James 1 – Part IV

October 27, 2009

I remember trying to teach James 1:21-27 one time as a part of Bible study in high school having no idea what it was about.  It’s probably just as well there were only a couple people there that day.  Reading this passage again on Thursday I was stunned to catch James’ intention.  James lays it out pretty plainly.

So what does one see when they look in the perfect law that gives liberty?  Well, as he says, what else does a man see when he looks in a mirror but his own face?  James’ quarrel though is not with what a person finds in the mirror but with the passive (or willful) amnesia of those who peer in to the mirror.

James goes on to say that whatever a person sees in the mirror ought to be a sight which propels them out in to changed living, living which cares for orphans and widow and remains unstained from the world.   So again, what does a person see in the perfect law of liberty?

In James’ words, they will see “the message implanted within [them].”  In other words, the sight that propels those formed by Christ out into sacrificial life among the needy in the world–if they can remember what they have seen–is a clear vision of the identity they have been given, the inside job completed in Christ.

Each time I come to God, encountering him in Spirit and Word, I re-encounter myself in a new way which has the power to reshaped my life and call me back to faithfully living out my identity and life in Christ in a broken world.


James 1 – Part III

October 26, 2009

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires.  Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.  Do not be led astray, my dear brothers and sisters. All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. By his sovereign plan he gave us birth through the message of truth, that we would be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Temptation finds its root in the desires of man’s heart, ultimately giving birth to sin and later death.  Our desires are broken.  This means that if we are going to be fixed, if we are to be healed, it is going to have to be an inside job.  A job well suited to the maker of our insides.

While desire and  temptation have their way with us, James tells us that the desire, (“his sovereign plan”) is also at work.  Contra to our death-bringing wills, his will “gave us birth”–a recreation–“through the message of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”  We, having been birthed by the will of God are also made to grow up, so that we too might give birth.  Unlike sin’s grown up progeny, however, the full-grown offspring of the desires of God begets life.

James 1 – Part II

October 25, 2009

Now the believer of humble means should take pride in his high position.  But the rich person’s pride should be in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a wildflower in the meadow.  For the sun rises with its heat and dries up the meadow; the petal of the flower falls off and its beauty is lost forever.  So also the rich person in the midst of his pursuits will wither away.  Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. (James 1:9-12)

I’ve often wondered on James’ excursion into people of high and low means.  It has just seemed to come out of the blue.  Where does his discussion come from?  Here’s my guess.

Everyone is going through trials–rich and poor, but the rich man’s transience is being contrasted with the longevity of those who are refined by trials.  In his pursuit of money and riches, the one who pursues riches finds himself consumed and chasing a vision which cannot fulfill him or grant him life.

The one who follows Christ on the other hand, is settled on a truly life-giving source whose apprehension sustains and refines rather than consumes as riches do.

James 1 – Part I

October 24, 2009

Last Thursday I was reading James chapter 1 a bit and some things came together for me like they never have before.  It’ll probably take three (short) posts, but I’ll try to get them up here in the next couple days.

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

How I love the biblical conception of wisdom!  Integral in creating the world, key in man’s vice regent reign over God’s good creation in the beginning of time, distorted by man’s thirst for life apart from God, journeying through the Old Testament as the guide of daily relational dependence on the God whose law demonstrates our need for him to declare us righteous.

But what is the wisdom James encourages us to ask for?  Mostly I guess I’ve heard this verse quoted in the most global of senses.  “Don’t know what to do?  Ask God for wisdom?  He’s the giver of wisdom.”

While I don’t have any qualms with God being the source of all wisdom–the only real source for wisdom (Gen 3)–I do think James is referring to a certain wisdom, which should be discerned from the context.  What wisdom is he referring to?  The wisdom to know our  one’s surroundings as James redefines them:

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials… (James 1:2)

While wisdom can be applied in every situation (as opposed to law’s direction in limited settings), James’ interest is in directing his readers to the one who can help them know the value of their trials as the producer of endurance leading to the perfection and completeness of the afflicted.

Need wisdom?  Ask God for it.  But if you are experiencing trials, and you cannot count them as joy, then James encourages you to approach the only one who can enable you to know them as joy.

The Washing of Peter

July 1, 2009

We interrupt this program to bring you a short character study of Peter in the Gospel of John…

Basic Idea: If Peter the dedicated follower of Jesus is going to continue to follow, it will only be through continually returning to Jesus for washing.

A couple of sketches of Peter and the events John recounts to us about him: He is dedicated to Jesus and would even die for (11:16 presumably; 13:36–37) this one who has the words of life (6:68).  Peter is willing to go to great lengths, even dying for him (18:10), to save him Jesus descending from his high estate (13:6-8–the master serving!?”).  Peter is instructed by Jesus that he must return to Jesus to have his feet cleansed (13:9).  Peter denies that he is a follower of Jesus when it means following him to the cross (18:15-18, 25-27).  NOTE: he does not deny the Lordship of Jesus, only that he is a follower.  He sees the empty tomb (20:2-9)

When Peter originally declares his willingness to die for Jesus, Jesus does not deny that Peter will also be crucified.  He does however tell him that he is not yet ready (13:36 “…you cannot follow me now, but you will later.”).  At the end of the story, following Jesus washing of Peter, he again reaffirms his invitation to Peter to follow him to the cross (21:18-22) which he had previously escaped through denial (ch. 18).

And so, if Peter the dedicated follower of Jesus is going to continue to follow, it will only be through continually returning to Jesus for washing.  The remaining question for me is, Who will wash Peter’s feet?  What are Jesus’ instructions on the matter?

So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you.  I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

Yes, the foot washing is an example of service, but Jesus (in his discussion with Peter) has also invested it with a profound spiritual reality.  So, as followers of the Servant King, we bring his presence not by bringing forgiveness (“a messenger is not great than the one who sent him”), but by washing each other with and bringing each other back to the Gospel we so regularly fail to believe.

How do we as believers carry out this washing?  As others New Testament authors have put it,

Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man has great effectiveness. (James 5:16)

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27)

And again, with Peter,

But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong…But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:11, 14)

Peter’s life declares his disbelief in the Gospel and Paul confronts him on it, washing him and drawing him back to Jesus, the Servant King, at whose Table all find provision!