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James 1 – Life Consistent with Faith

We don’t know for sure who actually wrote the book of James.  The name James was very common at this time, but it is most likely that the letter was written by the most well known James of the early church, the brother of Jesus.  James was a pillar of faith in the Jerusalem church.  While most people assume that Peter was the strongest leader in the early church, there is much church tradition that indicates that James was just as much a pillar and leader in Jerusalem.

This letter is addressed to the twelve tribes.  This could mean that James is writing to a more Jewish audience, but I lean towards it being a Jewish phrase (since James was a Jew) to describe all the Christians in the churches around the world.  This is different from many of the letters that we have in the New Testament that are addressed to a specific individual or congregation.  James understood his letter to contain instructions valuable to Christians in all places and all situations.

The book is well known for being full of practical instructions for Christian living.  Similar in many ways to the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, this book puts forth the idea that our lives should be consistent with our faith.  If we believe in Jesus but that belief never touches our life through our actions and practices then we have nothing.  The book also seems to be dealing with problems that were already creeping into the early church community.  We know from Acts that the Apostles had to appoint servants to be in charge of making sure widows were fed fairly.  Apparently the widows who behaved more “Jewish” were getting better care than the Jewish widows who behaved more like Romans.  Prejudice towards widows is a problem.  And there was the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, who wanted the glory of generosity without the willingness to actually give.  In James we see that there is prejudice between the wealthy and the poor in the church as well.  

In the office we have a saying that’s more of a joke than anything, but occasionally we find ourselves saying “Ministry would be the greatest job in the world if it weren’t for the people.”  Well James has discovered exactly that and now he is writing to help people bring their lives into alignment with the Gospel that they proclaim to believe.

The last several verses of chapter 1 highlight this very point, that if you should get rid of moral filth and instead accept the word of God planted in you.  Don’t just listen to the word and deceive yourself, but actually DO WHAT IT SAYS!  Your faith should impact your life.  Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week.  What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior.  It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today.  We will cover the entire book in the next week, so be sure to keep reading and measuring your life against the teachings of James.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in James

 

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Matthew 20 – Last will be First

I am sure if James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had any editorial input on this chapter they would have preferred that this parable not be so closely connected to the two stories that proceed it.  My assumption is that Matthew was more upset about this incident than Mark, since Mark at least left out the details about James and John’s mom coming and asking Jesus to exalt them.

The parable here is pretty plain, but also functions on several levels.  First, it is for the Jews who have labored and struggled in their role as the chosen people of God for thousands of years.  They are certainly not going to rejoice when Gentiles, the late comers to the harvest, are able to join without penalty and share in the same reward.  Second, for those who have lived piously (in Jesus’ audience and our context today) there is often a reluctance to let those dirty prodigal sinners come back into the church without some form of penance or at least a reduced role in the church.  Jesus does not want this to be the case in his Kingdom.  Finally, there could be some subtle lesson here for the Apostles.  While I don’t know that it was Jesus’ primary focus in telling this parable, Matthew at least seems to draw a connection.  The Apostles were the first ones to begin serving Jesus and might have thought themselves entitled to a greater share of the Kingdom to come.  Jesus puts that idea to rest by showing that all who serve will share an equal reward.

Then, to drive the point home, Jesus reminds them that even he, the King of Kings, the Messiah, the Son of God is going to make the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life in Jerusalem.  Now, this is the third and final time that Jesus predicts that he will be crucified in the presence of the Apostles.  The first time is the famous incident where Peter corrects Jesus and Jesus replies, “Get behind me Satan.”  The second time is immediately followed by an argument along the road about which Apostle was the greatest (this detail is found in Mark 9).  And finally, the third prediction is followed by this request by James and John (or more specifically their mother in Matthew’s account).  What is abundantly clear is that this prediction is one of the most important things Jesus tries to communicate to the Apostles and they not only don’t believe him, but they can’t even comprehend what this might mean for them and the Kingdom.  They completely miss it.

Which brings us to the sons of Zebedee’s wife.  My first week in high school they had a parents’ open

“Mom…stop…you’re embarrassing us in front of our friends!”

house night at school.  Almost nobody’s parents went.  After all…it’s high school.  However, that did not keep Mom and Grandma from both going.  I told them that it really wasn’t necessary, but they insisted.  I did not go.  The next day at school, suddenly every teacher knew my name and said hello.  Come to find out later, Mom and Grandma were almost the only people there and went from class to class asking what my teachers thought about me.  Again, this was after two days of class with over 100 students.  They couldn’t believe that my teachers didn’t know me and so proceeded to pull out pictures and say, “He’s this one…” and then tell my teachers things they needed to know about me.  I was in shock.

This is not what Jesus meant…

I am always reminded of that moment when Zebedee’s wife walks up to Jesus and says, “I want to ask you about my sons…”  Keep in mind that people expect the Messiah to sit forever on the throne of David.  And this is a King without sons, so there is no heir to the Kingdom.  The Apostles (and their moms apparently) are posturing for where they will sit in the royal court.  They are reminded of Solomon’s advisers, David’s mighty men, the Royal priests, and the rulers of men.  And Jesus simply replies, “You can’t drink from the cup I drink from.”  He is metaphorically speaking of suffering and sacrificing for others and for the Kingdom of God.  They, as always, hear Jesus literally speaking of a golden tablet at a royal feast.  They completely miss it again.

“Instead, whoever wants to be great must become your servant, whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Matthew

 

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Acts 15 – Agree to Disagree

The early Church went through numerous identity pains as it grew. The leaders of the Church had the hard task of making decisions that were best for the Kingdom. Nationally, the majority of them were Jews. As more and more Gentiles convert to Christianity they struggle with how these people are to be brought in. Gentiles are receiving the Holy Spirit. Barnabas and Paul tell their stories of what God is doing amongst the Gentiles. A decision needs to be made. The thing that is sticking out to me in the reading today is who is actually standing up, speaking, and making the judgment as to what needs to take place with the Gentiles. Peter gives his testimony but it is James who makes the decree to stop making it difficult for the Gentiles. There is either shared power amongst the different Apostles in Jerusalem or James is in charge. Either way it does not seem as though Peter has sole power here over the Church.

The Church worked together to figure out how to accept people they once saw as disgusting. They laid foundations for what it meant to be a follower of Christ. There are a lot of people who, if converted, would struggle in our churches to find a place because of the lifestyles they left. Who are the “Gentiles” around us who we struggle to bring into the Church? Luke has been building up for chapters now that God loves the Gentiles too. I love how Luke has built up to this decree from the Apostles and the transition into the ministry of Paul to the Gentiles.

Paul and Barnabas have a big dispute about whether or not Mark should be trusted again. I’ve always been curious about the phrase “Forgive and Forget”. Is Paul not being Christlike right here? Or is he just being cautious? They disagreed so sharply that they just had to agree to disagree and go their separate ways. We will see later that there is not a division between them as far as Christ goes. Is this a healthier way? Is Paul’s relationship with Barnabas and with John Mark a good example of how relationships of disagreement are to go? When we see Paul interacting with them later he greets them as Brothers and encourages them in their ministries. Too often we break ties with people because of our disagreements on things that have no foundation in Christ. Christians can get too focused on things that aren’t as important and let those things divide.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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