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James Abbreviated: Chapter 5

This is our final chapter in the series, James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)
  4. True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity. (Chapter 4)

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.

  1. Rich people in the church (vv.1-6)
  2. Persistence (vv.7-12)
  3. Prayer and confession (vv.13-20)

Let’s look at each category to find the thread of James’s overall message woven throughout the chapter. Starting with vv. 1-6

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, (more…)

James Abbreviated: Chapter 4

We’re approaching the end of James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)

Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:

As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.

A shorter version of this might be:

True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity together.

Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.

James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. AdulteressesDon’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).

First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below… Read the rest of this entry

Catholicism and Protestantism on the Bible

Pope Francis: “That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a history of Salvation, and above all, it’s about a person: Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)

Martin Luther: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.“ (HT: http://goo.gl/JqSOu)


Pope Francis: “The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be just an individual academic effort, but must always be compared to, inserted within, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)

William Tyndale: I defy the pope and his laws! If God spares my life, in a few years a plow boy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do. (HT: http://goo.gl/RjAvU)

Going outside the gate

In my last post, I shared how Christians have their own tribal language which can become a barrier when speaking to people outside the church.

A simple way to avert this might be by getting out of the church building.

Christians are called beyond the “gate” of their church subculture, and into the lives of outsiders on a regular basis, anyway. In fact, our mission involves interacting with people outside the church (John 17:15-16), and we see this reflected in the lives of the early followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself.

  • Paul “went outside the gate to a riverside” before happening by a group of spiritually hungry people (Acts 16:12).
  • Jesus had an urge to “pass through Samaria” where he met a spiritually broken woman (John 4:4).

Now, God’s mission can’t always be systematized. But sometimes it helps to break it down in our minds so that we aren’t overwhelmed by the grandeur of it all. If you read the context given in the two examples above, you’ll find a bit of a pattern that I think works really well in practice…

  1. Be intentional (Don’t go anywhere, aimlessly. Seek the Spirit for where He would have you be)
  2. Take initiative (Don’t expect opportunities to come to your doorstep. Engage! Seek others!)
  3. Expend yourself (Commit to that place/area/community/scene once you discover it)

(adapted from “Operation Lydia: Mission” by Chris Lazo)

Do community groups create community?

George Gallup Jr. concluded from his studies and polls that Americans are among the loneliest people in the world. (Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church. 16)

The quote above is startling considering the massive networks of communication that we all have. From the personal touch of a cellphone call, the convenient tap of an email, and the intricate relational rhythms of social media, we are a generation that has the ability to stay un-lonely. As if that weren’t enough, the gathering church pulls out all the stops with its prized relational weapon: community groups! (or whatever 12 monikers it’s also known under: small groups, home groups, cell groups, etc).

But are these actually creating real community?

I think many of you have some worthwhile things to say about community groups. This is a safe place to be real, and for whatever it’s worth, I really would like to know…

What are YOUR honest thoughts on your community group experiences? Are they creating community for you?

Book Review: A Theology as Big as the City

A Theology as Big as the City, by Raymond Bakke.

This was a book title I overheard of periodically among several church-planters who all ended up moving to urban areas. Since I’m not a church-planter, I put it off for a while to read books that were more practically geared towards mission where I’m at in life. And where I’m at in life is very passionate about the kingdom of God goin g forth! But without a place to engage myself in the kingdom of God, I went where I was needed or wanted. I have had the privilege of visiting 12 different countries seeing people’s stories being developed within God’s redemptive story. But over the last year, I developed a slight tension with evangelizing the nations of the world: the world has come to OUR doorstep, by making their homes in our cities. Why would I leave to go elsewhere when world evangelization can happen within a square block of any city? Of my city?

That is the punchline of Ray Bakke’s book on cities, which can be summarized by two complementary quotes from his book,

Large cities are both magnets, drawing the nations into them, and magnifiers, broadcasting the gospel out into the hinterlands (p.1592).

Early Christians penetrated the whole city, but not by claiming space for church buildings or programs of their own. They penetrated everybody else’s space instead (p.1836).

Bakke develops all of this through a systematic view of the Scriptures in which he concentrates on God’s plan for all cities–with over “1,250 uses of the word city in Scripture,” sprawling urban environments are obviously on God’s mind (p.87). However, it doesn’t read with the dryness of anything “systematic,” as Bakke draws you through narratives of the city in both Old and New Testament, full of urban character portraits of people who cried out to God for their cities, and saw dramatic results. Much of this is interwoven with his own testimony of being pulled from his rural environment into one that was far more urbanized. Of course, one intentional character is missing from the story: the church. And this is the point of the book.“We need deep roots to survive in urban ministry,” says Bakke (p.220). This book is a call for Christians to consider living in the cities of the world.

If you have a passion for cities, your neighborhood, or simply love people, I highly recommend this book. If you like living comfortably, with little risk, but still go on the occasional two-week missions trip to spice up your life…well, I highly recommend this book to you too :-)

You can purchase this book on A Theology as Big as the City.

You can purchase the Kindle version of A Theology as Big as the City.

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