So many people have abandoned the idea of REAL TRUTH. You hear this – it true for you but it is not true for me. If it is real truth – it is true for everyone and we have an obligation to either follow it wholeheartedly or admit that we aren’t interested in truth – just our feelings.
The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself… I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).
By this light, any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable.
I came across this quote recently from another blog. While it may sound “nice” and “good” – I believe that it is fundamentally flawed.
The book of Jeremiah tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9)
Now that may hurt some people. Most of us like to think that we are honest, that we have good intentions, that our hearts are pure. I usually think I am a pretty good guy. I try to be honest and obey the law and do good things. I like to feel good about myself.
BUT – when I am really honest, when I truly examine my soul, I find that Jeremiah is right. I am not really that honest. I even lie to God on a regular basis (how dumb is that?) with prayers like, “God, the thing I want most is to follow you.” I’m terrified that God will say one day, “Fine, if that is what you want the most, I want you to give up coffee, fast for 40 days, sell all your possessions and give them all away to the poor and follow me.”
We are not honest people. If you have ever been pulled over by police for speeding, you know that they ask you a question like, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” How many of you have answered that honestly? “Yes office, you caught me on your radar gun. If you have shot it at me last night though, you would have gotten me for 20 miles an hour over – not just 10. And by the way, I didn’t use a turn signal as required by law and I tailgated the person in front of me.”
How about good intentions? Do you have good intentions in everything you do? At best, you might honestly say, “Sometimes” or “Well, they are not intentionally bad.” Usually our intentions are neither good nor bad, they just are. We are not thinking about glorifying God or helping others – we just want to get our own way.
Let jump to another thought. “ any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people” – Jesus made all kinds of hurtful statements. John the baptizer called people a bunch of snakes. Wow! I guess we better cut those things out of the Bible. It hurts people to be called out for sin and evil. We can’t say anything that might make Hitler or Stalin feel bad.
If you take out all of the commands to REPENT and TURN FROM YOUR WICKED WAYS from the Bible, you are basically left with a bunch of stories and a message like, “I’m OK, you’re OK”.
The Bible is clear – I’m not OK before God and you are not OK before God without God’s work and intervention. In fact, we are so bad and so guilty – the only thing that would make it right is the death of Jesus Christ, the lamb slain before the foundations of the world.
Will God ever pass judgment? Will God ever hold a person to account for their sins? Will God be the one to decide right and wrong – will we continue to swallow the lie that was first told in the Garden of Eden, “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5).
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. (James 1:9-11 NASB)
How do you respond to your circumstances? Are you looking at the outside of the cup to determine if what is inside is any good? In this passage, James speaks to two groups of believers on the need to keep the right perspective on lfe and life’s circumstances.1. Woe is me – God doesn’t love me because I’m poor!Are their “true”, “faithful”, “spiritual” believers who are living in poverty? Yes. Both in the New Testament times and today there were true believers who were “in humble circumstances”, that is, were poor people. They were godly. They loved the Lord Jesus Christ. They obeyed God, but they were poor
Why were they poor? Maybe it was famine which had destroyed all their crops and all their reserves. Some had lost everything because of their walk with the Lord Jesus. Some were Jewish Christians who were the casualties of cruel persecution. They had become homeless refugees. They had lost everything for the sake of the Messiah, and were uncertain where their next meal was coming from. Some had incurable diseases and were in the last years of their lives, while others had weak personalities, the victims of abuse, cripplingly withdrawn.
Jesus spoke of a Christian called Lazarus. All he had was a little begging corner at which he asked people for money. Too ill to work, with no-one to support him, he was covered in sores which dogs licked.There are today, brothers and sisters in Kenya whose families have been destroyed by AIDS and with very little but a patch of land they are trying to educate, clothe and feed a dozen children. Visit a Christian orphanage in Uganda, or watch some of the redeemed street children of Manila and you are confronted with a Christian poverty of staggering dimensions.
There are many potential dangers facing poor people. Poverty is not a safe place to be. There are no automatic benefits from being poor. Poverty can embitter. It can make a Christian discontented, complaining, and self-pitying. Fear, worry, envy, and self-righteousness can spoil a poor Christian. Children of poor Christian parents can bring special pains in the heart. “All the other kids are going on the field trip. Why can’t I go?” “I can’t wear that,” a teenager will say, about perfectly good clothes, because those colours, that design is out of date. Those athletic shoes are good enough to last another couple of years, and were very expensive last year, but this year they are out of style. They are the wrong make, and the wrong design. It is not easy for Christians in humble circumstances.
What does the Bible say to a Christian who is broke and suffering? Listen to the two things James says:
1. BE AWARE OF YOUR HIGH POSITION.
Think of Lazarus’s position: his home was a pavement: he was in constant pain. But what was his true position? Do you measure it by his possessions, and his outward circumstances, and his bodily comforts alone?
He was loved by God from the foundation of the earth. In eternity he was given by God the Father to the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved and kept by him. God then called Lazarus into fellowship with Christ. He had given Lazarus a new heart, made him a new creature, gave him the gift of faith, pardoned all his sins. Lazarus was a forgiven man. God had adopted Lazarus into his family and made him a son of God, a joint heir with Christ. He had ended sin’s reign over Lazarus and liberated him. Though he were a beggar he was free. The rich man in his house was a slave to his sins – with all his millions. Lazarus was joined to Jesus Christ. The Son of God lived in him, and he in the Son of God
This poor man was actually a glorified man. Paul put it this way in Romans 8:30, “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”(Romans 8:30 NASB).
The hope of glory has actually become a present reality because glorification is as certain as anything else that God does. So the Scripture does not say “will glorify” but “the Christian IS glorified” – it’s done. In Christ, Lazarus is seated at the right hand of God. That is his high position. This phrase, “high position” is used in the New Testament to describe the heavenly realms to which Christ has ascended. It describes the place from which the Holy Spirit descends. It is the place from which we await the appearing of the Lord Jesus who will then transform a sore-covered body licked by dogs into a body of glory. This place of glory was Lazarus’s home. Think of the elite addresses in the world. What high position does Lazarus live in? The right hand of God! The heavenly places in Christ Jesus! That is really where he lives.
Think of the knowledge that Lazarus has. He knew who God is and knew who man is. He knew that this is a God-designed and a God-created and a God-sustained world. It was made as part of the beauty of the world to show the grandeur of its Creator. Lazarus could see the flowers that grew in the dust around him and the stars in their loveliness. “I can understand why they are made,” he could say. Jesus tells us that it’s God who clothes the grass of the field. The heavens declare the glories of my Lord and Saviour. In the biggest things of life the poor man in Christ has a greater knowledge that Einstein.
There are biologists who know much about a flower but they don’t know why it is. Because they don’t know God, they don’t know themselves and they don’t know the flower. But a humble believer in her garden actually knows the Creator of those living things and can talk to him and thank him for all he has made. That is something to rejoice in.
The poor man also knew the God of providence. He knew that God is working all things together for his good, that this God so loved him that every hair of his head was numbered. There were things that had happened to Lazarus that had brought him to the dreadful poverty in which he found himself. Maybe his parents had died when he was child. Things had been tough for him and he did not know all the reasons why, but he knew that one day God would make it plain.Lazarus could trust the Lord. This Shepherd would supply all his needs. Nothing would separate him from God’s love. Whatever forces came into his life he wouldn’t just conquer them, he’d be more than conqueror. This poor man could talk to the Lord, and he would hear and answer.That is the high position which every Christian of humble circumstances enjoys?
James goes on to the second thing. He says
2. BOAST IN THIS!”
Take pride in your high position.” “Glory in his high position.”
James tells the poor man, “you are in a high position and when you’ve realised this you’ll show it by delighting in it. “You ought to take pride in it,” he says. “You ought to feel so good about it.” All these truths about our status in Christ build up our morale, they make us encouraged. James is thinking of the poor believers and he wants them to be renewed daily. He wants what they know to make them happy. Barnabas was not a great preacher or evangelist or theologian, but he had this reputation of being a son of encouragement. He lifted people up wherever he went. People felt strong whenever he visited their church. They felt they could cope with their trials; they could stand in an evil day; they could overcome. James was acting like Barnabas here.James says, “Take pride in your high position.” Boast about it. Glory in God’s love for you, Christ dying for you, the Holy Spirit indwelling you. God wants that.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the opening verses, spoke to his disciples, and he said to them, “YOU are the light of the world. YOU are the salt of the earth.” Those 11 men were deeply flawed. They had no qualifications. They had not proved themselves. They had not preached any sermons. They had not suffered much for Christ. Yet he says to them, “You are the salt of the earth.” That was their high position.
Wasn’t there the danger of their pride in their position becoming pride in themselves? Yes but, it exists in all of biblical Christianity. Because salvation is by grace alone there is the danger of us saying, “Let’s sin more and more to give grace plenty of scope.” There are dangers, but the Lord still said to them, “You are the light of the world.” And James says very carefully to this poor man, “Take pride in your high position.” God doesn’t mind us taking pride about what Christ has done for us. He doesn’t mind us glorying in the cross. Jesus said to these men, “I call you my friends. You really matter to me” Paul praises the congregations he writes to for their labor and love and patience and hope. They are Christian graces. They are created by the Holy Spirit. And he tells them how much he’s thrilled by their steadfastness. “We are being steadfast? That’s the first we heard of it.” Now that is not going to fill them with arrogance because it’s only because of God they produce steadfastness.
James is writing to this man who is nothing in the eyes of the world – they believe he is a crank, but he matters to God and he matters to the people of God. And James wants all these people to take pride in God’s love for them and all he has done.This is not the teaching of the self-esteem movement. James is not saying, “Poor man you are great in yourself. Love yourself. Feel good about yourself.” He is lifting this man up to the heavenlies. He is reminding Lazarus of his status in Christ. This man can only boast in the Lord, and take pride in what God has done for him. “I the chief of sinners am but Jesus died for me.”
The poet Shelley’s wrote about a traveller who had been to an antique land and there in its vast sands he had come across the ruins of a huge monument – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.” That’s all that’s left of what was once a huge imposing statue. The legs of someone. It’s a ruin. Then the traveller looked and saw there was an inscription. It said these words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Even the man’s name has been forgotten. “Ozymandias”? “King of kings “? He’s nothing. He’s nobody. He is utterly insignificant, forgotten by history. That’s the real message of the statue. This man once boasted in himself, and was proud of himself and everything he had done. He actually esteemed himself so highly that he had this statue erected. Now what remains of this man? Shelley says, “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Don’t merely accept yourself as a man. That’s the message of humanism. That’s what Ozymandias did. God says, “Let not the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD” (Jer.9:23). Accept yourself in Christ, James says, and take pride in this. “He loved me and gave himself for me.” Boast in that. Look at verse 5 in the next chapter. James says, “Listen my dear brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him” (James 2:5)
Only one life, ’twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Original message by GEOFF THOMAS August 2 1998http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/Sermons/james4.htm
Edited by standrewscumberland
Leviticus is a book that is seldom studied – yet it contains the second greatest command according to Jesus. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18. This is going to be an attempt to put up some reasonable commentary about a book that truly is difficult to understand. Original material from Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III and edited by standrewscumberland – link to original at bottom.
Leviticus and the second half of Exodus are linked together. The second half of Exodus deals with the tabernacle. Then, at the end of the book (the tabernacle, sitting right in the middle of the camp) is filled with the glory of God. Exodus 40:34-35 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” This tabernacle was sitting right in the middle of Irael and the. Awesome glory of the Lord was filling it. It was so great that even Moses was unable to enter it. And if Moses was unable to enter the tabernacle, the the questin that needed to be answered is this: “How is ny other person supposed to relate to this God in the middle of the camp. That is what the book of Leviticus is all about.
The book of Leviticus can be divided into 2 sections.
- Chapters 1-16: Teaching on 4 subjects:
- Chapters 17-27: The holiness code for Israel.
- Chapters 1-7 discusses regulations about the five great sacrifices. These are gone over twice; first in chapters 1-5 and a second time in chapters 6-7.The first time, they are described based upon what’s needed for the one who wants to offer a sacrifice (the one who needs to be atoned for, the one who wants to come into fellowship with God, or the one who wants to thank God.)The second time, it describes what are the requirements of the priest who is handling the offering or sacrifice. This way you not only get a different perspective, but also a fuller understanding of what’s going on.These sacrifices are individual and they were voluntary. “When any man of you brings a sacrifice….” This is a personal sacrifice that takes place when a person feels the need.
- In chapters 8-10, there is the formal initiation of the Aaronic priesthood.
- In chapters 11-15 there is teaching on what is clean and unclean.
- In chapter 16, there are the rituals of the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
6 functions of the ceremonial system.
- 1) Help people experience the presence of God. Three times in chapter 1, it says that God was pleased with the soothing aroma of the sacrifice, and that the believer was found acceptable and was able to draw near to Him. The sacrificial system was designed to allow people to draw near and experience the presence of the Lord. The purpose of the tabernacle being in the middle of camp was so that the people of Israel would always remember that God was present.
When God was about to destroy the people after the golden calf incident and then relented after Moses’ prayer, he said, “OK, I won’t destroy them, but I won’t go up with them—I’ll clear the way before them, but I won’t go up with them.” Moses then prayed, “Lord, if You’re not going to go up with us, if You’re not going to be right in our midst, then just kill us here.” (paraphrase). The tabernacle was the visible proof that God was there and the ceremonial system was the way people could experience that presence. By doing sacrifices, you got to draw near to the tabernacle, which was near the Holy of Holies, the focal point of the presence of God.
- 2) Provide a way to give thanks to God. A thankful heart is a contented heart, and a thankful heart helps people endure times in which things are not going our way. The people of Israel would need this to endure the many difficult times ahead. One of the quickest ways to ruin your experience of blessing is to not thank God in a tangible way. The ceremonial system in one of the five sacrifices, was designed to cultivate thankfulness.
- 3) Renew fellowship with God. There was a sacrifice in the first five sacrifices that was specifically designed to allow the believer to renew fellowship with God.
- 4) Deepen the believer’s prayer life.
- 5) Show the need for forgiveness. As Christians, we see that the ceremonial system also pointed to the way that those sins would be forgiven.
- 6) Bring the whole congregation into contact with the tabernacle. This would happen not only during during the festivals but also at different times during the ordinary course of life. It was an invitation from God: “Draw near to Me, my people, and bring to Me these sacrifices.”
Now to Chapter 1.
1 The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.
3 “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. 5 You are to slaughter the young bullbefore the Lord, and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 6 You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. 7 The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 9 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
10 “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the flock, from either the sheep or the goats, you are to offer a male without defect. 11 You are to slaughter it at the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash its blood against the sides of the altar. 12 You are to cut it into pieces, and the priest shall arrange them, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 13 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to bring all of them and burn them on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
14 “‘If the offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you are to offer a dove or a young pigeon. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar.16 He is to remove the crop and the feathers and throw them down east of the altar where the ashes are. 17 He shall tear it open by the wings, not dividing it completely, and then the priest shall burn it on the wood that is burning on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
Verses 1 and 2 is an introduction to the whole book and especially chapters 1-7. The people of God are still at Sinai having previously worshiped another god but now having experienced God coming into the tabernacle. God is now speaking to Moses and giving him instructions for how the people and priests are to draw near to Him.
Verses 3-9 are the start of instructions about burnt offerings. The burnt offerings are also called the holocaust offering because the whole thing goes up in smoke before the Lord.
We have four sections:
- The introduction (1 and 2).
- Instruction about the burnt offering of the herd (verses 3-9);
- Instructions about the burnt offering that comes from the flock (verses 10-13);
- Instructions about the burnt offering of birds (verses 14-17).
These are all the same offering. There are different types of burnt offerings which are acceptable from the people of God because of economic status. Some were rich and could offer a burnt offering from the herd and some were poor and all they could offer is the burnt offering of birds. So God made provision so that everyone in Israel, from richest to poorest, was able to make a burnt offering if they desired.
Now notice again, in verse 1 we read:
“Then the Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.”
Verses 10-17: 2 lessons
God cares how we worship Him.
The voluntary, personal, and spontaneous nature of these sacrifices speaks of heart motivation to worship God. This book, just like in the second half of the book of Exodus—was concerned to teach that God cares how we worship Him. Notice the detail in this first chapter. God told them where to slaughter the animal; where to put its blood; how to divide it or not to divide it; He went into minute detail because He cares how we worship Him.
The book of Hebrews says that this ceremonial ritual has now been transcended in Jesus Christ, but the principle is still there. David Peterson, the Anglican Bible scholar defines worship from his study of Hebrews this way: “Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which only He can provide.”
You could use that definition for Leviticus. The principle is the same: we come near to God on his terms. We don’t come in any way we choose. We come on the basis of the term that He proposes, and through the means which He alone makes possible. ‘Come to me and I will receive you,” He says, ‘if you come with this burnt offering, with this atoning sacrifice which is to be lifted up to Me.’
We learn here that God cares about how we worship. That’s not just an Old Testament principle, that’s a New Testament principle. You can’t say, “I want to be a friend of God, but you know, I’m just a little iffy about Jesus. Jesus is a wonderful man, great moral prophet, but I can’t believe that He’s the sinless Son of God and Savior of sinners. I’ll come to God some other way.” Worship is engaging with God on the terms that He proposes, and by the means which He alone makes possible. No man comes to the Father but by the Son, and it is Jesus’ very fulfillment of this sacrificial system that establishes that truth beyond all question of recall.
So there’s the first thing: God cares about how we worship Him.
The Lord accepts and communes with those who come into His presence through the death of an atoning sacrifice.
Let’s look in some detail at verses 3-9. Notice three or four things about this passage.
First of all, this burnt offering is sometimes called the holocaust, coming from the Hebrew olah, to refer to this burning, and the smoke going up to the Lord of this sacrifice. It all goes up in smoke.
This is the only one of the five great sacrifices that is wholly given over to the Lord. The other sacrifices have parts of those sacrifices that are held back for the priests, or even shared in by the one offering the sacrifice. This sacrifice is wholly given to the Lord. It is wholly consumed before the Lord, and it is clear that this sacrifice indicates that no one can approach or be acceptable to the Lord, without a substitutionary sacrifice.
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the Lord. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” (verse 3)
The main function of this sacrifice was to render atonement or render propitiation or to quit the righteous wrath of God. Yahweh is a God that you cannot commune with in your sin and defilement. But He made provision through this sacrifice so one who desired to come into the presence of the Lord and commune with Him could.
What about the blood of the sacrifice? The blood is the life force of us and it is the life force of the animal. Draining the blood assured the death of the animal.
It is significant that there was always two parts to every sacrifice of an animal, the blood and the body.
Jesus on the night in which He was given up said: “This is My body, which is given for you. This is My blood of the covenant, which was poured out for you.” Jesus was speaking of Himself and about His death in the terms of the two parts of the Old Testament levitical sacrifice of the burnt offering. Jesus was explaining His death and the significance of it to His disciples in terms which were unmistakable. We lay our hands upon that sacrifice as we enter into the tent of meeting, and when we do so, we own that that animal is our property, and that that animal symbolizes us. It is our symbolic substitute. And that we are offering ourselves symbolically through that animal.
Paul’s wrote in Romans 12:1-2: “Render yourself as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God….” Paul is drawing on this very language, out of the book of Leviticus and the Old Covenant sacrificial system.
One final question: Why were there different kinds of offerings? We have them from the herd, from the flock, and from birds. Two reasons: one, so that everyone in Israel, rich or poor, could offer; secondly, and just as importantly, because the principle is established in the sacrificial system that no one should come to God with a sacrifice that costs him nothing. And so, the beginning of the teaching of God of the costliness of the ultimate sacrifice begins here.
May we always be willing to offer God that which cost us!
You can read the original, unedited versin of ths sermon here:
JAMES 1:2-4 HANDLING TRIALS
Sermon by Geoff Thomas, 14 June 1998 evening. – Edited by standrewscumberland
James is both blunt and realistic in this statement. Facing trials of many kinds is what happens if we are normal Christians. Nobody in the 1st century thought that becoming a Christian meant health, wealth, and prosperity.
James says two things in these verses: one is a command and the other a reason for the command.
First the command, “Consider every trial pure joy.”
This is a command not a suggestion. It’s our duty and we are sinning if we disobey.
You consider with your mind, not your feelings. You do it with your thought processes. James is not saying, “feel joyful,” but learn to think joyfully in your trials.
Let’s look at some examples:
1] Paul tells us he learned to be content in whatever state he was in. He understood that being discontented was going against the belief that there is a loving Father God in charge of everything in his life. So he learned, as his Christian life progressed, to be contented. Each day he might have said to God, “Thy will be done” and when Paul knew that something was God’s will he could stop his self-pitying or sulking.
2] In the early church, the apostles were preaching the gospel in opposition to the Jewish leadership. The Sanhedrin had them arrested, and decided to have them flogged. Some died under a flogging. How did apostles respond? We are told [5:41], “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” They considered their sufferings in the light of the sufferings of Christ for them. Christ had considered these men worthy to bear shame for his sake. This was an honor! So they weren’t depressed and angry about this turn of events. They considered it pure joy.
3] Paul and Silas in the prison in Philippi had been roughed up, given an unjust trial, lashed, put in the stocks in the dungeon. But they considered it as a cause for praise. They had been faithful servants to the great Servant. He suffered innocently and triumphed over his enemies. They were given the same confidence. Europe was going to hear the gospel. At midnight they were not sulking. They were singing psalms of rejoicing.
So one day these scattered Christians of the 12 tribes were sitting in their seats on the Lord’s Day gathering and this letter from James was read to them. The very first thing he told them was that they were to use their minds, and consider it pure joy whenever they were in the middle of any and every trial. “First of all learn this great lesson” they were told.
Then they were told that the trials were “of many kinds?”
James mentions some of these in his letter: sudden death (v.11), being an orphan or a widow (end of chap 1), exploitation and also illness (in chap.5: vs.4 & 14). Trials are common to us all, but the way they settle on one church or another and go from one believer to another varies. We may be slandered, our human ambitions might be crushed, we may be ostracized, there might be some thorn in the flesh, some personality problem, or unrequited love, intellectual problems, domestic heartache.Suffering is so diverse. We’ve got to face the reality as Christians that our faith is likely to be tested by God in such ways. There is no immunity for us as disciples from the Valley of the Shadow, whatever form that valley takes. We may be working under the most unpleasant management – men who make our lives a misery. We may face constant articulate opposition to our Christian convictions. The whole operating style of our place of work may be aimed at the embarrassment of Christian believers. We meet people who contradict our beliefs and mock our faith and we have to stand absolutely alone. There is not one class of trials to which God is limited. so that in them alone we can rejoice. These trials are “of many kinds”.
A Christian can’t say about anything, “That will never happen to me.” Check it out: did it happened to Job, to Simon Peter, to Noah, to Abraham, to the apostle Paul ? One thing God knows about each one of us – what load we are able to bear. It is God who puts the load on us and he knows our breaking point. God won’t allow us to carry more than we can bear. That is the great limitation, and the ONLY limitation. No Christian is exempt from trials of many kinds. The one guarantee is that our faith will not fail.
In the NIV, James says about these trials, “you face them”. It would be better to say that you fall into them. The word is used in the story of the Good Samaritan about the poor man who fell among thieves. So trials come upon us, as unexpectedly as the ringing of a phone. You don’t need to go out of your way to look for sufferings or to create difficulties. It is inevitable that we are going to bump into these testing times. There have been Christians who have deliberately provoked the world’s hostility. Others have actively sought martyrdom. That’s foolish. We are going to face it. “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Walk along the narrow way, keep in step with the Holy Spirit and you will meet enough to test your faith.
If you think, “I can’t be a Christian to have to go through this,” then think of Job and how at first he himself was spared but he lost family and property. Then God allowed his health to be touched, though his life were spared. God is in control of the degree of hardship at every stage. With Job it stops at the taking of his life, but with Stephen he even forfeits his life.
Don’t think that Christians are always suffering although it is a possibility. It’s just that it is common for Christians to meet trials. The Christian life is “the fellowship of his suffering.” Every single Christian is tested.
Then, James says, that whenever it happens, “consider it pure joy.” Consider it 100% joy – all of it, nothing but joy, not a mixture. You can’t cut out 90% of a trial and count that part as joy. Everyone of us can look back with thankfulness to some aspect of every difficulty we have experienced. We can think of the wonderful support we had from our family and friends, and count those memories as joyful. We can say, “it could have been worse, and you can always see someone in a worse condition.” That is not what James is saying here. He says, “Face up to the whole thing.” Don’t leave any of it out. All of it is to be accounted as joy.”
That sounds crazy! You have lost a sense of the love of God. Your body is racked with pain. You have just lost a loved one. You are being persecuted. The lives of your family are in danger. There is no earthly hope at all.
Imagine all that, and then this great word comes to us, “Consider it pure joy.” Regard this trial as a reason to rejoice. Account it as being “pure joy.” Because it does not seem to be joy. It seems terrible. But account it as joy that you are facing a trial. Your heart is breaking, and it is difficult to keep going, but you account it as joy that you are being faced with this trial.
How can we do this? Only by leading your mind toward the right biblical considerations. By thinking about trials from God’s perspective. You can in this way reach the point when you rejoice in them. You consider the God of providence, your Saviour the Lord of love, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of his Word. Consider all that – as you face trials of many kinds. Pure joy does not just happen. It takes a deliberate act of will. It may mean getting back under Biblical preaching again. It may mean being more diligent in personal devotions. It may mean getting wise counsel from godly people. It means everything that a true consideration of these most important events that have come into your life requires. You pay that trial that measure of respect. Bring it into the presence of Almighty God and reflect on it there.
It doesn’t mean you rejoice in cruelty, suffering, shame, injustice, destruction, or waste. It does not mean saying, “Well, Hallelujah anyway.” It does not mean no tears or sense of loss. “Consider !” means setting the trial in the whole mighty picture of a reigning loving God.
So we have looked at the command with which James begins this letter, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now we come to the second part, the reason for the pure joy.
2. THE TESTING OF YOUR FAITH DEVELOPS CERTAIN ESSENTIAL GRACES
James says, Consider it pure joy … because This is not an irrational statement. It is not a “Cheer up old man.” How can they be prevented from being hopelessly idealistic ? “Consider it pure joy when my worse fears are realized” ? “Consider it pure joy when my heart is breaking ? It’s nonsense without a “because” and there has to be some pretty massive explanation for considering it joy.
1] The first reason James gives is this, that the trial is testing our faith.
This word ‘testing’ is found in just one other place in the NT in Peter’s first letter and it’s found there in the context of the refiner, who tests and tries gold with fire. It is a great verse for casting light on this verse. “you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (I Peter 1:7) The fires of trials are there to prove that your faith is genuine faith and prove the reality of our beliefs.
All sorts of things are tested to prove that they are genuine. Do you want your drugs tested? Do you want to know that they are genuine and will do what it says ? Yes. If you love antiques and you collect brass, then when you go to an antique shop you take a magnet with you and test the brass. If the magnet sticks to the brass then you know that it is simply gilded iron. You wont buy it because it is not the real thing. Currency. The cashier runs a special pen on that note or holds it to a special light. You are glad she does because you don’t want a forged note given to you in change. Household appliances. They have a seal to show that they have been tested and they are safe and effective. Cars. They are tested for their safety. Rivers and beaches and air and food and water – all are tested.
Everything important is tested. Trivial things are not tested. But shouldn’t a Christian’s faith in God be tested ? Isn’t that worthy of testing ? Think of all we say hangs on true faith in Jesus Christ. Eternity with God in heaven for all who believe. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And it’s true ! Then, do I have that faith ? Have I got the real thing ? How terrible to go through my life assuming that I did, but at the end discovering that I didn’t !
In the Pilgrim’s Progress there is a character called Ignorance and in the very last paragraph of the book we are told that it is his turn to come to the river of death, and he has no difficulty crossing it – a ferryman called Vainhope rows him over. But the shining ones at the door of heaven ask him for his certificate, that is, they ask him for the proof of real faith. He fumbles for it but cant find it. Then they bind him hand and foot and take him away. And you know how Pilgrim’s Progress ends ? “Then I saw that there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction !”
Do we have genuine saving faith? Such faith is tested and tried by God Himself ! He puts our faith under all kinds of pressure. He places our faith in different circumstances. We have this faith that means that we believe in the over-ruling providence of Almighty God We believe that God works all things together for our good. We believe that God is in control. We believe that God loves us. We believe that God cares for us. We believe that if we cast all our cares upon the Lord that he will sustain us, that he will look after us, and provide for us in all our needs, in every conceivable peril. That is our faith. yet there are these times when God puts us to the test. He places us in situations where it is difficult to believe that that is God’s attitude, that that is the way God regards us, that he is really in control. We have these great Christian convictions We have the assurance of God’s providential care, We have the assurance of God’s love. We believe all that and we act upon it. We base and structure our whole life around this great conviction – God is in control. God cares for us. Yet, time and again, we find that what is happening to us speaks of something very difficult. We find ourselves in so many situations where it is almost impossible for us to believe that God is in control, and so difficult to believe that God cares for us.
That is what James is teaching here. We have the great convictions of our faith. God is going to test our faith. God is going to do it by placing us in situations where it is going to be hard for us to go on as Christians, where discipleship is going to be costly, and where God’s own sovereignty and God’s shepherding and his own love is obscured and almost contradicted by the circumstances of our day to day lives.
“Do you really believe that all things are working together for your good ?” We are not sure. So God tests us with a trial, and we did keep trusting him through it all ! We passed the test ! “Do you truly believe that you have a wonderful loving Shepherd who watches over and protects you in all that happens ?” We are not sure, but when the test comes we find we have looked to God for help and grace. We have passed the test and are stronger because of it. Such trials then become means of grace to strengthen us. It is that kind of testing James is concerned for here. Consider it pure joy because it is God himself who is so concerned that your faith is genuine that he is testing it in all kinds of circumstances.
2] The second reason James gives for considering our trials to be pure joy is that these tests develop perseverance, and maturity and fulfilment
The test is an exercise, and every exercise strengthens. Troops go out on military exercises and they become tougher men. A young athlete runs for longer and longer distances, and he prepares himself for the marathon race. His exercises produce constancy. A young couple in the early years of marriage are sustained by their feelings. Then their child gets sick, or the husband is made redundant, or his job takes him away from home for weeks at a time, or she meets someone else and is drawn to him. There is a test and they go through it biblically, that is, they deal with it as the Bible tells us to handle these trials, trusting God, seeking help from him, honoring their marriage vows under fire. They are grittily determined to save their marriage – and as a result they get stronger, because their love is now a tried and tested love. They appreciate their marriage vows as never before. A student has a ‘mock’ exam before the real thing. The ‘mock’ helps him, he’s gone through that test, so that he is not so ill-prepared when the big external exam comes.
So God tests us with a little test, and we pull through it. “Oh,” we say, “So I have that amount of faith.” We doubted whether we had that much faith. Then God brings a bigger test into our live, and we pull through that. So on and on. There comes a time when we bury our parents, our husband or wife – it comes to all of us, and we are not bitter because our faith is a proved faith. We say, “I don’t know how I could have coped without God.” We have been given perseverance and staying power and heroic endurance.
There are two graces very close to one another that we must have. One is patience, and that is what we must show towards other people. Then there is the word mentioned here, perseverance, and that is not a passive submission to circumstances, it is a strong active challenging response to the difficulties we have to face. We conquer this trial, we are more than conquerors, by perseverance, keeping going and keeping going, day after day. That isn’t passive is it ? Shakespeare says, “Though patience be a tired mare yet she will plod.” What do we need as Christians more than the grace to keep plodding on ?
The testing of our faith develops perseverance. How else can anyone learn staying power ? I don’t know. But it doesn’t end there. There is a chain reaction. v.4 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” Now where does all this start ? It starts with trials of many kinds. No other door to someone being “mature and complete, not lacking anything” except the door marked ‘trials.’
What do we want to be in the future ? First priority, “mature and complete.” Who wants to be a kid for ever ? You hear of the behaviour of some of these TV presenters and football players – vast salaries, travelling the world, surrounded by admirers and yet behaving like spoiled kids. What do you want in the future ? “That I be mature and complete.” Of course. The door to that is the door marked “Trials.” And the road to that is Perseverance Road. Keep persevering and you become mature and complete. You have to finish each stretch of the road. to reach maturity.
So to Christians under trial – “Don’t interfere with God’s plan for your life.” Don’t give up on your marriage when the first trial occurs. Don’t run out on your wife when a handicapped child is born. Don’t give up on the course when there is only one year to go. Don’t resign from the church when your conscientious beliefs are rejected by others. Persevere! Finish the work ! So you may be mature and complete. There is a growing period for a fruit, maybe five months from the first small fruit appearing to the time when they are ready to be picked and sold to the shops. You have to go through the whole growing period – finish the work so that the fruit are complete.
When we are in a trial God says to us, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Believe God! Don’t give up. “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Aren’t there people in the Christian church whom once you had great hopes in ? That in the future they would be mature and complete, leaders in the work of the gospel ? Yet they have been a great disappointment. There was a testing time in relationships, or in their trust in the truth of the Bible, or in their understanding of the gospel, and they failed the test. Think of Jonah failing the test, cutting it short by doing things his way, heading for Joppa, running away from God. Instead of going east to Nineveh he tried to sail across the sea west to Tarshish. he heaped misery on misery by doing things his way. But in the end he had to do God’s will in God’s way.
Every trial you pass through you must consider it joy because it can make you mature and complete. Are there any weak points in your life? Do you have an irritable spirit? Quick to retaliate? Not gentle enough? Then God will permit trials to come into your life to strengthen and exercise those graces. You don’t pray privately as you should. God will send some trials into your life to cause you to pray. When a trainer looks at an athlete he spots areas of weakness in his life. he does not say, “Your arms are weak. Wrap them in cotton wool and put them in two slings.” No he exercises that person at the point of his weakness. God does the same to us where we are weak. He strengthens our weakness by trials, by perseverance to make us mature and complete
How do we end up in this wonderful state of “not lacking anything” ? Not lacking in love or trust or concern for others or spiritual energy? It starts with trials, and facing them maturely, recognising that the Prime Mover of all that touches us is Almighty God, submitting to them with joy, and letting the testing of our faith produce maturity.
This is the only way. Paul says it in Romans 5:3 & 4, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance’ perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
And Peter says it, “all kinds of trial have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and power when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6 & &0.
The result of the trial is new hope that does not disappoint. You have become a stronger and more useful person, with a closer relationship with the Lord and more loving relationship with other Christians. All this only comes when trials come into our lives and we respond to them as we should.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Continuing the study of this short passage. Let’s look more about what this passage teaches about God because it is only if you get this part right that you can understand the rest of the passage.
Understanding this passage requires several beliefs about God.
First – God must exist. If God doesn’t exist, this passage makes no sense. Enjoy life to it’s fullest and die! That’s all there is.
Second, God must be active and involved with us. This passage implies that God is actively doing something in our lives. Romans 8:28, which many people quote but few understand states, 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
God WORKS in all things for the good OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM, and for THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN CALLED according to his purpose.
So before we can begin counting trials as pure joy, we need to ask ourselves 2 questions. 1) Do I love God? That is, do I love God by the Bible’s standards, not by my standards. John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” If you are not even trying to be obedient to Christ, you don’t love him regardless of how much you pray or sing or worship. Luke 6:46 – Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?” Above all else, loving God is receiving the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your salvation.
2) Am I called according to his purpose? The first question is taken from a human viewpoint. The second question is taken from the divine point of view. Salvation is not simply a matter of what you decide. Unless God acts, you will never respond.
Back to the passage from James. Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds. James writes this reminding his readers that 1) God is in charge and they belong to God through the death of His son, Jesus Christ. And according to Romans 8:32, God is looking out for our best. 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
When I know that a loving, supremely wise, Father is sending me something, I have to assume that it is something good – if I can just look at it with the right vision.
There is a story about a little boy that was a great optimists. His parents wanted him to calm down a bit so for Christmas, they only gave him one present: a box of horse manure. However when we opened the box and saw the manure, he got up and started running around house, crying with great excitement, “I got a horse for Christmas!!!!!”
That is us – when we view trials as coming from the hand of our loving heavenly Father!
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
This passage represents a real challenge for obedience. Consider it pure joy. While many people are prepared to endure trials, we are not prepared to consider it pure joy. Some folks would look at this as a call to masochism. Rejoice! You’re in pain! Count it pure joy. One website commenting on this passage said he thought James must be doing drugs!
Since I don’t believe that God is calling us to take joy in physical suffering simply because it is physical suffering – this passage must mean something other than be crazy or a masochist. Let’s examine it a little deeper.
The first thing to note here is what you are to consider pure joy. He says you are to do this when you face “trials of many kinds.” In the next verse, he links these trials to “the testing of your faith.”
This morning, I saw in our newspaper an article about a person I know who drove his van through a light pole and into a building. This is not the first time for this kind of accident. Is this what James is talking about? I have heard people who are grossly obese and have developed health problems talk about the “cross they have to bear”. Christians who overdraw their checking account sometimes want to talk about the trails they are going through. Let me put it bluntly. When you screw up, commit sin, abuse your body, etc. and bad things happen – this is not a testing of your faith that you are to consider pure joy!
Leaping off a building and claiming a broken leg is a testing of your faith is not spiritual – it’s stupid!
James is not talking about abstract suffering and trials here. He links the trials to “the testing of your faith.” Peter talks about the same subject in 1 Peter 1:6-7: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire —may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Peter is saying here that your faith is going to be refined through testing and this will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed. What these two apostles are telling us here is that there ARE situations which we may go through AS BELIEVERS, which are sent by our sovereign God. These are sent for a purpose.
So as usual when dealing with a difficult question of Scripture, one of the key issues for this passage is our view of God. This will be continued in part 2.
James 1:6 “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt,”
“That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.” – That’s what James says.
I don’t believe that is is a case that all doubt is sin or that the reason all of our prayers aren’t answered is because we have doubt.
There are two different concepts of doubt that we need to clarify. First – there is doubt that doubts all things – except it’s doubt. It is unbelief, disbelief, rejection, denial, agnosticism, faithlessness. Yes, this kind of doubt is definitely a problem when we are dealing with God. It’s a defiance to God that says, “Regardless of what evidence you show me – it will never be enough!”
But there’s another kind of doubt that is not necessarily sinful. It is uncertainty, lack of confidence, reservation, problematic, misgivings, skeptical, questioning,
wavering, or seeing things as indeterminate.
Diakrino: This is basically uncertainty on what to believe. It comes from uncertainty in knowing what to believe. It is often shown in words like “How do you know?” or “Are you sure?” 1 Corinthians 14:29 NIV says, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully ( Diakrino) what is said.” Here Paul is teaching about judging the truth of the prophets and exposing any lies in a prophecy or teaching. This process of discerning was to protect the truth from being corrupted.
Distazo: which is found in James 1:6. This is RE-considering whether or not something you’ve believed can or will occur. It is a form of skepticism that is due to a lack of commitment to the choice you’ve already made. This is giving up your conviction of faith based upon what you see or feel.
Apistea: This is weakness of faith or a form of unbelief that shows a lack of a confidence in God to do what He has promised. It requires repentance, not more evidence. It is a conscious choice to doubt. We see it in Matthew 14:31 when Jesus reaches out to Peter, sinking in the water and said, “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”.
Apeitheia: This is being obstinate, rebellious, refusing to believe, or being apathetic. When Jesus taught in his hometown, it says in Matthew 13:58, “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” This is the hardest form of unbelief. It is someone who has dug in their heels and refuses to believe even if he knows he is wrong. This hardness of heart needs to be repented from in order to be right with God.
Not all “doubt” is sin – but some is. When we think of “Doubting Thomas,” remember – Jesus didn’t condemn him for his doubt. He offered himself as further proof. Doubt can be proof of faith in some cases. By questioning your own belief, you’re affirming the foundation of your own beliefs.
So can you doubt and still receive from God? That’s where we started in James. It all depends on what kind of doubt you are dealing with. If you are committed to following God regardless of where the path leads and you’re just not sure where God is leading – then doubt (asking God for further direction) is not sin. BUT – if you’re committed to going your own way – regardless of how God guides – then as James might put it today – “You’re screwed!” You shouldn’t expect to receive anything or any help from God. Good bye and good luck.
I’ll close with a quote from my favorite author, C.S. Lewis: “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
Like most of my thinking and writing – this is not original. It is a distilling of the thoughts from Daniel Slack: http://www.true2ourselves.com/forum/theology/2209-what-doubt-sin-how-biblical-translation-may-confuse-issue.html
This passage raises a lot of interesting questions.
1) What kind of wisdom is James talking about?
2) Why would anyone ask for wisdom?
3) is it reasonable to say that you won’t get any wisdom from God if you have any doubts?
4) What kinds of doubts is James talking about?
5) If you have doubts, will you really not get ANYTHING from the Lord?
6) what is a double minded man?
7) How is he unstable in all his ways?
This passage clearly needs some explanation because it is ripe for misuse and misunsderstanding. First, we need to look at the context. This passage takes place after Acts 8:1. ”…And on that day a great persecution began against the church inJerusalemand they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea andSamariaexcept the apostles.”
James writes this letter to the 12 tribes who are dispersed abroad. At this time, the church is still almost exclusively Jewish. Phillip has not gone toSamaria, the Ethopian unuch has not been baptized. Paul has not been converted. Peter has not preached to Cornelius.
But now, persecution has begun.
James has just been telling his readers his persecution, trial, and troubles are good when he gets to this passage.
(originally published June 24, 2012)