October 14, 2012

Scripture and Commentary, Monday - Wednesday, Week of Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.89:1-19, I Kings21:11-22, James 4:13-5:11
 Evening - Ps 92, Job 28:12, Mt. 16:13

Commentary, James 4:13-5:11

Continuing in the subject of the difference between "doers of the word" and "hearers only," James 4:13-17 shows that hearers only are primarily concerned about money and the comforts and pleasures it can buy.  They are worldly rather than Godly.  James is not talking here about the openly profane, or about those who use questionable tactics in business.  He is talking about people who profess Christ, but whose faith does not move them toward God and Godliness.  These people claim to be Christians, but go through life with little care or thought for God.  Though such people may be very moral, James says their actions are evil (4:16).  In this uncertain world, goods, and even their lives can be taken away from them at any moment (4:14), therefore they should be more concerned about knowing God and seeking Him in all of life, including their business ventures (4:15).  They know this, yet do not practice it, thus, they sin (4:17).

In 5:1-6, James turns to the perils of wealth and the evil into which it has led many people. The point of verses 1-3 is that wealth is easily lost.  Verses 4-6 show what evil men do to obtain and keep wealth. 7-11 call Christians, and those who have been "hearers only" to turn their attention to the Lord, waiting for the promises of God as the farmer waits for the rains and the harvest (5:7-8).  He gives the Old Testament prophets as examples of patient faith, who endured rejection and persecution from their own people, just as Jewish Christians were experiencing in James' time (5:10).  He calls Job to their minds as an example of one who, though suffering grief and poverty, remained faithful to God, thus, possessing the greater wealth of God's love and mercy (5:11).  The point, of course, is that the Jews who were suffering persecution and loss for the sake of Christ also possess wealth that cannot perish, and even death can't steal, through the tender mercy of the Lord.

Tuesday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 90, 1 Kings 22:1-12, James 5:12-20
Evening - Ps. 104, Job 38:1-18, Mt. 17:1-13

Commentary, James 5:12-20

James ends his epistle with several important exhortations.  Swearing, in verse 12 does not refer to "cussing," though cussing is an obviously evil thing.  It refers to attempting to make an oath more valid by swearing in the name of God, Heaven, angels, or holy things which we have no power to bind by our promises. Such "vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle" (Articles of Religion XXXIX).  Accordingly we Anglicans ask people in baptism and confirmation to promise, rather than swear, and, rather than asking them to attempt to obligate God or anyone else, we simply ask them to respond with "I will, by God's help."  This answer is yea or nay.  "By God's help" is not an oath in the name of God, but a prayerful confession that the help of God is necessary to enable us to keep our obligation.

Verse 13, though short, gives important directions for much of what happens to us in life.  We are often afflicted.  At such times let us seek God in prayer.  When we are merry, let us sing Psalms to God in our joy.  Thus, in joy or sorrow, we come to God.  Often, even Christians, facing sorrow seek relief in things other than God.  Rather than prayer, and seeking to know the Biblical way to deal with our troubles, we think a vacation or a new toy will cheer us up.  But perhaps the Biblical answer may be to persevere and honour God even in our sorrows.  Likewise, in joy, people often forget about God instead of remembering and thanking Him.

Verses14-16 do not guarantee physical healing every time we get sick.  They do remind us that the prayers of our friends, and, especially, our ministers, are as important in the treatment of illness as the medications and advice of physicians.  We are to call for the minister of the church with as much urgency as we call for the physician.  His prayers, which avail much (5:16), are an important part of the means of our cure.  Our own prayers are also important, and chief among them is the prayer of confession.  This means we are not simply praying that God will heal us so we can go back to business as usual.  We are asking that life in the future will be more Godly.  We are asking not only to be delivered from suffering, but also, even, especially, that we may serve God more fully in the future.

Verses 17 and 18 continue to urge the sick, and all of us, to pray by reminding us that God answers prayer.  If God answered Elijah's prayer to withhold the rain for three years, we may believe He will answer the prayers of those who call upon Him today.

Verses 19 and 20 show that our responsibility for Christian compassion and love requires us to learn and grow from one another.  This includes the sermons, liturgies, and Bible studies of the Church, and also our daily discourse with one another.  Our conversation should be edifying to our hearers, building them up in the faith.  We should also be open to the wisdom of others, who may be able to see things we have overlooked.  This does not mean we are to become busy bodies, looking for faults in others and imposing our advice on them.  Remember James' earlier warning to be swift to hear and slow to speak.  It means that our actions and conversation should be helpful to others by pointing them toward Christ, His Word, and His Church.  If God in His grace uses you to help turn someone from error or sin, rejoice, for God has saved a soul from death and forgiven a multitude of sins.

Wednesday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 94, 1 Kings 22:13-28, 1Timothy 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 113, 114, Job 38:19-30, Mt. 17:14

Commentary, 1Timothy 1:1-11

This morning's reading begins the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy.  As Paul wrote this letter he was in Macedonia, having been released from house arrest in Rome.  Timothy was in Ephesus overseeing the Church in that city and the surrounding area, especially the ministers, some of whom had begun to teach things contrary to the Gospel (1:3-4, 7).  Their attempts to teach the law, whether by intention or merely ignorance, had led some of the ministers into error.  So Timothy's task is to charge them to teach no other doctrine but the Gospel (1:3 & 4).  The "commandment" of verse 5 is not the Old Testament law.  It is the charge Timothy is to give to the ministers.  The end (goal) of this charge is love from a pure heart and good conscience.  This means it is real Christian charity, not phony or of mixed motives. A good conscience means to be able to say or do something without their consciences convicting them. The Christian minister should be able to say, without his conscience convicting him otherwise, that he loves God and His Church. Not just "The Church" but his own congregation and every member of it.  The same is true of every member of the congregation.  All should be able to say they love each other. A minister who loves his church will preach the truth to them.  He will lead them into the means of grace and the life of Godliness. A congregation that loves its minister will gladly receive his ministry to them and will ensure that they are present for his sermons and other ministries (1 Thess. 5:12 & 13). If someone is unable to say he is doing this, without his conscience convicting him otherwise, it is his duty to change his own attitude and heart. 
The Ephesian ministers attempting to teach the Old Testament law do not understand what they are saying.  Their teaching does not lead people to Christ; it binds them with burdens.  So Paul gives some instruction about the law.  Obviously Timothy already knew this, and Paul probably put it in the letter so the ministers could see it and know that the things Timothy was saying were from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment (authority and decree) of God (1:1).  The point of these verses is that the law of God was not given for theologians to debate and discuss how far a person can walk on the Sabbath.  It was given to direct people into the way of God and to show us the things we ought to be doing.  In this sense, it is for the disobedient and ungodly (1:9 & 10).  It is for those who are doing anything that is contrary to sound doctrine in accordance with the Gospel, which was committed to Paul by God (1:11).   To such people the law is a warning that they are not living according to the will of God.  Thus the law gives sinners (all have sinned, Rom. 3:23) an opportunity to repent and seek God's forgiveness in Christ.  The point of the law is to lead us to Christ.

God Our Help to Please Him, Sermon, Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

God Our Help to Please Him
Psalm 72, Ephesians 4:17-32, Matthew 9:1-8
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 14, 2012

"[W]ithout thee we are not able to please thee... ."  These words from Collect for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity lead us immediately to that aspect of the Christian life into which we hope to be encouraged and strengthened today, pleasing God.  What does it mean to please God, and how can we, weak and foolish and sinful as we are, ever hope to achieve the lofty goal of pleasing God?
We must acknowledge that an essential part of our calling into Christ, is pleasing God.  I think contemporary evangelicalism places too much emphasis on what God saves us from, and too little emphasis on what God saves us to.  It tends to give the idea that Christ died only to forgive our sins and take us to Heaven.  But He died to accomplish much more than that in us.  He died to make us into a new kind of person.  He died to bring us into an Empire of peace.  He died to form us into a kingdom of priests who offer up continual sacrifices of holy living in accordance with the moral and spiritual teachings of the Bible.  These moral/spiritual teachings are just as much a part of the Gospel as being forgiven of sin and saved from hell.  The verse that says, "If ye love Me, keep my commandments" (Jn. 14:15) is just as much a part of the Gospel as the verse that says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."  In fact, that verse, Romans 8:1, goes on to describe those who are in Christ Jesus as those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."  In other words, it is those who live the new life in Christ who are the saved.  Or, as we read in James 1:22 in the morning readings last Tuesday,  it is those who hear and do the word of God who are the real Christians, not those who only "hear" it.

The Epistle for this morning pictures the new life we are to live as Christians.  The new life takes us out of the former habits and values of spiritual darkness, which Ephesians 4:22 calls "the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."  Putting off such things is a necessary part of being a Christian.  They must be put off like filthy, vermin infested garments, and we must put on the "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24).  The rest of the book of Ephesians is about how the new man lives the life of righteousness and true holiness.  All those verses about speaking truth, and working to earn your living, and submitting to your husband, and loving your wife as Christ loves the Church, and honouring your parents, and provoking not your children to wrath, and putting on the whole armour of God, and watching in prayer, are about the way you are called to live if you are a true Christian.  And it might be a good thing to ask yourself right now if you really intend to be a true Christian or not.  Are you really willing to follow Christ, or are you just playing games with God to salve your conscience?  Seriously ask yourself this, because you are to examine yourself before you come to the Lord's Table, and because the consequences of playing games with God are eternal.

Listen, please, because this is very important.  I constantly encourage you to pray and read the Bible daily and to come to church every Sunday.  I don't ask this for me or for my benefit.  I ask it for your benefit, because I want you to grow in the knowledge and faith and strength and communion of God.  This is a very important part of being a Christian.   I think the Bible clearly teaches that those who cannot find the motivation to do these simple things have reason to doubt the validity of their faith.  But, being a Christian is more than prayer and Bible reading.  In fact, you can read the Bible daily, spend hours in "prayer," go to church, and receive baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion, yet still be far away from God in your heart.  You can know the Bible well, and be an expert in Hebrew, Greek, and all the various doctrines of the Bible, yet still be mentally and spiritually aloof from God.  That is why James wrote that we must be doers of the word and not hearers only, for those who hear but will not do the word, deceive themselves.

But who has been a doer of the word?  Who has lived life according to the Spirit instead of according to the flesh?  Who can say with confidence, "I have kept the commandments of God?" Would we not be more correct to say with Paul, I am chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner?" (Lk. 18:13).  Thanks be to God it is not our works of obedience to His commandments that make us acceptable to God.  It is the sacrifice of Christ, bearing our sins in Himself and dying for them on the cross that makes us acceptable to God.  And thank God also that we are not left to our own devices and power to live the Christian life.  Without Him, that is, without His help, we are unable to please Him.  Even with His help we will not be perfect in this life, of course we can do far better than we are currently doing, if we really want to.  In A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law asked why most people who call themselves Christians never live devout and holy lives.   His answer? Because they never intend to.  They go to church and they say the prayer asking God to enable them to "live a godly, righteous and holy life," but they don't mean it.  They don't really want to live that way.  I believe he is correct, but I beg you not to let that be true of you.

Truly we need God's help if we are going to live lives that are holy and Godly and pleasing unto God, but, is God willing to help?  To answer this question let us turn to the Gospel reading for this morning.  Here we see Christ healing the physical ailment of a paralysed man.  Our Lord makes it plain that He is not merely healing the disease of the the flesh; He is primarily healing the disease of the soul.  "Thy sins be forgiven thee," He said to the man.  Why do we read this passage in connection with the topic of pleasing God, and how does it answer the question of the willingness of God to help us?  Because it shows the compassion and help of God.  If God was willing to help the man whose legs were paralysed, He is also willing to help those whose faith is paralysed.  He who is willing to forgive sins at the cost of His own life, will also freely help His people live the life of faith as surely as He who freed the ancient Hebrews led them from Egypt to the Promised Land.

So, we need the help of God if we are going to live the Christian life, and God has promised to help us.  This means two things for us in practical, daily life.  First, we must ask God to help us.  This might mean that our prayers need to have a change of focus.  We may need to pray less about getting the physical things of the world, and more about help to be the husbands,wives, daughters, sons, parents, employees, church members, and Christians God wants us to be.  In other words, we may need to spend more time seeking help to live a holy and Godly life.  Second, we must avail ourselves of the help He gives.  If you ask most Christians how God helps us, they will usually say something like, "by the power of the Holy Spirit."  By that they mean God somehow infuses us with Heavenly power and we are able to conquer sin and do all good works He has prepared for us to walk in.  But how does God infuse us with that power? Primarily through the means of grace received in faith.  He helps us as we read the Bible in faith.  He helps us as we pray Biblical prayers in faith.  He helps us as we worship at home and in Church in faith.  He helps us as we come to the communion table in faith.  These are the things God has ordained to help and succour His people, and to enable us to put off the old things of sin and self, and to put on the new things of God and holiness.  These are the means by which God helps us please Him.

"O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"