head knowledge is not enough

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:22

Bible listening or hearing in scripture means obeying. This is especially clear in the Old Testament. One doesn’t really hear God, unless they’re intent on following through with what God has said. Samuel is a case in point. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3). And with one intent only: to serve, to obey.

James makes it clear that we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re alright, “religious” (verse 26), just because we know truth, or have it in our heads, having heard it through our ears. But has it reached the heart, and worked its way into our lives, is the question. Are we attempting by God’s grace to put it into practice? Do we at least want to, even if it’s a struggle to us, sometimes even over our desire?

It’s about “getting down to brass tacks,” the essentials. If our Christianity is not something we practice, then it’s of no value at all. It helps neither ourselves, nor anyone else.

We need God in this. It’s not some personal self-help endeavor or project. God must be in this, or it won’t work at all. And God is at work in this way in his grace in and through Jesus. But it’s up to us to do it. God won’t do it for us. But God makes it possible for us to hear and follow through so that we not only hear the word, but do it. In and through Jesus.

a godly processing, instead of an ungodly reaction

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:19-21

How often in our lives have we blurted out something in reaction to some difficulty? Our first “natural” yet sinful response is often to fly off the handle and utter a few choice words under our breath. Or maybe to speak our mind when something is being said, particularly when it seems to be somehow threatening to us.

The point here, and what James is getting at is that we need to train ourselves to be different. One can say James makes that point when he tells us in addressing the problem of anger and quick speech (along with slow listening) to rid ourselves of all moral filth and the evil so prevalent, instead humbly accepting the word planted in us, which can save us.

We need to process things in light of God’s truth in Jesus. There may be times when we need to speak right away, not later. But if we are developing along these lines, such times can be more marked with humility, and a heart ready to listen. And always imbued with grace, but a grace that does not leave truth behind. James is strong in pointing to truth and not mincing words, but he’s also strong on a wisdom which helps us receive as well as share that truth with others (see 3:13-18). In and through Jesus.

a God-ordered undertaking

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, Lord, my strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.

Psalm 18:1-3

I ran across a lecture by one of the best Old Testament evangelical scholars, Tremper Longman III, entitled, “God is a Warrior: Coming to Terms with Divine Violence in the OT.” If you have any interest in this subject at all, it’s well worth your time. And it grapples with something of the heart of the same issue which Greg Boyd works on in his The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and the concise version of that, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence.

A major point I took away from it, was that the violence undertaken in the Old Testament was limited in scale and quite purposeful in intent, ordinarily God’s judgment. The main point for me being that those of Israel engaged in such, had to prepare themselves according to what God prescribed, so that in a certain sense they were set apart by God to participate in something of God’s work (my own way of expressing it).

Of course in this age the only warfare Christians can be involved in, as Tremper Longman III made clear is spiritual, against forces and entities not human, opposed to God, to the gospel, and to humankind.  Although Longman sees an argument for Christians serving in the police force and the military. And how when Christ returns, something of that ban will be lifted, when Christ subdues all the enemies of God and humanity, perhaps even with just the breath of his mouth.

The main takeaway, or direct application for me here is this: We are in a spiritual battle and undertaking, for sure. And we need to go about it according to what God prescribes for us in scripture, for us in Jesus, in the New Testament. But how we need all of scripture, the Old Testament as well, maybe in ways we can’t understand at times, but like here, in ways which can help us understand what God’s people should do, what we’re to do. And it encouraged me to see the Old Testament, and specifically passages which we may not easily track with as “a message to be understood,” rather than “a problem to be solved.”

Psalm 18 therefore is not to be relegated to some lesser status, even if supposedly inspired scripture, according to Boyd. While it was of a different era, it has direct bearing on us today. In and through Jesus.

one of the devil’s biggest lies (in my life)

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:7-10

A long time ago (it seems now), I lost heart and gave up in my life. Somehow I had failed to step across the doorway, or more like the abyss, by faith, of what I perceived to be God’s calling for me. There are so many factors in this; it’s not all that simple. But the giving up part was one key part of what turned out to be the devil’s deception (not to mention self-deception: see James 1). There was more to the deception than that. But that was a major aspect of it. And I would add here, the act of faith required was not just a step, but a continual walk, plodding along day after day come what may. We are never clear of the possibility of the devil’s deception.

This passage in Galatians captures something of the heart of this, and important aspects of it. It’s a matter of not sowing to the flesh, but instead, to the Spirit. It’s one or the other. Destruction is what is reaped from sowing to the flesh. Eternal life is reaped from sowing to the Spirit. So we’re to not become weary in doing good, since we’ll reap a harvest at the proper time, if we don’t give up. And then the great application: We’re therefore to do good to others: to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.

It’s so easy even now, and it was so for myself at a key point in my life, just to think all is lost, or there’s no use. Really, one has to know better. But we are human, like sheep so easily led off the path, and especially so when we get off on our own apart from the needed help of the Lord through others (Galatians 6:2). We need to keep on keeping on. Which sometimes means getting up, dusting ourselves off, and proceeding. Yes, by the Spirit; the Spirit present to help us help each other in and through Jesus.

James 1:1-18

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heatand withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:1-18

James on temptation

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:13-15

James wrote abruptly, getting to the point, but with wisdom and pastoral thought. And his short letter is filled with matters we are well acquainted with. One of them, in the context of trials, is the matter of temptation.

God does test for good, but does not tempt toward evil. While James does mention the devil in this letter (4:7), when dealing in depth with temptation, he settles on human desire. And it’s not the good desire in us by creation, but that desire, tainted and twisted by the fall when in Adam we were confirmed as sinners.

We are enticed, or drawn in by that desire, dragged away into sin. That desire so to speak is conceived, meaning it’s acted upon, giving birth to sin. Sin full-grown gives birth to death. Which suggests that sin given into grows in our lives. The death that follows is likely spiritual, one’s detachment from God, and God’s good will.

Something for us not to ignore, but keep in mind and heart. In and through Jesus.

a key part of enduring: accept

Yesterday’s post was about enduring when our faith is tested. A key and important aspect of such endurance, it seems to me, faith being a given, is simply to learn to accept whatever place one finds themselves in, including the trial itself.

One of the most difficult aspects of trials is often our resistance to them. We want to escape anyway possible, to be rid of it, and we often imagine the worst. Instead of committing ourselves to God’s care and working, and willingly walking through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are happy about the trial itself. Our happiness in the midst of it is solely in the realization that God is at work both to bless us, and make us a blessing to others. Oftentimes God’s work of character development in us toward the image of Christ, along with his work for the good of others is occurring. What is important for us is to hold on in faith. And a part of that, of our trust in God, is to simply accept the experience, with all its hard knocks and difficulties. And both the external, as well as internal facets of it.

I have often found that it’s not long before a sense of resolution either in movement, or even finality sets in. Usually my own experience in this is that my reaction is worse than the problem itself, often one of anxiety and fear. Or just feeling numb from it all.

So we’re called not only to wait in persevering in endurance in the trial. But to accept everything, believing that God is at work in it in ourselves, and in the situation, for our good and the good of others. In and through Jesus.

our part under trial: endurance

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

James tells us a bit earlier that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or endurance. A big part of that testing is simply remaining faithful in the trial.

As someone once told me, struggling is the default or norm in which we live. That’s why it’s nice to get away from time to time on a vacation with no cares in the world. And while “there’s no place like home,” there are always concerns, sometimes big that can well weigh us down. And some of those can seem well over our head, unmanageable, and in need of divine intervention. Actually we want the Lord’s help, and need it, whether the trial seems big or small.

James’s readers were facing problems from those who were wealthy (James 5). And James in the more immediate context referred to “trials of many kinds.” What is important for us is to remain faithful, and be willing to endure. Endurance is not something in and of itself enjoyable. We would rather escape. Yes, we’re to persevere, but endurance might seem to hit James’s thought in this letter more squarely for me, though to persevere is involved in that, as well. It seems like patience, and hanging in their through the tough times with faith in God is the point here.

And we have another promise from another book of wisdom, considered the basic book of wisdom in scripture: Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

In the midst of trials, we need to trust and obey. In submission to the One who will see us through to the end. In and through Jesus.

trials and Christian formation

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

It’s interesting how James opens his letter. He is a straight talker, getting right to the point, and as a pastor, probably the James who was known as the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, he knew what people, and by extension what all of us need. Not that he wasn’t writing into a specific time and place, to a specific people, because you certainly can tell that he was. But brought forward to our day, the entire letter speaks volumes to us.

We flinch at trials. None of us wants them. Yet they’re a part of life, certainly something we can’t escape. And God’s word tells us that they are opportunities for us to mature and grow. Our reaction to what goes wrong then is important for our formation toward the person God created and is now recreating us to be in Jesus.

Perseverance, or endurance is important. Remaining faithful in the midst of the difficulty, or even burden. Not flinching, or trying to escape, knowing that God is at work in our lives through it. So that we’ll lack nothing of what we need in Christian character.

And the beginning point is so crucial: our attitude. We’re to count it all joy because of what we know is taking place in our lives. Count it so, regardless of our feelings. Another example of how faith doesn’t replace feelings, but goes before them. We’re not told here to be joyful and happy, but to count ourselves to be so. For a good reason.

In all of this we have to come near to God, and draw on his resources, as given to us in scripture. And we have to keep at this, of course. Doing our part, certainly imperfectly, but sincerely, and with repentance along the way, in faith. Believing that God is at work in it all, in and through Jesus.