teleioo and means to make perfect and complete, to add what is wanting to make a thing full/perfect/complete. A person’s faith is complete when every action, word, and thought of the person reflects his or her faith. According to the Bible, this will occur when we are in the kingdom of God. This process is called sanctification. When Abraham put Isaac upon the altar and offered him as the sacrifice, he showed his love of God. His faith true showed him to be a friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8). Is our faith so pure and active in our lives that God calls us His friend? 
James emphasized again his teaching about faith resulting in right works. He stated in verse twenty-four, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” A person shows him or herself to be righteous by his or her actions that come from his or her faith. That is the meaning of “justified” for James in the New Testament. It is a justification before the eyes of other people because of one’s actions, thoughts, and words. 
With verse twenty-five, James reminded his hearers and later readers of a woman from Jericho named Rahab. When the Israelite spies of the exodus entered the Promised Land to see the land, cities, and people, they encountered Rahab. She welcomed the spies to Jericho and kept them safe in and through her home on the city’s walls. Rahab declared the LORD God as the God of heaven and earth because of what she had heard about the God of the Israelites. Her faith in the Israelites’ God and their promise to keep her and her family safe led to her assisting the spies to leave Jericho safely (Joshua 2:9-14, 6:22-25; Hebrews 11:31). Rahab acted upon her faith in the LORD God (the God of the Israelites) by trusting His people to keep her safe and by providing them a safe exit from Jericho. Her actions testified to the spies of her faith in God and His people. Rahab’s actions proved her faith, just as Abraham’s action to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God proved his faith. God justified - made righteous and holy - Abraham and Rahab when each believed in God as the God of heaven and earth. They both were justified - proved their faith - when they acted upon it, Abraham towards God and Rahab towards God’s people. 

What is Faith?

This lesson is so important that James repeated it four times within thirteen verses. As a finale, he stated it again for the final thought like he stated it in the first verse of this teaching. James wrapped his teaching with the thematic statement. He said, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” Just as faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saves you, lack of faith leads to death, separation from God. How does God know who has true faith? He looks at a person’s heart. Is that person’s heart cleansed - made right and pure? Does that person’s heart have His intentions, which shows in the person’s actions, thoughts, and words? How can other people know if a person is a child of God other than by his or her fruit – his or her actions and words? Humans cannot judge a person’s heart, but they can see some of a person’s heart by his or her actions and words. We learn from James in this passage a person is justified by faith in God by God. That person is justified in eyes of humans by the works and words in that person’s life. 

Recap

James stated faith is not truly faith that justifies a person unless it flows with the love of Christ as actions and words in the world as love for God and humankind. He gave examples of this kind of life through Abraham and Rahab lives. James did not say works can justify a person in God’s eyes. God looks for faith in a person’s heart as justification. Works perfect the faith of a person. They attest to the inner faith the person has in Jesus Christ. Faith and works must go hand-in-hand. 

Relevance and Conclusion

For people today considering this passage, we each must consider first if we have ever had a true faith experience with God. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? If you have and are living a life of love towards other people because of the love Christ put in you through the Holy Spirit, you can know you are a child of God. 
The other question that must be asked: If you are doing loving works in the world, are you doing them out of faith in God? Have you left faith behind when you do this work for God? Do you need to stop and take time to be with God - be empowered by Him, receive His further command, and get His blessing for the continuance of the work? As God’s children and even more so for Christian service workers, it is easy to hear God say do something then get busy doing it. We are working for the Lord so it must be right, right? Yet often when we turn around and see we are no longer working with God, but alone and under our own power. Good works may not be the best works. Under the command, power, and daily guidance by the Lord, your good works will be the best works. Then you will be doing what God wants you to do that day. 
Where do you fall in this spectrum? Are you doing good works, but not as a child of God? That will not save you. Are you doing good works God told you to do, but in your own power? Or, are you doing the best works under the blessing, power, and daily guidance of the Lord?
Each of us must go before the Lord now and determine where we stand with God.
Will you take that challenge?