Sunday, January 1, 2017

Do Not Neglect Meeting Together (2016 West Loop Reflection)


  • The WHY of West Loop is to always declare grace (Ac 20:24), rest (Mt 11:28) and freedom (Gal 5:1).
  • The HOW is through Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) and life together (1 Jn 1:3), i.e. through Bible study and community.
  • The WHAT is to give generously of our life, time and money--all of our resources (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18; 2 Cor 5:15).

Preaching through the entire book of Isaiah since early 2016 has been one of my most satisfying endeavors as a Christian. For the last two years, I have been studying every chapter of Isaiah by reading and referencing Isaiah scholars (Oswalt, Motyer, Kidner, Ortland, etc). I and a few others have preached on all 57 chapters of Isaiah in over 50 sermons (53). God willing I may finish the last 9 chapters in 2017, and then begin my next OT book, possibly Jeremiah.

"Trust God" (Isa 7:9; 12:2; 26:4; 40:31) is the emphatic repeated theme of Isaiah for his people in the midst of difficulties and adversities. The Israelites should trust God when they were under attack from powerful Assyria (ch. 1-39). They should trust God with hope and wait on God when they were defeated and exiled in Babylon (ch. 40-55). They should also trust God when they return from Babylonian exile and need to rebuild their broken and devastated city and land from scratch (ch. 56-66).

Philippines UBF, under the stewardship of William Altobar, has grown from 1 chapter to 6 UBF chapters and church plants in the last 5 years. Over the past 2 years they are also welcoming more and more children from their neighborhoods, comprising of poor squatters, who are referred to as informal settlers. Malaysia UBF is a lively community led by Ison Hong and Vincent Lee together with a handful of devoted young Malaysian leaders. In May 2016 we held our first Manila Malaysia Bible Conference in the Philippines based on Isaiah with the theme: My Eyes Have Seen the King. It has been my utmost joy, delight and privilege to visit and fellowship with them each year.

NCWS (neighborhood community worship service) is thriving through the pastoring of Henry Asega and Kevin Albright. By God's grace, I also have the privilege of serving and supporting them through preaching and teaching at their worship services monthly.

In 2016 I prayed that it may be the year of Bible study, just as the psalmist delightfully proclaimed, "How I love Your instruction (your law)! It is my meditation all day long" (Ps 119:97, HCSB). I prayed that as a community, God may open our hearts to "delight in the Lord's instructions (law of the Lord) and night" (Ps 1:2, HCSB).

For 2017, along similar lines, I pray that it may be the year of studying the Bible together. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deedsnot giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." I pray that we may study the Bible together in a safe authentic community "so that we do not drift away" (Heb 2:1).

  • "Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm" (Heb 10:23, NLT).
  • "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works" (Heb 10:24, NLT).
  • "...let us not neglect our meeting together" (Heb 10:24, NLT).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

MY WAY Will Not Work (James 4:7-12)

Notice the verbs in James 4:7-10. "Submit," "resist," "come," "wash," "purify," "grieve," "mourn," "wail," "change," and "humble yourselves." These verbs suggest that "I did it my way" or "my way or the highway" is NOT a wise way to live. It is certainly not the way to live under the blessing of God.
  1. Horrible Days (1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith and Loving Deeds (2:14-26). Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to shut up!
  8. The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (3:13-18). You can't be wise if you are selfishly motivated.
  9. Infighting in the Church (4:1-6). Being upset with others may not be the fault of others.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Infighting in the Church (James 4:1-6)

Why do we not like certain people? Why are there fights and quarrels, some rather bitter and longstanding, even in the holy church of God?
  1. Horrible Days (1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith and Loving Deeds (2:14-26). Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to shut up!
  8. The Wise and the Selfishly Ambitious (3:13-18). You can't be wise if you are selfishly motivated.
What causes us to be angry, to fight and to have quarrels?

An obvious answer, as we think of the person or situation, is because "he/she did this or that," "this is what they're like," "this is what they're done," "this is what they said and decided." We're angry, or dislike people, because of some action or words on their part.

But James says that the reasons for our resentments and quarrels (especially during times of trials and difficulties, which seems to accentuate and aggravate everything!) are much more profound and penetrating than "other people are the cause of my problems" and "they are making life hard for me." James basically says that when we're angry and upset with other people, the reasons are primarily in us--not others. If we're going to come through our trials to the righteousness, maturity, completeness (Jas 1:2-4) and crown of life that God has in mind for us (Jas 1:12), we must understand what is really at the heart of our conflicts with others, even or especially in the church.

James asks and answers that the cause of infighting is with us and that there are several reasons:

First, our own desires are being denied"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight" (Jas 4:1-2a) The cause of our fights and quarrels is some self-centered desire that wants to prevail. There is "me, my, mine" that is being insisted on. There's something we want and we aren't getting it. Our desires, wants, are being frustrated, thwarted, denied and we see the other person as being responsible. So we're angry, resentful, ready to fight, hoping he or she will get what we think is coming to them.

These desires James is addressing are insistent, belligerent desires. They're ready to wage war and battle within us. He uses military imagery--armed soldiers getting ready for a bitter battle to get what they want. We have an innate, self-centered readiness to fight to get our own way. We desire and covet--want something someone else has, but we do not have it and are very upset. So we're ready to fight, quarrel, damage, demolish and even destroy those who we think are keeping us from getting what we want.

So if and when I am upset with others, I must know, according to James, that the problem is with me and not the other person. I can easily blame others because "they said this," "they said that," "they are doing this," "they are doing that." But if I honestly search my own heart, I should find that what they're saying or doing is preventing me from getting what I desire--be it commendation, recognition, a good reputation, to be accepted, honored, respected and esteemed, to have a position of power and privilege and influence, etc, but then someone else in the church (or at work or in school or even at home) is getting it instead of me. Therefore, search my heart to see if the reason I am upset is because I "desire but do not have... (I) covet but (I) cannot get what (I) want, so (I) quarrel and fight" (Jas 4:1-2a).

Second, we have stopped trusting God to be good to us. We don't believe God is going to give us every good thing. So we think that we have to go get the good thing ourselves. We no longer wait or depend on him as the one who can and will provide. James says, "You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Jas 4:2b-3).

James says we fail to pray when we do not trust in God's goodness and in God's provision for us. Or that we do not believe that God's riches and love are infinite and inexhaustible, beyond imagination. We often also ask with wrong motives. A wrong motive invariably puts our own desires above God. Our prayer is not because of an honest seeking of God, but is a selfish demand that disregards God's will, God's plan, God's purpose and God's sovereignty. We ask for what we want instead of what God wants for us, which will always be better by far. 

Third, we become adulterous. When we turn from trusting in God's goodness and provision, we invariably end up embracing the world--we enter into a friendship with the world by employing the world's methods which always looks out for number one. James concludes with words drawn from the language of love and politics: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (Jas 4:4).

We are the bride of Christ, but we have gone into the arms of another. We become like an adulterous husband or wife who says to their spouse, "You're not adequate, you aren't satisfying me. What you're giving me is not enough. I'm going to find love and intimacy somewhere else." We become an enemy of God. Faced with pressures and trials, we adop the world's way of handling them--lashing out a fellow believers, quarreling and fighting with them, failing to bring the matter before God, and instead aligning ourselves with a sinful culture's way of doing things.

What is the cure? What hope do we have to overcome our adulterous tendency?

Our hope lies in God's unshakable commitment to keep us intimate with him. This is his overwhelming grace. God is a jealous lover who simply will not let us go, and he will enable us to stay close to him:

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

"God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble" (Jas 4:5-6).

When we are adulterous and do not trust God, God's response is a fresh infusion of even more and greater grace to keep us connected to him. He will not let us remain in a hostile relationship with him, but will jealously woo us back to have an intimate relationship with him.

If necessary, he will use the negative pressure of opposing us if we continue our prideful behavior and our drift into the world's arms. But he will also give increasing grace if we turn in humble submission to him by accepting that our circumstances are difficult for the time being, but believing that he is working through them for our good (Jas 1:2-4, 12).

James quotes the OT that God is actively repelling the proud and advancing the humble he is curing the one and blessing the other:

"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked,
    but he blesses the home of the righteous.
34 He mocks proud mockers
    but shows favor to the humble and oppressed" (Prov 3:33-34).

God's grace is truly amazing because though we stumble, fail, sin and become adulterous, God "gives us more grace" (Jas 4:6a).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Wise and the Bitter (James 3:13-18)

Who is one who is not wise, and the one you should not listen to? Briefly, according to James, it is the one who thinks they are wise and are too quick to teach others (Jas 3:1)! How can one tell who they are? They often cannot control their tongue and they blame others. Those who desire to teach others and who see the fault in others but none in themselves are the ones who should learn to simply shut their mouth!
  1. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4). The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12). A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21). God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27). When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (Jas 2:1-13). Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith = Loving Deeds (Jas 2:14-26). True faith is always expressed through deeds of love for others, regardless of what trial we may be personally going through. [Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.]
  7. Lashing Out Verbally at Others (Jas 3:1-12). If you think you have to teach others, it's better to just shut up!
Whom should we listen to in a time of trial? To whom should we look to for guidance? How can we recognize the one who will have God's wisdom in the matter? That is the question James raises, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (Jas 3:13a)?

To be wise and understanding means to know both where to go and how to get there, which direction is right and what specific steps should be taken? To be wise is to know the goal God wants. To be understanding is to know how to reach it. How can we recognize such a person?

His summary answer to his question: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (Jas 1:13).

Wise and understanding people are marked by gentle humility. They are quietly at ease with themselves. They do not act like they know the answer to every question. They are not quick to make speeches, offer solutions or teach others (Jas 3:1). They are not ego-driven as though they have something to prove. [Grace means that one has nothing to prove.] There is also evidence of quiet tangible deeds done for for the welfare and benefit others, without drawing attention to it.

James expands on his summary answer by explaining more fully whom one should not listen to (Jas 3:14-16) and then describes more specifically the godly qualities of the person we should listen to (Jas 3:17-18).

We should not listen to the person who (Jas 3:14-16):
  • is jealous and envious of the success, influence and good reputation of others
  • seems to be ego-involved and ego-driven
  • is boastful and lacking in humility.
Such people are going after a victory or going after being right, often speaking half-truths, rather than being are after truth (Jas 3:14b). They cannot claim to have God's wisdom and their words ("wisdom") "does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (Jas 3:15). They inadvertently produce discord and disorder, gossip, backbiting and slander, polarization, disharmony and "taking sides" and wild assumptions and accusations in the church (Jas 3:16), rather than promoting love, grace, peace and unity. Do not listen to such a person.

Instead, listen to the gentle, humble person whose motives are pure and whose words continually produce peace within the congregation (Jas 3:17). Listen to the person who has:
  • nothing to prove (no ego involvement)
  • nothing to gain (no agenda or ulterior motives)
  • whose life demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit
  • whose action brings peace
To bring peace, one who is in a dominant position exercises restraint in the use of authority, and is considerate toward those who are less dominant, while those who are in the subordinate position express an attitude of submissiveness. One who is considerate overlook the small faults of others and give credit for their character over the long haul. Being submissive, they are not difficult to lead or persuade, but quietly and easily join in with others. Their whole life is "full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (Jas 3:17b), investing their lives for the welfare and benefit of others who are less fortunate than themselves (Jas 1:27). They are impartial, not choosing or favoring one side or person over another, and sincere, not flattering or pretending in order to gain some benefit.

Listening to a gentle, humble person brings forth peace and "a harvest of righteousness" (Jas 3:18b).

Friday, December 16, 2016

Lashing Out Verbally at Others (James 3:1-12)

Lacking tongue control: "If anyone makes no mistakes in what they say, such a person is a fully complete human being, capable of keeping firm control over the whole body as well" (Jas 3:2b, N.T. Wright). "Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check" (Jas 3:2b, NIV). "For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way" (Jas 3:2b, NLT).

If you cannot control your mouth, don't teach the Bible to others. Definitely, don't teach others the Bible if you are blaming others for problems and difficulties. Don't be in Christian leadership if you have a habit of lashing out at others. For the easiest way to sin, the most common, and the hardest sin to prevent, is with the tongue.
  1. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27), or When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (Jas 2:1-13), Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
  6. True Faith = Loving Deeds (Jas 2:14-26), or True faith is always expressed through deeds of love for others, regardless of what trial we may be personally going through. [Loving others--amid our own difficulties and trials--always accompanies true faith.]
If you are an actor and you are able blow up convincingly and chew others out with zeal, zest and gusto, you will likely be nominated for an Academy Award, or a Golden Globe award or an Emmy. Letting it all hang out and lashing out at others from the depth of our being with intensity and passion resonates with us, because we wish that we could do the same with people whom we believe deserve a tongue lashing.

But what does James say about a Christian and how he or she uses his or her tongue? "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be" (Jas 3:9-10).

In 3:1-10, James is speaking very strongly about Christians having control over their tongue. He is well aware that we Christians "stumble in many ways" (Jas 1:2a), especially when we open our mouth. He says matter of factly that "no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8).

So why is it that all people, including Christians have such poor (or no) control over their tongue and with the things they say, which often becomes like deadly poison?

All sincere Christians know that we should be "quick to listen" (to God and others) and "slow to speak" (words of doubt, cursing and slander) (Jas 1:19, 6, 13; 3:9; 4:11). So we know that we should be "self-controlled"--a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23). But as we should well know will power alone is greatly limited in the Christian life, for the flesh is weak. The power a Christian needs is not mere will power but the power of God (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18). Yes, we need to use our will power, choices and decisions we make to work our our salvation (Phil 2:12b), but more than that we need to learn to be subject and submitted to what God is doing in us (Phil 2:13). Then we should be able to "keep (our) whole body in check" (Jas 3:2b), including our wild restless tongue that can be full of evil and poison (Jas 3:8).

Jas 3:1 have often been explained incorrectly as a warning against becoming a Bible teacher in the local church. But this is contrary to all the biblical passages which speak highly of Bible teachers. They are among God's gifts to the church (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11). Paul tells Timothy to entrust his teachings to "entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim 2:2).

Jas 3:1, therefore, have nothing to do with teaching the Bible, Scripture or doctrine. Instead, his warning is against presuming to teach others how they should act so that they do not add to the stresses and hardships that the rest of the church is facing. It is a warning against presuming to instruct/teach others as to how they can stop causing trials for the rest of us. James is continuing the theme of how to act in trials (Jas 1:2ff), how to act when we face difficult and stressful situations.

In context James is writing to Jewish Christians who are facing different kinds of trials. They were driven from their homes and cities and have been scattered in different localities and countries (Jas 1:1b). The local Gentiles despise them because they are Jews, and the local Jews despise them because they are Christians. They're resented and discriminated against. It's one trial after another. The purpose of James' whole letter is to tell them how to deal with trials which are beneficial. Dealing with trials is the focus of the whole book of James.

James begins by saying that horrible trials should be counted as pure joy because through them we become patient, mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jas 1:2-4), as long as we don't become angry with God and blame him for our trial (Jas 1:13). James also encourages us to love others during the trials (Jas 1:17)--impartially and tangibly (Jas 2:1, 16)--for this will reveal a genuine trusting faith that will always be expressed through loving and caring deeds for others (Jas 2:8, 18b).

James' next point is that when we are going through trials we must avoid being infected or polluted by how the world would do things (Jas 1:27b). We must not adopt the world's attitudes and coping mechanisms. James emphasizes this from chapter 3 to 5: do not talk or act as the world would talk and act during a trial.

In the last three chapters James mentions the world frequently. He speaks about how the world gets into us, how the world's wisdom is the opposite from God's wisdom. He warns against friendship with the world. His continual emphasis is: Don't let the world's way of doing things influence what you say or how you act in the midst of a painful and difficult trial.

James 3 suggests that a typical way someone in the world reacts to a trial is to ream out others who they think are contributing to the group's difficulties by their actions and choices, lashing out against others with disapproval and angry reactions and advice about how bad and wrong they are, which they are convinced adds to the stress and hardships they are encountering. James says this because sometimes our trials may indeed be due to the behavior of other Christians. Sometimes the actions of other believers, though well meaning, can cause difficulties for others in the church.

In churches with a strongly authoritarian hierarchical culture, people in the church are more or less expected to "tow the party line." Recently, a Baptist leader was suggesting to Baptists in his keynote speech that if they consider themselves Reformed and embrace Calvinism, they should consider leaving the Baptist church and joining Presbyterian churches instead. I seriously wonder how well his public teaching was received (cf. Jas 3:1). Some churches insist on conforming strictly to the word according to certain propositional statements and enforcing it on others, while others churches insist on charismatic expression at the expense of sound biblical teaching. Does such teaching unite the church? During times of trials and difficulties should we not learn how to embrace our differences rather than aggravate and accentuate them?

The recent elections certainly seemed to have brought out the worst in Americans, both the non-churched and even the churched. Those who voted Republican laughed at Democrats for being cry babies and sore losers, white those who voted Democrat accused Republicans of being racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic and homophobic. What should we do during such a seemingly national crisis. Someone noted that in 2001 there was 9/11, and in 2016 there is election day 11/9! Should both sides blame the other side and try to teach the other side how wrong they are??

Christians sadly add to the trials and stresses of life, since our tendency is to tell others to "shape up, get smart." But James says, "Don't be quick to instruct, teach and tell others what they ought to do or should have done. Don't presume that you can be a teacher to them" (Jas 3:1). Why?

James says that we should not presume to be teachers because it is too likely that we will sin with out words and stumble with our tongues. Then in the process of telling others what to do, we sin against them and incur God's judgment (Jas 3:1b). The only people who should become teachers in such situations are those who are in control of all other areas of their own lives (Jas 3:2). Only the person who can avoid stumbling or sinning with their tongue is perfect--perfect in the sense of spiritually mature, complete (Jas 1:4)--someone who is already close to what God wants us to be--someone who is able to keep their whole body in check (Jas 3:2), someone who is in control of all areas of their life, and therefore able to control their tongue. That is a level of maturity that not many have.

In 3:3-12 James explains and expands on what he means in more detail. Because it is so likely that we will sin with our tongues, we should avoid teaching others until we see a consistent maturity in our own lives and an ability to control all areas of our life. He develops four thoughts, four statements:
  1. When we are in control of our tongues, we can accomplish great things (3-5a). Something very small, if controlled, can accomplish great things whether one is a leader, mother, teacher, spouse.
  2. But when we are not in control of our tongues, we can cause great damage (5b-6). The world's evil sinful way of handling stress and trials is to abuse others with the tongue our of personal frustration and exasperation. One little wrong word can corrupt the whole body and set the whole course of one's life on a destructive path (Jas 3:6).
  3. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that very few of us have the necessary control (7-8). Though to some degree we might be able control our diet, TV watching, wasting time, bad habits, etc, few are able to truly control their tongue. Sadly, we can train our animals and our pets more than our own tongue (Jas 3:7-8). As long as there is inconsistency in us and in our speech (and emails and social media) we are in no position to teach others and tell them what to do (Jas 3:1).
  4. Therefore, because of the danger that we will sin with our tongues, we should not teach others until our own lives demonstrate a godly consistency and spiritual maturity (9-12). We should first search our own hearts and make sure our lives demonstrate a godly consistency and spiritual maturity--especially when no one is watching. As there is consistency in nature (Jas 3:11-12), there must be godly consistency in Christians, when we allow the trials we are encountering to produce the fruit that God intends (Jas 1:2-4).
James' caution is this: When the behavior of some in the church is causing difficulties for others, you should not try to teach and correct others (Jas 3:1). The chances are too great that you will sin and damage others. The only people who should teach others in such difficult trials are those who are consistently in control of all areas of their lives.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Faith During Trials and Loving Deeds (James 2:14-26)

  1. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  2. How to Know What's Going On (Jas 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  3. When Trials Become Temptations (Jas 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  4. Self-Deceived Christians (Jas 1:22-27), or When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
  5. Showing Favoritism (Jas 2:1-13), Trust God rather than show favoritism toward influential people.
How can we know if our faith during our trying times and troubling trials will bring forth the blessing of God which James calls "a crown of life" (Jas 1:12)? There is a way to know whether your faith is alive and vital, and will see you through the trial to the good end that God intends (Jas 1:4). Here's how you know. Very simply, James says that your loving deeds toward others reveal a liging faith. Your loving acts of compassion and mercy show that you have a genuine trusting faith that will see you through the trials to God's reward.  Read James 2:14-17.

When one is in an ongoing painful trial, our faith may be sorely tested to persevere as our expression to trust God (Jas 1:2-3). When we trust God during times of difficulty James says that Christians must "keep a tight reign on their tongues" (Jas 1:26), instead of cursing others who we think may be contributing to our trial (Jas 3:9-10) and slandering fellow believers whom we disagree with (Jas 3:11).

Also during times painful trials, James says that we must act lovingly toward the most unfortunate and needy in our community (Jas 1:27a) and to not be tempted to solve our difficult trials by using the ways of the world (Jas 1:27b), such as lashing out against others who we think are aggravating our difficulties (3:1-4:12) and accumulating wealth to solve our problems (4:13-5:6).

Faith during the trial. When James asks, "Can such faith save them?" (Jas 2:14), he is not speaking about your eternal salvation. He's looking at being taken safely through your trials, being delivered from sinning during your prolonged troubles. James had earlier said to "humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (Jas 1:21), meaning that God's Word would safely guide you through temptation; it would save or deliver you from becoming angry with God and blaming him (Jas 1:13). Similarly, here James is looking at the quality or nature of your faith that will safely take you through your trials.

Faith that God is working good through your trial. The faith James has in mind is not faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Rather it is the vital trusting faith that humbly submits to what God is doing, and as a result will stand the test and receive the reward (Jas 1:2-4, 12).

The evidence that we have the kind of faith that will safely take us through our trials to God's good reward is by doing good deeds of love and compassion for others (Jas 1:27a) and by not showing favoritism (Jas 2:1). But our faith is dead if it is not accompanied by good deeds of love for others (Jas 1:17), because we are to self-preoccupied with our own difficulties during our trial that we do not love enough to care and bother with the trials that others may be similarly going through. What use is such a claim of having faith when we ignore the pain and distress of other fellow believers (Jas 2:15-16), who are in the category of "orphans and widows in their distress" (Jas 1:27a).

A faith divorced from tangible acts of mercy and compassion expressed toward others is insufficient to take us safely through our own trials. Thus, James says twice that such a loveless faith is dead and useless (Jas 1:17, 20).

The greatest command in Scripture--"the royal law found in Scripture" (Jas 1:8)--is to love. There is no situation in life where God says that this command can be ignored or voided. So even if one is going through painful trials, God expects Christians to love others, especially the weakest and the most vulnerable (Jas 1:27a), even if it costs us and even to our own potential loss. Loving others may be the way that we persevere through our own painful trials and become mature and whole in the process (Jas 1:2-4).

Then James imagines an objection (Jas 2:18a) that it is possible to have faith that God is working through trials and not have loving deeds for others. James' response is to offer three biblical examples to prove the necessary connection between faith and deeds--that unless faith in God's working is accompanied by tangible acts of love, it is a meaningless, dead faith.
  1. A negative example (Jas 2:18b-19). Demons believe in God but never have good deeds of love.
  2. A positive example with Abraham (Jas 2:20-24; Gen 15:1-6; Genesis 22). Abraham's "faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did" (Jas 2:22). This living faith carried Abraham safely through the years to the "crown of life" (Jas 1:12) that he receive the honor of being called God's friend (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:18).
  3. A positive example with Rahab (Jas 2:25-26).
Loving deeds do indeed prove the reality of one's faith that God is good and that God intends good for us through this painful trial. Our concrete acts may not be as dramatic as Abraham's or Rahab's, but they can still demonstrate a living faith that I trust God enough to obey the royal law found in Scripture by loving others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Showing Favoritism (James 2:1-13)

  1. Trials are Beneficial: Overview of James.
  2. Horrible Days (Jas 1:1-4), or The Way to Maturity and Wholeness.
  3. How to Know What's Going On (James 1:5-12), or A Prayer that God is Always Happy to Answer.
  4. When Trials Become Temptations (James 1:13-21), or God Never Tempts Anyone.
  5. Self-Deceived Christians (James 1:22-27), or When Reading and Studying the Bible Makes You Worse.
If you see a pretty girl and an unattractive girl at two ends of the room, which end do you casually gravitate toward? If you see a rich cool guy who is funny and friendly and a poor nerdy guy who is awkward with shabby clothes who would you charm up to? If you meet a person who can possibly benefit you and your church and a person who looks like they will be a drain to you and your church, which person would you extend more grace to?

Such are the questions that James is posing in his letter to the church that had been scattered (Jas 1:1b) and undergoing persecution, painful trials and hardships (Jas 1:2, 12). James presents two contrasting visitors to their church, one who is rich with a gold ring and fine clothes and one who is poor in filthy old clothes (Jas 2:2). The first visitor is a man of wealth and influence--the kind of man who could get you a job, benefit you with favors, and help resolve some of the many painful trials you are encountering (Jas 1:2). The second visitor is poor and unknown, a little unkempt and wearing clothes with odor of sweat still lingering. So of the two, which one do you go to? Which one do you give attention to?

James says, "If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet...'" (Jas 2:3-4) James' response to such partial behavior is, "My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism" (Jas 2:1). Do not pay attention to people based on what they can do for you. Do not treat them differently based on what you might get from them. Be absolutely impartial. Love them equally.

Why does James stress this? Why does James want us to be as ready to love the poor man (who can do nothing for you) as the rich man (who might benefit you)? To be as quick to pay attention to the insignificant as well as the influential? Why is it so important that we love impartially, without thought of gain?

To say, "This is the Christian thing to do," is not incorrect, but does not go deep enough. James probes and searches our hearts as he reveals four penetrating reasons why it's so important that we love impartially and without thought of personal gain:
  1. You show your deep trust in God--that he is the one who controls your circumstances, that he's the one who determines your future, not the rich and influential of this world. You show your unshakable certainty and conviction that good things ultimately come from God, not men. "Discriminated" (Jas 2:4) is the same word as "doubted" (Jas 1:5-6). Doubting, discriminating: the same word, meaning vacillating, wavering, making distinctions. If you discriminate (show favoritism) in your love, you reveal your doubts about whether God is in control. You begin to judge the situation with evil thoughts that I need to make sure things happen the way I want and prefer, rather than let God take care of the trial and the difficult situation.
  2. You show your wisdom about people--that it's often the poor who have the deepest walk with God. When you love impartially, it's because you know that the poor are very often the ones who are most fully centered on God, whereas the rich often have no use for God in their lives (Jas 2:5-7).
  3. It shows your submission to Scripture, that you will obey it to the fullest extent. To obey the command to love, which is the supreme command--the royal law found in Scripture (Jas 2:8), you show your willingness to obey all of God's commands. This is the supreme command means that this means the most to our King, and that this is the greatest law that he gave, the law that says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." So if you break this law, you're broken all of them (Jas 2:9-11).
  4. It shows your dependence on God's grace, that you need his mercy toward you to be greater than his judgment on you. To show mercy toward others, to love them without making judgments about how deserving or not they are is to acknowledge that I too want God's mercy toward me to be greater than, stronger than, his judgment on me (Jas 2:12-13).
Among God's people in the church, there is no favoring one over another. There should only be impartial love.