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Archive for the tag “Bible Study”

Innocence and Theology

Mark 10:14 – But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

The other day I was driving my daughter home from her work. She works for a local Christian camp. She was talking about how she was writing Bible studies for the half-day students because the current series was not directed toward the age group she was responsible for. She wanted to do an entire weeklong series on “Finding Jesus.” As she was explaining it to me, she was explaining the plot line of the Disney movie “Finding Dory.” It was pure innocence, using the story of a fish-finding story to explain how we come to know the risen Creator of the universe.

As she spoke to me I found all these ways to poke holes in her theology.

But I kept my mouth shut and listened.

She explained how easy it was to find Jesus. She pulled a few Bible verses here and there, used a lot of Disney references, and showed a lot of passion in her voice as she explained it to me.

If a seminary graduate who has studied hermeneutics, Greek and Hebrew would listen to her speak, he would stop her from teaching this to the younger minds than hers.

But I sat and thought about it for a minute.

First, I thought about what Jesus said about children.

Matthew 18:1-3 – At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, please understand me that Jesus is not talking about becoming like children in ways of wisdom, but in innocence.

As adults, we tend to overthink situations so much more than children. If a child is angry or happy or sad they show their emotion and then, unless there is a significant outside influence like abuse, divorce, and death, the child will remember the major points of why they feel the way they do, but the details will be foggy. According to one study, “early emotional experience literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains.” (“Children’s Emotional Development is Built into the Architecture of their Brains,” National Scientific Council on the Developing Child)

While children are imprinting their brains, they simply do not have enough history to distort their realities. Adults, on the other hand, color everything we experience with our past.

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

I think of it this way, what is the main thing at church?

When we look at church today, we focus on a lot that is not Jesus.

We package it up as Jesus, but it isn’t Jesus.

Music is great, but music isn’t Jesus.

Small groups are awesome, but they aren’t Jesus.

Mission journeys are needed, but they aren’t Jesus.

But people tend to make them Jesus.

Just like holidays. I think of holidays that celebrate the military or freedom. During those days in church, when freedom or the flag or the military is announced, the applause gets louder, there is cheering, and the church gets a great feeling.

The amount of excitement around those topics outweigh the excitement for hearing about the Savior of mankind.

But let’s look at the Hebrew church for a moment.

By the time the book of Hebrews was written and delivered, there were up to 100,000 Christians inside of Jerusalem. The majority of those Christians were members of house churches, what we would consider either a small group or an underground church. Most of those house churches had approximately 20-30 adults at it. That means there would be about 4,000 churches in Jerusalem during the distribution of the book of Hebrews.

The book was written to Christians in Jerusalem.

Now, before this letter came to those churches, what did they use? They used other letters.

So when the messenger brought the Letter to the Hebrews to the first church in Jerusalem around 60 AD, there were still 3,999 other churches that had yet to hear this amazing book!

The churches would spend all night studying the Word. They would consume it!

Matthew 4:4 – But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

We don’t consume the Word.

We consume the music. We consume the fellowship. We consume the opportunity to serve those who don’t have as much first world stuff as we do.

But we don’t consume the Word.

The church in Jerusalem consumed the Word.

And they changed the world.

They were able to affect people across several generations.

And they were able to build a foundation for faith throughout further generations.

They consumed the Word with an innocence and excitement similar to how my daughter shared the Word as she understood it with those younger kids.

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A Study in James 5

James 5:1-3 – Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.

In this final study of the book of James, we find that he sticks true with the rest of his book. James speaks out against something, tells the blessings and curses that could follow, and then ends with a proclamation to faith in God.

In the Old Testament, the Jewish culture was meant to be one of holiness, not commerce. Looking at the Mosaic Law would seem to indicate this to be the case. Just look at the example in Leviticus against taking interest on loans. This would have precluded any and all commerce. It is very difficult to make money when you can’t earn interest.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, is quoted as saying, “As for ourselves, we neither inhabit a maritime country, nor do we delight in merchandise, nor in such a mixture with other men as arises from it; but the cities we dwell in are remote from the sea, and having a fruitful country for our habitation, we take pains in cultivating that only.

Eventually, as time went by, the Jews came to understand they needed commerce to survive and did so with only rabbinical oversight. Unfortunately, just like all other human beings, once money increases come in to play, then a system that separates the rich from the poor comes in and people begin to see a selfish and prideful mentality take hold.

As James was written to Jewish Christians, it may seem that the beginning of this chapter was written to rich Jewish Christians.

In verses 1-3, James serves a hearty rebuke against those who claim their independence from God through their wealth. James gets Old Testament prophetic when he talks about three different destructions of wealth: food spoiling, garments being moth-eaten, and gold corroding. Similar to Luke 18:22, James talks about the corruptible wealth bearing witness against them as they are storing up their treasures here on earth rather than in heaven.

James 5:4-6 – Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

As he moves into verses 4-6, he condemns the sins of the rich. First he speaks out against withholding the wages of the workers. How many governments have beaten down their people by overtaxing them? How many bosses have withheld wages because the business was in trouble? How many bonuses and pay raises have been withheld because of some inane reason?

While Jesus’ ministry was never hurting for money and he had a few well-known rich people following Him (Zacchaeus, Joseph of Arimithea, and Barnabas to name a few), it is also well known, as we learn in 1 Timothy that riches are the reason behind countless sins.

Now James speaks a phrase that gets translated in many different ways across various translations. James says that the cries have reached the “Lord of Sabboth.” This is not to be confused to with Lord of the Sabbath. The idea behind this is that it is the Lord of Hosts or more aptly, the “Lord of armies.” Here, we see a reference to God the warrior. Our commander-in-chief ready to mobilize his angelic armies against this sinful act.

In verse 6 James leads into his next topic. Unfortunately, in this world, the poor are often without a lot of power. But James tells them that their cries are heard by God. In His time, God will right every wrong against the poor and beaten down. He leads into patience.

James 5:7-8 – Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

In verses 7-8 James likens the expectation of patience to farming. We are to wait until the Lord appears again. A farmer does not give up even when he doesn’t see immediate results. James talks about the early and latter rains. More aptly, these are the fall and spring rains. The fall rains soften the ground for the plows to go through and the spring rains were for bringing the crop to maturity.

This maturity shows in having an “established heart.” An established heart is rooted deep in the Word of God. James believed that God’s returning could happen at any time and fully prepared for it during his time. The only way to be prepared is to mature in the Spirit.

James 5:9 – Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!

Verse 9 talks to us about grumbling. When we have to be patient, sometimes that is very difficult. We end up complaining. A new bride waiting for her wedding day or a mother-to-be waiting for the birth of her child can take a toll on a person’s patience.

It is the same with waiting on the Lord. It is very easy for us to get angry or upset with one another, especially those whom we are supposed to love. Complaining, even during hardship, causes us to stand condemned. He points out that Jesus comes as the Judge. Not only the Judge of the world, but also to review the faithfulness of those who bear His namesake. We cannot allow out trials and hardships to reveal in us an unloving or uncaring spirit.

James 5:10-11 – My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

Moving into verses 10-11 James explains that the Old Testament prophets were examples to use when looking at hardship. Jeremiah, for example, was put in stocks, thrown in prison, hidden away in the dungeon, and yet he patiently persisted in his ministry. James shares the example of Job. In this patience, God will show his compassion and mercy.

James 5:12 – But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

Verse 12 tells us to not take an oath. As a Christian our yes should simply be a yes. How often do we fail at that. That is, honestly, one of my biggest opportunities as a Christian. First century Jews often made a distinction against “binding” and “non-binding” oaths. Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding. Think of them as crossing your finger behind your back as you tell a fib.

He tells us to not swear any oaths. Making an oath, he feels, weakens the position of the person making the oath. It demonstrates that your character does not have enough weight to act as confirmation for your words. And if you lack this character trait, it will be shown at the judgment seat of Christ.

James 5:13-14 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Finishing up not only the chapter, but the book, James ends with how Christians should pray for each other. As an elder of a church with attendance of about 800 weekly, I spend much of my week either on the phone or in person with people who are in need. These could be physical needs such as rent payments or food, or they could be more spiritual such as sicknesses or some grievous sin such as an affair or abuse. Prayer is a major part of the Christian’s life.

When a Christian is suffering, they need to pray.

When a Christian is joyful, they should praise God through prayer and worship.

When a Christian is sick, the elders should be called and the person should be prayed over.

The important thing to see here is that the ownership for prayer is on the part of the person who is suffering, cheerful or sick. Many times people do not ask for prayer because of a multitude of reasons, but James is clear, we should be asking for prayer.

James does speak about the elders anointing the sick with oil. Many times, in the first century church, anointing with oil was seen as medicinal. Looking at today, the anointing with oil could mean that we seek the best medical attention there is out there. It could also be more spiritual in that we anoint the person in the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 5:15-16 – And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

James speaks specifically of healing in verses 15 and 16. There has always been debate among Christian circles as to whether James is talking about a guaranteed physical healing when prayer is done. But taken in context, James is combining the healing with resurrection and forgiveness. To me, this sounds more of a spiritual healing than a physical one.

It is important to know that every prayer for healing is not answered how we would like. I believe James does make it clear by claiming that we need to pray in faith. Our focus should always be spiritual first, then physical. God healed the physical only after the spiritual faith was seen.

A lot of times Christians are scared to pray a prayer of faith because if a healing is not done then it would be as if God’s reputation would be tarnished. We need to remember that we serve a very big God. This same God is big enough to handle His own reputation. We simply need to follow His plan.

He speaks of confession. Confession is an important part of the Christian life as it unburdens us from the heavy weight of sin. When we look at healing, we need to be very cognizant of the fact that sickness, many times, is a direct result of sin that has not been dealt with. Paul speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 11:30.

The root form of the word “confess” means to “say the same thing.” So when we confess our sin, we are identifying it by its real name and admit that it is a sin. For the Christian who is listening to the confession, it is important to behave properly. We should immediately begin loving, intercessory prayer and not provide human “wisdom” or begin gossiping about it.

The praying should be done by someone who is “fervent” and “righteous.” James is clear that a person with those qualities will have effective prayer. If we go into our prayer with a lukewarm attitude and ask God to care for something that we, in essence, care little about, then our prayer will not be effective.

James 5:17-18 – Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

James shares, in verses 17 and 18, an example of a fervent and righteous man praying in Elijah. Elijah was a man, like us, and he prayed earnestly. James uses him as an example so we know we can become prayer warriors like him.

James 5:19-20 – Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

He ends the chapter, and the book, with the reason why he wrote the book in the first place, to bring back people who were wandering away from the truth. The word, “wander,” is a good one here. Most people do not intentionally walk away from that which they know is true. It happens over time and unintentionally.

James has a book that is filled with wisdom from God. His words are not only important for the first century Jewish Christians, but for those of us in the 21st century. I believe it important to go back and reread his words a couple of times a year because of the great information in them.

A Study in James 4

James 4:1-3 – Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

This week is an interesting week. It is Thanksgiving here in the USA and, yet, we are a country divided. Thoughts of Ferguson and racial divide fill our homes as we sit to thank the Creator for our food and friends and families.

Even as we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, there are many families who are divided as they sit down to dinner. I remember days when I used to sit down with my side of the family and my now ex-wife’s side of the family for Thanksgiving feast in the months prior to the divorce. It was going to happen. The date was set for me to move out, and yet, there was a tenuous peace; a peace similar to the many cease fires that Israel has had with any choice of Middle Eastern countries.

This week, James speaks to us about pride.

Like in previous chapters, James starts out by not pulling any punches. He asks us what causes the fights and arguments among us.

There are some key words we need to look at here in the original language. The Greek words for “fights and quarrels” are polemos and mache. Polemos is a war campaign. It can mean something ongoing. Mache is a word that means the individual conflicts in a war. When James speaks of “you” in this passage, he uses the word melos. Melos, easily translated means members. So what James is speaking about in this beginning passage is arguing among members of the Christian church.

Let’s go back to my Thanksgiving dinner. We were all members of a single family yet we could not get along. We all claimed Christ as our Savior yet the littlest disagreement would turn into a full blown war.

Unfortunately, the people who we are supposed to love the most are the ones we argue with the most. Psychologists and other people who are much smarter than me say it is because we are with them for longer periods of time and that they see us at our best and our worst and sometimes it is just too much to handle.

But I have a different answer.

Sin.

While we each sin, it is important for us to understand how to handle sin. There are people who say you need to immediately and severely confront them. There are those who say you need to confront but be loving. There are those who say you need to let them figure it out on their own. And many others.

Unfortunately, when two or more people get together and cannot agree on how to tackle the sin issue, a bigger sin rears its ugly head.

Pride.

Pride leads to murder and covetousness.

Ok, Fred, I am sure all of your former inlaws were not murdered by your hand, so what do you mean?

James is looking back at the Sermon on the Mount when he chooses his language. Murder is more than the actual killing. Now this may drive my lawyer friends a little crazy, but murder is a condition of the heart that shows itself outwardly through anger.

James goes on to say the reasons you still have these feelings is because of a couple of reasons. Either you are simply not asking God to take them away or you are asking with the wrong motives. God is a God of the heart. He looks to not just our actions, but our faith and our motives. That is why our works alone cannot save us.

We need to remember that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind to equate with ours. He isn’t a genie in a bottle that we can control. The purpose of prayer is to calibrate ourselves with His will and ask Him to accomplish His will through us and our circumstances. See Matthew 6:10 if you have questions about that.

James 4:4-5 – Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

Moving into verses 4 and 5, James speaks to us about something that really affects the church today. He speaks about the danger of being “friends with the world.” The verses call out both adulterers and adulteresses but in the original Greek, only adulteresses are called out. Many feel that this is a verse about literal sexual adultery, but using only the term adulteress, we need to look at it a different way. God is the “husband” and the church is the “bride.” How can the church have a relationship with the world and yet claim faithfulness to God.

There is a small issue that comes up here is that the Scripture that James shares cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. The two leading theories as to this are that either James is citing universal truths from the Old Testament or James 4:5 is two separate sentences and that the Scripture quoted refer to what he said in verse 4.

Regardless, the message to the church is that we need to be friends with God. Take a look around at the multiple denominations out there. It is easy to see which are focused on being a friend to the world and an enemy to God. They are the churches that make mature Christians wonder about them while the world praises them.

James 4:6-10 – But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

Speaking of the world’s praise, as James moves into verses 6-10, we start to see him talking about humility. He tells us that God will give us the grace to be able to serve God as we should, but that only comes through serving humbly.

Grace and pride can be seen, somewhat, as opposites. Pride demands that God bless me based on my good works. But grace demands nothing. Grace is given only on the basis of who God is. And the humility we show is not a work to receive the grace. Humility simply puts us in the correct state to receive the grace he provides.

So to receive grace, we need to submit to God. In my young adult class a few weeks ago we discussed this exact same idea. We need to order ourselves under God. Basically we need to give up our kingdom to live in the kingdom of God.

When we begin to give up our kingdoms, Satan will come in, like he did with Christ, and offer us a greater kingdom. But we are called to resist the devil. And James tells us that if we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from us. This does not mean we need to exorcise Satan out of us. Keep in mind that light and dark cannot coexist in the same space. This means that Satan cannot possess a believer. We need to look on Satan as who he is, a conquered enemy.

James tells us to “resist” the devil. Resist is made up of two separate Greek words meaning stand and against. Therefore we must stand against the devil.

Next, James tells us to draw near to God and we have the promise that He will draw nearer to us. Know this, when we find ourselves away from God, it is not God that is doing the drifting. I have heard people say that the church is changing. That is the church. That is not God. God is immovable. So in order for us to get closer to God, we need to act, make the conscious decision that we want to get nearer to Him.

I like this story to illustrate it. An elderly couple is driving down the road and as they are talking, the wife, sitting in the passenger seat, notices as cars are coming toward them that there are other couples in those cars and in each car, the woman was sitting very close to the man. She looked at her husband and asked, “Why don’t we sit that close anymore?” The husband, the driver, answered, “It wasn’t me that moved.” If we are away from God, we need to realize that He has not moved. It is us, His bride, who has moved away.

James 4:11-12 – Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

In verses 11-12, James speaks about hatred. This is hatred of our fellow brethren. James echoes John in 1 John 4:20 by basically saying that we cannot hate one another. This hatred is basically another form of pride. It is our arrogance. When we have the right humility before God, we cannot just judge a brother off the cuff.

James 4:13-16 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Looking at verse 13, James is telling us that it is prideful for us to make plans outside of the sovereignty of God.   We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Why make a plan for our worldly success when all we have is the assurance of today and the mission to preach the Gospel?

He asks us to look at the fragile state of our lives.

Please note, James is not telling us not to plan for anything. But we should make our plans based around the will and desire of God. If we make our plans, seek to build our kingdoms, and go after success without first seeking God in the equation, then we are boasting and prideful.

James 4:17 – Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Knowing that humility and submission to God is far easier to speak about than live, James makes it very clear on the mind of God: we are accountable for humility and dependence on God.

Next week I will end this series on the Book of James. James ends with a couple warnings and some applications for us to practice, a fitting way to end any discussion about godly living.

A Study in James 2

James 2:1 – My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

The book of James is SUCH a jam-packed book with nuggets of information that can be used and implemented in our lives that it would be terrible to just gloss over this book.

Last week we learned that James, in Chapter 1, spoke to Jewish Christians about both trials & temptation and hearing & doing.   In chapter 2, James speaks about the sin of favoritism and faith & works.

Immediately in this chapter, James starts with a story. He talks about a man who is rich and a man who is poor. Both of them walk into a synagogue. The fact that James uses the term “synagogue” means that he is speaking at a time before Gentiles were widely accepted into Christianity. But this isn’t as much a story about Jewish Christians as it is favoritism. James tells us that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ was not meant to be given with discrimination. It is meant for all.

The example James uses is that we will bend over backwards for the rich man while telling the poor man that he isn’t worth as much as the rich man.

James 2:3-4 – If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

How often do we see that in our own churches today?

Do we typically see the richer people sitting down front in view of the cameras? Watch any of the televangelists and tell me what you see in the front few rows. Could it be favoritism being shown to bolster the bank account?

Possibly.

And that is the danger. I was looking in my own church last Sunday and noticed both rich and poor, young and old, Christian and seeker alike sitting in the first few rows. It was amazing to see! There was no partiality.

But what happens when we show partiality? It brings to light something that was said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks to the heart.” if we are called to be holy, we must be set apart from the world and transformed in our minds to look at others as Christ looked at everyone. We need to look to their hearts.

James goes on to explain that it is the rich who oppress. It is the rich who seek to drag people into court. It is the rich who speak against the name of Christ.

But God chose the poor to be filled with faith and become heirs to the kingdom.

James 2:5 –  Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?

If we are to truly live a Scriptural life, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. James quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:36-40. And Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18. This is a great example of the entire Bible being utilized to show us a timeless truth. The truth of loving our neighbor. And James is very clear, everyone is our neighbor, regardless of status, upbringing, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that seems to divide us these days.

Ending this section of the chapter, James explains that one sin keeps us away, meaning that are you able to show favoritism to anyone when you sin just as everyone else? No. And favoritism is a sin. He says one thing here that I absolutely love, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” James is calling the reader back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:2)

I will, by no means, tell people we are not to rebuke or judge. The Bible is clear, we are to test the spirits and make sure they are from God. But we have got to be very careful that we do not judge someone based on personal preference. We must use our wisdom to bring a Biblical standard to them. And even when we do that, we need to remember that it is not against flesh and blood that we war but the powers and authorities of this dark world. Going in to a confrontation with someone without praying about it first or taking it to God will get you nothing but an argument. We should constantly be asking God if He desires us to speak to the offending person and for Him to soften the heart of them.

James closes out his chapter with a discussion on faith and works. Many Christians get confused on the place of faith and works in Christianity. Without works, our faith is dead. Without faith, we are dead.

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?

Let me make this clear. Works do NOT save us. Only faith in Christ can do that. But once we show that faith in Christ, He prepares us for works that will show people the faith that we have. If we do not have works, then we won’t be showing fruit.

James seems to believe that if you say you have faith but don’t have works, then you don’t truly have a saving faith. Keep in mind James’ audience. He is speaking to Jewish Christians. These Christians came from a background of strict adherence to laws each and every day. When they learned about salvation through faith alone, they took it to the opposite extreme of not living out their faith. They simply claimed faith, but did nothing to grow in it.

There is a saying that has made its way around Christianity for a while, “faith alone saves, but that faith that saves is not alone.”

James then goes on to explain what dead faith looks like. It looks like the homeless person on the street that we walk by and say, “let me pray for you.” It looks like the elderly person who lost their spouse and lives alone and no one from the church (and I am not talking the paid professionals of the church, I am talking about those who sit in the pews) goes to visit them. It looks like the parishioner who sees their pastor going through a tough time and doing nothing to assist.

Faith alone saves us, but it must be a living faith. We can tell if faith is living or dead as to whether it has works or not associated with it. A living faith is real. It is a faith in which people will look at us and see Jesus. It is a faith that will take care of those who need it.

James 2:18 – But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”[e] Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.

James says there are people who will try to say they have the “gift” of works or “gift” of faith. But faith and works are not gifts, they are products of a Christian life. If we have faith, we must have works accompany it.

He gives an example of living faith in Abraham. Abraham listened to God and was made righteous because of it. Faith and works cooperated in Abraham. If he didn’t have a living faith in God, he never could have been obedient to follow Him.

James then explains Rahab, the prostitute, had a living faith. Rahab was a Gentile woman. So here, James is laying the groundwork for the Jewish Christians to accept the Gentile Christians in the future. Her faith was shown as living because it was a faith of action.

Abraham and Rahab are used and both have very different purposes for showing a living faith. As for Abraham, if we have faith in God, we will do what He tells us. For Rahab, if we have faith in God, we will help His people.

At the end of the chapter, James it is important to realize that faith that is dead is still faith, just not a faith that is living, nor does it have the ability to save.

James 2:26 – For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Next week we will dig into James 3, where we are told we need to control our tongue.

Study of James 1

Last week we learned that the book of James was written by James. There is the announcement of the century. But beyond that, it was written by James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. It was written to Jewish Christians before the Judaistic Controversy around 45 AD, which makes this most likely the earliest written book of the New Testament.

James 1:1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

We can get an idea of who this was written to simply by the first verse, this is written to the twelve tribes that were scattered out of Jerusalem soon after the martyring of Stephen.

The first chapter of this book is broken into 3 sections: the greeting (in v. 1), trials & temptations (vv. 2-18), and listening & doing (vv. 19-27).

After the greeting to the twelve tribes, James starts in discussing trials. Right out of the gate, James makes it very clear, we WILL have trials. There is no “if” in there. The verse says:

James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Also evident in v. 2, James calls for us to count our trials as joy.

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you thanked God for the tough times you have been going through? It isn’t easy to do so, is it?

I’ll admit, when life is throwing everything at me, my first inclination is not to say, “Thanks God, I really appreciate this opportunity to grow.”

No way. I’d rather complain to my girlfriend, scream at the stupid drivers on the road, or rant on Facebook. It is so much easier to vent our frustrations (usually loudly) than direct them to God and thank Him for causing us to grow.

But James tells us to consider it joy. Why? Because as we go through trials, it tests our faith and brings perseverance.   Perseverance brings maturity. Some key things to consider here is that trials do NOT CREATE faith….trials TEST faith. So what causes faith? Read Romans 10:17. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

While trials do not create faith, when we meet the trial with faith, patience is created. Patience can only come through passing the tests of faith. If we take trial with disbelief or an argumentative heart, then we could find ourselves in bitterness or discouragement.

James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James then goes on to tell us in vv. 5-8 that we need wisdom as we go through our trials. Please know this, WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE are two different things. Knowledge is the raw data. It is the book smarts. Knowing that we need to love someone because the Bible tells us to, for example. But wisdom is how to use the raw data. So if the raw data of the Bible tells us that we should love, wisdom, which comes from the Holy Spirit, explains to us how we should love.

Something cool about this wisdom is that God gives it liberally and without being angry about it. How often has someone asked us how to do something and we exhale loudly, giving them that feeling that we are put out by them. As a parent, I have found myself doing that with my kids from time to time.

But God doesn’t do that.

He gives freely. Happily. Liberally.

James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

The interesting thing here is the beginning of v. 9. It speaks of the “lowly brother” and the “rich.” The lowly brother glories in being lifted up by God. It is so much easier for the impoverished to see God’s hand as they come through a trial while the rich find it much more difficult as they lose in their humiliation. This humiliation comes as the rich realize that this life, and all their riches, is only for this life. They cannot take any of their riches into eternity. To that end, the rich also fade, just as the flowers and beauty of the fields fade.

It is at this point that James changes direction a little. Up until this point, James talks about perseverance and patience and joy during trials. But now he is going to change it to speak strictly to temptation. He begins by sharing the blessing that those who endure temptation, and love Him, will be given the crown of life.

James 1:13-16 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

How many times have we said to ourselves or someone else, “This must be God testing you.” Don’t get me wrong, there will be tests of faith. But God will not tempt us. Guys, for example, God is not going to give you the desire for that beautiful, half-dressed woman walking down the street just so He can see you fall. He is not intentionally giving you the temptation of sex. He will give you a way THROUGH the temptation. Not the temptation itself.

James goes on to explain that we are tempted when we give into our own desires. We are drawn away from God when we give into the evil beauty that Satan and the world has put in our path. And while Satan tempts us, it is our own fallen nature that destroys our true desire to please God.

When our desires of the flesh are realized, then that gives birth to sin. Coming from the corrupted desire of sin is death. Satan will always try to hide that progression from us, but if we stay in the light of Christ, then we will be able to have the wisdom to see the corruption before it begins.

James 1:17-18 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

It is now in vv. 17-18 that James compares the sinful corruption to the “good and perfect gifts” that come from God. When James explained the Father in v. 17, he describes Him as the “Father of the lights.” It is these celestial bodies that are example to us as eternal lights as they never go out. God never changes. James explains that because God never changes, it begins with their generation. They are the “firstfruits” of the redemption.

James 1:19-20 – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James begins talking about listening and doing in the final section of James 1. Have you ever been angry? In your anger, have you simply lashed out and said the first thing that popped into your head? Of course, we all have. But James tells us that anger and our wrath does not come from God. When we lash out in anger, we are attacking the other person based on our own desires, and, as discussed above, that does not come from God, but our own selfish, corrupt desire.

By the time James gets to v. 21, he tells us to accept with meekness the “implanted Word of God.” By accepting in meekness, we accept it with a teachable heart. His Word, then implanted into our hearts, will maintain our purity in an age that is filled with impurity.

James 1:22-24 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

Does this sound like the church today? Most people go to church, sit in the pews, and listen to a message by the pastor. After church, they take the notes from the service and place it in their Bible, never to be seen from again. They don’t apply what they had just learned in church. James tells us that this is like a man who sees his face in the mirror but forgets what he looks like once he walks away from the mirror. This kind of Christian is one who is easily swayed by the winds and waves of every new doctrine to come down the pike.

Let me ask you a question.

Do you believe that the majority of the televangelists are acceptable for a Christian to cite as an authority?

Let’s look at an example. Joel Osteen. This is the televangelist that everyone loves to attack and many people feel pity for him, deservingly so. We should pity him. But we shouldn’t pity him for the rebukes he is facing, but for being completely and utterly deceived by the spirit of greed and evil that Satan gives.

His own wife proclaimed in both the pulpit and on his TV show that “when we obey God, we are not doing it for God…we are doing it for ourselves.” Matthew 5:16 refutes what she said very clearly: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Looking at Joel himself, he wrote in one of his books that the Israelites “lack of faith and their lack of self-esteem robbed them of the fruitful future God had in store for them.” Unfortunately, Osteen added words to the actual Bible verse. Both Hebrews 4:2 and 11:6 speak only to the Israelites’ lack of faith, not their self-esteem.

But if we are simply going to church to hear the Word and change our lives to live the Word, then we will find that any teaching, including that of Osteen, as long as it has a Christian title to it, is acceptable when it most certainly is not. The Bible tells us that there are plenty of people out there that will distort the Word for their own, and for evil’s, purposes.

James 1:26 – If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

In the final two verses of James 1, we are told that if we do not hold our tongue then our religion is useless. In Greek, the word for “religion” is never used in a good context in the bible. James uses the idea here for someone who has religion but does not have a right relationship with God. He tells us that we can spot that pretty easily by a person who claims religion but does not hold their tongue.

James concludes by showing that our faith is truly simple. We should love on orphans and widows and to keep our faith undefiled. Too much of today’s religion is defiled by greed, ego, desires of the flesh and so on. If we simply love on those who the world deems unlovable and keep our eyes affixed on Christ above, then we will be able to keep our religion as undefiled.

James 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. While in chapter 1 we learn about “hear and do,” in chapter 2 we will learn about “faith and deeds.” Each of these are stepping stones into a deeper faith and a practical way to live out our faith.

Time for Another Bible Study – The Book of James

James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

A few months ago I decided to do a study on the book of Habakkuk. I picked a short book, but it was a book that was jam packed with information about God’s people and the frustration of man at the hand of God sometimes.

Lately, I have been reading the book of James. This is another book that is jam packed, FILLED with information. This week I want to introduce the book and then over the next five weeks dissect each chapter and dig deeper into the Word of God.

The history of the James is just as interesting as its content. One can make the argument that this was the first book of the New Testament to be written. Now, those who know me that the only history I enjoy reading about it Christian history. I could not tell you anything about World War 1 or American history (unless it has to do with the First or Second Great Awakenings), but start talking to me about this history of the church and my eyes will shine a little brighter.

One day, remind me to go into detail about the Council of Trent. THAT would make an amazing blog series.

This book was most likely written about 45 AD, right before the Judaistic Controversy. It is written to Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout the lands because of the persecution that occurred in Jerusalem in connection with the stoning of Stephen in the Book of Acts. Since there is nothing in here about the Jewish Christians getting along with the Gentile Christians, it was most likely written before the influx of Gentile Christians occurred, beginning in 46 AD with Paul’s missionary journeys.

James 2:19 – You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

So now that we know the letter was most likely the first New Testament letter written, we need to determine who wrote it.

Well, duh, Fred….James wrote it.

YOU ARE CORRECT!

But now comes the $100,000 question…which James?

There are 4 different James (Jameses, James’s…whatever) in the Gospels. First is the Apostle James (Mt 10:2, Mk 3:17, Lk 6:14). There is a “James of Alphaeus.” (Mt 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:15). A third James would be the father of Judas (Lk 6:16), and finally James, brother of the Lord Jesus Christ (Mt 13:55, Mk, 6:3).

The apostle James would be a logical choice, but there is a small problem. He couldn’t write the book from the grave. King Agrippa had him put to death in 44 AD, supposedly before the letter was written.   Both James of Alphaeus and the father of Judas are poor choices because they lacked the recognition as an apostle to have written an authoritative book.

This leaves James, half-brother of Jesus. He has a pretty cool story! During the ministry of Jesus, James thought Jesus was a whackadoodle! John 7:3-5 tells us that even Jesus’ brothers did not believe Him! And Mark 3:21 has them calling Jesus “out of His mind!” He evidently came to faith when Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7).

By 44 AD, James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Soon after John’s brother (also names James) was killed by Agrippa in 44 AD and Peter was released from prison by an angel of the Lord, Peter called for a report to be given to “James and the brothers” in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17).

By 49-50 AD, James was one of the authorities in the Apostolic Council and gave the final vote that Gentiles should not have to follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved. It was because of James that the church of Jerusalem sent a letter to the churches to say they were saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (Acts 15:11, 22-29).

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, written about 52 AD, Paul puts James on a level of importance equal with the apostles and said that James, Peter and John were the “reputed pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9). Paul even referred to Jewish Christians from Jerusalem as “men who came from James” (Gal 2:12).

Galatians 2:12 – For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party.

James earned the name “James the Just” for his piety and righteousness. This title was even used by those who were not Christians!

James died a martyr sometime between 63 and 68 AD.

James 1:1 tells us who this letter is addressed to. It is written to the “twelve tribes scattered abroad.”   The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem scattered throughout the lands when the Sanhedrin started persecuting them after the stoning of Stephen.  He wrote this letter to any who fled as an encouragement and instruction into their faith.

While there does not seem to be a particular even that caused the writing of the letter, there are many inferences that can be made into the letter for the purpose behind it. Right off the bat, he encourages the Jewish Christians to rejoice during their trials and persecutions. He talked about perseverance and standing firm in the test of faith.   He also mentions that the rich were slandering the name of Christ (James 2:6-7) which caused poverty among the persecuted Christians.

He goes on to talk about standing firm in the faith and not falling back into the ways of the world. He addressed numerous sins that they were beginning to revisit.

So overall, this letter was written to instruct, rebuke, correct, and encourage the Jewish Christians with the Word of God so they will remain strong and persevere. He spends much of the letter explaining what living by faith is about.

The letter is really only broken into two parts: the greeting and living by faith.

It is the living by faith section that is the majority of the letter and can be outlined as such:

By faith:

  1. Stand firm in trials (1:2-12)
  2. Face your temptations (1:13-18)
  3. Hear the Word of God (1:19-27)
  4. Don’t show favoritism (2:1-13)
  5. Do deeds that show your faith (2:14-26)
  6. Tame your tongue (3:1-12)
  7. Do deeds that come from divine wisdom, not worldly ambition (3:13-5:12)

So over the next 5 weeks, I want to take a chapter a week and study the book of James with you. This is a very important book in the lives of believers and should be, I believe, one of the top 5 books that every believer reads regularly.

James 5:13 – Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray.

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