August 8, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, August 7-14

August 7

Prov. 2, Mt. 23:25-39
Prov. 3, Heb 10


Hebrews 10

Verses 1-18, expound the theme of the absolute redemption accomplished by the one sacrifice of Christ. Verse 15 refers to the words of the Old Testament Scriptures as the Holy Ghost bearing witness. of this.  The Holy Ghost inspired and directed the prophets and authors of the Old Testament, so it is perfectly natural and right to say that, in them, the Holy Ghost testifies to the truth of what we read in Hebrews. Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted, bringing us to the point, stated in verse 18, that there is no more offering for sin. The Bible is saying God will no longer remember our sin under the New Covenant. That means He will not hold us responsible for its penalty. How can this be? It is only possible if God bears the cost of our sin in Himself, instead of requiring it from us. In other words, God must suffer for our sins in our places. This was accomplished in Christ on the cross. In Him God made the one full and sufficient sacrifice that is able to bear the cost of our sin, forever. There is no more offering for sin because the price has been paid in full and no more offerings are needed.

Verses 19-21 make the point that we now have boldness to enter into the presence of God because our sins are forgiven through the one full and sufficient sacrifice of the blood of Christ. Compare our boldness in coming to God with the fear and temerity of the people under the Old Covenant. They came with blood offerings lest God take their own blood. They came not into the Holy of Holies, knowing they would die if they dared enter into the direct presence of God it symbolised. Even the High Priest feared to enter the Holy of Holies, lest God may be displeased with Israel, and strike him dead. But we, confident that our sins have been forgiven completely because of the sacrifice of Christ, dare to call upon God and enter His presence with confidence and boldness. Our boldness is not irreverent or glib. Our entrance into the presence of God is reverent and respectful. It is not arrogance; it is faith. It is our confidence that Christ has washed away our sins and made us acceptable unto God that allows us come to Him as His beloved children to our Father.

Based on our redemption accomplished by Christ, and the boldness given to us, verses 21-25 encourage us to “draw near” to God through Christ. He is our assurance of acceptance (22). We are also encouraged to hold our faith securely without wavering. That is, we are to be faithful to the end as Christ Himself was faithful to us (23). We are to encourage one another to remain in the faith and to let our lives show our faith through love and good works. Finally, we are to attend the worship and fellowship opportunities of the Church (25). Hebrews 10:25 does not get much “press” these days because our view of following Christ is often considered only in terms of our personal salvation and relationship with Christ. But we have over emphasized the individual aspect and almost abandoned the corporate aspect of following Christ. We often think the Church is optional, and that its only function is to bring others to Christ, which we can do on our own (so it is said). But Christ is calling us to be a part of His new people, new family, new nation, new body, and we are members of one another as much as we are members of Him. Thus we are not to be absent when the Church assembles. We are to be present and active, for the Day of Judgment is coming.

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, the book of Hebrews turns again to an exhortation to faithfully trust and obey Him fully and forever. The exhortation begins with a dire warning, found in verses 26-31. Commenting on Hebrews 6:4-8, I wrote that I hope these verses cause you to fear. I have the same hope for this passage. I say this because these verses teach the terrible consequences of falling away from Christ. Sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth (26) does not refer to the constant failures and sins we commit in our daily battle to conquer sin and live for Christ. The sin of verse 26 is willfully deserting the faith. It is turning away from Christ and returning to the life of self-indulgence and self-direction. It is to remove Christ from the throne of your life, and to re-enthrone yourself as king and god of yourself. It is to live in unrepentant rebellion against God. It is, to draw back from Christ and return to perdition (39). What happens to a person who has professed Christ, but now has turned away from Him? Is that person “saved?” No. Verse 26 says such a person now has no sacrifice for sin. That person has rejected the only sufficient sacrifice, the only one that can cleanse the soul and make him acceptable unto God. That person, therefore, has no way to atone for his sins. He will stand before God in his sins, and for his sins he will be lost. Thus verse 27 says he has only a certain, fearful expectation of judgment. “Certain,” in this verse, means absolute. There is no question about it. It will happen as surely as God exists. Verses 28 & 29 prove this by the Old Testament, which records that people perished for disobeying the law that was given through Moses. If disobeying that law was a grievous crime, surely the rejection of Christ, Immanuel, God with us, is more heinous and more worthy of wrath. Such a person has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant (the blood Christ shed on the cross) as unholy. He counts the blood of Christ as not the blood of the Most High given for our sins, but as common and defiled and without value. Verse 30 quotes the words of Deuteronomy 32:35 and applies them to the one who has treated the Son of God so despicably. Verse 31 concludes the warning; it is a fearful thing for such people to fall into the hands of the living God.

Now the passage moves into a word of encouragement. It is based on the confidence of  verse 39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” The heart of this passage is verse 35, “cast not away therefore your confidence.” We could restate this verse as, hold fast to Christ in faith. The original recipients of this epistle had faced serious opposition and persecution when they became Christians (32-34). This opposition came from family and friends as well as the larger community. Yet they did not desert Christ. Nor did they desert the Apostle Paul, who was often in chains and prison for his faith in Christ  (34). Just as they stood firm in the faith then, they are encouraged to stand firm now, that they may receive their reward.
August 8

Prov. 4, Mt. 24:1-22
Prov. 5, Heb. 11


Hebrews 11

Having taught us of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, warned us against apostasy, and encouraged us to trust in Christ to the very end, Paul now shows several examples of faith in the Old Testament. Their example is given to encourage us to be faithful as they were, but they are also given to show that their salvation was the gift of God received by faith, not something they earned through good deeds or keeping Old Testament laws. Many of these people actually antedated the law, but were received by God because they trust in Him. In other words, they were saved by grace through faith, not by their own works, lest they boast of their accomplishment (see Eph. 2:2-9). One commentator has captured the essence of the meaning of this passage, especially verse 1. He wrote:

“In Old Testament times… there were many men and women who had nothing but the promises of God to rest upon without any visible evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled; yet so much did these promises mean to them that they regulated the whole course of their lives in their light. The promises related to a state of affairs belonging to the future; but these people acted as if that state of affairs were already present, so convinced were they that God could and would fulfill what He had promised. In other words, they were men and women of faith. Their faith consisted simply in taking God at His word and in directing their lives accordingly; things yet future so far as their experience went were thus present to faith, and things outwardly unseen were visible to the inward eye. It is in these terms that our author now describes the faith of which he has been speaking” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 277).

The people named in verses 4-12 are often called heroes of faith, but they would probably rather be known as people who were saved by grace. And salvation by grace is the point of this passage. By grace, God promised them an inheritance. That inheritance was symbolized in things like children and land, but it was far greater than these things. It was God Himself. Thus, even though Abraham did not technically own the Promised Land, He did inherit a better country, which is the country, or city, of God (vs. 16).

By faith they believed God and directed their lives as if what God had promised were already theirs. This is exactly what we are called to do as New Testament believers. By grace God has promised full forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. By faith we act like forgiven people. By grace God has given Christ to be the propitiation for our sins. By faith we trust Christ to remove all our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. By grace God has promised to take us to a land where the troubles of earth, the temptations of sin, and the barriers between ourselves and God will be only dim memories, and we will enjoy His glory forever. By faith we conduct and order our lives as though already dwelling in that land.

Looking at Abraham, let us be clear that God is not telling anyone to sacrifice someone as a test of faith today. It may seem odd to see such an obvious statement in this commentary, but it is here for the same reason hand lotion containers have to have warnings; “Not for internal use.” So, “Don’t try this at home.”

Verses 17-31 continue to show how people in the Old Testament trusted the promise of God. Abraham is the primary example. Promised an inheritance of land and descendants, He believed God and ordered his life according to the promise. He trusted God even when it looked like the promise could not be kept. Thus, Abraham knew God would somehow be true, and he would return with Isaac alive and well (Gen. 22:5). This is the meaning of Hebrews 11:19. The point is that Abraham trusted God and acted accordingly.

Trusting God applies as much to us as to Abraham. Though never called to sacrifice children or people to God, we are called to trust God’s promise and providence when it comes to the people and things we love most in this world. Do we love God enough to trust Him with these things? Do we trust Him with our children, grand children, parents, and siblings? Do we trust Him with life as well as eternity? Will we live our lives with faith in the Promise of God in Christ, as Abraham lived with faith in the promise of Genesis 21:12 and Hebrews 11:18, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”?

The people of Hebrews 11 did what they did because they believed God. Following the leadership of God, some were healed of disease, and some died horrible deaths. It is impossible for us today to say to another, or to ourselves, that God will heal us, or give us whatever we ask for, if we only have faith. God deals with us according to the counsel of His own will, and promises us that it will work to our good, if we love Him and are called, according to His purpose. Our task is to trust and obey, no matter where His will takes us, no matter what it brings to us, either blessings or trials. Verses 36-38 especially make this point.

This roll call of the faithful shows two things. First, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (11:1). We see God by faith, not by signs and wonders. We walk with God by faith, not by religious experiences. We know God is with us because we have faith, not because we “feel His presence.” Signs and wonders, religious experiences and feelings are not proof God is working in your life, faith is.

Second, the people of Hebrews 11 lived in the era of promise; we live in the age of fulfillment (39-40). Through faith they followed God according to the light given them by the Old Testament. But that light only gave dim glimpses of the Promise, which is Christ. We live in the days of the Promised One. He has come to earth and accomplished His great work of salvation. The Old Testament saints saw this only dimly, as shadows on a wall. Yet they lived in faith. Yet they followed God, even at great cost. We have seen the Light. We see not shadows but the very form of God in Christ. Let us therefore walk in faith also.

August 9

Prov. 6:1-19, Mt. 24:23-51
Prov.6:20-35, Heb. 12

Hebrews 12

The people of Hebrews 11 are now pictured as a great cloud of witness watching us as we run  the race of faith. The word picture given in Hebrews 12:1 is of the stadium with athletes on the track running a race. Those who have already finished their courses now witness those on the track, cheering and encouraging them. Second, they are those who bear witness to the absolute reliability of God. They show that God was faithful to them; thus, we can expect Him to be faithful to us. Third, and more importantly, they are witnesses as examples of living by faith. In this sense, it is we who are doing the watching. We watch them run their race by reading about them in the pages of Scripture. By their example, we learn what it means to live by faith in our generation, as they lived by faith in theirs. Fourth, and most importantly, they are witnesses in the sense of one who tells another about Christ. They lived in the promise of Christ. They looked forward to that great Day when the Son of God would appear on earth and accomplish His great work of Redemption.  Thus, they proclaim that promise to us, and encourage us to live accordingly.

Still using the analogy of the athletic arena, Paul encourages us to lay aside anything that will hinder us from running the course. As the athlete lives an athlete’s life of training, diet, and dedication to the sport, the Christian lives a Christian’s life of self-discipline, prayer, worship, Bible study, and purity, trusting God just as the people in chapter 11 also trusted Him.

In verse 2 we see Christ as our example. As the Author of our faith it is He who begins it in us. As its Finisher, He brings it to completion. He brings us into faith and into God, by enduring the cross. He was called to be our Saviour, and He was true to that calling unto death. He endured the cross and the shame to gain the crown. He ran His race. He completed the course. We who would be His must also be like Him. We must not allow our faith to grow weak. We must not give up. The passage goes on to say our trials have the effect of chastening us. We should no more expect a life without trials than a father without chastening. Trials, then, are not signs that God has deserted us.  They are signs that He loves us and is guiding us in His ways and growing us in faith.

To desert the faith over trials is to be like Esau (15-17), who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. How little he valued the calling and grace of God. A bowl of stew was worth more to him. As he gave his birthright away, and was unable to regain it, so the “Christian” who turns away from Christ and returns to habitual and intentional sin, will be unable to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, though he seek it with tears.
Verses18-29 further compare and contrast the law given at Sinai with the Gospel given at the Heavenly Mt. Sion in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. The giving of the law showed the inability of man to enter into the presence of God. Everything about the giving of the law showed the absolute holiness of God and the absolute unworthiness of man. Even Moses trembled with fear at the presence of God (21). But those coming to God through the sacrifice of Christ come unto God with confidence that, though they are sinners, God accepts them because Christ has made them acceptable through His blood.

The consequences of transgressing the law were terrible. Even an animal accidentally touching the Mountain of God was to be killed (20). Likewise, the consequences of transgressing the New Covenant of the Gospel are terrible. And if people could not escape the consequences of breaking the Old Covenant given at Sinai, no one will escape the consequences of breaking the Covenant in Christ given in Heaven (25) for our God is a consuming fire (29).

Since, therefore, we are given, in Christ, a promise and Kingdom that cannot be “moved,” “let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably.”

August 10

Prov. 7, Mt. 25:1-30
Prov. 8, Heb. 13


Hebrews 13

Chapter thirteen brings us into the closing paragraphs of the epistle to the Hebrews. Having taught us about the nature and work of Christ, the Apostle now encourages us to be diligent about the everyday things of living for Him, especially in our relationship with one another in the fellowship of the Church. The theme of today’s reading is Christian love. Because Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, we love Him, and His people, and our love shows itself in the way we live (1). In love we entertain (show kindness and mercy to) the needy. We give aid to those being persecuted for the faith, and to those suffering adversity (2-3). We conduct ourselves honourably in the home and keep ourselves sexually pure (4). We conduct ourselves honourably towards one another’s possessions, not coveting, but being content with what we have, especially since we know we have the presence of God with us, and the promises of the Gospel for our inheritance (5-6). We conduct ourselves honourably toward those called by God to minister in the Church (7-8). We remember that they have authority from God to preach and lead the Church, and we will treat them with due reverence as they lead us according to the Scriptures for our good and God’s glory. The end of their conversation, meaning the goal and the result of their ministry, is to bring us into maturity in Jesus Christ (8).

Typical of Paul’s work, Hebrews closes with doctrinal references and applies them to the daily life of Christian faith. Verses 9-16 show how Christ, as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, relates to Jewish Christians. They make it clear such Christians must leave Judaism and come into the New Israel, which is the Church. “Strange," (9) means alien, and not in accord with the Gospel of Christ. “Diverse” means shady and questionable. The words refer to teachings that encourage people to continue in the Old Testament ceremonies, especially the dietary laws and sacrifices. Such things are no longer required, for the Christian’s heart is established by grace, not with diet and sacrifices (meats) that cannot make us holy. Strange and diverse doctrines also refer to Gentile teachings that deny the Gospel. Anything that is not of Christ is a strange and diverse doctrine. This verse is especially applicable to us today, for many run after anything that appears exciting and new, readily abandoning the way Christians have believed and practiced from the beginning. This tendency usually leads to apostasy and theological shipwreck. Verses 10-12 refer back to Christ as the One who makes us holy by His blood, apart from anything we could ever do or offer.

Verses 13-16 are the conclusion and point of this section, and also serve to summarise the entire book. Verse 13 states it well, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp.” Using the fact that Christ was crucified outside of Jerusalem (12), and Moses met God outside the camp, verse 13 says Christianity must also go outside (without) of Judaism. No more are we to keep the Jewish ceremonies. Our sacrifices are works of kindness and thanksgiving, not animals (14-16).

Having shown us that Christian Jews are to leave Judaism as surely as Christian Gentiles are to leave their former religions and come into the Church, verse 13 tells us to join the Church, and to honour the leadership and structure God has placed in it. Being a Christian is not a life of solitary faith, and those who proclaim that the Church is unnecessary, or that the Church age is over, seriously misunderstand the Bible. The Church is the Body of Christ and abides with Him and in Him now and forever, and, as long as we abide in this world we are not to forsake her services (Heb 10:25).

Furthermore, the Church is not anarchy. It has structure and organisation, which includes men called to shepherd and teach the flock. Every person in the Church is a servant of Christ, and, in that sense, is called to minister to the body. Some are ordained to a ministry of teaching and preaching the word and leading the Church for the perfecting of the saints and the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:11-14). Thus we are told to "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (17). We are to conduct ourselves in such a way that when our pastor gives an account of his ministry among us it will be a joyful report of our progress in Christ, not a sad report of our refusal to follow Christ. We are also to pray for our ministers to have a good conscience and live honestly (18). A minister's authority is not absolute. He is not the Shepherd, he is an undershepherd. The flock does not belong to him, it belongs to Christ. So he only has authority to lead the flock according to the clear teachings of God as revealed in Scripture. Hebrews ends with an exhortation to honour the ministers of the Church, and a greeting from Christians in Italy.

August 11

Prov. 9, Mt. 25:31-46
Prov. 10, James 1


James 1

The book of James may be one of the earliest Christian documents.  Its audience is clearly Jewish and its purpose is to instruct Jewish Christians who fled Jerusalem during the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8:1 (1).  Chapter one encourages Christians to remain faithful, even under persecution, and gives a critically important picture of what God is doing in the lives of His people.  God is not trying to give us lives of ease: He is forming us into new people who are being renewed in every aspect of our being.  He is sanctifying us, and preparing us to dwell in Heaven with Him forever.  In this process He is weaning us from earth and leading us to value, love, and trust Him more and more.  Rather than delivering us from our trials and hardships, He uses them to draw us to Himself and to teach us to trust in Him.

In short, His purpose is to develop Godliness in us.  As James wrote, God is working to make us "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (4).  Our trials are often the tools He uses to increase us in Godliness.  Every trial is a temptation to desert God and return to sin.  Every temptation is an opportunity to choose God over self; to choose to follow Him in faith, or to run back to sin.  Thus, in temptation, our faith is exercised.  It is tried, it is tested, it is made stronger as the body is made stronger with physical exercise.  Perseverance, or, endurance, is the kind of patience this trying of faith produces in us. And those who persevere become more faithful and more Godly.  Paul may have been thinking of this passage in James when he wrote Romans 5:1-4.  The pattern in both passages is the same: tribulation works patience, patience produces experience, and experience produces hope.  The end result of faithfulness in trouble is Godliness, and Godliness is the goal of God for His people.  

Verses 12-21 support the statement made in verse 12; "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation."  In verse 2, temptations refer to the various trials of life.  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 (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 (17-18).

James draws two practical conclusions from his statement in verse 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.

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; one of people who merely hear the word, and one 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 highly respectful of it.  Either way, the Word has no home in their lives.  But these are not the people to whom James writes.  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.  So 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 their hearing the word as looking into a mirror, but forgetting what they see as soon as they leave it (23-24).  The Word, that is, the Bible, tells us about ourselves as much as it tells us about God.  It tells us of our complete alienation from God due to 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 by which became a man and lived and died 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 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.  Those who are  “hearers only” do not bridle their tongues.  Instead of being slow to speak (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 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 hearts ruled by self importance.  The kindness that speaks louder than words comes from hearts ruled by the love of Christ.

August 12

Prov. 11, Mt. 26:1-35
Prov. 12, Jas. 2


James 2

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  victims.  James is not saying they are.  He is saying 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 (9-13).

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 (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 (18), our faith is dead (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 (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.  

August 13

Prov. 13, Mt. 26:36-75
Prov. 14:1-16, Jas. 3


James 3

James 3 continues the subject of bridling the tongue.  Why does the Apostle spend so much time on this subject?  Because the essence of a person is expressed in his words.  Remember, James is writing about the life-style of those who have truly embraced Christ as their Master and Saviour.  He is writing about what Paul calls being sanctified and transformed into new people.  He is writing about living a faithful life (see Jas. 2:14-26 and accompanying notes).  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 (12).  His conversation shows wisdom (13) and meekness.  "Conversation" as used in verse13 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 words 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, envy, 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 (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 immeasurably 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.  The Bible brings our minds into contact with the wisdom that is from above which produces in us peace, gentleness, mercy, and the fruit of righteousness (18).

August 14

Prov. 14:16-35 , Mt. 27
Prov. 15:1-20, Jas. 4


James 4

James is still writing about Godliness in the life patterns of Christian people.  Elaborating on his statements in verses 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 (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 (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).  It is no wonder, then, that God resists them (6) for they resist God.

Thus James encourages his readers to submit to God and resist the devil (7). Rather than heedlessly chasing the world, James asks them to draw nigh unto God (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).  They are 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 (10) by the Lawgiver (Christ) who is also the Saviour (11, 12).

Continuing in the subject of the difference between "doers of the word" and "hearers only," verses 13-17 show 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 (16).  In this uncertain world, goods, and even their lives can be taken away from them at any moment (14), therefore they should be more concerned about knowing God and seeking Him in all of life, including their business ventures (15).  They know this, yet do not practice it, thus, they sin (17).