Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flaming tongues - James 3:5-8

"See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison." (James 3:5-8)
The effect of our tongue is disproportionate to its size. Often we use our tongue to reflect our anger or hurt in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. We say things like, "I just needed to get that off my chest." However, we are often unaware of the effect our words have on others, and even upon ourselves. We may, in the moment, feel better, having released all our emotions through our words, but the effect of those words on others and the long term health of our own lives can be incalculable. A few simple words uttered in anger or hurt can produce a lifetime of pain and offense in others that is not easily healed. Solomon said, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel." (Proverbs 18:19)

James tells us two important things about our tongue. First is that, among all the members of our body, the tongue is one that can defile us. This means to soil, make dirty, or to stain us. I once met the wife of one of my coworkers and she was a very pretty woman... until she opened her mouth. Such foul words changed completely how I looked at her. However, I have known some rather plain women who spoke with such warmth, kindness, and cheerfulness that you couldn't help but like them. You may be stunning on the outside, but your tongue reveals what is on the inside, and inward beauty is much more compelling than outward beauty. A person with a beautiful soul is perceived by their gracious words and is thought by all to be a beautiful person. However, ugliness of the soul overshadows all earthly beauty can can never be overcome by makeup, ornamentation, and apparel. King David said, "For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation." (Psalm 149:4) But this can only take place if we allow His salvation to reach even to our tongue.

Secondly, the tongue is like a fire, ready to inflame any situation we might meet. Our words have the ability to either defuse a potentially volatile situation or to cast fire to the fuel and to make things worse. Solomon said, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) Unfortunately, before coming to Christ, we let our tongue to be trained for evil; trained by the very spirits and motives of hell. Our tongues have become the unwitting servants of the forces of darkness and the workers of iniquity. Not only have we learned to use our tongue in the service of the evil one, but we have let it also set on fire the course of our lives. We have used our tongue to sow bad fruit and we have eaten that fruit ourselves. To change the course of our lives we must learn to tame our tongue. Taming our tongue will not be easy nor will it be miraculously affected in a day or and hour, but it will take work, consistency, and time, but the fruit we will bear in our lives, and the fruit we will help to produce in the lives of others, will make all our efforts worthwhile. The tongue is restless and unruly. It is in constant motion and agitation. In fact, Solomon promised, "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19 NKJV) This fight to tame our tongue will not be easy, but it is a fight we must win and a fight we can win through the power and grace of our Lord.

David Robison

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bridling the tongue - James 3:2-5

"For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things." (James 3:2-5)
Many of us underestimate both the power of our words and our need to control and harness them for good and not for evil. Jesus warned us about the importance of our words. "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37) It can be a frightful thing to consider that we will be judged by every word that proceeds from our lips; that each word we have ever spoken in anger, presumption, foolishness, and discord will one day be require of us as we stand before the judge. Words matter; they matter to God, they matter to others, and they should matter to us as well.

One of the reason words are so powerful is because the proceed directly from our soul. Jesus said, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil." (Matthew 12:34-35) When we speak, we speak out of what fills our heart. If our heart is full of anger, then we will speak anger. If our heart is full of grace, then we will speak grace. This is why James says that if we can control our tongue then we can control our whole life, because he who can control his tongue can control his soul, and he who can control his soul can control his whole life. If we can control anger, malice, and greed in our soul then not only will we not speak such things but neither will we do them as well. If a man's speech is bad then his heart is bad and his actions will be bad as well. However, if a person has learned to tame his soul so that his speech is good, then his actions will follow along in suit. A man who speaks well will also live well.

However, not only is the tongue like the pulpit of a ship, showing the direction the ship is heading, but it also like the rudder of the ship, helping to guide it along. Not only does our speech give an indication of what fills our heart, but it also helps to decide what continues to fill our heart. King Solomon once said, "With the fruit of a man's mouth his stomach will be satisfied; he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:20-21) Our speech has the ability to steer our lives and to determine what becomes a part of our lives. A man who speaks anger will become more angry and will steer his life away from the pathway of peace. However, a man who speaks graciously will tame his angry heart and steer his life to safe harbors. A man who speaks violence will become violent will lead a life of violence. However, a man who speaks conciliation will find his heart conciliated towards others and will grow in relationship with God and man.

It may seem like a small matter, but a change in the way we speak can drastically change the outcome of our life. If we speak love, hope, grace, thankfulness, and faith then we shall find ourselves inheriting these things in our lives. However, if we speak anger, hatred, avarice, pride, and discontent then our lives will become filled by these things and we will find ourselves eating the unwanted fruit of our lips. A small change with our tongue can produce a large change in our lives. Maybe it's time to give greater thought and consideration to what and how we speak.

David Robison

Monday, December 15, 2014

Teachers beware - James 3:1

"Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1)
Teachers are an essential part of the Body of Christ and of the Church of Jesus Christ. Speaking of apostles and prophets, Paul says, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone," (Ephesians 2:19-20) Apostles and prophets are primarily concerned with the foundation of the church; insuring that it is foundation is secure and properly situated with respect to Jesus Christ. However, with respect to teachers, Paul says, "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28) Now some may say that Paul is giving simply a listing of functions within the church rather than a ranking of functions. However, I believe that, next to apostles and prophets, teachers are critical in the long term health, growth, and viability of the church, which is the Body of Christ. Once the foundation has been laid and the body established, its pressing need is to be taught the word of God, the ways of God, and how to become the Body of Christ.

Because of the important role teachers serve in the body, and because of the authority and sway they hold over the people's mind, God holds them to a higher standard of fidelity than other believers. Many people may believe wrong, but when a teacher teaches wrong, God takes notice. Their stricter, or greater, judgment is like unto the two servants which Jesus spoke of. "And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." (Luke 12:47-48) Teachers have been given much in regards to knowledge and understanding of God and, as such, are held accountable for what they have received. They have been given much and much is expected of them. Their stricter judgment is as the judgment that befell Moses who lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. His actions were more strictly judged than those of the people. There was the time when God told Moses to strike the rock, but he, in his frustration with the people, struck it twice instead of once. "Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'" (Numbers 20:11-12) Moses was not faithful to the word of the Lord and as such was barred from entering into the promised land.

The scriptures gives some suggestion to teachers to help them avoid this greater judgment. First, before we teach others, we must first allow Jesus to teach us. "If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus..." (Ephesians 4:21) Secondly, we must not think too high of ourselves. Paul chides the Jews who thought they were, "a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth." (Romans 2:20) yet who were so only in their own minds. Thirdly, we must live the truth before we seek to teach it. "you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?" (Romans 2:21) Fourthly, we must not teach beyond our knowledge and understanding. "Wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions." (1 Timothy 1:7) And lastly, we must remember that we are not called to teach our own ideas, but to perpetuate the teachings and traditions of the Apostles, for that's what it truly means to be apostolic. "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2)

David Robison

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dead faith - James 2:18-26

"But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (James 2:18-26)
It is important to understand that James is not saying that we cannot be saved apart from the law, but rather that we are not saved by faith alone. Many have misunderstood this passage because they have confused works of the law with works of faith. Combining works with the Law will never save us because our works will never be complete enough to satisfy the Law, but combining works with out faith gives life to our faith and transforms our soul and brings us into harmony with the image of Christ. Works of faith enlivens us while works of Law secures our death.

James whole point is that faith, apart from works, is useless. It is interesting that he compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. I would have thought the comparison to be reversed, but the truth is that it is works that give life to our faith, not faith to our works; faith comes first then works, not works then faith. Faith without works is an empty claim and benefits us nothing. James reminds us that even the daemons have faith and are not benefited. The daemons believe in God and believe in His pending judgment over their lives. On one occasion when Jesus came to cast out the daemons, they said, "Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:29) They believed in God and in His word, yet that faith did not save them. How can that which we hold in common with daemons actually serve to save us as well? 

James contends that, that which cannot be demonstrated, is that which lacks power. If we say we have faith but have no works to demonstrate it, then our faith lacks power and can in no way save us. As evidence of his statement, he offers up the life of Abraham. Abraham was the friend of God and, one day, God made him this promise. "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them... so shall your descendants be." (Genesis 15:5) Abraham believed God and it says that his faith was accounted to him as righteousness. Almost forty years later, after the birth of his son Issac, God came to him and said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." (Genesis 22:2) Abraham obeyed God, although God provided a substitute sacrifice for Issac. James speaking of this second event says, "and the scripture was fulfilled..." but what scripture? The scripture that forty years ago had equated Abraham's faith as righteousness. It took Abraham's works forty years to catch up with his faith and to complete his faith.

James says that the scriptures were "fulfilled." This Greek word means to "fill up, cram full, or to level a hollow spot". It is as if our faith creates a potential in our lives; a potential for change and for action, but it takes our works to fulfill, or to fill up, that potential. Many people die and take the lions share of their potential unfulfilled to the grave. Their life has so much promise, yet little of it is ever realized. The same is with the economy of God. When we are saved by faith we come into the Kingdom of God with great potential. Our faith secures for us the reality that "all things are possible with God," (Mark 10:27) yet, few of us actually get to experience the endless possibilities of God in our lives. We believe God yet we fail to reap many of the benefits of that faith. Our works of faith, done through love, turns that potential into realities; it transforms what might be into what is.

Here is James' challenge to us. When we look at the men and women of faith who make up that "great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us," (Hebrews 12:1) we must ask ourselves, "do we have what they confessed only or do we also have what they possessed?" Are we like Rahab, who not only confessed faith but acted on her faith as was saved because of it? Looking back to Abraham, the father of our faith, do we possess his faith in action or merely in words? Faith without words is dead and cannot save us. True faith, saving faith, requires works; works wrought in love; works that can save the soul.

David Robison

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Faith almost real - James 2:14-17

"What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." (James 2:14-17)
What is the benefit of faith? The Greek word James uses here for "use" means to "pile up" or to "accumulate." This word can similarly be translated as "profit". So what profit is there in faith? Faith opens up to us the entire Kingdom of God. Paul tells us that "the administration of God which is by faith." (1 Timothy 1:4) The very economy of God is administered through faith. Without faith we cannot receive or participate in the Kingdom of God. However, through faith, all things are opened up to us and all things become possible to and through us. The writer of Hebrews lists some of the benefits that others have found in their faith. "Who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." (Hebrews 11:33-34) And the list goes on. There is great benefit in faith, if it is the right kind of faith.

James warns us of a faith that is concealed from reality; a faith that is merely internal, mental, and "spiritual." Such faith we have, not as a real possession, but as a phantom, or shadow of the real thing. Such a warning applies not only to faith but to all things which we posses in shadows only, not in reality. King Solomon said, "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed." (Proverbs 27:5) Even love, when it is concealed from reality, is of little use to us or to anyone else. Love benefits us only when it is bought into the light and prompts us to loving actions and behaviors. Love revealed is powerful while love concealed is dead. The same is true with faith. If something is to have benefit in our lives then it must transcend the conceptual and break forth into the practical; it must produce in us change that is lasting and actions that are salutary.

Faith brings its benefits when it works. Notice what the writer of Hebrews says of faith. "By faith Abel offered to God... By faith Noah... prepared an ark... By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out... By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden... By faith he left Egypt..." (Hebrews 11:4, 7, 8, 23, 27) Each each case, and many more could be cited, their faith lead to an action. For them, faith was as much a verb as it was a noun. Faith caused them to do something, and that action, the result of their faith, did profit them and those who were with them. Faith has little or no benefit in our life if it remains a thing and never becomes and action.

Here in lies the great biblical definition of righteousness. "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:5-6) To put it in an algebraic formula, faith working through love equals righteousness! Faith without works generated through love is worthless, Love working without faith is useless. But faith working through love is of great benefit.

So why do so many people fail to reap the benefits of their faith? Because they have never added anything to their faith. They have faith but that is all; their faith remains in them alone. It promises great things, but never actually accomplishes anything. It looks beneficial, but its hopes are disappointing. It is like a runner in baseball who makes it to first base and then stops. Until he adds to his run another run to second, third, and finally home plate, his one single accomplishment will remain alone and without the benefit of a score. You have faith, that's great! But what will you be adding to that faith? Will you be joining your faith with love to produce the works of God or will you simply remain where you are, content in your "faith"? It is time to add works to our faith that we, and others, might be profited by what we posses.

David Robison

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The law of liberty - James 2:10-13

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery.' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:10-13)
In choosing which law we shall live under, James reminds us of the minimal requirements of the Mosaic law, and that being total and complete obedience. To fail the law but once, and in only one regard, is to be guilty of the whole law. The law is an all-or-nothing proposition, just as righteousness is. You are either righteous or your're not and you are either a law keeper or your're not; there are no shades of gray here. Here in lies the problem with the Law of Moses: no one can keep it! We are all weakened by sin and, despite our most heroic efforts, none of us have ever, or can ever, keep the law in its entirety. We may have good days, but we all, from time to time, fail at the law.

The scriptures have made it clear that the penalty for our transgressions of the law is death; perhaps not immediate death, but a death that works like a cancer within us; killing us spiritually and, at last, physically as well. Fortunately, Jesus came to establish another law and to free us from the law of death. "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." (Romans 8:1-2) James refers to this new law as the "law of liberty."

The law of Christ is a law of liberty because it springs from liberty rather than merely promising liberty. The Old Covenant promised liberty to all who could keep its law, but its law proceeded from the bondage of man and lead to only greater bondage. Paul, speaking of the law said, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin." (Romans 7:14) Furthermore, this law kept us in bondage rather than freeing us from it. "So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world." (Galatians 4:3) However, the law of Christ proceeds from our own liberty and freedom in Christ and proceeds to even greater freedom in the Spirit. That is why Paul warns us, "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13)

Christ has made us free, and He has given us a law that we might remain free; not a law leading again to legalistic bondage, but a law that invites us to join in His nature and to conform ourselves to His image; a law that frees us from sin, want, and self. Jesus has set us free and His law invites us to make others free as well. When we grant forgiveness over right, mercy over judgment, and compassion over contempt, we participate in the law of liberty; having received it ourselves, we share it with others, thus securing for ourselves even greater liberty and life in the Spirit. Those who have been set free but who hold others in bondage to law will themselves be brought into bondage. However, those who have been given liberty and extend this same liberty to others will secure for themselves liberty in Christ and no condemnation from any law. "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law... Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8, 10) Thus, mercy triumphs over judgment both in others and in ourselves.

David Robison

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The royal law - James 2:8-9

"If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (James 2:8-9)
Here James distinguishes between what he call the "royal law" and the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law was codified in hundreds of rules, regulations, and ceremonies. Almost every aspect of a person's life was covered by the Law of Moses. However, when Jesus came, He summed up His royal law in two simple statements. "And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40) We get to choose which law we choose build our lives upon. Either we can choose the Mosaic law and seek to keep its hundreds of commandments and regulations, or we can choose to regulate our lives according to His royal law, choosing to love God and love our neighbor.

We must understand that God has not left us without a law, however, it is not an external law written in stone but an internal law written in our hearts. God prophesied of this long ago, "'But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'" (Jeremiah 31:33) And Paul confirms this for us in the New Covenant, "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:3) This new law has been called by many names, including, "a law of faith," (Romans 3:27) "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," (Romans 8:2) "the law of Christ," (1 Corinthians 9:21) and "the law of liberty." (James 1:25)

Regardless of which law we choose, we are obliged to keep and obey that law. James reminds us that, even with the Royal Law, we must be careful not to transgress the law. However, with the royal law, we transgress when we fail to live godly, or godlike, lives. Those who show partiality in their love transgress because they are not living godly nor properly expressing God with true fidelity for God Himself does not show partiality. "Opening his mouth, Peter said: 'I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'" (Acts 10:34-35) We should always seek to live lives that fully reflect Christ and that are in conformance with His image. In doing so, we will always keep His royal law and not found to be a transgressor of the law of Christ.

One final word on Christ's command to love our neighbor as ourselves; some have taught that to do so first requires us to love ourselves. However, I do not believe that this is what Jesus meant at all by instructing us to love our neighbors. I believe that this command is a simple restating of a previous command of Jesus, "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12) To love our neighbor as ourselves is to treat them the way we want to be treated. This scripture does not presuppose any self-love as a prerequisite for loving others, rather it simply commands us to love others. Whether or not we "love" ourselves, we can still love others by extending to them the same loving actions and care as we desire others to extends to us as well. If the God who is love dwells in us, then we too can love others, even if we don't love ourselves. Pursuing self-love is a dead end and will never lead us to loving others. However, loving our neighbor as ourselves opens the door for God's blessing in our loves and presents opportunities for us to experience the love of God afresh.

David Robison

Monday, December 08, 2014

The consolations of God - James 2:5-7

"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" (James 2:5-7)
When we become judges with "evil motives" (James 2:4) we often do so to our own disgrace, and sometimes to our own harm. When we show preference to the rich and powerful, we often end up spending our love and adoration on those who love us not in return; offering ourselves for their dominion and oppression while reaping no benefits for ourselves in return. When we seek the friendship of the world in order to secure a more favorable life for ourselves, we often do so to the disgrace of our own faith; seeking those who despise us and the Holy One who truly loves us. Why is it that we are so quick to lavish our favors on those who favor us not in return? In doing so we become like the nation of Israel who prostituted herself to the nations around her; hoping to secure from them their help, aid, and riches for her time of need, yet in all her pursuing she was left wanting. "Although you dress in scarlet, although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, although you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain you make yourself beautiful. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life." (Jeremiah 4:30)

We err when we value people based on external clues, such as their wealth, position. beauty, eloquence, and perceived knowledge. All such things are external and of no guarantee of the true quality of a person. In fact, God has told us that oftentimes He has chosen those who lack such external merit to shame those who trust on externals only.
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
A person's value is not found in such external things but rather found on the inside, on the quality of person they are in truth, in their soul, where the real person lives. However, we are so good at judging the outward yet so poor and judging the inward man. We must retrain our senses to see the real person, to view others through spiritual eyes; to come to understand what Paul meant when he said, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer." (2 Corinthians 5:16)

God has never promised equality to all. Some will always be rich, some always poor, Some will always be beautiful and some always plain. However, for those who lack external glory, God has provided, as a consolation, internal riches that is of much greater value than anything external. James tells us that, to the poor, God has granted great faith as a consolation. Paul further tells us,
"On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another." (1 Corinthians 12:22-25)
It seems to me that often those who possess an uncommon depth of the grace and favor of God do so in consolation to their lack of outward grace and favor. Those who possess, or should possess, great honor in the Body do so in consolation of the lack of honor that their natural appearance would normally secure. When we discount the poor, weak, and contemptible, we often do so to our own poverty, for such God has endowed with gifts and graces we, and His body, need. Similarly, when we disqualify our own selves because we deem ourselves unfit for holy things, we conceal the good things God has given us by way of consolations; things the Body of Christ and the world are in need of. It is time to cleanse our eyes and learn to see in the spirit; to see the things that are of true spiritual value in ourselves and in those around us.

David Robison

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Faith and Partiality - James 2:1-4

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:1-4)
At first blush, it's hard to understand how our faith in God has any relationship in how we show favoritism to others. I could have understood it if James had spoken of our love, our benevolence, or our deeds, but James understood that our faith includes all these things. Faith not only governs what we believe, especially what we believe towards God, but it also includes how we view, judge, and accept other people around us. To James, faith in the abstract was towards God, while faith in the practical was towards other people. We cannot hold the faith of God without it affecting our disposition towards other people. John put it this way, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." (1 John 4:20-21) To James, such love towards God is inseparable from our faith towards God as expressed in love towards other people.

James warns us against becoming judges with evil motives. By judging, James is not talking about any sense of judicial judgment or judging others behavior or their "fruit" as Jesus would say, but rather judging their person; making a distinction between people based on such external factors that have no relevance upon who they really are. We can judge a drunk to be a drunk, because we can see his behavior and the destruction his behavior brings upon himself and those around him. However, we cannot judge a poor or filthy person for any moral defect or neglect in their lives. Their poverty has no bearing upon their worth as a person or their standing before the throne of God. However, when we make distinctions between people based on such external factors, we make distinctions that are groundless and frivolous.

James expressly mentions judging people based on their "face", which would include using beauty, race, nationality, and countenance as measures of merit. He also warns about judging people based on their dress which would include their economic standing, their sophistication, and their political, ecclesiastical, and social elevation. All such judging comes from "evil motives." What James means by this phrase, from the original language, is an evaluation and calculation of our mind that is harsh, harmful, hurtful, and malicious. It's not evil in the normal since, but hurtful in the practical since. Paul makes it clear that God does not judge us this way, "But glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:10-11) God receives us without partiality, and so should we do to others.

Finally, as an example, James warns us of showing partiality in our gatherings. Interestingly, the word He uses here for assembly is the Greek word for Synagogue, a term familiar to those whom he was writing to. The early church was a place of refuge where people could escape the social trappings of the world around them and find a place of mutual love and acceptance regardless of their social position, wealth, or personal beauty and perceived worthiness. It was a place where aristocrats and slaves broke bread together as they shared one bread and one life in Christ. It was a place where the rich accepted and cared for the poor and where the poor accepted and blessed the rich for their kindness. It was a place where people could once again be the family of God and where all barriers to distinction and separation were torn down and dissolved. James warns us not to let our "evil" hearts destroy that for which Jesus came to create. Let us no longer look upon people with "evil" judgments but let us accept all as being of one blood and one family in God.

David Robison

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pure and undefiled religion - James 1:26-27

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:26-27)
The term James uses for "religion" speaks of that which is external and especially that which is ceremonial. Some have distance themselves from the term "religion" saying that "religion" relates to laws and codes while Christianity is built upon a relationship. In this I understand what they are saying, but religion, as used in its "pure and undefiled" since, is still a good word and can still be used to describe our relationship to God and man. James tells us three important things regarding religion.

First, religion has its seat in our hearts. If a man cannot control his tongue, all the rest of his external acts of worship are useless and vain. This is because he words flow from his heart, where his religion is seated. Jesus said, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil." (Matthew 12:34-35) A man who speaks evil things give testimony to the evil in his heart while a man who speaks good things shows forth a good heart. Religion proceeds from the heart and all our external attempts at religion are in vain if our heart has not yet been converted, and the easiest way to tell if a man's heart has been converted is to listen to his speech.

Secondly, religion is to be practical and personal. So much of what we call religion is acts we do towards God; acts that are suppose to, in some way, help, bless, and minister to God. However, pure and undefiled religion is directed outward not upward; to those in need rather than towards God who is in need of nothing. Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40) How can we who are of this world minister to God who is in heaven? How can we who are natural minister to a God who is spiritual? By ministering to those whom He has created. When we care for each other, we care for God. When we bless each other, we bless God. Practical and personal religion is religion that touches God.

Finally, true religion seeks to be Godlike not worldly. Peter describes Jesus as a, "lamb unblemished and spotless." (1 Peter 1:19) And he calls us to be "diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless." (2 Peter 3:14) Our external religion should express our conformance to Christ's nature. True religion is to be Christlike. In part, this means that we choose behaviors which help us to guard what we have received against loss or stain by the world. For each of us, such a religion may be different. For some, it may mean abstaining from drinking, for others the abstinence from certain forms of entertainment. For the believers of the first century it usually meant not going to the theater, the bloody shows, or even the public bath houses. For some, these activities are too enticing and can stain their otherwise cleansed soul. If is far better to avoid such places that to proceed in a false sense of security; to error on the side of prudence than to reap the repercussions of loss. True religion is a guarded religion that prizes heavenly values above worldly pleasures.

David Robison