- Acts of the Apostles
- II Peter
- I Peter
- mud-pits and saviours
- SongofPsalms (1)
- The Call: Desperately desiring the One who Calls
- The Gospel of Matthew
- The Life of Joseph
- twenty3 musings
- WordsofWisdom in 119
Every time I read a section of Scripture, I hunt for the main text, that all the other statements fall off of. Though it sounds like an easy task, it often isn't. And this 'method of exegesis' needs most-definitely the writer/interpreter to lean very heavily on the Spirit's leading (I submit to your interpretation - whether these words are Spirit-led or otherwise)...The focus-text I have chosen is: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Now, why would I choose this text? Do I mean to infer that all the other words we find in this focus-text to be secondary in importance? May it never be! I simply see that this text, if interpreted as the focus, helps us see all the texts around it with more clarity. Think about it.
How would our lives be shaped if we didn't believe that all gifts, good and perfect, didn't come from the Father of Lights? What if we lived in a world where gifts, especially those that are perfect and good, could have the capacity of coming from somewhere else? It would create a very difficult world where we would have a hard time discerning where the gift was from and who to thank (similar to what our parents did in our growing-up years where they signed our Christmas gifts 'From Santa'; confusing us and leading us to believe that Santa had the same penmanship as our parents...children grow up too fast! I digress). Every gift - every perfect gift is from our Heavenly Father. Every gift. This certainly turns our attention to have more thankful hearts! May we cultivate a thankful heart today! It may seem strange to begin this devotional with this text, but my hope is that now you see why...
If every perfect and good gift comes from our Heavenly Father, then when we read these words, 'Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him' we can see a connection. If every perfect and good gift comes from God, then when we endure trial, we can 'stand the test' because the LORD desires us to see Him and His good and perfect gifts in the trial. Please contemplate this. James calls us blessed if we live in this beautiful light of our Heavenly Father Who gives these kinds of gifts to us.
Then we sense a tension erupting in the next section, because there was (and still is) this lie that permeates our belief of God and His actions, that somehow, someway He takes joy in tempting us. I hope you shuttered when I wrote that. This is truly, I believe, one of the worst lies that needs to be kicked back to where it came from! The reality is we can't stop this festering lie unless we believe in the focus-text that I've described above. If every good and perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father, then we know that there is something good coming from His hand at all times! Which means hardship, trial and pain, do not come from His hand if not somehow purposed with a good and perfect intention! He is not the ultimate kill joy! This is how we can endure the trial! If it has come from His hand, we can claim that there is something good that has (and will) come out of it. This takes faith to believe, as we are often surrounded by what I would call a foggy-faith, with no security in what is coming or what has arrived.
The truth is, I have lived long enough to know that the LORD is Sovereign in His dealings with us. He has to be! Anything other than this brings despair. I've been there. Believing that somehow God isn't a part of every detail of our lives, that He's lifted His hands and retreated to the mountains, cultivates a very lonely, isolated world-view that the LORD desires none of us to have. And yet, we are so susceptible aren't we? And this is the fuel to our pangs: Living in a world, believing the LORD doesn't care and is not intimately involved in our lives for our good. This belief brings nothing but hopeless living. But we do have hope!
What's our purpose in life? Read it for yourself: Of [God's] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.The original Greek is interesting here. James' choice of 'firstfruits' (ἀπαρχή ; ap-ar-khay') connotes a 'beginning of sacrifice'. This was a very, very important word to the Jewish customs and James' readers would have perked up when they heard it. They claimed themselves as 'firstfruits' of God's creation, and now, we, presently, adopt this beautiful word and see the LORD's heart and purpose for us today. He desires us, His children, to be His first-fruits - a set-aside people for His choosing, for His beautiful sacrifice! This is such a wonderful gift James gives to us today. The LORD calls us His beautiful sacrifice! If we don't see the LORD's good and perfect intention in this, all we see is despair - sacrifice is despairing if not accompanied with the LORD's wonderful plan. Where else can we look than the sacrifice made on the Cross for you and for me for the greatest example of this! If God's good and perfect plan wasn't a part of this, it was just a brutal death, to an unknown man - but insert God's plan and His will, which is good and perfect, and all of a sudden, even death, Jesus' horrible, sickening death, was good.
So, how to summarize this text is now the challenge. Here's what we've learned:
- it would be a wonderful world if we chose to 'camp' on the glorious reality of all good and perfect gifts come by God's hand (esp. in the hardest trials of our lives)
- the LORD desires us to see all experiences, even trials, to be good - as He sees they are
- God is not the author of evil and cannot be tempted; any other philosophy is truly heresay
- our purpose is a wonderful, all-encompassing reality of God's own choosing us - we are chosen!
Wonderful news! Let's spread the Good News!
* Please go to http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/march-1997/firstfruitsthenandnow for a further study on this beautiful concept of firstfruits
It's an interesting part of Scripture, isn't it? Frankly, this is another one of those passages that I would rather not write about as it gets a bit too close to home for me (disclaimer: if you don't like reading things that 'hit too close to home', discontinue reading - Scripture speaks through the Holy Spirit for our edification and nurture. I rejoice that the conviction is never to condemn, but it may feel like it at the time).
The truth is, James is clearly drawing a contrast from the 'rich' and 'lowly'. I am reminded of the beatitude that says 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' (Matt. 5:3; click here to read my devotional on The Beatitudes). This text hits home as I find myself constantly desiring places of responsibility for poor motive, but I know all too well that the LORD is asking me to be lowly for His Name's sake. The LORD promises the Kingdom to those who are 'poor in spirit'. What does this mean? How do we live this way, you ask?
We can't get away from this definition of 'lowly'. The original Greek doesn't mince words. ταπεινός ; tapeinos - that is 'Of uncertain derivation; depressed, that is, (figuratively) humiliated (in circumstances or disposition), base, cast down, humble, of low degree (estate), lowly). These are real circumstances; the feelings of a depressed, humiliated, cast down individual are feelings that can rarely be recovered from easily. And yet, I think of our Lord and can't help but feel an immense sense of comfort. There are two passages of Scripture that I find myself going to a lot when it comes to searching for comfort when I am in places of despair: Isaiah 53:3-5 and Hebrews 4:14-16
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
What does this mean for you and I today? It means that pursuing riches (in a worldly sense) will all be for naught. But if we pursue righteousness, admit we are in 'lowly circumstances', focusing our attention not on despair but the One Who can comfort us as He most certainly understands and can sympathize with our weaknesses, we can boast in our lowly circumstances! Because He understands and promises to walk with us through every single one of them!
The rich man passes away in his pursuits, but the one who sees (and seeks) the treasure of lowly circumstances, will find life, hope and comfort and a perspective on life that would not have been found if they did not dare to trust the LORD in their times of despair.
I thank the LORD for this text. But I need to be reminded many times a day that I need to be humbled for His purposes of making me holy. I can rejoice in that. Because it is being done by His hand.
James 1:5-8 (ESV)
As we continue in this first section, there is a theme of 'letting'. As I described in the last section, James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, does not have in mind a 'letting go and permitting where things fall, they will fall', but an active allowance with an engagement for the LORD's purposes. As is clearly seen in this section, the LORD is the source of all comfort, all joy, and all wisdom. If we lack any of these things, we should ask and believe that the LORD will supply, liberally, to all who ask in faith. But we have a problem...
If we read this section with 'glasses of honesty', we see that this is not the request that would be flowing off our lips in this season of trial James is describing. We need to always read the Scriptures in context, so to grasp exactly what James is describing, we need to have the first section of this chapter on our minds. It would be better to read this section this way:
'Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds...[and] if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously...'
Here's my problem: I don't find myself asking for wisdom in the 'heat of the moment'. I am repeatedly asking the LORD to take my trial away. What needs to occur in my heart is a perspective shift on trials. Wiersbe describes an associate's perspective that we all would do very well to apply to our lives, in the midst of suffering and trial:
'An associate of mine, a gifted secretary, was going through great trials. She had had a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then he had to be taken to the hospital where (we were sure) he would die. I saw her in church one Sunday and assured her that I was praying for her. “What are you asking God to do?” she asked, and her question startled me. “I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you,” I replied. “I appreciate that,” she said, “but pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this!”
Wiersbe remarks in his commentary that this secretary understood the meaning of James 1:5. And so should we.
When have you found yourself in a trial and, instead of asking for wisdom, you've asked for other things - strength to endure it, hope in the midst of it, faith to be fruitful in it, etc. ? I believe all of these prayers are right to pray, but, as James describes for us, if we are not asking for wisdom, we are completely missing the point of the trial. It truly is a faith-stretch for me to make this statement, but trials come in our lives, not because they are 'oopses' on God's agenda, but because He has allowed (more like orchestrated) them for our growth in following Him as believers in His Name, for His glory. In short, we need to have a perspective-shift on our trials. No more asking the LORD to take them away, but sincere, heart-changing prayers that are filled with truth that the LORD can (and desires) to do something in our hearts through our trials that He allows in our lives. In our trials, the LORD knows something we don't. So, rather than focusing on the fog and waves, we need to cry out to the LORD for wisdom, in the fog, to know how to trust Him through it.
Another helpful quote from Wiersbe:
'God does not help us by removing the tests, but by making the tests work for us. Satan wants to use
the tests to tear us down, but God uses them to build us up.'
This is a challenging word for my heart today as, more often than not, I am desiring the trial to be quick and simple - but this simply is not the LORD's desire for my life. The LORD somehow has something in store through the trial that, if I don't trust Him, I'll miss. And the miracle is, He can make the trial work for us instead of against us. But there's more...
How do we do this? By manufacturing more faith? By reaching down deep inside and finding that 'trust nugget' that will get us through this trial? Do we somehow find that incorruptible shield of 'doubt-less-ness' to come through the trial unscathed? It's incredible where James takes us in this section - let us not miss this! We do what James is challenging us by focusing on the LORD's love for us. I'm jumping ahead a bit, but I think it's worth focusing on this because we will miss it, because I believe we are always so susceptible to missing some of the greatest truth-nuggets in Scripture.
James writes in 1:12,
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
We can endure the trial because of our love for God. He loves us, we love Him - the trials will come and the trials will go. Don't think for a second that we ask for wisdom because it's the right thing to do. This is true. But please note that we ask for wisdom because of our love for God. We love Him and trust Him.
As I begin this devotional on this Epistle of James, I am confronted with one fact: It is hard to trust someOne that you don't love. Asking for wisdom is seeped in an all-encompassing reality that we ask for wisdom, because we love God. And God graciously gives wisdom because He loves us. Pure and simple.
James 1:1-4 (ESV)
Beginning this devotional-blog on this book, I did suggest reading through the letter in one sitting. Now I regret it. James packs a punch! There is very good reason to go slowly through this Epistle of James!
We're ok with his humble introduction. We see clearly who he is writing to and how he considers himself simply a lowly servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. But he does not mince words with his next phrases - really this first phrase that sets the stage to the remaining phrases of his letter 'to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion'.
This may be a new verse for you. It isn't to me. But it may as well be. I promised myself as I began this devotional, I wouldn't dance around issues found in these words; I would depend greatly on the LORD's leading as I write out my thoughts, and invite the Holy Spirit to guide me as I read and reflect on this blog.
So here I begin. James writes, 'Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds...' Count. Some versions have the word consider, others even have be glad. The original Greek is quite informative: Count - (ἡγέομαι ; hēgeomai) i.e. command (with official authority); figuratively to deem, that is, consider; account, (be) chief, count, esteem, governor, judge, have the rule over, suppose, think.* There's a fair bit of strength behind this word-choice. James wants us to sit up and take notice. He is commanding us to command it ourselves over our trials. Count it all joy! Command it! When you meet your trials, you are to receive, experience and live in joy!
I was also intrigued with his use of when you meet. It's like meeting a man down a dark alley. Rather than cautiously walking slowly, with the thought if anything would jump out behind the garbage bin, you would high-tail it out of there, James gives us the imagine that we can dare to walk down those alleys. We dare with a smile on our faces and joy overflowing in our hearts. And he doesn't even allow us the opportunity to be selective! James writes, 'Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds'. Just in case we thought the words various kinds could be misconstrued, the original Greek solves our mystery: various kinds - (ποικίλος ; poikilos ) i.e. Of uncertain derivation; motley, that is, various in character: divers, manifold.*
So, put it all together and there's no wonder why I said at the beginning of this post that these verses pack a punch: Count (command, with official authority, be chief of, govern, have rule over) it all joy
my brothers, when you meet trials of various (motley, in character, divers, manifold) kinds...These are challenging words, my friends! But by now, you know that there's more.
Count it all joy...for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. There's purpose to all of all of this! We can command over our trials of many kinds because we can know for certainty that these tests of various kinds are doing something; it is not all in vain! This word steadfastness has an interesting definition as well: Steadfastness - (ὑπομονή ; hupomonē) cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy; enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).* It is quite an interesting link that the very thing that James suggests is the reason for our trials draws us full circle back to his focus - joy! We can count it all joy because it's going to bring us joy. This is a wonderful, all-encompassing reality that we can, for all of eternity, uncover and still have more to discover! But there's still more.
James goes on to say that this cheerful endurance or patient continuance needs to bloom or flourish. We need to let it have its full effect. Please do not misunderstand the context of these words. Letting something happen has the connotation in our world of something that we are backing away from or releasing responsibility for, but this is not what James is suggesting. There is an active allowance of this steadfastness to have its full effect on our lives. Why? So that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Now who doesn't want that?
Quite a beginning. Whatever trial we face, whatever various circumstance we find ourselves in today, whatever level of hardship we have been given by the Hand of God, we can know that there is purpose in it. It's for our joy. Can we believe this today? Can we 'let steadfastness have its full effect' in our lives by looking our trials square in the face and say, 'You will not steal my joy'?
I don't know about you, but I long to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. To do that I need to be in command over my trials. I need to speak with purpose, even if it takes me speaking out so all the world can hear, to my trial (and yours) commanding that it does not have to be victorious over me! I have the ability to speak over my trials and say, 'You will produce steadfastness in me if I allow you to'.
May we dare to speak these courageous words today. For our good. For our joy.
*Note: these definitions were taken from the 'e-sword' application: 'the sword with the electronic edge'. You can download it for yourself (for free) from:
|Saint James the Greater, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661|
The Epistle of James, like each book of the Bible (I believe), is worth our time. Though it is a book that we can read in one sitting, it is worth our while to go slow and allow its themes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to resonate in our souls. But who was this James?
Wiersbe helps in his commentary with these words:*
"James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John.
He was one of the most prominent to bear the name. He was a fisherman called by Christ to follow and become a disciple (Matt. 4:17–22). He and his brother John were nicknamed by Christ “sons of thunder” because of their impulsiveness (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:51–56). James was the first of the disciples to give his life for Christ. He was killed by Herod in AD 44 (Acts 12:1–2). James, the son of Alphaeus. He was another of the disciples (Matt. 10:3; Acts 1:13), but very little is known about him. Matthew (Levi) is also identified as “the son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14), and some students conjecture that the two men might have been brothers. There is no indication that this James wrote the letter we are about to study. James, the father of Judas the disciple. He is an even more obscure man (Luke 6:16 KJV, where “brother” ought to be “father”). This Judas was called “the son of James” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. James, the brother of our Lord. He seems to be the most likely candidate for author of this letter. He does not identify himself in this way; humbly, he calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That Jesus had brothers and sisters is stated in Matthew 13:55–56 and Mark 6:3, and one of His brothers was named James. (By “brother,” of course, I mean half-brother. Joseph was not our Lord’s father since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God.) "
Though this is important information for us today, I would like us to centre on something of greater importance, which I believe James would have wanted us to glean from his writing as well: The Epistle of James, penned by the brother of our LORD, was a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus, when He was finishing His earthly ministry, comforted His disciples to wait for The Helper, Who was to come and teach, comfort and confirm all that Jesus was (and is) (see John 15:26, 27). I believe we need to do the same.
Perhaps you have never considered what it actually means to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and rest upon you, maybe you have. May I ask you to wait on Him now as you begin this study. My desire is for each of us to bask in the never-ending reality of God with Us. We are the recipients of this reality because of the finished work on the Cross. James, our focus for this study, clearly lays out for us practical implications for us, here and now, so we can never again wonder what, exactly, is expected of us, as followers of Jesus Christ, living this often challenging life for His glory.
May I ask you to take the time and read through the Epistle of James, in its entirety, before we begin to study section by section.
May we experience the LORD in a way like never before as we journey together through this very practical book.
* Taken from The Wiersbe NT Bible Commentary, 848
You can either download (for free) at:
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Here is a synopsis of the book:
Jesus was the Saviour to Simon Peter Who never let up. As I was led through each of these passages of Scripture, Jesus leapt off the page and began revealing to me areas in my own heart – feelings of doubt, fear, loss of faith – in each of these, I sensed the LORD prodding me to risk exposing them to Him in order for Him to reveal to me the created image He wanted me to be from the beginning. There are many stories in Scripture that leave us uncomfortable, but Simon Peter’s story has left me both comforted in my disturbance and disturbed in my comfort.
Though Simon Peter wasn’t comfortable when his heart was revealed, Who he found, far surpa
ssed the ugliness in his own soul. I have experienced the same. Jesus was a Saviour to Simon Peter out on the storms, on the mountain, on the shore, at the Cross, and at the empty tomb. Jesus changed Simon Peter’s life. He was never the same. I too have experienced this same story.
Though this book follows the life of Simon Peter, my hope is that it will reveal to you so much more about a Saviour that is just waiting to be found – but more than this – He is intentionally seeking after you and me.
Jesus is calling – are you willing to answer?
Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. 21 On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the [j]rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and [k]died.
24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned [l]from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their [m]mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.
24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned [l]from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their [m]mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.
From the beginning of Chapter 12 you might have felt discouraged that, yet again, a servant of the LORD's is put in prison and awaiting execution. It is natural to feel this way. This isn't any different from how we react to news that is discouraging in our world today. How to we stay hopeful in days like these? My experience tells me that it is good to pan back and see the bigger picture.
I have described a couple times now that Luke's letter is complete with summary statements. In this text we see another one: But the word of the LORD continued to grow and to be multiplied (vs. 24; see Luke's other summary statements - 6:7; 9:31; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31). There is a powerful word in this sentence - but.
When all else seems to be falling away, when people are dying all around us, when there are wars and rumours of wards, we can depend on the 'but of the LORD'. The truth is, there is a greater work being accomplished in our world today. Yes, it seems to be getting worse and worse, but this draws my attention all the more to how the LORD is drawing more and more to Himself. You see, at the beginning of this chapter, we see Peter being held in prison by guards. Not exactly the most hopeful circumstance. By the sheer number of guards that were around him, Herod was making very sure that he not escape. But what the LORD had in store, no one, no thing, could bind! We see a complete flip over come the end of this chapter. Peter was released and Herod was the one who died. This is how the LORD works. He works in our lives, for His purposes, for His Glory.
This was a relatively small effort. Just a few men in Jerusalem that were willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. It's incredible to see, even at this point in the Book of Acts, what has already taken place, but Luke reminds us that the LORD has been a part of it - the word of the LORD continued to grow. Despite discouragement, even death, the Word of the LORD spreads. But please do not miss how it grows - by people praying.
Wiersbe sites in his commentary Dr. Alan Redpath who would often say, “Let’s keep our chins up and our knees down— we’re on the victory side!” Amen! When it seems that the world is crumbling and our lives are at stake, we must look up - we are on the victory side!
Labels: Acts of the Apostles