This is that time we tend to redo or accumulate plans for the new year: financial budgets, diets, exercise regimes, even plans to take a vacation later in the year.
Just about the only thing we don’t plan for is our spiritual life! But if there is anything more important to the Christian, it is the health of their inner being. The apostle Paul once said that “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8, NLT).
The Bible speaks a lot about planning. By all means, get physically fit. Plan a good budget. And find time to rest with your family, or get away. But don’t forget the part of you that needs the most care.
One of the most basic and far-reaching ways to do this is to be in the Word of God daily. I give an extensive sermon about the value of God’s Word here. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah was so sustained by the Scriptures, that he compared them to food: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Jesus would take this even farther, saying that God’s Word was able to sustain us even more than bread (Matt 4:4).
We may find this agreeable. But if you’re like me, it doesn’t just happen automatically. There are too many other things in our lives that want to compete with our spiritual well being. That’s why we need to have a plan. And for some of you, it may help to have a little bit of structure for reading the Bible.
January – March.
April – June.
July – September.
October – December.
Every day it will take you through portions of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament. You don’t have to use this for your “spiritual plan,” but if it helps, by all means use it!
There will probably be times when you skip a day or two, or ten.
When that happens, it’s easy to feel guilty about missing chapter readings, and fall even farther behind trying to catch up. Inevitably, people stop reading all together because they are discouraged. Please don’t let this happen to you! It is not about reading every single word, or filling out a quota, or saying you read the whole Bible.
So if you skip a day here and there, or fall behind, it’s ok! Don’t try to catch up, just take it back up where you left off. The point of all this is not perfection, but consistently opening up the Scriptures. After a year of training yourself to hear and read God’s word, your life will be significantly transformed. But it’s hard to do that sometimes, isn’t it?
That’s why we need a plan for our spiritual lives going into 2015. If you need one, I hope this will bless you next year!
Again, click here for the first quarter of the Bible reading series.
I like to start by breaking this question down to the basics. What would cause me to trust that the Bible was assembled the right way? Well, let’s think about this…
If we needed information about a person like Jesus from a time without video technology or internet, a biographical sketch is the natural medium to choose. And who would be most reliable in doing that? Probably the twelve disciples, those men who were close to Him in proximity, ministry, and relationship.
So what they said carries a lot of weight when it comes to replicating not only Jesus’ life and times, but also His teachings, transmitted by oral tradition as they were, since He never wrote anything down.
But by what sort of criteria can we use to decide if a set of writings are from his disciples? Well, think of it in more contemporary terms. If you wanted to know a few things about John F. Kennedy’s life, you could ask your friend (perhaps they know a few accurate things about that time period, or JFK himself). But what if your dad was alive during Kennedy’s life, and experienced his presidency? Well, now you have a slightly greater account, if for no other reason than your dad has an eyewitness account of Kennedy, and your friend has only second or third-hand knowledge. In fact, your friend may not have even been alive at the time anyway. But let’s take it up a notch. Let’s suppose you were able to speak to Kirk LeMoyne Billings, Kennedy’s best friend. That would be a drastic difference to which none of the first two options could compare. Not only was Billings an eyewitness, but he was also privy to knowledge about Kennedy being as close as he was to him. Now add to this hypothetical situation: Billings is commissioned by Kennedy to write his authorized biography about. Now you are beginning to grasp the nature of the New Testament gospels. These have all the characteristics you would expect from an authentic account of Jesus’ life.
Here are three things about the gospels that cannot be ignored.
The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were all written in the first century. Mark, the earliest gospel, was written somewhere in the mid- to late-50’s. If Jesus died in the early 30’s, as history tells us, then Mark’s gospel was penned within twenty years of Jesus’ life. At first mention, that may sound like a long time to you. But there are still throngs of people alive today who remember Kennedy’s life, presidency, and passing with vivid clarity, though it was over fifty years ago. A memorable event or person has the ability to burn itself into the memory as if it was yesterday. Twenty years is actually very early.
This one is easy. The gospel writers were there! Well, half of them were. John (the fourth gospel) was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and Matthew was the former tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. Eyewitnesses. The other two were not around to witness Jesus life. So how did they make the cut? Well, history tells us that Mark and Luke were directly connected to some important eyewitnesses, namely, Peter and Paul, the apostles. As early as AD 120, Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, reported that Peter transmitted the words and deeds of Jesus to an assistant, named John Mark. Some traditions hold that the physician, Luke, was an associate of Paul’s (Col. 4:14). So in other words, “Did the Gospel writers know Jesus personally? With confidence, we can say ‘no’ in the cases of the second [Mark] and third [Luke] Gospels. But these evangelists had access to reliable traditions about Jesus” (Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels. 49).
Jesus didn’t just have a cluster of eyewitnesses around him observing his life. He commissioned certain people to document his life, death, resurrection, and teachings (Luke 24:48; Matt 28:19-20). Consider the gravity of that. These men were the only people we know of who were authorized and capable of speaking on behalf of Jesus. It makes sense that their writings take precedence over any other writings, whether ancient or modern. Other writings came much later, were not based on known eyewitnesses accounts, and were certainly without the authorization of Jesus Himself. In fact, that’s why the original Twelve disciples (as well as Paul, and some others) are also called, apostles, which means “to commission.”
Why is all of this important?
Many people like the idea of Jesus, but not everyone accepts everything He said or affirmed. You can tell by the amount of playtime our culture has given to some so-called alternative gospels. The Gnostic gospels, as their often called, are a group of ancient writings from the Nag Hammadi library which was discovered in Egypt in 1945. They have their roots in Gnosticism, an ancient heresy centered around “secret knowledge” that sprung up around the birth of the Christian church. These writings have been offered as a viable alternative to the gospels found in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Making their case more alluring are each of their titles–The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Philip, and The Gospel of Judas–which seem to presuppose an apostolic authorship. This is a big deal, because the message in these writings are quite different from the gospels found in the New Testament (NT), and even flat-out contradictory. If the Gnostic gospels were written by Jesus’ apostles, we would have a serious problem on our hands. But they’re not.
Using the criteria we gave for the NT gospels, you can see that the Gnostic gospels fall short. Here are three immediate problems with attaching any kind of credence or authority to them.
One of the reasons there was no “official canon” until the fourth century, is because there was not yet a need to differentiate between true and false gospels, until the Gnostic heresies because more of a problem. Then certain criteria was offered for followers of Christ to discern between the apostles of Jesus and false apostles. As you can see, that criteria really helped throughout the centuries, and continues to do so. Now, when you add to this the Christian’s belief that Jesus is God in the flesh, and rose from the dead, there is also an authority in the NT gospels that’s unparalleled by any other so-called “gospels.” As my mom used to say, “Laying down in the garage doesn’t make you a car.” In the same way, calling something a gospel doesn’t make it a gospel without evidence connecting it to Jesus Christ Himself.
Our New Testament carries the only authorized, connected, and commissioned accounts of Jesus’ life. And because they were commissioned by Jesus, who is our Lord and God, they are our authority in life along with the rest of the Biblical canon. Thank you God–you speak to your people!
But surprisingly, any push back about Easter is rarely about Jesus, and more with the guys who wrote about Jesus. A common question is how the Scriptures were finally assembled, and how the books that are in the Bible made it there to begin with (The finished version is usually called the canon of Scripture). Maybe you’ve heard questions like this before: “How do we know the gospels are the right ones?” or “Were there any other gospels we should be considering?” These are valid questions that we should think deeply about, considering how we place the bulk of our faith on these writings! How did they get chosen? Are there other valid writings about Jesus? How will we ever know? These were some of the questions that surfaced in conversations while I was in college, especially around the release of The Da Vinci Code, and ended up being questions I asked myself. Almost counterintuitively, these questions strengthened my faith in Christ and in the Bible, because I was forced to examine the claims against it for myself.
Think about this. Doubt is like temptation–it’s not wrong to have them. Jesus was tempted (Matt 4), yet He withstood them by the power of the Holy Spirit. So it’s not wrong to have doubts, but it does matter how you handle them. And the only way to start is by asking them. Underlying some of our strongest doubts is the desire to wrestle with and come to terms with the truth, and it’s only possible to desire the truth when some glimmer of faith is present. Doubt is not the absence of faith; doubt is the evidence of faith. If we’re going to believe some of the other outlandish claims that Jesus often made, we might as well get used to asking good questions, and wrestling with the answers. So I set out to do this with the canon, or assembling, of the Christian Bible.
I learned pretty quickly that there’s a lot of material on subjects like Scripture’s canonization (did the “right” books make it in?), historicity (does it accurately convey history?), and reliability (do we have the original message intended by the authors?). This was a relief. It’s sooo easy to read one-liners out of some bestselling book attempting to derail our trust in the reliability of the Christian faith, thinking they are the last word on the subject.
For example, when a movie gets released days before Easter with some “new secret” undermining the historical accounts so dear to the Christian faith, both Christians and skeptics begin analyzing the film. Actually, I love these types of conversation. They’re engaging. They make both parties think deeply. Christians should converse intelligently and be winsome with skeptics about their faith. In fact, some of my most thoughtful and enjoyable conversations about my faith have been with skeptics, who, like me, sincerely want to know the reasons behind what their friends believe, even if they don’t end up subscribing to the same beliefs. It’s what friends do. So those conversations shouldn’t stop.
Whenever a Da Vinci Code, a Zeitgeist, or a new Bart Ehrman book gets released, it’s often the same old stuff being recycled from past scholarly conversations, and repackaged for the mainstream. But scholars have been talking about these issues for decades–-centuries even-–with reasonable answers to some of the critical jabs that are leveled against the trustworthiness of the Bible; and every time a new movie or book comes out “undermining” the Christian faith, I want so badly to give believing scholars similar airtime when objections to the reliability of the Bible are raised.
But that stuff never makes the headlines. Why? Partially because the truth isn’t always sensational enough to sell, and is often couched in the language of academia anyway. Scholars write for other scholars. Let’s face it: scholars can sound a bit boring for the rest of us. The unfortunate result? The reasonable claims for the reliability of the Bible get hidden under a brightly colored carpet of New York Times bestsellers. See, a scholarly work that’s been repackaged for the mainstream and pasted with a headline blasting the origins or reliability of the Bible in short, sensational snippets is not boring. When one of these controversial books hits the shelf, a feeding frenzy ensues, and you will quickly get familiarized with an appeal to authority (argumentum ab auctoritate). This is a subtle logical fallacy that bases a belief in the credentials of the one writing, instead of on the soundness of the argument being made.
“Don’t drink the water in Santa Barbara because research has shown it to contain microscopic particles that could cause ADHD in children.” – Duke E. Sarmonstrus, M.D.
Now, if I were to post this on Facebook, there is a good chance some would believe it, and it would spread. We see this all the time, right? Posts about some crazy story that gets shared millions of times, without ever being checked against Snopes.com. These stories get traction when they’re believable, supported by an authority figure, and feed into our secret fears or desires. But there’s one problem with the statement I made: it’s not true. I just made it up as I was writing, and gave it an air of authority by attaching a name that looks important. Of course, in the real world, there are authority figures, experts, and Ph.D’s who are smart, and at the forefront of their fields of study. This is to our benefit. They are a blessing to society, and have devoted years of their lives to understanding things we want to know more about, not the least of which is the God of Bible.
And the argument I made above is not sound, even though it sounds good; neither the premises nor the conclusion are true. But all you need is to attach some level of credibility to the quote itself, and if there is someone somewhere who wants the quote to be true, then it will sell like guacamole at the Carpinteria Avocado Festival. It’s easier to accept the headlines than it is to research them. Sometimes deferring to a “credible source” is a cop-out. I know I’ve done this. But don’t we want more than spoon-fed factlets of shock-value and sound-bites? All of us are capable of engaging important issues with critical thinking and conversation. After all, if the Bible is true, it will prove itself. The thought of testing our beliefs shouldn’t scare us; and we should take the skeptic’s questions seriously. We’re not talking about menial beliefs here! If what the Bible says about Jesus rising from the dead is true, that changes everything. But if the Bible is wrong about the resurrection, then “we are above all people, most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19, NIV).
I have and continue to make that journey. You should too. An easy way to start is by listening to the other side. If an expert in the New Testament says that Paul didn’t really write some of the epistles in the Bible, try checking out the opposing viewpoints of other authoritative sources. If your friend at school tells you that “Emperor Constantine assembled the Bible to reinforce his own power structures,” ask them where they learned that information, and explore it yourself. If your professor tells you that the gnostic gospels are a more reliable version of Jesus’ life, ask a professor (who believes in the sufficiency of the Bible) why he believe’s the gnostics didn’t make it into the canon. In other words, don’t assume something is true because an expert said it was true. Examine it! If you explore some of the accusations that culture, society, and even critical scholarship level against the Bible for yourself, you may find yourself migrating towards the Bible’s view of itself.
As I mentioned before, I’ll share a bit about canonization (how we know the right books made it in the Bible) in my next blog post this week. And you can trust that everything I say is correct and true. ~ Dr. Chris Lazo, Ph.D, M.D., CPA, MBA, BAM.
The beginning of the series started out fairly philosophical, seeking to answer the “what” and the “why” behind biblical interpretation, before getting to the “how” in the next three lectures.
Words only have meaning in sentences. This lecture deals with the words and sentences of the text, and how to find out the author’s main point.
Since Biblical cultures are far removed from ours, we must “hop the gap” and listen to the text from their historical perspective. This lecture is concerned with the social and cultural norms familiar to the Biblical authors and audiences.
This lecture is primarily concerned with genre, those artistic styles of writing that are sometimes peculiar to the Biblical authors. In this lecture we delve into historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, wisdom literature, gospels, parables, and epistles.
Reality Santa Barbara is hosting a four-week class that I am teaching on studying and understanding the Bible. This video is the introduction. If you missed the first class, or are far away, but want to deepen your understanding of God’s Word, join in with us and watch the video! You can find the attached notes on our website.
Our church is going through a one-year Bible reading for 2014. We are just about to finish Leviticus, which historically, is when the most people stop the reading. It makes sense. You start the year with cosmic creation narratives, family drama, and faced-paced adventures in Genesis, then move into a climactic rescue of millions of people in Exodus, replete with miraculous displays of power. These book-ends are a gourmet of stories, and leave you with an expectation of greater sequels. But to your dismay, Leviticus opens with seven brutal chapters of bloody sacrifice, not sparing any details, and organized in bullet-points. After several chapters, you are mentally exhausted, and recite the remainder with the same enthusiasm of a tax planner reading a 1099 form. Is it any wonder how easily a reader can become dislodged from the rest of the Bible? It’s the Old Testament speed bump. But Leviticus (and other similar books) is not a hopeless endeavor if you know how to read it. And part of reading Leviticus, means reading it in connection to the whole story of the Bible. Leviticus, in fact, is a vital part of that story. Let’s step into it for a moment…
You may have enjoyed Genesis and Exodus, with their overwhelming escapades, but now the story that captivated your heart at the beginning is shifting into a different style, and it’s answering a conflicting question at the same time. A question that was left hanging ambiguously in the air at the end of Exodus: how can a holy God dwell among sinful people? The answer punches you in the gut with the opening chapters. The price of God’s dwelling is holiness; and since Israel had none, the cost of His dwelling was sacrifice. And so Leviticus 1-7 lays out detailed instruction for various types of animal sacrifice for any given situation.
Now the thought of animal sacrifice surely sounds barbaric to many people. Why would God need something so bloody and horrific? You may even say, “A benevolent God should just let it go.” Yet this is not what you would expect from any upstanding judge in a criminal court–especially if he’s trying a case that is particularly awful. Most decent people cannot turn a blind eye towards the evil around them; when the defenseless in their company are oppressed, they often cry out for justice! But the most glaring inconsistency with this is that no one is righteous according to the Bible (Rom 3). We cry out for justice, yet with the hope that we will be the lone exception (punish the wicked, but show mercy on me!). We know that if the Bible is true, we would not be able to withstand a trickle of God’s blazing holiness. This is what the Israelites must have felt like when Leviticus was first written. The indictment of our sin is incredibly costly. When you glimpse the mess in the opening pages of Leviticus, you are looking into your own heart.
I want to present to you another angle to the story. Consider that instead of being a barbaric act, those Levitical sacrifices are the merciful side of God piercing through our sin. That there exists a God who would rather spill the blood of animals than see people made in His image be destroyed is an act of compassion. In fact, God even makes allowance for the poor of the community (those who cannot afford the appropriate sacrificial offering) to bring a cheaper form of sacrifice: “Two turtledoves or two young pigeons,” or “whatever he can afford” (Lev 14:22). Let me summarize that one more time: God even provides the sacrifice for sinners who cannot afford it. And there lies the shadow of the greater promise…
Do you ever come into a community of believers pressured to muster up enough enthusiasm to worship, yet feel increasingly like you have nothing good to offer? Do you ever feel like you’ve done all you can do just to get out of bed and show up? You may be the “impoverished” version of what Leviticus speaks of, which means that God mercifully accepts the little that you have. In heaven, desperation is greater currency than enthusiasm, and spiritual poverty is the food of God–he cannot deny it (Psalm 51:17). This, I believe, is what Jesus was referring to in the Sermon on the Mount when he opened with, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). That’s why Christianity is a movement of faith, not performance. What this means for you is access to God despite your spiritual bankruptcy.
Leviticus, it turns out, is not barbaric. It is dripping with compassion. For the God who cannot look upon evil, has found a way to look upon us–nay, to embrace us. And when Leviticus closes, you will be left with God’s empathy on your lips, yet still an empty stomach, for the blood of animals cannot wash away your sins–it can only cover them until the next sacrifice. But as you veer through the beginning stages of the story, some pieces come together, and you realize that Leviticus is also ushering you to a better sacrifice. One provided for in the New Testament, with the coming of the “Lamb,” when the Son of God Himself, no longer requiring sacrifices from afar, would come down to us, immerse himself in our lowliness, and offer His own blood as the sacrifice for our sins. This is good news. In Anglo-Saxon English, they referred to it as gōd-spell, which later turned into the word, “gospel.” The gospel is the good news that sinners have been embraced by God through Jesus Christ.
But as you can see, it’s only good news against the backdrop of horrible news. The price of our salvation is costly. God did not purchase us on sale–he paid the full price for us. He paid with his own son (Jh 3:16). So next time you read through the tedious bullet points of death and decay in the Old Testament, remember two things: your sin is costly, yet as Elvina M. Hall writes,
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
We’re celebrating Advent at our church. and decided on calling the series “The Arrival.” When Christ arrives, He brings with Him the hope, love, joy, and peace characteristic of the Kingdom.
This is the first sermon of the series; it’s about hope arriving with Christ to his people, freeing them from despair. I pray it bless you on your own Advent!
With all the earlier discussion on the blog about orthodoxy, Biblical Theology, Scripture, and Bible study, it’s probably fitting that I also address preaching. For a few reasons…
Now, I am not telling you to go pester your pastor on every point of difference you have with their preaching. The congregation I belong to can certainly testify that I have not preached infallibly behind the pulpit, though I aim for nothing less! Mistakes will be made in the pulpit, because no pastor has perfect theology, and we are all learning together. I am also not advocating that you hound every church in the city whose theology you disagree with. That’s a waste of time, and won’t benefit anybody. What is beneficial is identify biblical preaching, because then you can immerse yourself in the life of that church, obeying the Word of God as it is preached rightly. As we progress, I’m certainly not presenting myself as the high standard—but I think we can and should have a baseline when it comes to preaching, and strive for it.
Perhaps we should ask, “What does the Bible think is ‘biblical’ preaching?”
By this, I mean, how does the Bible itself present preaching done correctly? We can find some examples throughout the Bible…
I’ll stop there.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, a pattern emerges: explanation, teaching, and preaching (which is proclamation). In other words, the Bible’s own “opinion” of correct preaching is at least the explanation and teaching of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the proclamation of it’s truths.
Biblical preaching is expository preaching.
Mark Dever helpfully explained expositional preaching as explaining a Scripture’s main point, then explaining and proclaiming that main point in a sermon. Or even more succinctly, “Making the main point of the text the main point of the sermon.”
So according to the New Testament epistles (letters written to early churches), a church must include expository preaching as part of its worship gathering.
But, you say,
There are a lot of types of preaching! Some preachers preach for 15 minutes, others for an hour; some preach on a single verse, and others preach whole chapters or even books; in between these are so many different styles of preaching: storytelling, verse-by-verse, series, etc. How do you know which one is good?
I’ve heard some of my own friends elevate sermon styles over others, and denigrate others for preaching in a way that they do not like. Notice that this has nothing to do with faithful preaching, but preaching preference.
The requirement of faithful preaching is expository not stylistic. In fact, different styles of preaching are useful, as well as expository, that is, they can explain the Bible using different methods of communication. Here are a few (though not all)…
Let me “exposit” these three styles of preaching…
This type of preaching takes a macro-angle approach to the text, seeking to camp out on a single verse(s), and discover the meaning of the verse before forming an application. This type of preaching is easily identified because you’ll find the preacher moving through a book of the Bible from start to finish, in short increments–usually a verse or two at one time. The sermon is developed around the propositional truth (the main point) of that particular passage. Some books, because of their logical layout, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Epistle to the Romans or the book of James.
Example: Ephesians 4:26 – the main point of this verse is to practice self-control.
Preachers of this style: John MacArthur, Chuck Smith, John Piper, Britt Merrick.
This type of preaching takes a wide-angle approach to the text. Instead of developing a sermon around the main point of a verse, it is based on the main theme that runs through a collection of verses—sometimes whole paragraphs—like a golden thread. Some books, because of their narrative nature, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Gospel according to John or the Book of Esther.
Example: Ephesians 4:17-32 – the theme that runs through this passage is the elect of God which is also called the church, and it outlines how we should live accordingly. Another example of a dominant theme is “suffering” found in the book of Job. And so on.
Preachers of this style: Timothy Keller, Dan Kimball, Dave Lomas.
Topical preaching usually means that a topic is already determined, and the appropriate text is sought out for informing the topic and formulating the sermon. This type of preaching is like a prescription being aimed at a relevant issue at hand. I’ve done this before, when the Jesusita Fire raced through Montecito, CA., and many college students lost their rooms and belongings. Out of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and the situation, I was not about to continue in our verse-by-verse series through Romans. I prayerfully sought a word from the Lord in relation to suffering, and then students turned to pray with each other for those who suffered loss. Topical preaching allows us to address pressing issues in the moment of need.
Example: “What is Worship” (from Romans 12:1)
Preachers of this style: lots of people.
I say this, because there is sometimes push-back from people who call a sermon “unbiblical!” simply because they did not like the style of it’s preaching. We all have preferences when it comes to style, and that’s ok. But the standard we should hold up involves asking different questions of the preaching.
What to look for in a preaching ministry:
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.
Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB).
The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!
James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that,
James then transitions from a group of unregenerate in the church to those who are enduring well in a reminder to persist in hard times.
James 5:7-12 “Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door! Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.” (HCSB).
What is the “Therefore” there for? Well, after just reading vv.1-6, it seems that James is reminding the poor and downtrodden that their cries have “reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (v4). The reason Christians can carry on in the midst of tremendous suffering is because we have a sense that God hates injustice, and is going to work things out, in this life or in the one to come. That means your grueling efforts are not in vain. The enemy of God’s kingdom will not prevail. There is hope for the Christ-follower if they will but persist to the very end! After all, the Lord, who’s “coming is near,” (v8) is “very compassionate and merciful” (v11). The first appearance of “brothers” in verse 7 of this chapter signifies that James is now addressing those within the faith, whereas the rich of 5:1-7 seem to be unrepentant and unregenerate. So there is a clear difference between the eternal identity of those being addressed in verses 1-6 as in verses 7-12. The former has put all their trust in their riches; the latter has put all their trust in God, and James is imploring them to stay in that place of trust, as evidenced by the repeated terms, “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “endurance” in this sequence of Scripture (highlighted in green).
Contrasted with the “miseries that are coming” on the unregenerate who hoard their resources, James urgently implores the believers Jerusalem to…
James finally ends on a note of prayer.
James 5:13-20 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (HCSB).
This is one of the most beautiful swathes of Scripture in all of James.
In his closing chapter, James identifies those who have no faith (vv.1-6), those who are proving their faith (vv.7-12), and concluding with a call to arms (vv.13-20), reminding everyone that there will be some who stumble and fall, and that salvation doesn’t come to make us an island, rather, we are saved into a community that is under the allegiance of Christ, and we are to leave no man or woman behind.
This was a rewarding journey through a delightful epistle. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Remember our original intent in starting a study like this, where we are not just looking at the minutia of the letter, but zooming out to a view of 30,000 feet in order to identify sweeping themes that hold this book together. Before I end this blog post, let me provide you with a brief summary of James. I hope after reading this, you will find James beyond just a disjointed grouping of “fortune-cookie” proverbs; it is robust with the themes of trust, suffering, wisdom, holiness, and love for the poor. Check out the summary below. When you are reading James, and mining different verses, you will be able to plug them into this overall train of thought that James had, in order to illuminate the individual verses at hand with tremendous meaning.
When life gets difficult, God will use bad circumstances to transform you, as long as you trust in Him; this occurs when our thought life is brought in subjection to what God says is true (ch.1). This new maturity is most visible in two ways: 1) how we treat others in the body of Christ, specifically, the ones who cannot repay us; in fact, the way we treat the poor in our own local churches is evidence of our faith (ch.2)! and 2) how we speak to one another (ch.3). These elements can only be cultivated in the Christian who continually trusts in God in all circumstances, bringing the theme back around to the first chapter (ch.4). At the end of the age, our fruit will either condemn or vindicate us, so we must be diligent to grow in holiness and love towards one another—the one who perseveres is confident that they are the Lord’s, and must not leave anyone in the family of God behind, even those who appear as falling away (ch.5).
“Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, HCSB)
One scholar writes that taste can mean “judge” in the sense of determining for oneself whether God is actually good. To “see” has the same concept.
Jonathan Edwards, in a sermon entitled A Divine and Supernatural Light, described the difference between believing information and experiencing the same:
There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty…when a heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension (Edwards, Works. Vol.2, 14).
God is so certain of satisfying our deepest cravings, that He actually implores us to experience him for ourselves—to experience the divine taste-test.