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Drawing Near, and Dwelling

Drawing Near, and Dwelling

© 5/5/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:8-10; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 15 and others

Introduction:

We need to talk about the difference between our position in Christ, and our condition as we attempt to walk with Him. The two are not the same, and, while both are clearly defined in scripture, we tend to confuse the two, or decide that only one of them really matters. Both of those failings are traps we need to avoid.

Remember, as we read, that James is speaking to believers. These “brethren” to whom he addressed himself are all persons who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ; in His righteousness, His Blood, His finished work at the Cross, His resurrection and His coming again. They are already Christians! So, with that in mind, let’s read the next three verses, and ask some questions about their meaning.

Draw Near to God

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

How can one “draw near to God?” Obviously, this is a somewhat rhetorical question: He does not occupy just a single location in space or time, where we can physically go to meet with Him, though many people think of Him in that way: Frequently people feel that if they go to a specific place (a church-house, a temple, a special place outdoors, etc.) then they are “going where God is.” Many churches actually encourage such thinking, referring to their physical building as “the house of God.”) The Old Testament believers had an unusual, special time, during which God promised that He would actually take up residence in the Tabernacle (and, later, in Solomon’s Temple,) and that people literally could approach Him there. So, when Jesus spoke of the Temple as being “my Father’s House,” he was addressing a literal reality. That temple (rebuilt by Herod the Great) was destroyed in AD 70, however, and it had ceased to function as the “house of God” long before it was finally destroyed.

But even the Old Testament scriptures teach that God is Omnipresent…everywhere at once. Solomon (who built that great original temple) acknowledged that the entire creation could not contain God, so how could this building of stone do so? Both the New Testament and the Old Testament teach that God does not “dwell” in a house made by human hands. In fact, in the church epistles, we discover that the Church, proper—the people—are now the “habitation of God!” Together, the people of the Church at large, comprise the “Temple of God,” and He personally indwells every member of the Body of Christ.

Remember, James is only speaking to believers! So, I cannot get more close to God, physically: He already surrounds me entirely, inside and out. Since that is the case, and we are not being exhorted to get physically closer to “wherever God is”, what really is the intent of this passage? What is James encouraging you to do? Let’s compare some other passages:

Hebrews 4:16 exhorts us to “…come boldly unto the throne of Grace…”

Hebrews 10:19-22 says,

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Neither of these two exhortations could have been literally followed, even though the temple in Jerusalem still existed at the time they were written. No one but the High Priestcould enter the holy place under any circumstances, and he only once a year.

Draw near, by Faith, as a matter of Practice

But all the believers were being encouraged to “enter in”, and to “draw near” by faith. And that is how we do it, too. We enter into the relationship by faith, initially; and every day (indeed every moment,) we can choose to maintain that “holy place” relationship by faith. Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith. The rest of Hebrews 11 is called the “faith-chapter” for good reason: it underscores the necessity and vital importance of faith in our walk with Jesus.

Colossians 2:6 says, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive the Lord? Was it by works? By reciting a creed? Going to church? Praying a prayer? You may have done all these things, and I have no doubt that they were done in all sincerity; but please remember that is possible to be sincerely wrong. Romans 3:25 makes it clear that faith alone, and specifically faith in the shed blood of Jesus, the Savior, is what makes us eligible to receive the Grace of God, offered through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

So…when I ask someone how they became a believer, that is what I am hoping to hear. If they tell me “I went forward at a tent meeting…” or something, I am worried, because it sounds as though their faith is in something they did…not the finished work of Christ at the Cross.

This is why Paul said, in 1st Corinthians 2:2,”For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” He was preaching the Cross, because he knew that, otherwise, his audience would place their faith in something else—anything else. We don’t like the Cross! It was the equivalent of a gallows, or an electric chair, only worse: a truly “cruel and unusual punishment.” We would rather think that we can do something good, which will put us in good standing before God. But God made the rules: We are saved by Grace through Faith alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9) and that is how we are to walk with Him as well

Walking by Faith denies self—it excludes pride and self-will. It confesses that “I can do nothing.” Jesus said in John 15:3, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” If anyone else says that, it is a statement of supreme arrogance, and it is utterly offensive to the hearers. But when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. There is nothing we can accomplish of eternal value, without Him being the motivator and source of authority and power. This is what Jesus called “abiding.” It is just a fact. On our own, we produce nothing of eternal value. In Christ, walking by faith, everything we do, regardless of how mundane, has eternal worth, because we are in obedience, doing His will! Abide in Christ, abide in the Tabernacle…dwell in His Holy place!

Dwelling with God

Psalm 91:1He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” The Psalmist suggests that it is possible to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High”, not just visit there once in a while. Further, it says that the one who does so, deliberately, by choice and by faith, will “abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” Surely that is worth the struggle, to maintain that sort of close relationship with the Creator, Savior and Judge of all the Earth.

Psalm 15 reads as follows:

1Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

So, not only is it possible to “abide in the tabernacle,” and “dwell in His holy hill,” (at that time, the temple mount) but He goes on to say what kind of behavior goes along with the privilege. This is not a blanket promise to all believers: this is very definitely a “conditional promise.” We have read many of God’s unconditional promises, all of which are true of every believer. But this one, and many others like it, are dependent upon how we respond to God, and the resulting ways that we respond to the people around us. Notice, please, that every single one of the “conditions” listed in Psalm 15 are describing how we are to deal with other humans, with the possible exception of “speaking the truth in his heart.” That one may have to do with being honest before the Lord, since only He can see the heart; but it would still affect our interpersonal dealings.

In James 4:8, we are exhorted to “cleanse” our hands, as sinners, and “purify” our hearts, from being double-minded. So my behavior and my heart-motives are both in question, as I attempt to draw near to God. I cannot “draw near” to God, if I am mistreating other people in any way, or even just submitting myself to my Old Sin Nature, in pride, or lust, or covetousness, etc. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God won’t even listen to my prayers, if I am sinning…even just in my heart. (Jesus confirms this, when he “upgraded the Law” by saying that if I am angry without cause against a brother, then I am in danger of judgment, just as if I were a murderer; and that if I am secretly desiring sexual sin, I am just as wrong as if I were literally committing adultery…he said that I am already doing so in my heart! There’s that heart-motive thing again!)

 In Ephesians 4:31, 32, it says that I am to lay aside all bitterness, and wrath and anger (all of which are inward attitudes) and clamor and evil speaking (it is starting to come out my mouth, here), along with all malice (the underlying heart-issue.)

Morally, and in terms of His character, God has never “moved” nor changed His “position.” He defines perfection. We embraced His promise by faith, and received eternal life through our Savior. We are also invited to embrace His righteousness by faith, and to see our thoughts, values and behaviors change. As they change, and as we learn to walk with God, we will find that He also continually reaches out to us, to steady us in our walk, and to encourage us to “climb higher”, grow stronger, etc. As we “draw near to Him” on a character plane, He draws near to us, not by changing His position, but by reaching out to us, and helping us along toward Himself.

Proverbs 2 (and, I strongly recommend that you read this, slowly, meditating on the meaning) describes the relational efforts involved with “drawing near to God.” It seems to involve much time in God’s Word, much time in Prayer, and a good deal of soul-searching, for lack of a better word. It is not an easy process. It takes effort!

This part of the Christian life is entirely conditional.  None of the walk of faith is guaranteed to us, except the result of obedience, which is eternal reward. Although the promises of God regarding salvation itself are only conditional upon faith, and the truths regarding the believer’s new position are dependent only upon that position “in Christ”, it is entirely possible to live one’s whole life as a believer, and never learn to enter in and enjoy a close walk with God. In fact, tragically, it is quite common.

All of God’s blessing and relational joy is available to all believers at all times, but none of it is guaranteed, without the deliberate choice, on a moment-by-moment basis, to walk with God. The problem is that it involves a constant battle: our old nature, the Flesh, is not at all in agreement, and the World constantly works to distract and dissuade us, while Satan finds ways to trip us up. (See James 3:15, where these three sources are named.)

How should we respond to knowing that we are NOT walking with God?

James makes it clear that it is far beyond “sobering” to discover that all your investments, so to speak, have been wasted: Knowing that all your life is being wasted, and that your hope of eternal reward is vanishing, should bring total remorse and repentance! Remember that “repentance” means a change of mind. We are to drop our old pattern of thinking, realize what it has cost us, and adopt a new outlook, causing a radical change in our behavior as well.

Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

Repentance (Greek, metanoia”…meaninga “change of mind, resulting in change of behavior”) has to result in humility, sufficient to cause us to let go of our old priorities, and begin to seize upon the priorities of God. And He says that if we choose to humble ourselves before Him and change our priorities; then He will reach out to lift us up, and honor us in His way, instead of whatever manner we had been attempting to satisfy our own desires for fulfillment. That may seem a hard choice to make, but it is a good one.

We might take this as meaning to “lift us up” in terms of help, in hard times, and, indeed, it could include that. But, consider Stephen, who had already been walking a humble, Spirit-filled life, and was faithfully serving the poor as described in Acts chapter six; but, as he was being falsely accused (chapter seven) the scripture says he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and his face was literally shining, so that he resembled some heavenly, angelic creature: Then Jesus met Him at the Father’s side, by standing, thus “exalting him in due time” (1st Peter 5:6). But his enemies were still allowed to stone him. He was exalted in that he was martyred. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He was not “helped” as we would seek help: being rescued from pain or death, shame, or some financial misfortune.

There are no promises of health or wealth, or physical safety and comfort for Church-age believers. Quite the contrary: Philippians 1:29 plainly states that “unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” This is not a comfortable thought, perhaps; but please bear in mind that we have already been joined with Him in His death, His resurrection, and His ascension: He has assured us of our position with Him for eternity. We are also to expect a certain measure of His suffering as a part of our position in Christ.

To me, the rich promises of the blessings of simply walking with God far outweigh the certainty that there will be rough times. When Psalm 15 was written, the battles were quite real and physical. The blessings of God were in focus in that Psam, so fully that the stresses of daily life were completely off the table…not even being considered. The Psalmist wanted to walk with God, not just be saved. He wanted to dwell in God’s Holy Hill, in the Holy Place with God, not just visit there, once in a while.

I think it is fitting that believers today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit should desire that closeness even more, and seek His face even more earnestly.

Give this some thought, and re-examine the scriptures we have read. Ask yourself where your focus really is, and how it might look different if you were walking by faith, and dwelling in the Holy place with Jesus.

This is a matter of continuous re-examination and continual attention. It isn’t something we can “do once” and be done with it. It is a practical outworking of our real life in Christ.

Blessings upon you as you seek His face.


The Doctrine of the Church

The Doctrine of the Church

© 8/29/2010 C. O. Bishop

Ephesians 3:1, 2-13, especially verses 4-6

Introduction:

We hear a lot about “the church” in public speaking (usually in reference to some denomination) and it seems that the world, unsurprisingly, does not see the church the same way God does. Unfortunately, neither do we believers. We have been heavily affected by the world’s point of view. We tend to think of the building as a “church”, though we (supposedly) know that the people are the real church. And even when we think of the “people” as the church, we tend to think of a particular group of believer’s as “the church”, instead of recognizing one body of believers, as God does.

Does this mean that God does not see a local assembly as a church? Absolutely not! He definitely recognizes local assemblies as “churches” (plural), but the two natures of the church (local and universal) are necessary because the living believers still have two natures, and are limited by time and space, whereas the believers who have already gone to be with Christ have only their redeemed nature, and they are all consciously with Him and with one another. (Now, there’s a “Mega-church,” for you!)

In Ephesians chapter one Paul introduced the idea of “The Church,” proper (singular)…one body eternally bonded with Jesus Christ. Let’s read, as he expands on the topic briefly in chapter three.

A Parenthetical Statement

1For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

“For this cause…” (What cause?) The fact that the believers are being built together as a habitation of God, through the Spirit (See previous verse)

v.1 For this cause I, Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

[v.2 If ye have heard…] the following thirteen verses are a parenthesis, from verse 2 to verse thirteen. In verse 14, Paul picks up the thread of his original thought again, and completes the sentence, “For this cause…I bow my knees unto the Father…” He is declaring that because of the church truth being worked out in Jew and Gentile, he is consistently praying that the believers would receive certain blessings from God, and grow in faith and understanding.

It is interesting, and possibly a little ironic that the explanation of the Church is given in parenthetical form, since, as we will see later, the church itself is, in a way, a “parenthesis.” The parenthesis in chapter three is where I want to focus my attention today:

A New Man

Paul began to make a statement concerning his prayers for the believers, but paused to explain why it was his particular duty and pleasure to do so. In Romans 11:13 Paul stated clearly that he was “the Apostle to the Gentiles.” Did he only preach to Gentiles? No: in fact, as we mentioned in Ephesians chapter one, his particular practice in every city was to go to the synagogue first, and offer the message to the Jews. Then, when they turned up their collective noses at the offering (as they inevitably did,) he turned his attention to the Gentiles in the vicinity.

The fact that the Gentiles could and would be saved was NOT a mystery…God had promised an outreach to the Gentiles, and promised that He would save those who sought him. But the fact that He would create a “New Man” (the Church) and include Jews and Gentiles in the same Body, had only vaguely been alluded to by Jesus himself, in John 10:16, and was nowhere spelled out or explained.

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)

Paul was given this ministry by revelation from Jesus himself, beginning on the road to Damascus, as we read in Acts 9:1-20, especially verse 15, and continuing in Galatians 1:15-2:2 (read it). Paul was met by Jesus in broad daylight, and blinded by the light of Jesus’ countenance. He was told by revelation that he was to serve Jesus, and would be used to take the gospel to the heathen (ultimately us!)

Only in the writings of Paul do we find the specific doctrine of the church. It is mentioned, of course, in other writings, but the specific teaching regarding it being made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles, and that they were one body in Christ, is taught by Paul alone.

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

Paul underscores the fact that the doctrine of the Church had not been made known “in other ages”—that is, by previous prophets, or, more specifically, during previous dispensations. Paul begins in verse two, saying “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the Grace of God, which is given me to you-ward:” in other words, the gift that God has given Paul is that of “being the Apostle to the Gentiles (see verse 8).”

It would be tempting to use this passage as a proof-text for the concept of dispensations, but that is not what is being taught in this passage, though the doctrine of dispensational theology is definitely taught throughout the scripture. The use of the word “dispensation” in this passage has only to do with the fact that Paul was assigned a particular gift, to be administered toward the Gentiles. However, his pointing out that the church was not revealed in previous “ages” is part of the clear teaching of dispensations. It simply has nothing to do with Paul’s use of the word, here.

When the prophet Daniel was given what was possibly the furthest-reaching prophecy in scripture, culminating in Daniel 9:23-27, it included all the time from the days of Nehemiah to the Messianic Kingdom, but, though it specifically predicted the death of the Messiah, it completely skipped the Church age! Many of the prophets detailed the kingdom age…but none touched upon the church age. The church could be seen as a “parenthesis” in God’s dealing with Israel and the World.

Even Jesus, though he briefly predicted it, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church…,” did not explain anything about it. And, though he stated the he had come to fulfill the Law, he did not specify how he would do so. Paul’s writings (Galatians 2:19) tell us that “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.” Jesus fulfilled the Law for us by dying in our place, so that we could be “dead to the Law,” thus beyond its reach. I am no longer judged by God’s Law, and am finally free to serve Him without reproach.

Paul wanted his readers (us, too), to understand how he knew what he did about the church age…and that it really was new information, though completely in keeping with the Old Testament scripture. It violated nothing, and fulfilled everything.

By the Gospel

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

Paul specifies what portion of this doctrine was the “mystery” (something not previously revealed), in verse 6: “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel” That was largely the sticking point for the Jews, regarding the Gentiles. The Jews could not understand how, after all the years of isolation in God’s blessing, the doors were to be thrown open, and the heathen were coming in.  Not only were they coming in, but once they were in, God would no longer make a distinction between Jew and Gentile.  That did not sound like “Good News” to the Jews, especially the unbelieving Jews. They were not prepared to share their inheritance.

But how did the Gentiles come in? How did they become fellow-heirs? How did it happen that there was to be only one “Body of Christ? How were the Gentiles to be made partakers of the promised Messiah?

The answer?  “By the Gospel:” the Gospel is listed as the only power of God to save those who believe, in Romans 1:16, 17 (read it). And it says that this is how he saves Jews and Gentiles. But this is all new information…and Paul was sent to teach it.

Paul was overwhelmed by the honor and the privilege he had been given. He said, “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints in this Grace given; that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.

I wish that I could see the job of world evangelism through Paul’s eyes. I am caught up with day to day living, and sometimes can barely see those around me as an opportunity for the Gospel, or, more specifically, as precious souls for whom Christ died…Paul saw evangelism as the greatest privilege in life!

Each of you who have received Jesus as your Savior has been saved by means of the Gospel. There are no exceptions. That is the only way God saves people. Actually, it has always been the only way he saved people. He gave the promise of the coming Messiah in Genesis 3:15-21, immediately after Man’s fall into sin. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to that coming Messiah—we look back. They brought blood sacrifices, looking forward to the cross. We take communion, looking back. Every saved person in history was saved “by Grace through Faith”, the same as you and I have been saved. That part of the message is not new.

What is new is the Church—the one body of believers, in whom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female”, etc. This is in reference to the one body of Christ, not the local assembly.

Interestingly, Paul addresses only the universal church in the book of Ephesians…in the letters to the believers at Corinth, he speaks more to the local assembly, and gives directions for the local churches. He gives similar counsel in the letters to Timothy and Titus. But the letter to the Ephesian believers is primarily devoted to teaching them their “position,” or standing, as believers. Then, how to live as believers, and how to stand fast in their faith as believers.

How Old is the Plan?

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

One thing I find particularly intriguing about this passage is that it is also one of the few that give us some inkling of God’s purpose in creating the church. He says that he purposed it in Himself since the beginning of the world, but that it has been hidden, down through all the ages.

Paul goes on to say that the eternal purpose (verse 11) was that now (verse 10) the angels (various names of various ranks) would observe through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.

But…haven’t they already seen it, down through all the ages? What is so special about the Church? I really am not sure. But evidently the indwelling Holy Spirit (which also had not occurred before, at least on a wide-spread basis) and the outpoured Grace of God are an amazing thing to the angelic hosts. They are to me, too! I cannot understand His Grace. I do not know why He would go to such lengths to salvage such wrecks as we in the human race really are…honestly.

But God not only says that it is true, but He says that it is his purpose to demonstrate it to the angels. To me, somehow, that makes all the other messed-up things in life seem more bearable, because I know that God is using me to demonstrate His Grace and Wisdom to the angelic hosts.

How can we be a part of God’s Plan?

To take that “heavenly thought” and bring it “down to earth,” so to speak, let us consider: if God is planning to use you to show the angels His Grace and Wisdom…don’t you think He could use you to demonstrate and share His Grace with other humans? Right here on Earth? Right here in town? In your own family? Your own neighborhood? Right where you are?

The answer is yes! We are to be “lights in a dark world,” reflecting God’s light, and drawing people to Him. If people cannot see God’s love in our lives, they will not believe the Gospel when it comes out of our mouths. He can use you. First by your attitude, and behavior, second by your words, but all undergirded by prayer that His Grace will flow through you as it did through Paul, to reach the dying world around you. We meet together as believers, specifically to encourage one another, and to pray for the lost around us, and to pray that God will use each of us for His glory.

Between the times when we meet together, we meet daily with the risen Christ, and get our “marching orders,” so to speak, from Him.

We read our Bibles, and we pray, asking God to reveal Himself in His Word. We sing together, worshipping the Lord, and encouraging each other. That is how believers are to function.

Let us pray that we will be faithful to do all these things. We will continue in His Word, and in fellowship with one another, as He permits.


“Unanswered” Prayers?

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

We often wonder why our prayer life seems ineffectual, and either bemoan that “God doesn’t answer,” or cynically declare that “prayer makes no difference, because God will just do whatever His plan was, anyway.” Both ideas are wrong, and the truth is more related to the character of our relationship with God than it is anything else. James begins by backing up and asking a rhetorical question, and then answers it, and begins to build upon the answer.

Human Sin

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Here, the “you” (plural) to whom James speaks, is the whole human race. There had been no instance (at that time) of literal wars happening between believers, though it has happened more recently. But the history of the human race is absolutely riddled with warfare, raids, murders, enslavement, etc., in every nation, and in virtually every culture, at one time or another. And James recognized the source of the problem: that, far from being just some “force of nature”, or “artifact of human imperfection”, those wars and evil behaviors specifically come from our sinful desires.

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

Romans 5:10 agrees with this idea, stating that we were enemies of God (prior to being saved) and that Jesus died for us while we were in that status, not after repentance or because of some “pre-christian” status. (There is no such thing as a “pre-christian,” by the way. We start off as enemies of God, and, if we die in that position, we are eternally lost. If God can bring us to repentance then we make a full transition to being children of God, and are credited with the righteousness of Christ.)

So, this passage tells us why the state of man is so filled with violence. God made a point of this clear back in Genesis 6:12, noting that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. He also stated, (Genesis 6:5) that every thought of the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually. “Well (we may protest) that was before the flood. We are all sprung from Noah, today!) So then, after the flood, things should have improved, right? Let’s see what God said: (Genesis 8:21) “…the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” The only people present were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their respective wives! Eight persons comprised the world’s entire population! And God said they were full of evil!

So…if that is the state of man, what chance do we have for improvement? On our own effort? None at all! That is why Jesus became a human being, lived a perfect life so as to qualify as our redeemer, and willingly became our blood-sacrifice at Calvary. He did this so that we could be born from above…born again, with a new nature, which is capable of living for God. What about that old nature? It is still there, otherwise all the warnings of the New Testament would be pointless, as believers would be incapable of sin!

But the truth is that our old nature is completely incapable of being transformed, healed, or salvaged. It is not only corrupt but it is still actively being corrupted. When we sin, we feed our old nature, and it is strengthened. But our new nature is completely holy, like the One who created it. So we are left with a perpetual fight to maintain a Christian life.

James knew all of this, but rather than go into detail explaining it to fellow-Jewish Christians, he built on their knowledge of the Word, and moved forward. (We Gentiles frequently have to go back and read the Old Testament Scriptures in order to catch up.)

Unanswered Prayer

3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When we think of prayer, our opinions may run everywhere from “prayer is a waste of breath, because God is just going to do what He wants to do, anyway” all the way to the idea that God is a “celestial vending machine” who will give us whatever we ask for, if we either ask often enough, or ask with the right formula, or something. Both of those ideas are sadly mistaken, though both have elements of truth.

God does commit Himself to righteousness, and to His own perfect plan, though His plan may seem chaotic to us. We need to realize that what seems rather random and directionless, to us, is actually quite controlled, but so unimaginably complex as to easily evade our understanding. We humans can create machines, computer programs, to produce “random” numbers, but the fact is that they are simply taking whatever micro-millisecond that the computer clock is at, at the moment you give the command, and applying an extremely complex formula to that number, so rapidly that we cannot hope to follow it. Since we have no way to know the exact time we gave the command, and no way to track the math, the resulting number seems completely random to us, but, in reality, it was completely planned: we are just unable to see the plan.

Isn’t it odd that we are willing to entrust our lives and money and health to a computer, designed, built and programmed by humans, who, in turn, were programmed by their own sin, but we are not so willing to trust the God who designed and built us, though He is not contaminated by our sin? Give that some thought!

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

Over in Hebrews 11:6, it says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We have to begin with the conviction that God exists, and that He is good, beyond comprehension: that He is the creator and designer of all good, and that even the evil in the world is not “outside” His oversight.

We live, today, in the ruins of what was created a perfect world, but which was devastated by sin: we live with the evidence of that destruction all around us: even in the majesty of the peaks, where we see the layered sediments as mute testimony of the flood, and the broken, ragged ridges; evidence of the continental breakup still in motion today. So, within the wreckage of “life after the Fall of Man” we need to realize that God’s ultimate good is still in control, but there are still the ugly realities to deal with: life in a fallen world; life with fallen humans as our fellow-travelers. When we pray, we need to realize that sometimes the things we want are not in keeping with a greater plan of God.

Therefore, we are admonished over in 1st John that there are some prerequisites to answered prayer:

  1. We, ourselves, have to be in obedience to God, so that we are not already at cross-purposes to His sovereignty. (Yes, it is not only possible to be at cross-purposes to God, it is so common as to be nearly universal. 1st John 3:18-24)
  2. We have to ask in accordance with His revealed will. (1st John 5:14, 15) This takes some study and growth, on our part, to even know, as an over-arching concept, what that will is, let alone His will for any given matter. But God does reserve the right to reply in one of three ways:
    1. Yes,” which is what we always want.
    2. No,” which is what we really mean, when we claim that “God didn’t answer me!” or,
    3. “Wait,” which is very commonly perceived as “no;” but we need to be patient and find out whether our petition has been denied for cause, or simply deferred because a better occasion is coming soon.

So, how does God see our Allegiances with the World?

Finally, here in James, we see that we frequently are turned away because of wrong motives. The wrong motives, whatever the reason, would automatically place us in the category of “not praying according to God’s Will.”

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Remember that we all begin as the enemies of God: Romans 5:8-10 made this clear. So, having been born again, and no longer being citizens of this world, we need to change our allegiances, as well. It is not that we are not to befriend the people of the world…Remember? “God so loved the World….” But we are to sever our allegiance to the world’s system of thought, and its values and morals.

The people in the world, every single one of them, are created in the image of God, and are precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood. And yet, even there, we are encouraged to make friends of God’s friends. King Jehoshaphat, in 2nd Chronicles 19:1-3, was rebuked for having allied himself with King Ahab, an evil man, in a war (previous chapter.) God eliminated Ahab through a “random” arrow, but Jehoshaphat had survived the battle.

On his way back home, a prophet, named Jehu, met him on the road, and delivered God’s rebuke. The alliance was the issue; the military partnership with a nation that was already at odds with God. We are not to make alliances or partnerships with people who are at cross-purposes against God. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18 spells this out very clearly: we are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. (This includes, of course, the partnership of marriage. Believers are not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Have there been people who were tricked into believing that their intended spouse was a believer, only to discover later that it was a lie? Certainly there have been, and God knows that. He addresses that elsewhere.)

This caution against “Friendship with the World” in no way cancels our “debt” to those around us, to offer the love of God, and the Gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16; 13:8). Most will reject the Gospel, and we know that, but we still have the obligation to make the offer of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to those around us.

But, if we continue to embrace the world’s way of thinking, then, at least at a functional level, we are still behaving as the enemies of God. This is the practice and mindset that we are to abandon, wholesale, and avoid completely. The attitude and arrogance, and duplicity of the world, along with its constant message of self-importance and self-will, is completely repugnant to God. We need to guard against being drawn back to those values. When we find that we are setting aside known directives and values of God in favor of what seems appropriate from a human perspective, then we have already crossed the line, even if we think we are doing something “good.”


Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

I am given to believe that the “Spirit,” here, is the Holy Spirit (in spite of the lack of capitalization in the KJV): and that the desire the Spirit has, is for us to learn to devote ourselves completely to God. We tend to only see the word “lust” as referencing sexual desire, but it actually means any strong desire, and not necessarily even an evil desire. Our own spirit is never said to “dwell” in us, as it is truly part of who we are (body, soul, and spirit, see 1st Thessalonians 5:23.) Since that is the case, then I do not see this as our own human spirit, since the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in us, and as the third member of the Godhead, He certainly has some strong desires where God’s Will is concerned. Over in Galatians 5:17, it says that “the flesh (old sin nature) lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh…” In that context, at least, the spirit in question is definitely the Holy Spirit. I believe it is, here in James 4:5, as well. But even if that is settled, and if I am correct, I still have to decide what the “desire” of the Holy Spirit is, for us:

In the Old Testament, God claims to be a “jealous God,” desiring his people to serve Him alone, and not go after other gods. In fact, he refers to this sinful practice as spiritual adultery. He considered Israel to be wedded to Himself, and, as a husband, He was jealous of her attention to the foreign, false, evil gods of the nations around her.

We, as the Church-age believers, are called the “Bride of Christ.” Is it surprising, then, that the Holy Spirit jealously calls us to separate ourselves from our old ways and walk with Him alone? Specifically, that He calls us to drop our “friendship with the World”, and draw close to the Lord who bought us out of slavery to sin? I think it is perfectly understandable, and right. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned to “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” If we are grieving the Holy Spirit by our attitudes, our actions, or our allegiances, then we definitely should not expect that our prayers will be received as we want them to be. The Psalmist (Psalm 66:18) says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It does not say that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear us.

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

This is a hard passage to apply: we never like to admit to ourselves that we are “proud people.” But, when our pride is causing arguments, division, and a stiff-necked disobedience, then we are not in a condition to be blessed by God. Instead, He has to resist us at every turn. The scripture never lists pride as a “positive” trait. It sometimes lists it as an “ordinary” thing, for example, he mentions a strong man glorying in his strength, but even then, he cautions that it is a temporary, fleeting glory. Pride and self-will are, simply stated, in opposition to God, so He has no choice but to oppose us, and resist us, in our pride. If we want to enjoy God’s Grace, then we need to willingly humble ourselves, so that He does not have to do it, teaching us humility the hard way.

The next verse is easy to misunderstand, as well:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This verse must be taken in its entirety: Satan is not “afraid of believers.” But He cannot stand before God. So, a believer, not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but also in submission to Him, and thus able to resist Satan, is not just a helpless sheep, ready to become the prey of Satan, but, instead, is a powerful partner of Christ, and is at least dangerous to the plans and programs of the evil one. Consider a wild animal…a coyote: though he is unafraid of a horse alone, when it sees the same horse with a man in the saddle, he runs for cover. It isn’t the horse that frightens him; it is the man directing the horse that is dangerous. The coyote knows that people are his enemies and that they are quite able to kill at a distance.

When we are in submission to God, we are dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. But without that first clause in verse seven (submit yourself therefore to God,) the second clause would be a laughable fallacy. In our own strength, we cannot resist the evil one. We are automatically submitted to him, in fact, when we are not submitted to God.

We only have two natures: Either we will submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, and see His power working in our lives, or we will, by default, submit ourselves to the evil one, and we will increasingly see him damaging our lives, our testimony, and our happiness.

Where are you now?

There is no middle ground: when we were unbelievers, we thought that we were “free” from the influence of either God or Satan. Indeed, we counted ourselves the “masters of our fates, and the captains of our souls,” as the poem “Invictus” boasts. But we were deceived, and, in fact, were completely, blindly, under the sway of the evil one. We had no conscious knowledge of our plight, and we thought that we were free. Now we have freedom to choose, but there is still no middle ground. We will either serve Jesus, consciously, and willingly, or we will serve Satan, unconsciously, and whether we like it or not.

I frequently think of Samson: Because of his inconsistent, continually “sloppy” walk with God, in spite of the fact that he was a genuine believer, and a man of God, who is even listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, he ended up being physically blinded, and working as a prisoner and a slave, under the Philistines, his mortal enemies. A believer today can end up being spiritually blinded, and working for his great enemy, Satan…and not even know that he has again become a slave to sin.

All I can do is look and see where I am: what does the fruit in my life look like: am I being a blessing to the people around me; and am I a “fragrance of Christ,” or am I a curse and a stumbling-block? Do I pray for them with an honest heart, desiring the best for their lives, or am I mostly praying for them to change, so I will be more comfortable? Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus died, or do I see them mostly as an irritation, causing me inconvenience and distress? What are my real motives in life? Are they the same as those Jesus displayed, or are they self-centered, just like those of the World?

These are things we can think about, as we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. These are the things we need to consider, when we question the effectiveness of prayer, and when we wonder where our joy in life has gone.

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond.



Things God Wants you to Know

Things God Wants You to Know—and Things He Doesn’t.

© Chet Bishop 2011

Introduction:

I rarely offer “current events” sermons… The most current thing in the world is God’s Word, and I can never offer anything more relevant than what He has to say. But over the last few weeks a frustrating, sad thing has been happening. A man (Harold Camping) has claimed to know something, and has presented this “special knowledge” to the world at large. He did so in the name of Jesus. He advertised worldwide…spent millions, in fact,  to tell everyone that Jesus was going to rapture the church on May 21st, 2011 at 5:59 PM. (In case you are wondering, nothing happened at all…guess we missed it.)

This is not the first time this charlatan has made this claim. He did the same thing in 1994, and it almost seems to me that he claimed the same day that time, but I can’t remember for sure. At any rate, he was shown to be a false prophet that time, and has done so again. But this time, the whole world is mocking the Christians, assuming that this is what Christians believe. They laugh, and write slanderous ditties, mocking those who believe in the Christ at all, let alone the relative few who accepted the message of the charlatan.

Serious Christians and, more specifically, serious Bible students were not at all disturbed by his message, except that we all fervently wish he would knock off the frivolous claims, and quit dragging the name of Jesus in the dirt of public mockery. We knew he was wrong.

How did we know?

There are things God definitely wants us to know. He says so, and commands Christians to share that knowledge with anyone who will listen. (He also says that we are not to waste it on those who are opposed to the message.) But there are things God does NOT want us to know, as well: more specifically, things He has plainly told us we will not know, that it is not ours to know.

Things God want us to Know:

Let’s look first at just a few of the things God says He wants us to know—there are many, of course, but let’s look at a few of the key issues:

Isaiah 6:1-3 says “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim…and one cried to another, and said, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the LORD of Hosts’!”

(God is Holy! In fact, Holiness is His primary attribute…and He wants us to know it!)

Zechariah 8:17 says, “And let none of you imagine evil in your heart against your neighbor… for these are things that I hate, saith the LORD”

One thing God wants you to know (and He declares it to be so, over and over) is that He is a Holy God. That means he is separated from sin. It also means he hates sin, as any grieving parent would hate the drugs that were destroying his or her precious child…God hates sin because it is repugnant to him…offensive to him; and he hates it because of the destruction it is working in the world he has created…the people that he loves…the people for whom he died.

God is Holy, and He hates sin…he hates the evil that mankind thinks up, one against another—all of it—from the gossip and lies that are so common in the world, to the greed that consumes our nations, to the immorality that riddles all of our cultures.

We don’t like to think about God hating—but he does—He is Holy, and He hates sin.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now, Love is something we DO like to associate with God—we like to remember his Love, and we sing, “Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus!” Let’s see what it says He loves: It says, “God so loved the WORLD…” the people. Not the World system of thinking, which despises His grace, and spits on his Law, but the people themselves, created in His image. He hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

So, another thing God wants you to know is that He loves you—you, personally, with all your pride and sin, and failings. (Yes, you are a sinner…most of you do not need me to tell you that…you already knew it.) God says that “ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23) He also says “the wages of Sin is death” (Romans 6:23.) But God says He loves you in spite of your sin, and sent His Son to die in your place.

Now, one thing He told us briefly, in John 3:16, is that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That begins to let us know what God wants us to do…He says he wants us to believe in His Son, who died for us.

Once Jesus was speaking to a large crowd of people, and one of them asked “Teacher, what shall we do that we might work the works of God?” Some of you know His answer—this question was in John 6:28—verse 29 gave His answer. He said “this is the work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Jesus could have quoted the Ten Commandments to them—He was the author! But God has NEVER invited us to do good works to earn His favor. He has always invited us to place our trust in His perfect work, and receive un-earned favor—that’s what we call GRACE. (Grace means “unearned favor.” God says “By Grace are ye saved, through Faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.”He loveH

So, right along with the fact that He loves us, is the fact that he wants us to place our trust in Him—specifically, in his Son, the Lord Jesus.

In another situation, Jesus was talking with a group of people, and made a very special promise.

 John 5:24 says “Verily, Verily, I say unto you; whosoever heareth my Words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life”

God wants you to know HOW to receive eternal life, He wants you to receive it, and He wants you to know for sure that you have received it. Let me re-emphasize that: He wants you to know how to have eternal life, He wants you to HAVE eternal life, and He wants you to KNOW you have it—NOW, not waiting ‘til you die, and hoping you would get it.

Look at that promise! John 5:24 is ONE promise, with TWO conditions, and THREE clauses. (ONE, TWO, THREE!)

The whole verse is one promise—what are the conditions? He said whoever (that means you and me)…#1: whoever hears my words (If you have heard the promise of Christ, even if today was the first time, and I know for most of you it is not), #2: and believes on Him who sent me (If you place your trust in the Grace that sent Jesus to the cross—believing that His blood was sufficient to pay for your sin) Those are the only conditions—there is no one here who cannot fulfill those two conditions. Let’s look at the threefold promise that rests on those two conditions:

Whoever hears, and believes, #1: HAS everlasting life (notice it does NOT say, will have everlasting life—it says HAS everlasting life—NOW!— not “someday, if you are good enough”… NOW— in spite of your sins.

#2: The second clause is similar—it says you shall not come into condemnation—God will remember your sins no more. He will never condemn you again. Your sins are gone forever, in terms of judgment. They were nailed to the Cross. Will you still sin? Yes. Will God ever condemn you again for your sins? NO. Those sins were paid for by the blood of Jesus.

The third is almost too simple—we almost miss it.

Clause #3 states that we have passed from death unto life. Now notice the tense, here—the first clause is present tense—it says we HAVE eternal life—present tense. The second is future tense—it says we WILL NOT come into condemnation. That covers my present and my future—what about my past?

The last clause is past tense, but not just past tense; no, rather, God used past PERFECT tense in the original language—meaning I have crossed over at some specific time in the past, and it has eternal results. I can never go back. That’s why we call it the new birth–Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again!” Well, by faith, I have been born again, and cannot be “un-born.” That is what perfect tense means…it’s a done deal!

God wants you to know that you have eternal life!  

1st John 5:11-13 says, “This is the record, that God has given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His son. He that hath the Son, hath life. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. These things I have written unto you who believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life.

God says He wants you to know that you have eternal life—not “hope you can hang on long enough to get it.” These are all things God definitely wants us to know.

Things God does NOT want us to know:

Some things we can assume He did not want us to know because He simply does not tell us, and there is no way to find out. What was God doing the day before Genesis 1:1? It isn’t entirely a silly question…God has been active throughout all eternity. We are given a few things to know—we know that there was a war in heaven—we don’t know exactly when. We know that the angel named Lucifer fell into sin because of pride, and became the adversary known as Satan (which means “the adversary”—the enemy.) We know that a third of the angelic host joined him in his rebellion, and were lost with him. We think (can’t prove it) that they are probably the spirits that became the demonic host that plagued Israel during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This type of question can be considered in light of what God has told us, and probable answers can be proposed…but only tentatively.

Peter asked Jesus, just before the ascension, what John was to do. Jesus told him, in effect, that it was none of his business, and that he should concentrate on his own walk with God. (John 21:20-23). I would hypothesize from Jesus’ answer that we are not given to know God’s will for another individual except in the general sense, in that he has told us his will for every believer in a wide range of circumstances, and general principles, so that there should be little doubt. But he does not tell me what he wants of you in your ministry. There is no hierarchy of clergy through which God reveals his will for all the laity—in fact, the whole concept of a division between clergy and laity is foreign to the church age. Every believer is a priest in the Body of Christ, and we all have responsibility as priests…and we all work directly for the Head of the Body—Jesus, himself.

Daniel once observed that he could not understand the prophecy he had just been given (Daniel 12:8, 9)—the angel who had given him the message told him to “write it down and run along—“ that it was not for him to understand, but for the people of the end time. Interesting! Daniel, one of the greatest prophets of all time, was not allowed to understand the prophecy he was sent to deliver!

Jesus’ disciples had essentially the same question…when is all this stuff going to happen? (Matthew 24:3, ff)  Jesus had gone to great lengths to explain the Great Tribulation, and the things that would preface his physical return to earth…but not a word as to how to put a date on it. In fact, in verse 35, he confides that not even the angels knew the date—but (at least at that point), only the Father (Matthew 24:35). In fact, in Mark 13:32, Jesus said that he himself did not even know the date of his return! Does Jesus know today? Undoubtedly, since he is God—and He was God, then— but evidently he had set aside that particular prerogative, and was living by faith, as a man. We might (probably should) take enough from these passages to understand that this is a closed issue. But the disciples weren’t satisfied…they just had to ask again.

At the ascension, just before Jesus left the Earth, they tried once more (Acts 1:6-8), asking, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?” They did not understand any of the issues involved—they were asking for a restoration of the glory of the kingdom of David, or possibly that of Solomon—they had no idea of the Kingdom of God, or they would not have asked for “restoration”—they had never seen the Kingdom of God; Israel had never had it—so it could not be “restored”.

But Jesus’ response is a real key to the whole matter of the end times: He said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power (authority.)” (None of your concern!) But, he went on to say, “you shall receive power…and ye shall be witnesses unto Me…” the great commission was reiterated at this point. The thing that WAS theirs to know was that they were to be ambassadors for Christ throughout the whole world.

That particular question was never raised again by the disciples—and it was not bandied about in the epistles. There is zero discussion about when the Day of the Lord may begin…only that it will begin suddenly, without warning, and that it will begin with the snatching away of the church, and the Tribulation (seven years of it) will immediately follow (see 1st Thessalonians 4 and 5). Jesus’ return to earth will terminate the Tribulation, and usher in the Millennial Kingdom Matthew 25:31 and following. Also Revelation 19 and 20.). The book of the Revelation primarily concerns itself with this whole time period from the rapture to the end of the millennial kingdom…but no clue is give as to when it might happen. There are many clues as to how to know it is coming, but not one bit about setting a time.

So…when someone claims to have that knowledge, you are dealing either with a false prophet who is deliberately attempting to lead you astray, or, hopefully, simply someone who has allowed themselves to be deluded, either by their own reasoning (quite common) or someone else’s (even more common). This is simply one of the few things we know of that God does NOT want us to know, and that, indeed we cannot know. Jesus said: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is!” All we can do is be ready.

Today, this is a pressing hope in the Church. We see the World rapidly deteriorating, and we fervently hope for the Lord’s Return. But all we can do is press forward with the Great Commission, which is one of the things we DO know is His will, and look forward to the Hope of His Coming…another thing we know is His will.

How Shall we then Live?

Paul made an interesting comment to the Church at Corinth: “Awake to righteousness and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (1st Corinthians 15:34) This is especially applicable today, as we are hoping for the Lord’s soon return: There are millions around us who would be eternally lost if He returned today. Paul says we are to wake up and do something about it. At the very least, our lives should reflect the Holiness and Love of God. It is our responsibility to act as ambassadors of Christ, as well, sharing that Love and the Salvation He provided at the Cross with the lost world around us.

Now, There’s something God wants you to know! And He calls each of us to wake up and respond to Him in faith and obedience.

God help us all to open up and yield to His Spirit, and reach out to the lost around us.


The Sources of Wisdom

The Sources of Wisdom

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:13-18

How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.

Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.

The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not insisting on proving oneself right, but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:

  • Bitterness
  • Strife
  • Envy

Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”

Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

James gives three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:

  • Earthly, (from the Worlds way of thinking)
  • Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; soulish; from the Flesh) and/or
  • Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan.)

As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…Blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., our enemy, Satan wants to render you useless to God, destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. Take this seriously!

So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit:

  • Purity
  • Peaceable-ness
  • Gentleness
  • Approachable-ness
  • Mercifulness
  • Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
  • Impartiality
  • Genuineness…no hypocrisy
  • Producing Peace, because it is given in peace.

If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.

Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.

Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)

Some time ago, a young(er) friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs. The one couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry), and were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.

The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her money (from support). They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.

Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where the “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.

The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?

Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate fount of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.

So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test or something, by which to determine which is which.

James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next chapter (skipping ahead) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?

They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (The support-structure of that mission was actually set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.

I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.”

I was in a different meeting once, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something that same teacher had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today, as we certainly need such teachers.

What about those other Sources?

The World

Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.

John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”

Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least…the prophet Jonah was from Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and stalked off, feeling triumphant.

In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument.

We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.

The Flesh

There have certainly been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!

The Devil

2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in battle.

Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death!  Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)

But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for joining forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)

The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”

Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)

Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.

I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God whom He has chosen us to be.


What Fragrance do you Bring?

What Fragrance Do You Bring?


© C. O. Bishop 2011
THCF 11/20/11 (Not a Recent Sermon…but appropriate for the times.)

John 12:3 and others…

Introduction:

The concept of smells comes up throughout the Bible—sometimes for good, sometimes evil, sometimes simply a matter of fact—identifying something or someone by smell. The first mention, though, comes in Genesis 8:21, just after the abatement of the flood. Noah erected an altar and there offered a sacrifice, a burnt offering of every type of clean animal (remember, the preparation had been made—there were seven of each), and the writer, Moses, states that “The LORD smelled a sweet savour…” and stated that he would never again destroy the world by flood. The literal smell, in this case, was burning flesh…does this tell us God like the smell of death? No—it was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and worship that provided the pleasing fragrance to God. How do I know? I read the rest of the story. Let’s take a look:

Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17

Notice in these verses, that the blood was dealt with separately. The fat or other specific parts were offered as a worship offering. The blood was for the atonement of the believer—the covering of his/her sins. The burning of the rest of the animal (or in some cases non-animal offerings) were worship…giving God his due. In like manner, Jesus’ blood, alone, is what paid for our sins. His perfect life, and matchless service not only were proof as to who he himself really was, they constitute the perfection into which WE enter by faith. He was “made to be sin for us, (he) who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God, in him.” His righteousness has been made ours.

Virtually all the uses of the words for “an odor” have to do with the temple worship. The Hebrew words, “reach” and “nichoach” both have to do with a sweet smell, and in scripture are used almost exclusively in relation to worship and sacrifices. There are a few exceptions in the case of the Hebrew word, “reach”, as it is used in about eight places as simply an identifier.  In Genesis 27:27, Isaac said that Jacob, in Esau’s clothes, smelled like the field that God had blessed. In the Song of Solomon, over and over, the sense of smell is invoked in blessing one another…either that perfumes of some sort have been deliberately provided to increase attractiveness, or that the smell of the beloved is being compared to some good smell. In Daniel, the comment is made, (after Daniel’s three friends have been brought up out of the fiery furnace) that not even the smell of the fire was upon their garments.

So, where is all this leading? How does the smell of a burnt offering, or a blessed field, or the deliberate application of perfumed ointment apply to us as believers today?

We are called to function as priests in the body of Christ. We are to offer sacrifices, as priests. The sacrifice already offered by the High Priest, Jesus, has already made us clean. But we can still make offerings of service, love, thanksgiving, hospitality, generosity, and praise. The blood sacrifice has been made—the worship offerings are what is left for us to do.

Consider the fact that the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8 had an effect on the object of worship, God, as well as having an effect on the worshipper, Noah. In that particular case, God’s justice was satisfied, and he determined that He would never again destroy the whole world by flood.

In the case of all the Old Testament sacrifices, some aspect of God’s character found satisfaction in the sacrifice, and he was pleased with the offerings. There are Old Testament counter-examples, however, wherein a sacrifice was made, but there was no acceptance found with God. Cain was the first such example—and in his case, the issue was evidently twofold. The first problem was that he had not brought a blood sacrifice. (Non-blood sacrifices were fine, but not until after the blood-sacrifice had been offered.) Worship is only acceptable from clean hands, and the cleansing begins at the Cross. The blood sacrifice, in all ages, looked forward to the Cross. Our communion looks back to the Cross…but faith is what applies it to the heart. Evident from Cain’s response to God is the self-will and resentment against God that eventually led him to murder his brother, and which, we can surmise, initiated the wrong offering as well. In the New Testament we are told that the sacrifice was wrong, but that his heart was wrong as well.

Other examples are given where, on the surface, all was well—the sacrifice was technically correct. But God rejected the sacrifice because of the behavior of the “worshippers” and, in other cases, because they had deliberately skimped on the offering, bringing him sick or damaged animals, or the culls from their flocks.

Still, how does this apply? We don’t bring lambs, today. I’m not even sure I would know a good lamb from a poor one. So what about the offerings we are supposed to bring? Do we actually consider what we are saying when we pray? Are we really thankful for God’s provision in our lives? What about the Cross? Always assuming that you started off there, do you know your way back? Do you ever return to Calvary to give thanks, just for the fact that He voluntarily died there, in your place? Remember the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed. All were Jews except one, evidently, and all were healed by faith, as they went to show themselves to the priest. Jesus extended his healing to them, with his only command being to go and show themselves to the priest. They went, and they were healed en route. Nine went on their way rejoicing, but one, evidently the only Samaritan in the bunch, made it first priority to go back to Jesus and give thanks. In fact, it says he loudly praised God, and fell at Jesus’ feet in worship. Jesus commented on that, and said, in effect, “…funny, I thought I healed ten lepers…but the only one to come back and give glory to God is this stranger.” But then he said “Go thy way. Thy faith hath healed thee.”

And what about our service? Our giving? Do we serve and give joyfully or grudgingly? Or is it a mix? Sometimes I really don’t feel like coming to church Sunday morning…Maybe I just feel like I want a break, or I’m tired, or maybe I am out of fellowship about some unrelated thing, and don’t want to confess it and “wash my feet,” as it were, and then come to the table to feed with the saints. Sad, but that’s the truth. Usually, as soon as I repent and get moving, God adds His blessing. But I have had times that I got there, and was still not OK.

Think about the prodigal son. Bad kid, huh? Ran off and spent up his inheritance, then wants to come back and eat up his brother’s as well, huh? Funny: that is not how the Father saw it. He knew of the failing, but desperately loved his son, and wanted him back. BUT! The older son? That is exactly how he saw his younger brother. And the result was that he would not go in where the welcome home party was going on. The father came out to reason with him, and it turns out that, though the older son had been serving, he was doing so grudgingly (at least ever since “bubba” left home), and not out of a clean heart of love for the Father. The inheritance was still his, but fellowship with the Father demanded fellowship with his brother. Good thing to remember, hmm? Over in 1st John 4:20, it points out that anyone saying they love God, but who is simultaneously hating his brother, is a liar, for a man who does NOT love his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen.? Good question. But we still try to do it, every now and then, don’t we?

Romans 12:1, 2 tells me that I am to offer up my body as a living sacrifice to God. The problem with living sacrifices is that they don’t necessarily “go along” with the plan. Our old sin nature is still there, and still strong, though it has no more authority. I have to daily reconcile myself with the decision to live for God. The Proverbs tell me to cease from my own wisdom. Hard to do—I have all sorts of ideas as to how things ought to work, but they frequently don’t match God’s plan.

Ephesians 5:1, 2 says that we are to be followers, or imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and has given himself to God an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. There’s that thing about “smells” again. And this time, it is directly connected with a command to imitate…to follow his lead. To do as he did.

Revelation 5:8 In the book of the Revelation, the prayers of the believers are depicted as odors.

Philippians 4:18 “ But I have all and abound; I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of a sweet sacrifice acceptable to God.”  So let’s think this through. Paul was an apostle—a missionary, if you will, out on a hard journey, and, in fact, was at that point, bound in a Roman prison. The believers at Philippi, who loved him deeply, as he had led them to Christ, and had suffered with them, had sent a gift to him…we don’t even know what it was, except that it was “things”…and this was called “an odor of a sweet sacrifice, acceptable to God.” Interesting. No lamb, no prayers, no trips to the temple. Just sending a needed item to a friend in prison. Nothing even “religious-sounding” about it, really. But God said that was the real deal. That pleased God. They were supporting one of the brethren who was doing God’s work. And God liked it!

John 12:3 (also Matthew 26, Mark 14)

I’d like to consider the story in John chapter 12, specifically verse 3. Mary of Bethany approached Jesus while he was at the table with the twelve, Judas included, and proceeded to anoint him with an extremely expensive perfumed oil…evidently a year’s wages worth, in fact, because Judas spoke up and complained that this was a blatant waste, and should have been sold for that much, and the money used to feed the poor.

There are more sermons in this passage than I can count. Thousands have been preached from this passage already. Frankly, I am going to deliberately ignore most of what is there, because I want to point out some things about this offering.

  1. It had no particular practical purpose, except the fact that Jesus said it was presaging his burial. It did NOT feed the poor, or send something to an apostle in prison, nor lead the singing in church, or anything else pious-sounding. It was ministering directly to Jesus. Directly to God.
  2. It was NOT a corporate act—she didn’t form a committee, and announce ahead of time, so everyone could watch. She just did it, in as simple and worshipful a manner as possible. Some of the gospels say it was his feet that were anointed, some say his head…I assume both. But it was his feet she wiped with her hair. This was from her alone.
  3. Though it was not directed at anyone else, everyone there was indirectly affected…some in negative ways, as they were offended. (Some of the Gospels specify that Judas was the one complaining, but others point out that he was only the spokesman—the others agreed with him.) But all of them saw it, and all of them shared in the smell.
  4. The odor filled the house. It affected Jesus. It affected Mary of Bethany. It affected everyone in the building, to one degree or another, and is affecting you today. Jesus was so impressed by this simple act of adoration that he said “Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached, in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told as a memorial of her.” (Matthew 26:13) That has literally been fulfilled, wherever the Gospel has gone.

The acts of obedience, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, praise, and worship that you bring to God are a sweet smell to Him. Sometimes they are practical, as the Philippian gift was. Sometimes they are religious in nature, as the gifts in the temple. Sometimes they are as simple as gratitude, like the Samaritan Leper who was healed. But the fragrance of what you do will affect you, God, and others. For better or worse, the things you do affect others.

In Romans 2:24, Paul rebuked the Jews, saying that through them the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. In Genesis 34:30, Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi, saying “You have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land”.  It is entirely possible to bring a bad offering of our lives, and leave a bad smell in the nostrils of those around us, believers and unbelievers alike.

But God says he wants us to smell like Jesus. Read 2nd Corinthians 2:14-16. We are to be a fragrance of Christ, to believers and unbelievers. To those who are receptive to the Gospel and those who flatly reject it. In both cases, we are to smell like Christ. To the one category, we bring the smell of hope and of life. To the other, we bring the smell of judgment and death, even when we say nothing about such things. The world can see the coming judgment in the righteousness of believers. It convicts them.

Consider what things God says about the smell of our lives:

  1. It has to do with our relationship with him.
  2. It can relate His character to the rest of the world (rightly or wrongly).
  3. It is an accurate depicter of our relationship with God, and the character of our worship.
  4. God is the one who declares, ultimately, how things smell.
  5. ALL of us are bringing some sort of fragrance to God, to the church, and to the world.

What Fragrance do you bring? How is it affecting God? How is it affecting You? How is it affecting others? Does it fill the House of God? (Remember that the church, proper—the people of God—are the “house of God”.) Does it fill the sphere within which you live and move? Do you really smell like Jesus? Does your worship please him? Does it please you?

Consider this, as well—had Mary just walked in, and dumped the stuff on Jesus and walked out, it would not have been received in the same way at all. HOW are you bringing your offering? Is your love relationship with God growing stronger, or is it something you have to remind yourself of or you will neglect it entirely?

Give this some thought…What Fragrance do you bring?

I pray that our lives, collectively, will offer the Fragrance of Christ, growing stronger and stronger, as we draw near to Him.


Masters and Mouths

Masters and Mouths

© 4/18/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:1-12

Introduction:

James seems to address two ideas here: Masters and Mouths. But, the admonition is directed to “My Brethren:” to believers. So, since both ideas are addressed to the same audience, and the one leads directly into the other, we will approach them as if they were one idea, simply having a wider and a narrower focus.

The general focus is “how we live,” especially in the case of leaders. Remember that in chapter two that was also the primary focus, where faith had to result in actions. Hypocrisy was ruled out by genuine faith, leading to the “practical” holiness of life which God requires.

“Be Not Many Masters”

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Bear in mind that I am quoting the King James Version…which, in its original form was from 1611. In modern English, especially in the US, we no longer often use the word “master” to mean a teacher, but that was a very common usage, two centuries ago, even in the US. A school-teacher was called a schoolmaster, a person who went from town to town teaching young people the arts of ballroom dancing (once considered an important part of education) was called a “dance-master,” etc. The word for teacher in Spanish is still “maestro,” and such usage is common in many languages. This passage is not a warning to not be an employer, nor even a caution against the (then-common) practice of slave-holding. It is an admonition that one not be over-eager to become a teacher (specifically, teaching within the church…teaching scripture, feeding the flock, equipping the saints, etc.) Why would James extend such a warning? Over in 1st Timothy 8:1, it says that “if a man desires the office of a bishop (“overseer”…same person as an elder, pastor, shepherd, presbyter,) it is a good work he desires.”

The issue is one of being held accountable: see Hebrews 13:17. We elders are going to be held accountable for the results of our ministry, at least so far as it is a direct result of what we did or failed to do. Ezekiel 34:1-10 spells out the job description of the shepherds, and specifically emphasizes their ultimate accountability to God. If you read that passage, and it does not make you think very seriously about the consequences of ministry, for good or bad, then something is wrong with how you approach God’s Word. He makes it a truly serious issue.

The warning here, about “masters” (teachers) bearing a greater condemnation, also could be in reference to the fact that our human observers will more harshly condemn a failing teacher or preacher than they will one who does not hold such a position. (Consider how the news media love to report any failure in pastors, Sunday-school teachers, etc.) And the warning is clear, that we should not be “in a rush” to gain that status, knowing that the risk is there.

But…it is also a warning that God demands more of a teacher or a shepherd. We are held to a stricter standard. The qualifications for leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9 are quite clear, and they definitely lay out God’s standard for Church leaders. They do not say that all Christians have to meet those criteria. On the other hand, they definitely are all character-traits that should be emulated by those who follow. Paul said (1st Corinthians 11:1) to the Corinthian believers that they were to follow him as he followed Christ. Elders, deacons and other leaders are to lead by example, so that others can do as they do, without fear of being led astray. Peter said (1st Peter 5:1-3)that the elders are not to serve as “lords” over the flock, but to be examples for the flock.

The danger of failure looms for everyone, but the results of failure in a shepherd’s life can be disastrous, as others are certainly following. A pastor who winks at worldly thinking will be held accountable for the sin into which members of the flock will certainly be drawn. He taught them that it was “OK.”  The failings in the teachers will be lived out in those they teach. So James addresses the most common failing, here: the mouth…the tongue. And he reminds us that we all fail in this area, so it is especially vital to guard against this nearly universal failing.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

The Importance of the Tongue

This sounds like an exaggeration, but James says that if a believer can completely solve the “mouth problem”, he is fully mature—“perfect,” in the sense of the ability to walk with God. James says that if you can control your tongue, you can control everything else, as well, because, evidently, that is the greatest challenge. Then he goes on to illustrate how the tongue is at least indicative of where the whole man is headed.
Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

James uses, as illustrations, a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship; they are examples of how something relatively small can have a huge effect. In a way, it is an “inside out” analogy… in both those cases, the small thing (bit and rudder) are used to physically control, from the outside, a much larger thing (the horse or the ship.) But the tongue is primarily an indicator of what is going on in the heart. Jesus said (Matthew 12:33-35) that a good man brings forth out of the good treasures of his heart that which is good; while an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil. He said that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Interestingly, this is also the passage where the scripture teaches that “by their fruit ye shall know them”. He was referring to false teachers, and the “fruit” was their teaching; their words. What comes out of our mouths is indicative of what is in our hearts.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

We need to consider the ultimate source of what is coming out of our mouths: Does it originate with God? And, if not, from where else might it originate? (set on fire of hell?” Is this literal? Or figurative?) Jesus said (Mark 7:15-23) that a man is not defiled by what he puts into his mouth, but by what comes out, specifically because of the source. The evil that comes out of our hearts, and bears fruit through our words and actions, is what brands us as sinners. Paul said, (Romans 8:7) that our sin nature is literally untamable—that it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be brought into submission. So, if my sin nature is the source of what comes out of my mouth, it is guaranteed to be unprofitable, if not downright destructive. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Author of all of the Bible, through the various human writers. So James, by the same Holy Spirit, confirms that the tongue (because it bears the fruit of the inner man…the heart) is untamable, too…and that it reflects our old sin nature (which, in turn, is ultimately fueled by the Evil One, as we see in Ephesians 2:2, 3) Not much fun to consider, is it?

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The issue is the heart: Jeremiah, over 600 years earlier had said, (Jeremiah 17:9) that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” So, even in a believer, who is possessed of a new nature which is created holy and righteous (See Ephesians 4:24), the old sin nature, unchanged and untamable, is still there, waiting and yearning to take over and make us a curse to all around us instead of a blessing.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The contrast between blessing and cursing is stark, and very clear: What other kinds of things does God label as “sins of the lips?”

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

So the classification of “what to say and what not to say” could be narrowed to “What, in this flow of words, could minister grace to the hearers?” (By the way, I try to maintain the consciousness that, even “in private,” there are hearers, and watchers. Consider the fact that we are a testimony of God’s Grace and Wisdom to the Angelic hosts, not just to humans.) How is this edifying to anyone? How does it build up someone in their walk with God? Or, conversely, does it actually do the opposite? This is serious stuff, if you consider the potential consequences.

Ephesians 5:4 says, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” (KJV)

  • NASB renders the same passage, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
  • NIV renders it “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

In these passages, Paul lists some things that are simply seen as being inappropriate for believers to say or discuss. We may have a variety of opinions about what those subjects may be, but I am guessing that the things to which he refers, here, are conversations that either make light of, or glorify sin or immorality. He goes on to say that “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) Such things should not be comfortable for us to discuss, and there has to be a very good reason to even broach these subjects, let alone dwell upon them. I have had young believers insist that “swearing can be a good thing” in certain circumstances. I am not the judge: Jesus is. But Jesus is the Living Word of God. How can I rationalize obscenity, off-color joking, or the like, when the Written Word of God tells me it is to be abandoned?

What other kinds of things does God list as sins of the mouth? One he hits on in many places is deception: Jesus labeled Satan as being the author of deception, saying “…he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Give that some thought, when you are tempted to shade the truth.

In Proverbs 6:16-19 He lists:

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaketh lies
  • He that soweth discord among brethren.

I’m not sure that I understand the difference between the first two items, as both seem to deal with lying. But the third one can refer to someone who spreads negative information, even if it is true. Proverbs 10:12 says that “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” 1st Peter 4:8 echoes that idea, saying that “…love covers a multitude of sin.” It is possible for us to tell the truth, and still be in the wrong, as we have become a “talebearer.” Proverbs 11:13 says “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”

Our mouth can be a source of trouble even when we are telling the truth…when the matter simply should not have been discussed. Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Wisdom is the thing we want controlling our words. Proverbs 31:26, referring to a virtuous woman, says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Those are the things we want to characterize what comes out of our mouths. Wisdom and Kindness!

Incidentally, if we have wronged someone by talking behind their back, and they know it, then we owe them confession and apology, as well as the same to all those to whom we gossiped. But if the “victim” does not know, and we run to them to “clear our conscience”, then we have only burdened them with the knowledge that we have wronged them, and then left them to worry about the potential long-term results of our sin.

That is not a kind thing to do, nor does it undo the damage we have done: instead, it adds to the damage. So, while we do have to go and confess our gossip to those to whom we gossiped, it is very questionable motive that would drive us to also go let the victim know that their reputation has been sullied by our loose mouth, unless there is a real chance they would learn of it anyway, and this might somehow protect them from the potential damage.

One must consider what “Agape” love means: It requires doing things for the benefit of the recipient, without regard to the effect on the doer. That is what Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. If my “confession,” meant only to “unburden my soul,” is going to cause further damage to the victim of my loose mouth, then that is not a loving thing to do. We need to examine our motives, and consider the potential results. There may be times when the only one to whom I can confess is God himself.

It is not Random: It is a Choice.

James goes on to finally compare our speech to a fountain or a fruit tree:

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Nature doesn’t hold very many anomalies like the human mouth. A spring would not normally alternate randomly from salt water to fresh, and back again, though I suppose a seasonal change or a tidal change might produce such a phenomenon. But it is certainly not considered normal, nor would it ever be considered a good thing. It would make that spring unreliable to any creature who needs fresh water.

A fruit tree will never “randomly” offer a completely unrelated fruit, though grafting can produce some rather unusual combinations. But there is nothing random about it, and usually, it is considered a desirable thing, where grafting is involved, because someone went to a great deal of trouble and care, to produce that successful graft.

But our speech does swing wildly from very good to very bad, sometimes without warning. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it is a reality that we can (and must) learn to deal with, and, thankfully, one from which we will eventually be free.

In the meantime, we are exhorted to be aware of the danger and to deal wisely in the things we say and do. The words we use and the way we conduct relationships tell the people around us more about the reality of our walk with God than any overt “piety” we may try to display. People need to

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior, to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech,and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak will accomplish either the one or the other.

To leaders, this is an especially serious warning, of course, but all believers need to be aware that we are affecting someone, whether we know it or not, and for better or worse. Choose daily to consider what effect you are having, and allow God to change your thinking and your words.

Blessings upon you all. I trust that we will soon be together again in the building the Lord has provided. Until that time, please try to maintain contact with one another by telephone, and maintain contact with God, in the Word, and in prayer.


Believers, Place Your Bets!

Believers, Place Your Bets!

© 4/15/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 2:12-26

Introduction:

We hear a lot of arguments regarding the twin subjects of faith and works. And that is what they really are: twins! Saving faith produces works as a rule. Works are proof of faith as a rule, but not always saving faith: they may only be proof that the one performing the works wants to please God, or even wants to be seen as righteous by his or her fellow-humans.

Here in James, the single verse (26) “26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” is one of the most misused and frequently misquoted passages in the Bible.  Why? Because we tend to isolate that one idea, and thus sever it from the context in which it is given. Let’s back up to verse 12, at least, and see what is being discussed: Remember that James is speaking to believers. “12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

Behavior matters!

13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

We all get one chance— one life—during which to honor God, and present our bodies a living sacrifice as a worship offering. Once it is over, only that which met this standard will have eternal value. Usually, we only have one chance to make a “first impression” with those people around us, too. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be around folks long enough for them to see that we are not “stuck-up” or rude…but if that is what they really thought, when they first met us, they will probably not come back and give us another chance. Does God see us for what we really are, good or bad? Certainly He does! He is not governed by “impressions.” I am frequently amused by married couples’ testimonies that “when I first met ___, I didn’t like….” Their first impression was bad, but they grew to love one another and eventually were married. Their first impression was wrong, but could have cost them dearly. God sees the truth at all times. He is not the one we are trying to impress, or trying to not cause to stumble, or whatever.

As believers, we have already received God’s Mercy, at the Cross: We are in no danger of His changing His mind, and rejecting us. We are sealed in Christ until the day of redemption, according to Ephesians. But we need to reflect that fact, in reaching out to those around us in a merciful way. Can it backfire? Certainly it can! It did for Jesus, many times. After he fed the 5,000, in John chapter 6; the very next day, those he had fed were back for more; but he offered them the Bread of Life instead, and they immediately turned on him and began to argue, in John 6:30, saying “What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee?” (What? He just fed the whole crowd on five loaves and two fishes, and you ask for another sign?)

We have had people ask for money for food, and when we gave it, we saw them immediately head for the liquor store. So, the next time, when someone asked for money for food, we took them to get food. In one case that worked very well…the woman involved was telling the truth: her husband and several children were waiting in an empty lot beside a school, and they were all very glad to see her show up with a large bag full of sandwiches and other food.

But in another case, the fellow asked for food, and we offered to drive with him right then, and buy a meal. He changed his request, saying he needed gas for his car. We offered to go with him to get gasoline…the story kept changing, and we kept offering to meet the stated need, until he was exasperated, and blurted “Can’t you just give me some money?!” He was lying! He didn’t want any of the things he claimed to need. We were glad we had not given him anything, whereas in the case of the woman with the children, we were only sad that we could offer no better help than food.

What is the Connection?

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

We need to see the connection between faith and works, then. James poses the question “Can Faith save?” The real issue is “what kind of faith are we talking about?” Saving faith seems to be the issue, but there are other things we, as humans, call faith.

In responding to this passage, I would like to relate an argument I had with an unbelieving co-worker, nearly thirty years ago: He claimed that he could “create his own reality.” He claimed that his beliefs would control the reality that he experienced.

I replied that he did not really believe that, and that the untruth of his statement was made obvious by how he lived his life: He had to live with the same reality as everyone else. He “placed his bets,” so to speak, upon the realities of this world, the same as everyone else. I said, “If you are in the middle of the road and I tell you a truck is coming, you will get out of the road, just like everyone else. You will not ‘create your own reality,’ in which the truck will somehow not hurt you: You are betting on the reality of death, and saving yourself by moving out of harm’s way.” He had no answer, and the conversation ended. But that same rule is applied here, by James:

What you really believe is revealed by your works. If you really believe your house is on fire, you try to save yourself, your loved-ones and your possessions, unless you are suicidal, and desire to die. Where you “place your bets” is the best indicator of what you really believe.

If you really believe that Jesus is your Savior, your Master and your Judge, then your actions should reflect that, as a general rule. So the logic follows: if you see someone else in need, what you really believe about your relationship to Christ and His lordship in your life will be revealed by your works. (Bear in mind the inherent question, “revealed to whom?” Does God know the truth? Or are we constantly having to again prove to God the reality of our faith?)

The kind of faith that produced a love-relationship with an unseen Savior should also produce a compassionate relationship with the visible people around us with their visible needs. 1st John 4:20, 21 agrees, saying, 2If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

The demonstration of the reality of faith is to other humans, not to God. The kind of faith that does not produce appropriate works is called a “dead” faith. We are commanded by Jesus to love one another…a genuine faith should result in a genuine caring for those around us. We should love one another in practical ways, according to this passage.

And, What if we Don’t?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Such neglect is unprofitable and brings a negative shadow on the name of Christ. If we, as believers, don’t even care for one another’s needs, then how can we say we are “brothers” in Christ? Even unbelievers, as a rule, will care for the needs of their families, though perhaps in poor grace, in some cases. Usually, simple cultural norms will demand that a person care for their own immediate family members. Why, then, would it be acceptable to us to not take care of the believers with whom we share an eternal bond of kinship in the person of Christ? That lack, if founded upon a lack of concern, not just ignorance of the need, would show a non-functional faith, at least, and perhaps would give reason to suspect even the validity of that faith…leading us to verse 17, which is closing in on what we wanted to address in the first place:

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

Such faith, that does nothing to move the will, and causes no change in action, is a useless, non-functional faith. Is it valid? Only God knows! You see, this whole passage on “faith versus works” is couched in the question of “How can the World see faith? How can people see faith?”

God could see the faith of Lot, though no human could see it. When I first read the account of Lot, in Genesis chapters 13-19, I would definitely have supposed (in spite of his Godly Uncle Abraham) that Lot was simply an unbeliever, whose sins finally caught up with him. But God says, in 2nd Peter 2:6-9, that Lot was a righteous man! I certainly would not have come to that conclusion by observing his works, because, except for one feeble attempt to save the angels whom he thought were ordinary men, he was pretty much invisible, in terms of faith, because his works did not reveal his faith, as a rule. Even his sons-in-law did not believe him, when he tried to warn them of the coming destruction. So, the next verse makes it clear:

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

A man, a fellow human, can only observe faith in action. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow humans. We can only see actions. God says we need works to confirm who we are in Christ, to those around us. Lot’s life was a wreckage that was not only useless as a testimony to unbelievers, but produced enemies to the seed of Abraham, lasting until today. Lot’s sons (by incest with his daughters) were Ben-Ammi and Moab. The Ammonites and the Moabites were bitter enemies to Israel from the beginning, and they still are, today, as they are the people of Jordan, and the Palestinians. It is a sad thing, but “righteous Lot” left a terrible legacy.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Doctrinal soundness” does not replace a living faith. “Orthodoxy” is simply a case of having correct opinions. One can know the truth, intellectually; accept it as fact; be able to recite a catechism or creed, and yet have no personal interaction with that truth. It is certainly possible to have “correct opinions” regarding theology, and still be absolutely an unbeliever.

But remember that James is speaking to believers. All he says, here, is that knowing the fact that “there is only one God” is not the same as having a living relationship with that one God. He gives the example of the demons, who have known God face-to-face, since before the world was created, and yet are eternally His enemies. They know all about the God of the Bible, and are terrified of their coming judgment. We know the bare facts, as we have been told them, but we are indifferent about the coming judgment, and acting as if it will never come.

Genuine Faith will Change Our Life

If our faith is a real, saving faith, it should be changing our motives, and our behavior. We don’t “make that change” in order to “prove our faith.” Genuine Faith changes us, from the inside out, and proves its own validity.

James goes on to discuss Abraham, whom God justified by faith (Genesis 15:6), but whom men justify because of his works. The scripture that says he was justified by his faith, found visible proof in his later works.
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

The word “perfect”, here, means “completed”…fulfilled. If we compare Ephesians 2:8-10, we can see that while we are saved “by Grace, through Faith,” and specifically not through (or by means of) works, verse ten makes it clear that we are “His workmanship, created unto good works, which He has before ordained that we should walk in them.” So the fulfillment of our faith and God’s Grace, in re-creating us in His own image, is that we are to walk in the good works that he ordained for us ahead of time.
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

Remember that the word “justified” means “declared righteous.” Bear in mind Who it is, doing the real justification, and who the observers are in this context. In Romans 5:1, Paul states that we have been justified by faith, and that, as a result, we have peace with God. So, looking again at verse 18, we remind ourselves that, in this case, the persons questioning our faith are fellow humans. We can only demonstrate our faith to other humans through appropriate works. Our fellow humans “declare us righteous” based entirely on what they can see. So, in verse 24, we are “justified” or “declared righteous,” on the basis of works, where humans are the judges. We were declared righteous entirely on the basis of Faith, where Jesus is the Judge. (We don’t even like to think of Jesus as being the Judge, but He says He is, in John 5:22) Romans 5:1 addresses our justification before God. James 2:24 refers to our justification before Man. Does it matter? You’d better believe it does! (Remember Lot!)

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

It somehow seems appropriate, in this context, to remember that “dead”, in scripture, usually has some sort of “separation” in view. A body, separated from the spirit of the person to whom both belong, is considered a dead body: no longer functional. A faith that is separated from the works that should accompany it, is considered a dead faith…not functional. It does not mean that such a person has never been accepted by God, necessarily. There are examples in the Old Testament and the New Testament, of people whose faith faltered, and their testimony was ruined, and who, in some cases, lost their physical lives because of their subsequent disobedience. (Lot, Balaam, Samson, Ananias & Sapphira, Demas, etc.) But in each case, it seems clear that they were real believers who simply fell into a pattern of disobedience… and it cost them heavily.

Place your Bets!

Remember that salvation tract (The Four Spiritual Laws) people used to hand out, which began with the statement (true, by the way) that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!”? Well, here’s the other side of that idea: “Satan hates you and has a TERRIBLE plan for your life!” Now, if you walk with Jesus, staying close to the Great Shepherd, you need have no fear of the Evil One, at all: He is a defeated enemy. But the Enemy does have an agenda:

  1. Satan desires to destroy your fellowship with God, through distractions, through neglect of feeding on the Word, neglect of prayer, and through overt sin.
  2. He desires to destroy your Joy and Peace, through all of the above.
  3. He desires to destroy your testimony, as bitterness and cynicism begin to replace Joy and Peace, and your works show to others the deadness of your faith.
  4. Finally, if he can draw you far enough away from the Shepherd, he desires to destroy your life, either through the destructive results of the bad decisions made in the flesh or through the consequences of overt sin.

God does not need you to “prove your faith” to Him by works. But your works are the result of what you really believe, and are a pretty good indicator of where your heart really is today. They reveal where you are currently “placing your bets.” They should reveal to you how you are doing, spiritually, and they definitely will let your neighbors, friends and family make decisions about the reality of faith in your life.

Look in the “Mirror of God’s Word, and see yourself! Look at where you are “Placing your Bets,” and see whether that is how God wants you to respond to Him.

So you really believe prayer is important? Then place your bet that way: pray! Do you really believe Jesus is the Master? Then obey Him! Do you really believe you should be feeding on God’s Word? Then do so! Do you really believe you should share your faith with others? Then do so! Where you “place your bets”–what you actually do–reveals what you really believe.

The Lord Bless His Word, and His people as they seek His Face.


Practical Christianity

The Practical Outworking of God’s Word

© C. O. Bishop, 3/1/2020

James 1:21-27

Introduction: Receive the Engrafted Word

21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

To receive the Word with meekness, implies obedience. The word translated “meekness” carries the idea of “being yielded”…we need to yield to God’s word. We are to adapt our behavior to match what he says: not the other way around. We need to see ourselves and our lives through the filter of God’s Word, and lay aside the things that render us unclean and unable to serve. God uses clean vessels through which to pour his Grace. We want to be those clean vessels.

God’s Word is the only means by which any of us have been born again. His Word is also the only thing that can salvage the wreckage of our sin-riddled lives and allow us to live for His glory. A few weeks ago, we saw in 1st Peter 1:23 that we have been born again by the Word of God. In Psalm 119:9 we see that His word is the way to cleanse our lives. In 2nd Peter 1:4, we see that through the “exceeding great and precious promises” in His Word, we are to be “made partakers of the Divine Nature.” All of these require actually yielding to Him, and obeying His Word…receiving it with meekness.

We try so hard to “do things for God,” but the fact is, he simply wants freedom to use our lives. Remember, now, as we read this passage, that the epistle is clearly addressed to those who are already saved. The letter is to believers! So, how can he say “…the engrafted word which is able to save your souls? We must remember that, according to the promise of Christ in John 5:24, though each of us has been (past tense) saved from hell (the penalty of Sin) and will never (future tense) be condemned, we are each still needing to “be saved (present tense)” from the power of sin in our lives…today! And the day is coming when we will be saved from the presence of Sin, with God, in eternity!.

Salvation has three tenses:

  1. I have been saved from the penalty of Sin, and have crossed over from death into life.
  2. I am being saved from the power of sin in my life, as I daily walk with God in obedience.
  3. I will be saved from the presence of sin, eternally, when I leave this world.

God says that His Word needs to grow in me as a grafted twig or bud. If it cannot bond with my unbelieving heart, then it will not have the intended effect. It will not cleanse me and “save me” from the power of sin in this dark world. I need to receive the Word and allow it to actually change my desires, and my thoughts, so as to change my behavior. This is not “self-help”…we are incapable of helping ourselves in this arena. God has to do the helping—we have to receive the help and allow it to work in us.

Men and Mirrors

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:
24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.
25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

Much has been made of the fact that the Greek word here, for Man, is not “anthropos”, simply meaning “a human,” but “andros” meaning specifically a man. I don’t want to wax eloquent about men and mirrors, but I will observe that, in my own life, I am frequently unaware of how I look. More than once I have arrived at work, and someone has smiled and said, “You haven’t looked in a mirror today, have you?” And they were right! I had dressed in the dark, hoping not to awaken my wife, and I had hurried off to work. Did it shame me that my hair was in complete disarray (or whatever else had caused the smiles?) Nope. I was simply amused, just as they were. So maybe, at least in my case, the quips about “men and mirrors” are correct.

If there is a mirror, I will quickly take stock, but, just as the scripture suggests I might do, I walk away and forget about it. Apparently this sort of attitude is more common among men than it is among women, and was common in the first century, as well as today.

So, using this object lesson, God says, “Don’t do that!” Do treat His written Word as a mirror: Look into it to see what God wants changed in your life, but then remember those things when you walk away. Don’t forget what you saw there! Incidentally, though it is true that, in the physical world, mirrors are used for everything from periscopes, to microscopes, telescopes and lasers, not to mention inspection mirrors and rear-view mirrors, the primary use for a mirror, worldwide, among ordinary people, is to examine ourselves; to have a look at how others must see us, or to see something from an angle otherwise impossible. (In fact, missionary friends have told me that in the African country where they worked, that was a peculiar problem on the roads, because all the drivers turned the rear-view mirrors so that they could look at themselves, instead of looking at the road behind them. In that particular case, this was the wrong use of the mirror!)

Keep this idea in mind, as you read God’s Word: aim the mirror at yourself! (That is the correct use of this mirror!) Don’t use it to examine or inspect someone else, as a rule. Let them look into the mirror for themselves. We usually have enough problems of our own to deal with, that we shouldn’t try to correct everyone else.

Watch your Mouth!

26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

There are lots of times when a Christian would be better off to keep his or her mouth shut. Perhaps this is just regarding things in general that would be better left unsaid, or things that are matters of idle curiosity, but questions that would not be profitable to ask, possibly because to do so would be meddling in someone else’s private matters. Perhaps it is about speaking unkind words that would cause hurt, or engaging in sly humor which would arouse suspicion of evildoing, where, really, none existed. We easily fall into the trap of “shooting off our mouth.”

It seems, however that this verse is specifically in relation to a person who “puts on a good show of piety,” but ruins it all by what he says. The Greek word translated “religious,” is “threskia” and this is the only place it is used. The Greek word translated “religion” is “threskos”and is only used in four places, one of which is translated “worshipping”…and in that context, it refers to the worshipping of angels…not a Godly worship at all. It was strictly a human (and erroneous) practice. The other three places it is translated “religion,” and it is always in reference to human “practice of worship and/or piety:” not necessarily God-ordained in its entirety, though it may have its roots in God’s Word. And, in this passage, it is clear that it is quite possible for one’s “practice of worship and/or piety” to be erroneous, and empty: fruitless…“vain.”

I knew a fellow, at work, twenty years ago, who was very outspoken about his Christian faith: he wore brightly-colored t-shirts, every day, with intensely evangelical (and very good!) messages emblazoned on their front and back. But he shouted constantly, cursed frequently, and he had a violent temper, to boot. I cautiously tried to warn him about his mouth, on one occasion, and he cut me off, saying, “You can’t judge someone by the things they say!”, so I shut my mouth; but I walked away thinking, “Actually, Yes, you can!” Well, the fact is, the whole crew of fellow-workers around him had already recognized the emptiness or “vanity” of his “religion”. Finally, in the darkness before work, one morning, he attempted to force a situation in the parking lot, arguing over a parking space he considered to be “his” space (it was not.) The conflict erupted into a fist-fight, and he was fired: he lost his job completely…and no one missed him!

He had a terrible testimony. He actually may have been a genuine believer; but he had a bad lifestyle, and a bad mouth, which made everyone around him reject his message.

He deceived himself that his outbursts of anger, and his foul mouth were acceptable…and that no one should “judge” him for such things. But according to the book of James, he definitely should have expected them to judge him by his words and behavior; not just by the message on his nice-looking t-shirt. Despite the fact that he probably was a real believer, the outworking of his faith (whatever it really was) turned out to be unprofitable: fruitless…vain. (Not “non-existent;” just empty and fruitless…vain talk.)

So, what kind of behavior befits a real believer? One thing, according to James, is going out of one’s way at one’s own cost, to meet the needs of those who, through no fault of their own, have deep needs. And another is avoiding doing (or even being involved with) the things that would bring shame to God. Here is how James puts it:

27 
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

The result of a genuine relationship with God, then, should play itself out in a changed relationship with those around me. It should result in my meeting the needs of others, and thinking less about my own desires, comfort and convenience. It should also result in my moving away from the World’s way of thinking, and becoming increasingly aligned with God’s way of thinking. The sinful behavior patterns and vices of the world should begin to drop away, if the relationship with God is solid.

(Remember that thing about “the engrafted Word?”) When you graft a rose twig (for example) into a hawthorn rootstock (and yes, that will work) that twig has to take hold and grow with the hawthorn rootstock to survive. But no matter what the rootstock may bear in terms of leaves, fruit or flowers, the rose twig will only bear rose-leaves, rose-blossoms, and rose hips. It can do no other! If the fruit in your life is not in keeping with God’s Word, then His Word is not what is producing the fruit. It is as simple as that! The “engrafted Word” has to produce Godly fruit: the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a cleansed life. The fruit of other souls being brought to Christ.

Practical Holiness

Notice, too, that all the issues, here, in the Book of James, have to do with practicality: how does my faith work out in my everyday life? What effect is it having on people around me? What evidence is there from a human perspective, that I am even a believer?

I remember seeing a poster, more than forty-five years ago, asking “If Christianity were suddenly made illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” It is an odd way to present the idea, but it is a good question: “What evidence is there in my life, to show other people the reality of Christ?” God knows the truth of my heart-condition, but the question remains, “Is it evident to anyone else?” This is the repeating theme of the Book of James.

Remember that in Genesis 3:7-21 we saw “two axes” of relationships: the horizontal axis, in which it is possible to simply “look good” to other humans, and the vertical axis, in which God sees us as we really are. (Remember, the sewn-together fig leaves (their own works) covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve from a human perspective, but they were still utterly naked before God: He had to clothe them through the blood of a sacrifice which He himself made. There’s a strong parallel with the Gospel, right there! God gave His Son to save us from our Sins!)

But there is another side to that idea: On the vertical axis, I have been (past tense) declared righteous before God on the strength of that blood sacrifice at the Cross. (Romans 5:1) Now He wants that freely-given imputed righteousness to be (continuously) lived out in a practical form of holiness, so as to be a testimony to other humans, on the horizontal axis. The new life in Christ is supposed to change me, from the inside out, and affect those around me in positive ways, as a result.

Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) That is how the Christian Life is supposed to work.

Lord Jesus, make the engrafted word a living reality in each of our lives, so that you are free to use our lives daily to glorify yourself, and to reconcile lost souls to yourself through the sharing of the Gospel.


Different Kinds of Trials

Different Kinds of Trials

© C. O. Bishop, January 2020

James 1:1-4, 12-16

Introduction:

There are two large groupings in scripture, under the heading of “Temptation.” We need to see the differences between them and how to respond to each.

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.


James addresses himself (primarily) to the Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution, as well as those who had been scattered by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. He makes no further explanation, but plunges right into the purpose of the letter: He knew they had been through a great deal of hardship: first, by persecution from Gentile nations for being Jews; and now, from other Jews, as well as from the Gentile nations, for being followers of Christ. The first three centuries of the Church age were riddled with horrendous persecution against believers…and the Church grew stronger under that load.

In modern English, James calls it “testing”. KJV says “temptation”. The old English word “temptation” did mean testing. But the nature of the test depended upon the source of the testing. I wish there were two different Greek words for the two types of trials, but there are not: the Greek word is exactly the same for both: “peirazo”…”to try, prove, or test.”

So, we will come to see two general categories of trials: one meaning “hard experiences,” the sort experienced by all humans: (1st Corinthians 10:13 “…such as is common to man”,) or possibly harsh treatment from others because of our position in Christ.(1st Peter 4:12-14) The other is a specific “luring away to do evil:” it is temptation to sin. James says God is never the source of this sort.

When I read verses 2-4, I see one kind of testing, which will:

  • Make me strong,
  • Develop endurance (KJV “patience”) and
  • Help me mature as a believer.

But, when I read verses 13-16, I see that God is not the author of testing that “lures us away to do evil,” though, ultimately, He is the One who allows it to happen. When I consider the trials and testing of Job, for example, it is clear that God allowed Job to undergo terrible trials; but God was not the one saying “Curse God and Die!” We need to consider the type of trial, as well as the source. Consider the two categories as either “trials for training,” or “temptation to sin.”

Trials for Training


My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

So, under what circumstances should I consider trials to be a joy? “When” I fall into various trials. (Always.) This is in reference to the “hard times”. Sometimes they are literally from God, as a training discipline, just as an athletics coach prescribes calisthenics or weight-training, or roadwork, to toughen an athletic contestant against a coming trial—the next wrestling match, perhaps, or even the Olympic games. Such training is never easy; it is not intended to be easy. It is intended to produce strength and stamina, and increased skill, in some cases.

Sometimes they are just the normal “hard times” of life…which we endure as an honor to our Lord who endured far more than we ever will.

It is important for us, as believers, to grasp the idea that the way in which God chooses to strengthen us against hardship and to prepare us for coming spiritual battles, is through teaching, then testing, more teaching, more testing, etc. If we truly accept this concept, then the trials do become a source of joy, as we know that we are being strengthened for God’s Glory. We learn endurance by enduring. It is interesting to me that athletes know this, and accept it; and good athletes do not find a hard, grueling practice to be frustrating, but rather exhilarating. They know that they are getting strong, and the way they endured that testing has proved it!

So the admonition is to find joy in hard times, knowing that we are gaining endurance, and that we are to allow endurance to complete its work, and not short-circuit the process by fighting against God. Once in a while a member of a sports team will forget that the rigorous training is for his betterment, and will begin accusing the coach, saying that the workout is unreasonable, or misguided. In the case of a human coach, such an accusation could possibly be true, though as a general rule it is not. But in the case of God, the ultimate source of all true wisdom, the omniscient source of all our sustenance and hope, such an accusation is clearly unfounded. We can always be confident that His will for us is perfect…even when it is painful or even fatal. We don’t like that idea, but Job 13:15 says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” 

Many believers have been brought back into a right relationship with God through a deadly disease. They were forced to look at life differently: no longer carelessly; and the result was that they repented of their wandering, and they walked with God for the time they had remaining. Was that fun? Absolutely not! Did they recognize God’s Grace, in bringing them back into a walk of faith, with Him? Apparently they did.

I received a message, last year, about a young man (the son of a friend) who was diagnosed with leukemia. He was told he probably had a very short time to live. But they began chemotherapy, and six weeks later, he was in remission. Did he still have leukemia? Yes! Would he live, though? It was possible, but there were no promises.

But his comment was that, “I guess it took something like this to bring me back to the things that are important. But it may take some time, because I’d gotten so far away!” He saw life differently because of that trial, and chose to allow his disease to drive him closer to God, rather than railing against God, and becoming bitter. As a matter of fact, a few months later, the disease came back with a vengeance, and killed him. But, for the few months he had left, his life was transformed and both he and his family were at peace.

Sometimes hardships are just to equip us so that we can be a comfort to others who are in similar trials. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 gives a number of very positive reasons why we might endure hardships. Seven are easy to see, as they are spelled out for us:

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;

11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.


Thus, when the trial (whatever it is) is not a “luring away to do evil”, we are to accept it as a trial in which we can rejoice, because we are “on God’s team,” and He is giving us a workout.

Temptation to Sin

13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren.

This is the other type of testing…and it is not from God. We are told that the believer has three great enemies in this life:

  1. The World (The system of government, business, values and thinking that is common to unbelievers.)
  2. The Flesh (The old sin nature…usually called “the flesh” in scripture, but not meaning the physical body.)
  3. The Devil (Yes, this is the person called Satan. He is not a mythological creature, but a real enemy, with deadly intent toward us.

Any of these three enemies can be the source of such “luring away to do evil.” Our old sin nature is in full agreement with the other enemies, and is the “enemy within the gate”, so to speak.

The World around us will offer us the fruits of immorality, or the immoral acts themselves, and the people act very friendly, accepting and accommodating when making the offer. Bear in mind that the specific plan by which the Moabites and the Midianites attempted to destroy Israel was to send their most beautiful women to invite the Israelite men to feasts…which turned out to be idolatrous worship-feasts to the heathen Gods of Moab and Midian. They hoped to corrupt Israel, and bring down the judgment of God upon them. And, in a way, it worked: thousands of Jews died in the resulting judgment from God, and the Moabites were cursed, as well. Balaam, the traitorous prophet, who had counseled them to corrupt Israel, was killed along with the Midianites who died in the fight. (Numbers 31:8, 16) People want you to join them in their sin. (“Come on! Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it! Everybody does it!”) The World is not “a friend to Grace,” the old hymn reminds us. And joining them in their sin will still not earn their friendship.

The Flesh, Our old Sin Nature, often called “the old man”, or the “carnal mind,” and sometimes “the heart”, is in full agreement with the other two enemies. It joins in the attempt to deceive and corrupt us. The only way to be sure that we are not being deceived by our sinful heart, is to continually, daily, submit our thinking to God’s thoughts, as recorded in His Written Word, so that we can recognize falsehood, and reject it; recognize temptation to sin and reject it, recognize wrong patterns of thinking, and reject them..

The Devil, also calledSatan, is not omniscient, but he is well-versed and practiced in the art of deceit. He knows how to “get to us”, so that we will say “Oh, follow your heart! You deserve to be happy!” and so fall prey to his snares. What do we know, from God’s Word, about the heart? (Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”) God says that our heart is THE most likely thing to deceive us. So where will Satan most likely strike? He will offer us our “heart’s desire.”

This is why James begs his readers, “Do not err, my beloved brethren!” It is so easy to fall prey to such a deadly and invisible enemy. The only place a sheep can be safe is when it is close to the Shepherd. We need to learn to walk with Jesus, the Great Shepherd.

So, then, when the temptation is a “luring away to do evil”… when it is temptation to sin, how are we to respond?

Defense against Temptation

There are several layers of defense: The first is not one we would choose in the flesh: We find it in 1st Timothy 6:11 “But thou, O man of God, flee these things!” If there is a way to turn away from the temptation, and get away from the lure, then do so. We are not to dwell on the evil, longing after it. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery in his heart! So, the outward failing is not the only issue. Desiring it, and not fleeing the temptation is the key issue.

Another one, obviously, is to have already memorized enough scripture to do as Jesus did, and answer with Scripture. When Satan attempted (Matthew 4) to coerce Jesus to go outside God’s direction for his life, Jesus answered with the written Word, and defended himself in that way. The scripture is referred to as the “Sword of the Spirit”…and a sword can be both an offensive and defensive weapon.

We need to remember that when an enemy is attacking, we are to respond as befits soldiers, since God says that we are soldiers: He has given us armor, and tells us what it is for:

Ephesians 6:10-18 outlines the armor of the Christian, paralleling the physical armor of the Roman soldiers of that age. He first reminds us that the “enemy” is not other humans, but rather the forces of spiritual wickedness; then he lists the armor. The first five are entirely based on God’s Word, and His trustworthiness; the last two require some work on our part, in order to be useful, and readily available:

  • He begins with the Belt, possibly because the other items were hung from and depended upon that belt: He says we are to “stand fast”, having our loins girt about with truth. Everything depends upon the truth of God’s Word. If I am convinced of the truth of God’s Word, I have a good start toward a proper defense against the attack of the enemy. I need to believe God more than I believe anyone or anything else.

  • Next, the Breastplate of Righteousness, which is entirely dependent upon the truth of God’s Word…not our actions. The only righteousness, here, is the righteousness of Christ…not our own good works! (2nd Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9) His righteousness, not ours, guards our hearts and our lives.

  • The Shoes…the secure footing offered by the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. This is the only place this phrase is used. He did not say “the Gospel of Christ”, or any of the other phrases regarding the Gospel of Salvation. He means the “good news” that we have eternal peace with God (Romans 5:1), and the fact that God is eternally backing us. God is not angry at the church. Being confident in our relationship with God gives us the courage to face the enemy, and a solid footing from which to fight.

  • The Shield of Faith, with which we are to “quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.” This is easy to forget: I can become solidly entrenched in good doctrine, know I’m saved, absolutely believe the Bible is God’s written Word, but completely forget the critical issue of a faith-based relationship with God. Don’t forget the shield! He says, “Above all, taking the shield of faith…” We walk by faith, not by sight! (2nd Corinthians 5:7)

  • The Helmet of Salvation protects your head; your mind: If you are not convinced, in your own mind, that God’s promise of eternal life is good, then you will spend all your energy worrying whether you are good enough, whether all your sins are really forgiven, etc., and you will become entangled in the notion that your salvation is ultimately secured by your good works, not God’s Eternal Grace, and His Eternal sacrifice for you at the Cross. This is critical to your thinking, your confidence and your joy. You need to know you are saved, by the promises of God, not just “hope so.”

  • The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This one takes some work: reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on it, in order to have it within easy grasp, and ready to use as an offensive or defensive weapon. If you are not really familiar with God’s Word, then He cannot bring it to your mind to defend you against doctrinal attacks; nor can you use it effectively in evangelism. Sharpen your sword by improving your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word.

  • Finally, Prayer is our link to God himself: our line of communication. By it, we are commanded to call for help for one another as well as ourselves: Even the Apostle Paul asked for Prayer on his behalf. Notice that he prayed for boldness to preach…not comfort or safety. It is instructive, to take note of the things for which Jesus and the Apostles prayed. Somehow their prayer list looks quite different from ours, as a rule. Prayer also takes time and practice, in order to be confident and effective.

We are told to labor in prayer, and to labor in the Word and doctrine. Prayer and Bible Study are critical in Christian service, as without them we will not only be ineffectual, but misguided, as well.

Conclusion

We can see, then, that trials and temptations are of two different types:

  1. The kind that makes us strong, because it is from God, and
  2. The kind that seeks to corrupt or destroy us, because it is from the enemies of our soul.

How you respond to any of these trials will determine the end result. You will either come out with joy, knowing that you have handled things well, or in shame, knowing you failed to respond appropriately. Neither result affects your standing with God. If you have been born anew as His child, God will never cast you away. But failing to walk with Him and to respond well to testing will definitely affect your happiness and peace.

Lord Jesus, help us to embrace the reality of our lives, knowing that the trials are part of your plan for our benefit. Help us to glorify you by our actions.