October 19, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, October 20-25


Morning - Ps.41, 1 Kings 18:1-15, James 1:12-21
Evening - Ps. 33, Job 12:13-22, Mt. 13:53-14:12

Commentary, James 1:12-21

Today's reading supports the statement made in verse 12; "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation."  In verse 2, temptations refer to the various trials of life.  Here, in verse 12, they are the specific temptations to sin that we encounter in "the world, the flesh, and the devil." To endure such testing is a blessing from God, because those who endure temptation will receive the crown of life, which is eternal rest and peace with God in Heaven (1:12).

Verses 13-16 picture the progress of sin from temptation to action.  After affirming that God does not tempt or lead us in to evil, James tells us that our own lusts (the flesh) draw or lead us into temptation.  We are then enticed to fulfill our lusts, even by ungodly means.  So sin is conceived in lust and born of lust, and death is born of sin.

By contrast, God gives good and perfect gifts.  Note the line of thinking here; God does not tempt us.  Instead He gives all good and perfect gifts.  Sin leads to death, but God gives the crown of life.  There is no variation in God.  He is good throughout, and He begat us, or, caused us to be born again, by His word, that we may be the first-fruits of His creatures (1:17-18).

Finally, James draws two practical conclusions from his statement in 1:12.  First, let us be swift to hear, which is to receive instruction in Godliness, and slow to speak and wrath, which is to give in to pride and self-importance, and does not work Godliness in us.  Second, we are to lay aside the lusts and pride that lead us into temptation, and receive with meekness the word which is able to save our souls.


Morning - Ps. 42, 43, 1 Kings 18:16-24, James 1:22-27
Evening - Ps. 39, Job 14:1-14, Mt. 14:13-21

Commentary, James 1:21-27

Verse 21 tells us what we all know, that hearing the Word of God is not enough.  Those who allow the Scriptures to move them to faith and faithfulness are the ones who benefit from the Word.  Not surprisingly, James pictures two scenarios; first, of people who merely hear the word;  second, of people who hear and do the word.
Those who merely hear the Word will have different reactions.  Some will dismiss it entirely to live in unbelief.  They may be belligerently anti-Christianity, or they may be mildly respectful of it.  Either way, the Word has no home in their lives.  But these are not the people James writes to.  He writes to people in the visible Church, and he writes to encourage them to live for Christ as He lived, and died, for them.  Then, as now, many, maybe even most, who heard the Gospel and made some kind of response of faith in Christ, never really understood the Gospel, and never really had Biblical faith.  They may have changed some of their ideas about religion, started attending Church, and maybe even put away some of their more obvious sins; but they never really made any attempt to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, or to embrace God as their God and His ways as their ways.  Like the Laodiceans of Revelation 3:15, they were neither cold nor hot about Christ.  They did their religious "duties" but remained unchanged in their hearts.  They did not become Christians, they just added a little Christian flavouring to their lives.

James describes them as looking into a mirror, but forgetting what they see as soon as they leave it (1:23-24).  The Word, that is, the Scriptures, tells us about ourselves as much as it tells us about God.  It tells us of our complete alienation from God due our willful sin.  It tells us we are under God's wrath and without excuse, and that our very best works and deeds are but filthy rags compared to Gods' consuming perfection.  It tells us of God's love, so great it compelled Him to become a man and live and die to reconcile us to Himself.  It tells us that He offers reconciliation to all who will accept it by faith and return to Him.  Yet, those who are hearers only, see themselves in the mirror and walk away unmoved and unchanged.

Those who hear and do the Word, described in verse 25 as the "prefect law of liberty," and "continue therein" are the ones who are blessed.  To continue therein is to receive Christ in Biblical faith.  It is to continually confess and repent of sin, and to continually turn to a life of love for and obedience to God.  To be blessed is to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation, and the fruits of righteousness.  

The chapter closes with an example of hearers and doers in real life (1:26-17).  The hearers only do not bridle their tongues.  Instead of being slow to speak (1:19) they are swift to speak and bold about voicing their views and desires.  Their tongues are not under the control of God, showing that their lives are not either.  We will see more of what this means in chapter 3, the reading for this Friday.

The doers of the word are characterised by kindness, compassion, and charity.  Visiting orphans and widows in their distress, refers to actively working to relieve their sufferings. Rather than causing hurt and strife by their words, doers of the Word bring balm and relief by their actions.  The stinging words of those with unbridled tongues come from a heart ruled by self importance.  The kindness that speaks louder than words comes from a heart ruled by the love of Christ.


Morning - Ps.44, 1 Kings 18:25-46, James 2:1-13
Evening - Ps. 50, Job 18:5-21, Mt. 14:22

Commentary, James 2:1-13

It is not difficult to grasp the meaning of the words, "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons."  Nor it is difficult to grasp the fact that the Church often, maybe, usually holds the faith with respect of persons.  The Love of Christ is for all.  The call of the Gospel, and its offer of forgiveness is for all.  Nationality, gender, race, and, especially, money, mean nothing to Christ.  In His eyes we are all poor, sick, and dirty until we come to Him for riches, health, and cleansing in our souls. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3).
Quite obviously, not all wealthy people are wicked oppressors, and not all poor people are Godly or victims.  James is not saying they are.  He is saying that our concern, as the Church, is for all people alike.  There is a saying, "The ground is level at the foot of the cross."  It is also level in the Church.  If we create distinctions, it is we who err (2:9-13).


Morning - Ps. 49, 1 Kings 19:1-8, James 2:14-26
Evening - Ps. 73, Job 21:7-33, Mt. 15:1-20

Commentary, James 2:14-26

Many have thought James teaches salvation by works instead of salvation by grace. Verses 21-25 are the primary verses upon which they base their view.  But the point James makes is not that Abraham and Rahab earned Heaven by doing good works. It is that real, Biblical faith results in good works as naturally as being an apple tree results in apples.  James is writing about what Paul calls being transformed (Rom. 12:2), becoming a new kind of creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and sanctification, or becoming more Godly (1 Thess. 4:3).  It is the opposite of the mere assent to facts and doctrines, which even devils know (2:19).  It is being moved out of knowing about God and into actively doing His will.

If our faith does not express itself in good works (2:18), our faith is dead (2:17, and 20).  In other words, if your faith (assent to Christian doctrine) does not move you to faithfulness (seeking to live a Godly life), it is not Christian faith in the Biblical sense at all.  It is a corpse, a body without a soul (2:26).  So James is trying to tell us to move beyond intellectual belief to love and obedience of God.  We do not do good works in order to be saved; we do them because we are saved.  


Morning - Ps. 51, 1 Kings 19:9-21, James 3
Evening - Ps. 85, 86, Job 24:1-20, Mt. 15:21

Commentary, James 3 

James returns to the subject of bridling the tongue.  Why does he spend so much time on this subject?  Because the essence of a person is expressed in his words.  Remember that James is writing about the life of those who have truly embraced Christ as their Master and Saviour.  He is writing about what Paul called being sanctified and transformed into new people.  He is writing about living a faithful life (see Jas. 2:14-26 and accompanying notes for Thursday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity).  The tongue (mouth, words) of a person who is becoming more Godly will express the spirit of Godliness.  His mouth is a fountain of sweet water (3:12).  His conversation shows wisdom (3:13) and meekness.  "Conversation" as used in 3:13 refers to our whole way and pattern of life, not just our words.  The Christian's words express his way and pattern of living for Christ, while the unGodly person's express his way and pattern of living in wickedness.  In short, our words express our character.
There is also a sense in which our words, and thoughts, form and shape our character. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7).  Therefore, if we make an effort to control our words, we are also making an effort to control, and, therefore, change, our character.  If, instead of cursing, we bless with our words, we also form a blessing character. We can influence the way we live, and we can develop our character.  If we are not making a good faith effort to do so, we are simply allowing the bitterness, envying, and strife of sin to rule us, and if we are allowing sin to rule us, and, at the same time, calling ourselves Christians, we are lying against the truth (3:14).  This is one reason why daily Scripture reading is so important.  By spending time in the Bible we are attempting to let its words shape our thoughts and characters.  We are not simply trying to gain knowledge about the Bible, though such knowledge is very important. We are certainly not merely doing a religious duty, nor are we simply "spending time with God." We are letting the Bible change, and renew our minds.  We are letting it shape our values and goals and life-views.  We are seeking to become more like Christ in our minds, for that will cause us to be more like Him in our actions and our being.  It is to bring our minds into contact with the wisdom that is from above which produces in us peace, gentleness, mercy, and the fruit of righteousness (3:18).


Morning - Ps.71, 1 Kings 21:1-10, James 4:1-12
Evening - Ps. 93, 98, Job 25:2-6 & 26:6-14, Mt. 16:1-12

Commentary, James 4:1-12

James is still writing about Godliness in the life patterns of Christian people.  Elaborating on his statements in 2:17 and 18, his point is that real, Biblical faith changes a person and that change is visible, or, expressed, in his actions.  By contrast, a false faith, one that is merely an intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions, makes no change in a person. It leaves him in the same old sinful inclinations he was in before he came to believe the propositions.  Such unchanged people still lust and war over the things of the world (4:1-2).  Their prayers are not prayers of faith that trust God to supply their needs.  They are prayers that God will grant them the things for which their hearts lust, so they may consume them in gratification of their lusts (4:1).  While Abraham was called the friend of God 2:23, their friendship is with the world, and they are at enmity with God (4:4).  It is no wonder, then, that God resists them (4:6) for they resist God.

Thus James encourages his readers to submit to God and resist the devil (4:7). Rather than heedlessly chasing the world, James asks them to draw nigh unto God (4:8) with the same fervour and devotion with which they formerly sought the world.  He promises that God will draw nigh to those who seek Him.  Verse 9 means to turn completely away from the former things.  Let those things for which they were formerly prepared to fight, now become the cause for mourning and heaviness.  No more are they to laugh (find pleasure) in sin, but to be filled with sorrow over it.  To be humble in the sight of the Lord is to mourn over sin; to confess and turn away from it, and to turn to God as Lord and God.  Those who do so will be lifted up out of their degradation and condemnation.  They will be exalted to Heaven forever (4:10) by the Lawgiver (Christ) who is also the Saviour (4:11-12).