Saturday, November 22, 2014

The path to perfection - James 1:2-4

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)
Finding joy in our trials is usually not our first thought when we first encounter them. Trials, by their very nature, are not fun and often fraught with difficulty and danger. One who fails at a trial can suffer harm and loss through the process. Even one who successes in them is not immune to the pain and suffering they experience along the journey. However, the very thing we find difficult to summons is the very thing that will strengthen and sustain us through the journey. It was said of Jesus that, "for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) That joy was our redemption and it was His joy in seeing our redemption which enabled Him to endured the cross and the shame. It was for the joy of seeing us brought into the Kingdom that Jesus endured His trials and sufferings.

The reason joy in trials can be so elusive is because we often fail to see the ultimate purpose and good of the trials. Jesus saw clearly the purpose of His suffering and that purpose gave Him joy in the midst of great pain. For us, our trials are meant to produce something with in us; first patience, then endurance, and finally perfection. Often the path to achieve the very things we desire in our lives passes through times of trials and tribulations, but if we understand that they are there not to derail us but to produce in us the things we truly desire, then we can find joy even in their midst. We can have joy in the midst of difficult times because we know what they are working in our lives and that our suffering is not in vain. Our suffering produces within us the very nature and character of God.

When James refers to trials he is not speaking of random painful events that enter our lives. Rather he is speaking of opportunities to test the genuineness of our faith. It is an opportunity to either choose according to our faith or according to our fears, impulses, and unbelief. These trials allow us to see the true quality of our faith and the degree to which our faith in God is merely mental or truly integrated into our lives. For Abraham and Sarah, such a testing came upon them after God had promised them a son. Years of waiting had provided an opportunity for their faith to be tested. Did they really trust God and His promise or did they trust their own wisdom and strength? In the end, their faith faltered. "So Sarai said to Abram, 'Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.' And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai." (Genesis 16:2) However, failing at a test is not disqualification with God, rather it is merely meant to show to us the strength, or weakness, of our faith and the areas of our lives that we must strengthen so that next time, when faced with a similar test or trial, we will be successful rather than fail. Failing a test is a call back to God that we might continue to grow and to shore up the areas of our lives that are weak.

Like Abraham and Sarah, when faced with prolonged trials, we look for shortcuts or ways to exit prematurely, rather than submitting to the trial and trusting God for our eventual deliverance from its grips. God has already promised us, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) We may feel that we have hit our breaking point, but our faith in God ought to reassure us that, if we are still suffering, then we are still able to endure it and that God still has a way out for us. Exiting trials prematurely will only serve to rob us of the good God is working in our lives and will necessitate future trials to work into us what God intended for us in our present trials. However, such endurance requires patience, yet not a passive patience, but a joyful, hopeful, confident expectation of good. Often in our Christian lives faith alone is insufficient, we also need patience. "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:11-12)

In the end, the goal is perfection; to be perfect and whole in every area of our lives. Some areas of our lives may only require mild affliction to perfect while others may require more strident trials. However, the end is desirable and for our own good. If there were any other way, God would avail us to such milder means. However, things of great value often come only at a great price. Jesus once prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) Trials, difficulties, and suffering are inevitable, but if we can see their purpose, see the joy set before us, then we will be able to embrace them and endure them as Jesus did and we too will reap their benefits in our lives.

David Robison

Friday, November 21, 2014

James the just - James 1:1

"James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings." (James 1:1)
Today we begin a new study of the book of James.

James was not an apostle, at least not one of the original twelve apostles, nor is he to be confused with James the brother of Zebedee or James the son of Alphaeus who were both apostles. Rather, he was the brother of Jesus our Christ. It was said of Jesus by an indignant crowd, "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matthew 13:55-56) We also know that before Jesus' resurrection, James, along with the rest of Jesus' brothers, was an unbeliever. "Therefore His brothers said to Him, 'Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.' For not even His brothers were believing in Him." (John 7:3-5) However, after His resurrection, Jesus personally meat with James and he became a believer. "He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." (1 Corinthians 15:5-8) Finally, as a believer, he became one of the most promenade men in the church at Jerusalem. "and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship." (Galatians 2:9)

In his life, James was know to be a just and holy man; a man of unimpeachable piety. Still he had his enemies among the Romans and unbelieving Jews. In the end he would be martyred for his faith. However, many Jews would later believe the destruction of Jerusalem was the direct judgment of God upon their nation for the murder of such a righteous and just man. Eusebius wrote of James and the destruction of Jerusalem, "James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, 'These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.'" (The Church History of Eusebius, Book 2 Chapter 23 verses 19-20) If the destruction of Jerusalem was due to divine punishment, I would have assumed it was for the death of Jesus, but the fact that many Jews felt it was do to the murder of James shows how many of them held him in high regard for his holiness and exceptional piety.

The letter of James is believed to be one of the earliest written productions of the early church, possibly even earlier than Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. What is interesting is that James expressly addresses it to the Jews who were living scattered throughout the world. James represents the Jewish Christian church of his day that had yet to really reach out to the gentiles. When the argument over circumcision broke out, James stood up to resolve the conflict and a separation of work was determined as Paul later related, "But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." (Galatians 2:7-9) It would eventually take the destruction of Jerusalem for the Jerusalem church to journey "even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8) That being said, there is nothing particular of James letter that applies only to Jewish believers but rather provides wisdom, comfort, and instruction for all believers, both Jews and Gentiles.

I hope this study will be a blessing to you.

David Robison

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have mercy on some - Jude 22-25

"And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." (Jude 22-25)
One of the greatest mistakes we can make is to treat all people and situations the same. There is a great difference between people who believe wrong and those who teach wrong. Just because someone may have an in correct view of Jesus, the Trinity, and the church does not make them a false teacher. Just because someone has a different eschatology does not make them a false prophet. There will always be those in our midst, and even in our churches, that hold what we might conciser to be "new age" beliefs, but this does not make them heretics or believers in daemons. There are those whose teaching and agenda we should oppose, especially when pushed forward within the church, but there are others whom we ought to have mercy and compassion on, even while they hold incorrect views and ideas in their heads.

This verse has proven difficult to translate. Here is how Darby translates this verse. "And of some have compassion, making a difference, but others save with fear, snatching [them] out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." (Jude 22-23 Darby) Jude tells us to "make a difference," or to make a distinction between individuals, as each situation and person warrants. False prophets and false teachers we ought to oppose, but others, who may simply be wrong, deserve a more merciful response.

Jude distinguishes between two types of error: what a person believes and what a person does. On those who "are doubting," as some translate this verse, we are to have mercy. A doubting person, or a person who entertains incorrect ideas and thoughts, does not need our judgment, but rather our prayers and our instruction; our prayers that God would enlighten their hearts and our instruction that they might come to a more correct knowledge and understanding of God. As Paul was teaching the Philippians, he understood that there might be those who disagreed with him, yet he was not alarmed nor critical of them, rather he stated, "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you." (Philippians 3:15) Paul was not threatened by believers that disagreed with him, trusting that God would reveal even that to them. Also, there will always be people who need our instruction. For example, there was a mighty preacher, Apollos, who taught the Gospel but only from an incomplete knowledge of it. When Aquila and Priscilla met him, they did not condemn him, rather they took him aside and taught him. "But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (Acts 18:26)

For those who believe right yet behave wrong, Jude also counsels us to have mercy on them. However, Jude makes a distinction between the sin, and the stain of sin, and the actual person. We are to hate the sin and everything associated with it, yet we are to have mercy on the one sinning and to reach out to them in mercy to snatch them from their sin and from its inevitable judgment. We are to see them as people being consumed by fire, the fire that is the penalty of sin, and to endeavor to spare them, least they burn and be lost forever. Paul commands us, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted." (Galatians 6:1) Paul writes of those who are "caught" in sin. There are those who willfully choose sin, but there are others who are caught in sin, desiring to be free. On those we ought to have mercy; looking beyond their sin to the person and endeavoring to save them and to snatch them from the fire.

In all this, we must remember that we too might someday be the ones caught in error and sin. We too are fallible and capable of wrong. In that day we too would wish and desire the mercy of others to set us free; that same mercy that we ought to be willing to show to those today who are caught in such lies. However, whether trying to rescue others or wanting someone to rescue us, we must always remember to place our hope and trust is in God. He alone is able to save and protect us and He alone will lead us safely home.

David Robison

Monday, November 17, 2014

New commentary - Philemon

I have compiled my posts on Paul's letter to Philemon and included them on my Commentary tab as a digital download. I hope you enjoy this commentary,

David Robison

Do not participate - Jude 17-21

"But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life." (Jude 17-21)
It is inevitable that false prophets and false teachers will arise, especially the more we approach the end of the age. No church is immune from false brethren who "creep in unnoticed;" (Jude 4) enemies of the flock and enemies of our Lord. These are the ones who destroy churches, tearing them apart with their sedition, and dividing Christ by their schisms. Their destructive work is advanced by drawing people after themselves and dividing the brethren one against another.

The solution for a factious man is to not participate with him in his evil schemes. Paul says to "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned." (Titus 3:10-11) Notice that nether Jude or Paul say that we should fight them, argue with them, or contend against them in any way. Rather we should simply reject them and yield nothing to them in our consideration, action, or speech. To be drawn into their drama is to be become participators with them in their destruction. We must avoid them and their disputes all together leaving them no room for entrance among the true believers of Christ.

Instead, Jude counsels us to continue in those things we ought already be doing; to not be distracted from the course of our holy life by the raging of ungodly men. Specifically, Jude mentions four specific things. First that we build upon or faith. This is not in the sense of building bigger and bigger mussels, but rather like building upon a foundation with layer upon layer of faith. Peter put it this way, "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love." (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Secondly, we are to pray in and/or with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes our finite minds lack the words and the wisdom of how best to pray for what we need, but the Spirit give us help. Paul reminds us, "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." (Romans 8:26) While it is important to pray with our minds, there are times we must also pray with the Spirit, as Paul said, "What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also." (1 Corinthians 14:15)

Thirdly, we must keep ourselves in the love of God. Its not as if God's love every diminishes for us, but we can, at times, wander away from His love, wandering away from His umbrella of protection and care for our lives. Paul asks, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Romans 8:35) However, there is one person missing from this list, us! These are all external things and, as such, are incapable of separating us from the love of God. However, we do have the power to keep God's love at bay in our lives. If we lack God's love in our lives, it's not God who is at fault, we must look to ourselves. John says, "but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked." (1 John 2:5-6) If we would desire to keep ourselves in the love of God then we ought to obey the word of God in our lives.

Finally, our eyes ought to be set upon Jesus. The idea of waiting anxiously is to be looking forward to. It is not so much about anxiety as a hopeful and confidence looking for and waiting for Him. The writer of Hebrews put it this way, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:2) Our lives only make since when we view them through the eyes of heaven. All we need, all we desire and hope for, comes from above, not from the Earth. If our hope and logging is of the Earth then we will for ever be disappointed, but is our hope and expectation is from heaven, then we will truly receive the things we need and hope for and we shall never be disappointed again. Our hope is from heaven and those who wait upon the Lord "will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." (Isaiah 40:31)

David Robison

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New commentary - 2nd Thessalonians

I have compiled and edited my blog posts on 2nd Thessalonians and made them available for download from my Commentary tab on my blog. I hope you enjoy this new commentary.

David Robison

in an ungodly way - Jude 14-16

"It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, 'Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.' These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage." (Jude 14-16)
Jude quotes the Book of Enoch chapter 1 verse 9. It is important to understand that, like the New Testament during the formative centuries of Christianity, the Hebrew canon was not a fix, set in stone, collection of books and manuscripts. There was quite a bit of variation between religious Jews as to what exactly constituted their sacred writings. Here, Jude, a Jewish believer, held to the inspired nature of the Book of Enoch. Greater variation are also held concerning the intertestamental books, such as the Book of Wisdom and the Books of the Maccabees, as to whether or not they were part of the Jewish "cannon". When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek during the third century BC, these books were included as part of the translation. However, when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Latin in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, these books were excluded. At times we must take a more liberal, rather than contracted, view of what constitutes "scripture" lest we miss all of what God intended to communicate to us. For example, regardless if you consider the intertestamental books as "scripture," there is still a great deal of wisdom and encouragement that can be gained from reading and studying them.

As Jude continues to describe the false prophets and false teachers, there is one thing that appears common to every aspect of their lives: ungodly. They are ungodly and they do ungodly things in an ungodly way. Everything about then is ungodly. There is no acknowledgement of God in their mind, in their actions, and even in their emotions and passions. Being devoid of God, they are left unto themselves and to their animal appetites that rage on within them. Without God they become consumed with themselves; grumbling when they don't get their way, finding fault in others, boasting in their own pride, and using people instead of loving and caring for them. They are self-centered, self-serving, self-promoting people who care nothing for others and for God.

This should be a warning for all of us and a lesson as to the natural bent of all of sinful mankind. Apart from God we are destined to spiral downward. There is no great forward march towards evolutionary and philosophical perfection apart from the the grace and mercy of God. When we disconnect from God we turn inward and become slaves of our inward vices and desires. We partner with our flesh and wage war against our spirit until nothing of us remains except bruit beasts. It is only when we choose being "godly" over "ungodly" that we are transformed and learn to live lives of holiness, righteousness, and love. It is only Jesus that can break the bonds of our self-centered slavery to become people who love and care for others. It is only Jesus who can teach us and empower us to live life as He always intended it to be lived.

David Robison

Saturday, November 15, 2014

New commentary - 1st Thesalonians

I have compiled and edited my posts on 1st Thessalonians and placed it in a downloadable format on my commentary page. I hope you enjoy this new commentary.

David Robison

Clouds without water - Jude 12-13

"These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever." (Jude 12-13)
Jude was well aware that some of the most formidable false prophets and false teachers would arise, not only from without, but also from within the church. Paul, as he was on his way to Jerusalem, and then onto Rome, warned the elders in every city he passed through, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears." (Acts 20:29-31) A false prophet and false teacher is more than someone who is wrong, they are someone who teaches "perverse" things and seek to lead people away from the true faith of the Gospel. To this, Jude adds other markers of false teachers and prophets.

First, they are self-centered. The picture is of one participating with you in your love feasts but only concerned with themselves; with feeding themselves and satisfying their hunger and glutinous desires. We know that this was a problem in the church of Corinth. Paul rebuked them saying, "Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you." (1 Corinthians 11:20-22) Like them, these men are lead by their stomachs and their highest aim is to satisfy their animal desires.

Secondly, they were men of empty promises; their lives and message looked promising, but in the end yield only vanity. They are like "clouds without water," promising relief and refreshing to a dry and weary land, yet they have nothing within themselves to give. For all their promises, they leave behind only disappointment and discouragement. They are like the ones Peter spoke of who, "These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:17-19)

Thirdly, they are wild, reckless, and careless. Their lives are like a slow motion train crash, taking with them everything and everyone within their midst. They ruin not only their own lives but the many other lives of those around them. Not only are they themselves defiled by their own works of shame, but they cast up that same filth and shame upon all who venture into their waters and who are troubled by their waves. No one can stand by them without becoming defiled in turn.

Finally, they follow a path of error leading to eternal destruction. They are wanderers. The Greek word used here is the same word from which we get our word for "Planets." All the stars follow fixed arcs across the skies. However, there were seven object that early astronomers noticed that "wandered" from the "true" path. These luminaries they called "planets." These men wander from the truth and have chosen a path that leads to death and destruction. All who follow them follow this same path, a path that ends in the eternal "black darkness" of hell.

We must live circumspect lives let we too fall into error and sin. Not everything spiritual is godly. Not every knowledge is truth. Not every freedom leads to holiness. Not every cloud has rain. We must live careful lives, remaining stead fast to our Lord and to His way of truth.

David Robison

Friday, November 14, 2014

Like unreasoning beasts - Jude 8-11

"Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed." (Jude 8-11)
Darby, in translating this passage, simply calls such men "dreamers." So what is so wrong with being dreamers? After all, the only other place this Greek word is used in the whole New Testament is where Peter quotes the prophet Joel saying, "and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." (Acts 2:17) So what is so bad about dreaming? Even in the world around us, each new invention and each new creation first existed in the mind of some dreamer who dreamt about something that had yet to exist and who had the foresight to being something new to life. So what is wrong with dreaming?

The problem is not dreaming, but dreaming apart from reason and apart from the knowledge of God. Just because something comes into our minds does not mean that it is so, and every dream that is dreamt is not always either devilish or divine but may simply be a dream. When we engage in dreaming and allow our minds to be influences by various forces from within and without, we must always examine our impressions, thoughts, and conclusions based on reason and truth, not on the sweetness of the dream. We must be like the Bereans who "received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11) No matter how eager we are to receive a revelation, we must always run it through the filter of reason and truth before we accept it as such. To do otherwise is to be "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)

Jude warns us about such unstable men who are always tossed to and fro by every new idea that passes through their mind. They are also men of unnatural pride. The see themselves as the rule of life and take delight in bravado more than humility and true strength. Their life is about themselves and what they project goes only as deep as their own inflated conceit. Their is no real life within them only boisterous, self-centered, demagoguery. Finally, they are men without knowledge, without understanding, and without reason. They live by what is natural to them but never extend their minds to understand the world around them. They live by what they can see and are completely ignorant of the spiritual realities that are hidden from natural eyes. They prove themselves no better than animals, living by instinct, ignorant of God, and uncaring about others. Such men are worthless to society and to the church and are fit only for destruction. Of such men we ought to be wary and cautious.

David Robison