The Difference Between Biting And Eating

I’d rather bite my tongue than eat my words. After all,

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
    and discerning if they hold their tongues.
(Proverbs 17:28.)

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Wonka words

Text (c) Tim Fall

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“Dying to Self” is a False Gospel

Question: Which of the following statements are not taught in the Bible?

A) You have to die to self and live for God.

B) You have to die daily in order to live for Jesus.

C) You have to crucify your sin so you can live in the Spirit.

Answer: None of them are found in the Bible.

How do people come to the idea that we need to put sin to death? I think it’s because people want to think there must be something they should be doing, something that is on their shoulders when it comes to living the Christian life. Then they read verses like these and fit them into their preconceived notions:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11.)

and,

I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:31.)

The problem is that those verses have nothing to do with a daily spiritual struggle.

It’s impossible for a Christian to die to sin

William R. Newell, in Romans: Verse-by-Verse, gives the answer to  misinterpretation of Romans 6:11.

Now here is the very opposite of the false teaching about the Christian life. For these legalists set you to crucify yourself! You must “die out” to this, and to that. But God says our old man, all that we were, has already been dealt with – and that by crucifixion with Christ. And the very words “with him” [in verse 5] show that it was done back at the cross; and that our task is to believe the good news, rather than to seek to bring about this crucifixion ourselves. (Newell, p. 213, emphasis in original.*)

So when Paul told the Christians in Rome to count themselves dead to sin he was not telling them to put their sins in the dead column. He was telling them that Jesus already put them there. Their sins are accounted for in the column that says they have already been dealt with in Jesus’ death.

That’s why Christians get to count themselves dead to sin in the past tense; you have already died with Jesus and risen with him in his resurrection. Don’t try to do over again what Jesus has already accomplished.

No one died daily, not even Paul

The verse where Paul told his friends in Corinth that he faced death every day has sometimes been translated as “I die daily.” That has unfortunately led people to read a spiritual component into his “dying” that isn’t there when you read the verse in context.

And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? (1 Corinthians 15:30-32.)

Paul is writing of physical dangers, not spiritual. As Newell explains:

Many quote Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:31 “I die daily” to prove the … idea of our “daily dying to sin.” But we need only remember that the great message of 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with the body to refute this.  …

To make the words “I die daily” mean an inward spiritual struggle with sin is to refute Paul’s plain testimony: “I have been crucified with Christ”; “Our old man was crucified with Him”; “He that hath died is righteously released from sin” … . (Newell, pp. 208-209, fn., emphasis in original.)

There is no dying daily left for you to do. The Bible says that Jesus has done all the dying for you when it comes to sin:

Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. (Hebrews 7:24-27, emphasis added.)

Sin’s position now in regard to you is a dead one. There is no dying to sin or dying to self or any other dying that you are supposed to do. In fact, you can’t do it even if you tried. It’s impossible because Jesus has done it for you.

What is left for you to do now? As the Spirit of Christ lives in you, you are now living in and for him.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4.)

Satan wanted to steal this life away from everyone, but Jesus said he is here to give you more life than you could ever have imagined.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10.)

So stop trying to die.

Start living.

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[My thanks to Jeremy White at Valley Church for pointing out this passage from Newell’s commentary.]

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Happiness and the Blues – not mutually exclusive

[From the archives.]

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For Lent, Keri Wyatt Kent is blogging through her book Deeply Loved – 40 ways in 40 days to experience the heart of Jesus. On Day 15 I took Keri up on her invitation to reflect on The Blues.*

Keri starts Chapter 15 with a passage from The Message:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God. (Psalm 42:11.)

Here it is in the NIV:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Keri goes on to recount some songs from her childhood when the Sunday School class would sing about being “happy, happy, happy, happy, happy” all the time in Jesus. It reminds me of a hymn we used to sing as adults too:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day! (Isaac Watts, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?, ca. 1707.)

Now I’m sure that when Watts first wrote those words back in the dawn of the 18th Century everyone understood that he meant “happy” not as an emotion but in its more classical sense of contentment or enjoyment of good fortune. Nowadays, though, the word usually means nothing more than the opposite of sadness and, with that limited definition, admonitions to be happy in Jesus just set us up to feel like failures: our feelings become a barometer of our spiritual condition.

What a load of hooey.

Singing the Blues

From Job to Paul, the Bible is full of examples of God’s people not possessing a single smidge of happiness. What do we do at those times? The Bible speaks to that, from the Old Testament:

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22.)

and the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

Keri points out that these are times – just like our happy times – when God wants us to speak to him honestly. And we should also remember, along with the writer of Psalm 42, that God constantly watches over his own:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. (Psalm 42:6.)

When our hearts are troubled, when we’ve got the blues, Keri points to this passage and suggests:

So you could pray, “God love me.” Or “God, sing over me all through the night.” You could simply reflect in wonder on the fact that God looks at you with love 24/7, and that he adores you and there is not an ounce of shame or guilt in that love, pure and constant. (Deeply Loved, p. 81.)

Still, it’s when we are feeling down that we might have the hardest time accepting that there is never any shame or guilt in how we appear before God. Yet it’s so blessedly true!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1.)

God never condemns his people, you included. Why should you try to lay a guilt trip on yourself that God never lays on you. Who would know better about this anyway, you or him? Sure we might be facing hard times. But then again, we might be feeling happy.

Say Goodbye Feelings and Hello God

Solomon said:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1.)

And get this – neither feeling happy or sad is a reflection of your standing with God. Both are possible for God’s people, and in either situation there is a perfectly appropriate response:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13.)

Your feelings don’t define your relationship with God. That relationship is defined instead by the finished work of Jesus Christ:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23.)

Seasons Come, Seasons Go, God remains

Feeling happy or feeling the blues, the truth is that God is with you right where you are now. He always will be.

Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)

And I’m happy about that.

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*Of course, this post is only about the transitory experience of feeling down, what people commonly think of when they say they have the blues. There’s a big difference between this feeling and the medical condition known as clinical depression. Believe me, I know.

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God Cares What You Think About Him

We don’t use the phrase “public servant” much these days but the concept behind it is as old as the first community that ever gathered together for mutual support, aid and society. As a person who holds a position of public service, this quote reminds me of what that means for those who make up the public I serve.

Lincoln on public service

God Wants to be Understood

Avoiding misunderstandings is a good goal for everyone, of course, no matter what the relationship may be. Even God wants to avoid misunderstandings. He spoke to the Israelites as Moses brought them to the borders of the land they were to inhabit:

I dreaded the taunt of the enemy,
    lest the adversary misunderstand
and say, “Our hand has triumphed;
    the Lord has not done all this.” (Deuteronomy 32:26-27.)

“Let there be no misunderstandings,” God seems to emphasize. Is there another faith in history that has a god who cares what people think? The ones I’ve read about have gods who pursue their own desires and care not one bit whether people understand their purposes and actions. Yet the one true God is gracious, desiring that the enemies of God’s people will understand him.

God wants you to understand him, too. It is part of the good news – part of the gospel of grace and peace and reconciliation God offers you.

In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world — just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:6.)

The gospel bears fruit throughout the world, and part of that fruit is understanding God.

Understanding the Gospel, Understanding God

God not only desires that you understand him. He wants to be your teacher.

This is what the Lord says —
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is best for you,
    who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48:17.)

This is the promise Jesus gave his friends, and it’s God’s ministry within you now.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

This is yet more grace, that God will be the one to teach you about himself. It’s because God wants there to be no misunderstandings between you and him.

Understand?

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What Giving Away a Thousand Children’s Books Looks Like

Here’s the latest from our friends Jan and Doug Hanson as they prepare to move from teaching at a Christian college in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific to a school administered by Native Americans in the American Southwest.

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As we prepare to leave PNG, we had the task of distributing the 1000+ children’s books that we had accumulated over the years, including the homeschool library that we brought with us in 2001. This week we donated 600 books to the local primary school (grades 3-8).

The headmaster gathered all the children on the assembly grounds and invited parents to witness the event. Jan addressed the children and parents, telling them that instead of giving one book to every child, we were giving all the books to their newly built library, so that all children, for many years, could enjoy the books. Doug closed the time with a prayer for the school, the children, and for the library.

The next group of children pictured are kindy kids (pre-school). We also gave them about 100 books for their little one-room school.

We have now been able to bless 6 different “libraries” with donations from our home library- some of those books were donated by you, our readers.  THANK YOU to all of who have given and sent books through the years!

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The Power of a Teaching Woman

[Olivia Grigg’s guest post on her own experiences learning from women show why we should all be willing to learn from women and men both. ]

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My life has been filled with strong and creative women and men who have shown me different examples of what it is like to work together as a team. I know men and women who stay home, go to work or do both. I know men and women who teach, preach, lead and cast vision for teams and communities.

What has always been meaningful to me as I observe the unique ways couples or teams of both genders cooperate is that the best teams usually include both parties using their gifts and skills to complement the other. Additionally, through healthy communication and ongoing commitment these ‘teams’ do much more together than they would alone. It also seems to be that the best teamwork happens when both the woman and the man have agreed to what role they play at a certain time, and when there is room for negotiation moving forward.

Perhaps that is why an article I read recently had me feeling particularly saddened and confused. Wayne Grudem, a theological teacher who regularly writes about evangelical feminism, published an article regarding his belief that certain activities in the church should be restricted to men. He prefaces his article by saying that it is not that men should be greater than women, but that scripture clearly states roles that are inappropriate for women.

He states that there are three main areas where women should not be allowed to work in the church:

  • Governing Authority
  • Bible Teaching
  • Public Recognition or Visibility

He then goes on to list every activity that specifically should be restricted to men, and what is open to both women and men. The part of the list that personally hit me was the following on Teaching Activities in the Church:

TEACHING ACTIVITIES THAT SHOULD BE RESTRICTED TO MEN:

1. Teaching Bible or theology in a theological seminary

2. Teaching Bible or theology in a Christian college

3. Preaching (teaching the Bible) at a nationwide denominational meeting or at a nationwide Christian conference

4. Preaching (teaching the Bible) at a regional meeting of churches or at a regional Christian conference

5. Preaching (teaching the Bible) regularly to the whole church on Sunday mornings

6. Occasional preaching (teaching the Bible) to the whole church on Sunday mornings

7. Occasional Bible teaching at less formal meetings of the whole church (such as Sunday evening or at a midweek service)

8. Bible teaching to an adult Sunday school class (both men and women members)

9. Bible teaching at a home Bible study (both men and women members)

10. Bible teaching to a college-age Sunday school class

Now, I don’t pretend to be a theologian, or to have fully grasped the concept of gender equality and what it means for women and men in the church. But I do know that through my own personal development I have been taught many valuable lessons by both women and men in leadership and pastoral positions.

I remember when I went to Bible College for one year and I had a teacher who expected me to give my best, and through teaching our class she inspired me to use my leadership qualities to encourage others and to bring our missions team together as a united group.

I remember when I worked at summer camps for years, and my female mentors preached and spoke in front of all the staff and challenged us with the truth in scripture, and the male leaders agreed and affirmed their teaching.

I remember when I went to the Urbana conference in University and listened to Chai Ling talk about her organization “All Girls Allowed” which she founded through her passion to expose and end human rights violations caused by China’s One-Child Policy. She taught about courage and faith and how God had worked through her at Tiananmen Square and brought her safely to the U.S.

Chai Ling

Chai Ling

I remember when my staff worker through Intervarsity challenged me to join their group to lead scripture, to teach others about Jesus, and to lead the fellowship as student president. She taught me through her example of courageous preaching at church, and conferences, as well as small group bible studies for University students where she taught us how to lead.

I am now done school, working full time and continuing to pursue my faith and paying more attention to what I see at church and in Christian communities. The more I observe, the more I see the benefit of men and women working together. I have realized that equality for women also means equality for men and that God intended for us to learn to be a team. I hope to experience and see more men and women keeping the conversation of equality alive in their work together.

I am thankful for the women in my life who have taken time to teach, lead, and mentor me whether from the front of the sanctuary, or on the sidelines.

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Olivia Grigg

Olivia Grigg

Born and raised in London, Ontario, Olivia regularly writes about her local work in Youth Mental Health and Community Development. Get in touch or stay updated through Twitter @livgrigg and through Olivia’s personal blog Below the Tree Line.

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Giving People The Silent Treatment – it’s biblical, right?

[Updated from the archives.]

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Sarah Beals

Sarah Beals

In How to Handle a Relationship You Wish Would Go Away, Sarah Beals discusses when to interact with difficult people and when it’s time to avoid them. There is a lot of wisdom in her post, both from Scripture and from her mom.

The same day I read Sarah’s post, I came across an interesting article on the value of giving difficult people the silent treatment. Entitled How to deal with jerks: Give ‘em the silent treatment, it reports on some interesting research. While cautioning against turning the silent treatment into a passive/aggressive weapon, and noting the limited usefulness of the technique when it comes to significant or long-term relationships, the article gives some good insight:

The research reveals there are benefits to cutting off conversation with a person who is being obnoxious: It’s not as draining on your mental resources, you avoid conflict with someone offensive, and it’s much simpler than getting into a heated discussion.

I think those researchers are on to something, but I think what they are on to is nothing new. I think it’s thousands of years old.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him. (Proverbs 26:4.)

And Jesus said –

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (Matthew 10:14 )

This seems harsh to us who have read that Jesus also wants us to love even our enemies. But there is a limit to how much time we are to spend with those who are hard to be with.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18.)

You are not responsible for their actions or their response to your actions. All you are responsible is for your own actions in seeking peace with others. And sometimes that peace comes from separation. As Jesus said, it might even take leaving them behind as you move on.

Would this be a cause for celebration? More likely it will be cause for grieving. As Sarah said in her piece –

I vacillate between pitying them for their obviously miserable life and when I really stop to think about what their internal peace must be like, I feel compassion, but usually I dread them for making my life harder (selfish). I need to pray for them and myself … .

Prayer. That is a wise piece of advice she has there for us.

Silent treatment

When you pray for those you’ve found difficult you will find you’re able to focus more on Christ and what he has done for you, and you are able to leave the other person’s heart to Jesus to deal with.

After all, their hearts are not really our responsibility. Jesus is the one who is their Lord, not us. And likewise, we are not their Savior either.

But we can commit all of this to the One who is, and find peace resting in him ourselves.

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Questions to ponder: How do you usually deal with difficult people? What effect do they have on you?

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What the Book of Revelation Really means

The Book of Revelation stumps people. You can read it over and over again and still walk away wondering, “Lampstands, bowls, trumpets, trees … what?” At least that’s what I’d end up asking myself. But I’ve found at least three tools that help me understand Revelation

First, start with the Old Testament since much of the imagery in Revelation is found in Old Testament writings. Consider the four living creatures singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8.) They’re much like the angels Isaiah saw calling to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3.)

A commentary like Darrell Johnson’s Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation is helpful too. For instance, when Jesus dictated the letter to the church in Pergamum and told them they lived “where Satan has his throne” (Revelation 2:13), Johnson points out that the cliffs above the city were used for idol worship and the temple there sat as a throne above the city. The people throughout the region would know what “Satan has his throne” referred to.

There’s yet a third tool, and it’s one you probably already possess. Go to the author of the book himself, because John’s Revelation and John’s Gospel go hand in hand.

  • Word means Word

Toward the end of Revelation we read:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:11-13.)

It’s not hard to see that this is a heavenly warrior, since he is called “Faithful and True.” But is this necessarily God? After all, the book of Revelation is full of angels who are doing mighty things. It’s that last phrase in the passage that gives us a clue who this is, because it reminds us of something John wrote elsewhere:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14.)

There’s only one person who is the Word of God and that’s Jesus, who is God himself.

  • The Day the Sun Went Out

Another passage some find odd – or at least one no one on earth has ever personally experienced – says that there will be no need for the light of the sun in the new creation. Now I was taught in science class that the sun is the source of life; nothing can exist, let alone grow, if it weren’t for the sun’s light and warmth. Yet John wrote of the new creation:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:23.)

This would not have seemed odd, though, to those who had read John’s earlier writings.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4.)

and,

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12.)

Jesus is light and life, and will physically be present with his people in the new creation.

  • When Lamb is King

In one of the more memorable visions John recorded, he said:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. …

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:6, 11-12.)

Why is a slain lamb on the throne? Again, we go back to the opening of John’s gospel.

The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29.)

John the Baptist’s listeners were familiar with the sacrificial lambs used for temple sacrifices. Jesus is announced as the Lamb who takes away not just the sins of the one person sacrificing a lamb, but will be a sacrifice sufficient to take away the sins of the world. And that is the Lamb on the throne in Revelation: Jesus who has been slain and is worthy of all praise, because he is God who took away “the sin of the world.”

Revelation Gospel

I’m sure you can find more parallels between John’s gospel and Revelation, but you see how this works. The meaning of John’s visions in Revelation become clearer as you study John’s gospel of the life of Jesus.

In fact, they are both a gospel of Jesus; it’s just that one records events before his death and resurrection and the other after. read them together and you’ll get a better understanding of what the book of Revelation really means.

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This is the final installment of a series. Part one is on Job, and part two looks at James.

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What the Book of James Really Means

Some people compare the book of James to the letters of Paul, and conclude they like Paul better. After all, Paul might have been a bit demanding at times but at least he emphasized grace. James just gave us the demanding part, right?

Not so much. I think the key to understanding James isn’t by comparing him to Paul but by comparing him to Jesus. After all, Jesus and James were brothers. Not in the we’re-all-sisters-and-brothers-in-Christ sense, but in the Mary-was-their-mom sense.

When I read James and come to certain passages, then, I can’t help but wonder if at the time he wrote the letter James might have had his brother in mind. I don’t mean merely that he was thinking on Christ; I imagine the same could be said about all the writers of the New Testament when they were putting words down on the scroll. I mean that James might have been strolling down memory lane as he wrote his letter.

Here are a few examples:

  • Persecution

When James wrote:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12.)

Was he thinking of his brother saying:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10.)

  • Demons

When James wrote:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19.)

Was he remembering his brother’s conversations with demons, like this one:

He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” (Mark 5:7-8.)

  • Hospitality

When James wrote:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4.)

Did he have this in mind:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14.)

  • Serving Two Masters

When James wrote:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4.)

Was he thinking of Jesus telling people:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13.)

A Favorable Comparison

It can be harsh to compare siblings. One almost always comes out less favorably than the other, and when your older brother is Jesus we know which of the two will come out ahead. But this particular comparison ends up showing James in a very favorable light. It’s a miracle, and not just in the metaphorical sense.

That’s because if you belong to Jesus you always come out looking better than you could ever look without him. It works that way when you have the glory of Christ in your life. So go ahead and stand next to Jesus and take a good hard look.

Here’s what you’ll see: you are loved by the Father, saved by the Son, and living with the Holy Spirit in you.

Looking good there, looking real good.

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This is part two of a series. What the Book of Job Really Means appeared yesterday, and tomorrow you can read What the Book of Revelation Really Means.

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What the Book of Job Really Means

I can’t say I know all about the Book of Job, but I think I know a bit about it and here’s one thing I know:

The Book of Job reveals God’s grace.

Some will dispute this, saying the book instead reveals a cruel God who uses Job as a pawn in a game played between God and Satan. Here’s how they might characterize the opening scenes: God asks Satan where he’s been lately, Satan says he’s been out cruising through the world here and there, and God asks if Satan has happened upon Job.

Satan Before the Lord, Corrado Giaquinto (1703–1765) (Wikimedia)

Satan Before the Lord,
Corrado Giaquinto (1703–1765)
(Wikimedia)

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8.)

Job is described as a man who cared for his family so much that he would engage in morning sacrifices for them as a habit of worship. It is like the parent who gets up each day and enters into prayer for her or his children, asking for God’s blessings on them.

And Job was wealthy beyond measure, a sign to onlookers that he must have been a righteous man to be so well blessed by God.

Satan is unimpressed. He tells God that the only reason Job is such a goody two shoes is because God treats him well. Take away everything Job has and we’ll see how things go is Satan’s point.

God says OK, try it.

So Satan does.

Satan attacks Job and strips him of everything he has. Job loses his wealth, his herds, his crops. He loses his children when they all die in a horrific building collapse. He even seems to lose his relationship with his wife as she insists he curse God for their suffering.

And then Job strips himself of his fine clothes, and sits in a pile of ashes, and mourns.

Job, Léon Bonnat (1833–1922) (Wikipedia)

Job, Léon Bonnat (1833–1922)
(Wikipedia)

It’s a harsh and miserable life Job faces. Yet we are told:

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:22.)

Where is God’s grace in this? After all, it seems like Job is the one showing stoic grace in his suffering. Yet later in the book we see that Job questions God, a line of interrogation in which he complains of the injustices he endures and demands to know why he should suffer when he’s done not one single thing to deserve it.

Discovering God’s Grace

Here’s where God’s grace is found: Job’s relationship with God never depends on what Job does. At one point we see him offer loving sacrifices to God, enjoying the many blessings in his life, the family and wealth God had given him. Later he complains that he’s being treated unjustly, that he had done nothing to deserve his grief and pain. Neither of these stages of his life had even the slightest affect on his standing before God.

Rather, Job eventually discovered that in all his circumstances he was still in a right relationship with God. How do we know? God said so when he rebuked Job’s friends for suggesting God made Job suffer because of Job’s sins.

“I am angry with you … because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7.)

The truth Job spoke – and spoke repeatedly in the conversations recorded in the Book of job – is that while Job might not understand why he was being made to suffer, he knew God was not punishing him for his sins. And the questions Job asked in those conversations were not out of line. He spoke from his grief and confusion, and God graciously allowed that grief and confusion to be expressed just as Job expressed them.

This is the grace of God revealed in the Book of Job.

Whether in joyful prayers and sacrifices or grief-laden questions born of confusion, our relationship with God is fixed throughout. This is because our relationship with God does not depend on us.

Our relationship with God depends on God.

In other words, Job had a relationship with God because God has a relationship with Job. Job, like all people in Old Testament times who lived in anticipation of God’s glory to come, is blessed through the finished work of Jesus Christ:

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40.)

Their perfection is the same as ours: Jesus. And just like them, we have a right relationship with God because of what Jesus has done. You have a right relationship with Jesus because Jesus has a relationship with you.

And that’s what the Book of Job really means.

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Tomorrow we’ll look at What the Book of James Really Means, and this series will close the next day with What the Book of Revelation Really Means.

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