Archive | February 2014

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 1:21-27

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among youthinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.                        NKJV

In our text, God teaches us how we should respond in all our circumstances, whether bad or good.  In verses 21-23 the “word” of God is mentioned three times.  In all our circumstances, we should obey God’s commandments (Eccl. 12:13).  Our text gives us three important reasons for keeping God’s commandments.

First, God’s commandments are able to save our souls (v. 21).  God’s commandments are a tutor to bring us unto the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24).  They show us God’s standard of perfection and our inability to keep them teaches us that we are sinners, unable to be saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9, Tit. 3:5).  Realizing this, we then turn in faith to the only one who can save us from the penalty of our sins, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6, Acts 4:12).

Second, we need to respond promptly to God’s commandments before they slip from our minds (vs. 23-24).  Have you ever been reading or listening to the scriptures and you became aware of some change you needed to make in your life or some action you needed to take—but you did not immediately take care of it—and somehow you never got around to doing so?  This happens when we do not respond promptly to His commandments.

Third, we need to obey God’s commandments because He gives them to us for our benefit.  The word, “liberty” in verse 25 (see also Jas. 2:12) literally means “freedom.”  The world mistakenly views God’s commandments as bondage.  In the book of Exodus, God freed the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt by His grace and then gave them His commandments to keep them free from bondage.  Every time the Israelites rebelled against God and disobeyed His commandments, they ended up back in bondage again (to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans).  Likewise, people today constantly find themselves in such bondages as unnecessary debt; alcohol, cigarette, or drug addiction; sexually transmitted diseases; or physical confinement in jail or prison; etc.—all of which could have easily been avoided if they had only obeyed God’s commandments.

God exhorts us to control our tongues in all circumstances (v. 26).  The word “religion” refers to the external testimony of our Christian witness.  Without control of our speech, our Christian testimony is worthless.  In thirty-five years of pastoring, I have known several church members who were faithful in church attendance, knowledgeable in Bible doctrine, and active in Christian service, but their testimony was ruined by their loose tongues.  Whenever other people spoke of then it was usually in regard to their grumbling, their critical spirit, or their constant gossiping.

Finally, our love for others and for God is seen in our actions (v. 27).  Orphans and widows were historically among the neediest of people.  Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31 declare that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The Greek word for love is “agape,” from the root “agan” which means “to need.”  “Agape” love is an unconditional, self-sacrificing love which sees the needs of others and, in so far as it is able, meets those needs.  Agape love is demonstrated by God, who saw our need of salvation, and met that need by sacrificially giving His own Son to do so, in spite of our sinfulness and unworthiness (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:8). 

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our being (Mat. 22:38, Mark 12:30).  Our obedience to the Lord’s commandments (keeping ourselves unspotted from the world) is a direct evidence of our love for Him (Jn. 14:15).  The Lord stated plainly that those who keep His commandments are the ones who truly love Him (Jn.14:21).  The Lord gives us His commandments for our good—because He loves us—and if, we in turn love Him, we will keep His commandments.  


From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 1:19-20

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.                        NKJV

Researchers have discovered that many bad things happen in our brains when we get angry. Anger shuts down the creative parts of our brains so we are less likely to be able to solve problems. Unresolved anger impacts our health in negative ways. In our text, God tells us that spiritually we cannot achieve the Lord’s purposes through our anger. Later in James’s epistle we find that we achieve the righteous life that God desires through peace: The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (3:18).

Usually our anger happens when we are hindered from obtaining something that is we desire. Road rage occurs when drivers are hindered from getting to their destination as quickly as they hoped. Employees become angry when they are hindered in their desire for a promotion, better working conditions, or increased pay. Parents become angry with their children when the actions of their children hinder their desire for a harmonious family life.

To hold onto our peace and avoid getting angry it is helpful to focus on where our desires are being hindered. If we have unreasonable expectations, we set ourselves up to have these expectations hindered. If we take on responsibilities that belong to other people, we won’t be able to control the outcome and our desires will be hindered. If we don’t listen to others we may find our plans hindered.

By searching the scriptures and understanding that God is in complete control of our lives, we know that nothing happens to us outside of His divine will (Isa. 46:9-10, Acts 17:26, Eph. 1:11).  Whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in, we are there because God has put us in those specific circumstances for our spiritual profit that we might be conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ (Jas. 1:2-4, 17-18, Eph. 2:10).

Even when our desires are blocked, we know God’s are not. We can hold our peace because God’s purposes are bigger than our inconveniences.                     Susan Barnes

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on James 1:12-18

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.                   NKJV

Why should those of us who are Christians respond joyfully to the trials that God brings or allows in our lives (Jas. 1:2)?  The Lord answers this question in our text. 

First, a joyful response to trials is an evidence of our salvation.  The Greek word translated “approved” in verse 12 literally means “to pass the test.”  It is only the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to remain joyful in times of severe trials (Acts 16:23-25).  We read stories of Christian martyrs such as John Huss who died with hymns of praise upon their lips.  How was Huss able to sing God’s praises even as the flames began to consume his flesh?—only through the grace and power of God operating in him (Phil. 4:7, 13).  According to our text, the reward for suffering joyfully for cause of Christ is the crown of life (v. 12).  The crown of life is given to all Christians who endure trials—sometimes even to the point of martyrdom—for Jesus (Rev. 2:10).

Second, our trials are a gift from God (v. 16-17).  God never brings a trial into our lives to cause us to sin or do evil (v. 13).  The temptation to sin or do evil comes from within, not from the trial itself (v. 14).  This can be illustrated by a tea bag dropped into a cup of hot water.  The tea flavor does not come from the hot water (the trial), but from within the tea bag.  The end result of our sin is death (v. 15), but the trials we receive are gifts from God to make us mature and complete (James 1:4), and we can rest on this promise from God because of His immutable character (v. 17).

Third, God brings these trials into our lives for our profit (v. 18).  Just as we are not “spiritually regenerated” or “born again” through any effort or desire on our part, but solely by the grace and power of God (Jn. 1:13, Eph. 2:1, 5), neither are we able to conform ourselves to the image of Christ (Eph. 2:10).  Our trials are one of God’s tools for transforming us into Jesus’ image (v. 18).  The Lord Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits into which we are being transformed (I Cor. 15:20, 23).  The purpose of our trials is to change us into what Jesus is—to produce in us Christ like character.

Understanding that our trials are a gift from God to conform us to Jesus’ image and that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our trials, how do we respond when those trials come?  Have you truly repented of your sins and trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?  If so, do you respond joyfully when God brings trials into your life?

From the Pastor’s Pen

Final thoughts on Psalm 37:7

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.               NKJV

Have you prayed and waited long, and still there is seemingly no answer from the Lord? Are you tired of seeing nothing happen? Do you feel you are at the point of giving up? Then perhaps you have not waited in the right way, which removes you from the right place—the place where the Lord will meet you.

“With patience wait. . .” (Rom. 8:25 KJV). Patience eliminates worry. The Lord said He would come, and His promise is equal to His presence. Patience takes eliminates weeping. Why should you feel sad and discouraged? The Lord knows your need better than you do, and His purpose in waiting is to glorify Himself through it. Patience eliminates self-works. The work of God is this: to believe” (John 6:29), and when you believe, you will know all is well. Patience eliminates all want. Perhaps your desire to receive what you want is stronger than your desire for the will of the Lord to be fulfilled in your life.

Patience eliminates all weakness. Instead of thinking of waiting as being wasted time, realize that the Lord is preparing His resources and getting you ready as well. Patience eliminates all wobbling. “He touched me and stood me upright” (Daniel 8:18). The Lord’s foundations are steady; and when we have His patience within, we are steady while we wait. Patience yields worship. Sometimes the best part of praiseful waiting is experiencing “long-suffering with joy” (Col. 1:11). While you wait, “Let patience have its perfect work” (James 1:4), and you will be greatly enriched.