Christianity 201

January 8, 2018

Conflict at Church

This is our third visit to Art Toombs Ministries, and today I read several great articles trying to decide which one to carry here. Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts — he’s currently in the epistle of James — you never know when you might need it.  I also follow Art on Twitter. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

Resolving Church Conflict

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)

James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. The current teaching is on the subject of resolving conflict in the church.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” (v.7a). This is a reference to the previous verse which states “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The key to resolving conflict in the church is humility.

We see this humility lived out in six commands which if heeded will resolve conflict in the church. The six commands are listed in verses seven through nine:

(1) “Submit to God” (v. 7b). Submission to God requires obedience to His word. We do not know what to obey unless we know His word, the Bible. We should turn to the Bible for advice on all matters. Then we should be obedient to that Scripture.

(2) “Resist the devil” (v. 7c). The devil always hits at our weakness. For many of us Christians our weakness is pride. Pride is also the source of much church conflict. We must resist pride, and all other sin. When we do, the devil “will flee” (v. 7d).

(3) “Draw near to God” (v. 8a). When we do this, “He will draw near” to us (v. 8b).    We draw near to God through prayer. The more we fill ourselves with God, the less room there is for self. The closer we draw to God, the more we see things through God’s eyes and not our own. Our selfish desires then take a back seat to the will of God.

(4) “Cleanse your hands” (v. 8c). This is a reference to our actions. Sinful actions require confession, repentance and seeking forgiveness, from both God and from those we have offended. It is not enough to just confess our sin, if we intend to then repeat the sin. We must also turn from, repent of, that sin.

(5) “Purify your hearts” (v. 8d). This is a reference to motives. Our motives may be mixed, “double-minded” (v. 8d). We must be careful to keep our motives pure. Our motives may be what we perceive as what is best for us, instead of what is best for God’s kingdom.

(6) “Lament and mourn and weep“(v. 9a). Without getting too bogged down in the theology, let’s just say this has to do with our attitude. Our attitude needs to be one of sincerity. If we have wronged another, we should feel badly for our sin against our fellow Christian. We should feel so badly that we never want to return to the behavior or mindset that may have contributed to a problem. We should feel so badly that it is hard to laugh or have joy (v. 9b). Even if we are not the source of the problem, we should be upset with ourselves for letting things get to this point. We should not take the problem lightly, or pass off all the blame on others. We cannot control what others may say or do, but we can control our reaction. A poor reaction often escalates a slight, or an offense, into a problem.

So If you “humble” yourself in these ways, “He will lift you up”, (v. 10). God will provide a way to resolve the problem that will glorify God. Humble yourself, and then put your trust in God.

James then introduces what may be interpreted as a new subject. However, I believe that he stays on the subject of humility. He writes of criticism, specifically criticism of a “brother” (v. 11a), a fellow Christian. There is no place for criticism in a humble heart.

How can you be humble while criticizing another? The two do not go together. You are breaking the Golden Rule. You are not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one likes being criticized.

When you criticize “you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11b). God is the only “Lawgiver” (v. 12a), the only judge. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy”, able to judge (v. 12b). We are not “to judge another” (v. 12c).

Correction is another matter. It is Biblical to correct a fellow Christian who has gone astray. The correction, however, should always be offered in the form of kindness and love, not criticism.

So the key to resolving church conflict is humility. Humility does not escalate a slight into a problem. Humility, instead, allows God to lift up the situation. Stay humble and trust God to resolve the situation in His own way, and in His own time.

 

September 9, 2015

Favoritism in the Church

Playing Favorites in the Church. A Reflection on James 2:1-17

by Clarke Dixon

img 090915My wife and I had not been to Canada’s Wonderland [theme park similar to Six Flags in U.S.] in fifteen years. We decided to go now that the boys are old enough, and while I still feel young enough, to appreciate roller coasters. Some things have not changed in fifteen years. Like the fact the old-style wooden roller coasters are still the most frightening. I think the color has finally returned to my knuckles. But some things have changed. Like the fact there are now two line-ups at each ride. We always stood in the first line up. And having stood we shuffled along and continued standing and stood some more and shuffled along some more in that same line up. The people in the second line-up did not stand long enough to do any shuffling for they were ushered onto the rides pronto. How did these people get to ride so quickly? What made the difference in wait times? Money. If you were willing to pay extra, you could buy a card that got you past the line-ups. Standing and shuffling along as we were I had plenty of time to think upon my upcoming sermon from James chapter 2.

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. (James 2:1-6a)

I must admit to being a wee bit annoyed at experiencing a system that favors the rich. But then, we could afford to be there in the first place whereas many Canadians cannot. Canada’s Wonderland is not a wonderland for all Canadians. But then again there are many beyond Canada’s shores who would give anything and are in fact risking everything to get to Canada. All of Canada is a wonderland for many poor souls in our world. How rich we are! And how life and society sometimes seems to favor the rich. James knew this was normal in the society of his day, and yet it was not to be normal in the Church. In Christ there is to be a new normal where the old norms of favoring the rich and powerful to the poor and easily-forgettable are to be replaced by impartial love. There are some things to notice here in James chapter two:

If you are a follower of Jesus you will not cater to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. I like how the NRSV translation of verse one puts it as a rather pointed question: “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (James 2:1 emphasis mine) In other words, by showing favoritism you are calling into doubt your knowledge of Christ. Verses fourteen and following revisit this idea of your life in the world being evidence of your life in Christ: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (James 2:14) James is calling upon us to back up our claims to be Christ followers with true Christian community which does not favor the rich and powerful.

God sets the example of not catering to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. God does not cater to the rich and powerful: “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5) The Old Testament points to God’s impartial love in His choice of Israel to be His covenant people through whom He would launch His plan of redemption for the world. He could have chosen a rich people, a numerous people, a powerful people. Instead he chose slaves. Likewise God could have chosen the rich and powerful to be central to His revelation of Himself through Jesus. Instead Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary. Shepherds were invited to that scene, not the rich and powerful. And Jesus does not cater to the rich and powerful, but to anyone who needed His healing touch. Salvation is offered to all.

We are lawbreaking sinners when cater to the rich and powerful:

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9)

Some might say “yes, but it is not that great a sin, and everyone is doing it.” James therefore lets us know that to commit any sin is a serious thing:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:10-13)

We might be tempted to think we are really good Christian people because we are not guilty of some of the “biggie” sins like murder or adultery. But even a subtle attitude change between the rich and the poor shows that we have some ways to go in Christian maturity.

Concluding Thoughts:

  • We want to watch our attitudes toward the rich and poor. We may be playing favourites without really being aware that we are. So we should give some time to reflecting whether this may be a sin in our lives or in the life of our church family. Love requires thought in addition to thoughtfulness.
  • Having clout in the community does not mean that one should have clout in the Church. Influence in the world may be evidence of great leadership skills, but that in itself is not evidence of Christian maturity required for Christian leadership. I wonder how often we pass by God’s influence on one in favoring the influence of an uninfluenced other.
  • We may let the Lord’s Table remind us that, as one person put it: “the foot of the cross is level ground.” Whether rich or poor we share in communion together. We are reminded in the open invitation that God shows no partiality. Additionally, some might think we are being lazy by passing the elements around rather than getting up and going to the front. This is actually symbolic for us in that we serve each other. As the bread and cups are being distributed people are serving one another without making distinctions. The rich serve the poor, the poor serve the rich.
  • God has blessings in store for the poor:

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. (Luke 6:20-21)

  • In storing up blessing for the poor God is not playing favorites, for we are all poor and in need of His grace and mercy:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Click the title above to read the post at source. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Canada and is our regular Wednesday contributor.

Click here to hear some of his columns as sermon podcasts.

December 21, 2014

Faith That Works: Trials and Joys

Wally Fry at the blog Truth in Palmyra is working his way through the book of James. At our request, he strung several posts together to make what you see below. You can click on the title link below to read the summary, or click through and then click the blog’s header and bookmark the site generally, stopping back to read the updates as they appear. The book of James is a rich resource which I find never fails to deliver at different seasons of life.

Faith that WorksFaith That Works-Trials and Joy-James 1:1-4

James 1:1-4

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.


Read James Chapter 1 here

Count It All Joy

Starting today, we are going to spend a little time in the Book of James. It’s such a great one. The Book of James is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It’s as close to a handbook for Christian living as a person can get really.

In Verse 1, James had made reference to the “12 tribes which are scattered abroad.” Due to persecution, Jews from Jerusalem  had been scattered abroad were were still suffering hardship and trials. In most cases, they were suffering because of their faith. James was writing to them to offer guidance on handling these trials and also to provide them with some guidelines to help them determine the authenticity of their faith.

So, right from the beginning, James jumps right to explain the inevitability of trials and the purposes for them. That’s where we will start also.

“Count” it all joy. Simply put, this is to consider, think about or look upon our temptations, or trials, in a particular way. James is telling us to look at them a particular way because our human nature would not be to look at them that way.

What is that way? With joy. All joy. James is not referring to a gritting your teeth and endure it with a smile joy here; he is talking about the kind of joy we can consider trials with if we truly understand the God has a purpose for them in our lives.

James tells us to count it all joy “when” we fall into temptations, or trials. The word temptation here is synonymous with trial; it’s not referring to temptation to sin here. James is warning us that trials will come, even for and perhaps particularly for, believers.

Divers temptations. Diverse trials, various and sundry trials, trials of many different sorts. My trials will not be your trials. We will all face our own.

James has laid the ground work here in terms of the fact that Christians can expect difficulties and trials. We are, however, to approach and deal with them the way God wants us to, with joy. Perhaps if we understand some of the purposes God has for trials in our lives, we would be better able to consider them with all joy.

Why Be Joyful?

We already know that James was inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct us to react to our trials with joy. We are to be glad we are being tempted, or tried, rather than sad or upset over them. Why?

The simple answer is that we need to consider trials not from our standpoint, but from God’s standpoint. Of course, that is usually where we fail in most areas, when we fail to consider things from God’s viewpoint.

The trying of our faith “worketh patience.” We have all heard the old saying about being careful about praying for God to give us patience I am sure. Why is that? Because He won’t just give it to us; He will teach it to us.

“Let patience have her perfect work.” In other words, go with the flow so to speak. We need not fight, resist or rebel against the trial in our lives. Remember counting it all joy?

Now we come to the why part of things. We are given trials, in some cases, so that we may become “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Does this mean that we will become the picture of sinless perfection or be given all of the things we want. Well, I am afraid not.

That simply means that our trials will cause us to become mature in our Christian lives. To be perfect and entire here means simply we will become more grown up Christians, more suited to the work God wants us to do.

Why Trials?

As we discussed earlier, we probably want to be careful about asking God to grant us patience. He is not going to deliver patience to us on a silver platter; He is going to teach it to us. How will He teach it to us? With trials, of course.

What then might be some specific reasons God may place trials in our paths? How can they help us develop patience and grow in Christian Maturity?

Trials test our faith. It’s easy to be thankful and grateful to God when things are going our way; it is a test of our true belief and trust in God if we remain thankful and grateful when things are not going our way.

Trials may humble us. We all know God considers meekness and humility to be virtues; yet sometimes we can become so assured and confident concerning our successes that we lose these traits. That is even true, maybe especially true, for how we react towards our successes doing God’s work in His church. God may knock us down a rung or two to humble us.

God may place trials in our lives to tear us away from things of the world and love for the world. I know a man who, when a friend of his would go fishing instead of going to church, would pray that he had a bad day fishing. If there is something we allow to stand in the way of what God wants us to be doing, He might just take it from us.

God may place trials in our way to teach us how to be able to provide solace and comfort to other believers. It’s much easier to feel kindness and empathy towards the trials of others if you have experienced trials of your own. It’s easier to comfort another’s affliction if you have suffered the same affliction.

There are many reasons we may be tested and tried by God. Of course, the ones above are not all inclusive. In fact, we may never know why a particular trial has been place into our lives. God can reveal it to us, or He cannot; sometimes He will and sometimes He won’t.

What matters is we understand that, if a trial is placed in our path, that God is in charge and has some goal in mind. Not only will he have some goal in His mind, but it will be the best one.

February 25, 2014

The Crown of Life

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James 1 11-12

Men and women pursue Bible study differently and so from time to time I try to seek out writers in that vast community sometimes called “mommy bloggers” so that we have both male and female perspectives represented here.

This week I came across Jessica Herbst who blogs at Simplify This Life. You’re encouraged to visit her blog and look around, starting with reading today’s post at source where it appeared as Crown of Life, part of a series in the book of James. Jessica is also the source of today’s awesome graphic from James chapter 1.


For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:11-12

Moving on … in study and in prayer, I’ve felt a need to explore this crown of life. In reading verse 12 we see that this is given to the person who perseveres in trials, who stands through testing. Even going back to the earlier verses in James 1 – who considers it pure joy whenever facing trials of many kinds, who lets perseverance be made mature and complete, who doesn’t lack anything, who seeks Christ when lacking so that He may give what is needed, who believes and doesn’t doubt, who lives humbly – this is who receives the crown of life.

I’ve read that this could also be considered the martyrs crown, that only those who lay down their lives standing firm on the gospel receive this crown. I would need to go and study in depth the original language to see that for certain. I don’t discount that it could be the case, especially when looking into the related verse found in Revelation.

What I am fairly sure of is that this crown of life is a reward (from the Greek, stephanos.) It isn’t the gift of eternal life — eternal life in Christ is given freely to all who confess Him as Lord and Savior. That’s it. There is no fine print to read, no “act now” conditions. When we decide to follow Jesus, when we see that through his broken and bleeding body there is forgiveness for all of sin, when we see that this way is the only way, the only truth, that is where we find eternal life. This crown of life seems to me to clearly be something else, something more.

We see through the New Testament that crowns will be given to believers when we finally reach Jesus at the judgement (bema) seat. Now, this judgement seat isn’t about condemnation. This judgement seat is only for believers (at least that’s how I understand it… I’m not Bible scholar… I should probably ask my husband to read over this before I publish it!) This is where we will fall at Jesus’ beautiful feet, where He will say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” This is where He will show me where, through faith, I persevered and loved Him fully, loved His people, and answered the call. I think this is also where He’ll show me where I didn’t do those things. Where I didn’t persevere. Where I gave up, gave in… where I leaned on my own strength and understanding rather than seeking Him first. Because honestly, I’ve fallen short and I know — ashamed as I am — I know that I’ll have to answer for that. But I don’t think that is where the focus will rest. Yes, I believe He’ll call it to account, but I think the focus will rest in these crowns. Crowns of rejoicing for those who answer to the call of sharing the gospel and leading the lost to Christ. Crowns that are given for those who stand firm in their faith, incorruptible, for the sake of the gospel. Crowns of righteousness, for those who live according to the Word of God. Crowns of glory for those who teach and preach – the overseers who shepherd God’s people. And crowns of life for those who persevere through trial, temptation, and persecution.

So what does this all mean? How do I apply this? Are we justified by faith or works? (James will challenge this again in the book!)

These works that earn these crowns, they aren’t about me. They aren’t about how decorated I’ll be, how honored I’ll be. Because really, no matter the number of crowns that may or may not be placed on each bowed head, the only honorable mention will be Jesus.

BUT… as a follower of Christ, as someone who has made Him Lord over my life, who has accepted Him as Savior and Lord, these things should just happen. Loving Him. Standing firm. Sharing the gospel. Reaching the lost. Living according to His Word. Persevering. It should just happen naturally and selflessly in the life of every believer.

Life happens. I get caught in a tangled mess of me and myself and my flesh. And I battle this and that. BATTLE. It’s in these times that I must believe and not doubt. It’s in these times that I should not back down, that I shouldn’t turn away. That I should stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. And sometimes… sometimes I don’t keep focused on Christ. My knees wobble and I loosen my hold. And there goes a crown. But sometimes… sometimes I do hold tight and I do stand firm.

Oh Lord, may I surrender these struggles into Your hands. May I stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. May a live a life worthy of these precious rewards, rewards that I can not fully understand on this side of heaven. May I live to see Your glory in it all. Not that MY reward would be my focus, but that YOU would be glorified above all else. Forgive me where I waiver. Steady my knees, illuminate that solid ground. For You. Always for You.

Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. You are greatly encouraged to check out further articles by authors who resonate with you.

November 17, 2013

Jesus According to James

The Voice BibleDavid Capes is a leading writing and scholar for The Voice Bible project. He wrote this article at HearTheVoice.com, the official blog for The Voice, where it appeared under the title, Who Does James Say Jesus Is?

I have the privilege of teaching with Dr. Peter Davids at HBU.  Peter is a world class scholar who has devoted much of his writing and research to the Catholic or General Letters.  Peter assisted with us in the theological review of many NT books for The Voice project.  I asked him recently about the portrait of Jesus in the letter of James.

According to James, Jesus is the exalted and glorious Lord who now reigns and will come again to judge the living and the dead.  James is not a Gospel, so there is no narrative of Jesus’ life and death.  Yet James draws heavily on the example and teaching of Jesus.

While modern Christians may be focused on the afterlife, James is fixed on this life and what faith in Jesus means now.  His readers claim to be following Jesus; well, are they really?  James is a teaching letter and his ethics appear close to what we find in Matthew, particularly the Sermon on the Mount.

There are no direct quotations of Jesus’ teaching in James, the closest we come to that is James 5:12 (similar to Matthew 5:35-37):

12 It is even more important, my brothers and sisters, that you remember not to make a vow by the heavens or the earth or by anything. When you say “yes,” it should always mean “yes,” and “no” should always mean “no.” If you can keep your word, you will avoid judgment.

John Kloppenberg has made the case that James makes use of aemulatio, a rhetorical form where James takes a teaching of Jesus and conforms it to his setting. In other words, James reworks Jesus’ teaching to fit the current situation of the diaspora churches he is addressing.

So James is not all that different than what we find in the rest of the NT.  Jesus is coming again as judge.  Are you obeying him now?  James’ emphasis on Jesus’ future coming implies that their present sufferings are not without meaning; so, be patient and don’t take matters into your own hands.  Trust the judge to settle all scores.

But if James were the only account we had of Jesus’ life, we wouldn’t know much about his past.  The Church would celebrate his coming and his ascension to the right hand of the Father.  With no account of his birth, however, we would probably not celebrate Christmas.  There would be more emphasis on calling people to obedience to Jesus now.  The Church’s mission could be summed up this way: calling people to Jesus as Lord and living in the hope of his coming.

With James as our guide, the church probably would not have developed the kind of hierarchy we see in some churches.  Yet James does speak as a patriarch of sorts, a central authority writing from the mother church in Jerusalem and instructing scattered Christian communities in the tense times they found themselves in.

According to tradition, James was a member of Jesus’ family, but the letter never makes the explicit claim.  Still it must have meant something in the early Jewish-Christian communities to have been part of the family of Jesus. Later generations may de-emphasize that fact and privilege Paul and Peter over members of Jesus family.   Still it must have been “a big deal” to have had been related to Jesus.

Dr. Davids said that Paul is often misread over against James.  But if pressed, James would have agreed with Romans 10:9-10:

So if you believe deep in your heart that God raised Jesus from the pit of death and if you voice your allegiance by confessing the truth that “Jesus is Lord,” then you will be saved! 10 Belief begins in the heart and leads to a life that’s right with God; confession departs from our lips and brings eternal salvation.

For James, however, saving faith is faith that goes to work for the poor, faith that obeys the risen Lord, and faith that seeks wisdom from above.  So for James—as a follower of Jesus—salvation results not only a secure future with God but ethical behavior before God.

March 30, 2012

More Means of Communication Equals More Possibilities for Trouble

Today’s blog tour took me to A Spiritual Oasis which, like this one,  is also on the Christian Blog Top Sites web portal.  The most recent post there by Bill Williams was about three different things, but one of them was very similar to what we looked at yesterday: The things we say, including speech and writing.  Hmmm… is Somebody trying to tell me something?  Actually, I’ve been blessed with the ability to self-edit and be self-controlled, though I will admit to having ‘lost it’ a few times. 

At Spiritual Oasis this post was titled Three Signposts on the Road to Righteousness God Desires.

Why do we have two ears and only one mouth? Perhaps that’s God’s way of saying we should listen at least twice as much as we talk!

The Holy Spirit’s counsel provides some serious thoughts on this matter: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires, (James 1:19-20, NLT). 

The contrast is clear

Listening is a priority. Every one of us should race to listen. For those of us who are constantly rushing to do and say what matters to us, this is no small thing. Still, when it comes to our interactions with others, we are to show up early to hear what they are saying. On the other hand, tardiness is recommended when it comes to our words and wrath. Instead of rushing headlong into a verbal barrage that could easily lead to an angry outburst, we must put the brakes on. Instead of erupting in anger at what others say, we must resist the temptation to do so.

The consequences are immense

If we respond with verbal venom to the things said to us, God’s purposes are not served. If we allow anger to take root in our hearts and act accordingly, God’s will is simply crowded out of our lives. To be sure, there is no justice — no righteousness at all — in the anger of man. We cannot take the travel on the road and reach the right destination. No matter how many times we claim to be concerned about what is fair or right, if human angst animates our actions, the righteous life God desires is far, far away.

The challenge is ever-present

The world we live in is radically different from that of the Lord’s brother James. There are more ways to communicate with one another than ever before. We are exposed to more things that make us want to rant and rave than any generation before us. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some people tweet more words in a day than my great grandmother spoke in a week, maybe even a month. Still, these simple imperatives — three sign-posts leading to the righteous life God desires — are an ever-present challenge for each one of us:

  1. You must all be quick to listen.
  2. You must all be slow to speak.
  3. You must all be slow to get angry.

May God help us all heed the warning and follow the signs.

~Bill Williams

I loved the phrase “race to listen.”   And I loved the observation that there are so many different means of communication at our disposal, and so many things about which to rant and rave.   Clearly, we need this message today more than ever.

November 24, 2010

Maybe They Weren’t Saved in the First Place

For our Canadian Readers:  Giving to Those Less Fortunate — You see them in the malls and big box stores every year.   Volunteers manning the donation kettles on behalf of the Salvation Army.   But in a world where everybody pays using plastic cards, who has change to drop in the kettle?   And what about the people who shop online and don’t see the collection kettles at all?   That’s why we started doing a Salvation Army iKettle.  This is a great program for our Canadian blog readers to take advantage of; what’s more, the money you give stays with the Salvation Army Family Services in your community.   Be among the first to donate by clicking the following link:  

http://my.ikettle.ca/personalPage.aspx?SID=2834666&Lang=en-CA
~Paul Wilkinson

The way to resolve the argument seemed so obvious to me.  I was much, much younger and we were discussing the issue of eternal security.   If they were truly saved, how could they sin blatantly, or how could they walk away from their faith?   It’s obvious:  They weren’t saved in the first place. This is sometimes called the “semantics” solution since it’s about words.   We called this individual or that group of people Christians, but obviously we were wrong to do so since he, she or they weren’t really partakers of Christ or they wouldn’t have done what they did.

[Insert, the “But what about Judas?  He walked and talked with Jesus for three years…” argument here.]

I actually want to talk about a different application of the “semantics” issue.  The one raised in James 2:24, translated traditionally as “Faith without works is dead.” I think what James is saying here is that the semantics test does work here.   If people don’t manifest spiritual fruit, spiritual gifts, etc., in their lives, we do in fact have good reason to say, “Maybe they weren’t saved in the first place.”

In the Evangelical stream that I was nurtured in, we’re relatively new to social justice.   We spent years developing the best teachings on doctrine and theology, but largely ignored the poor.   When non-Evangelical churches did, we dismissed them by saying, “They only preach a social gospel.” Both types of churches were — and some still are — out of balance on this issue.

James isn’t saying we’re saved by works, but he’s saying — especially in the broader context — that works darn well better be in the picture. …It seemed an appropriate thing to write about today, as I posted our online Salvation Army iKettle for our Canadian readers.   I’ll repeat the iKettle appeal here once a week leading up to Christmas, and all three of my other blogs.

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.

19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?

21-24Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”? The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?

25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn’t her action in hiding God’s spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.