Just Do It!

 

Swoosh

Episode 35

James

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Just Do It!

When I was a teenager, way back in the 70s, the two most popular NT books for Bible study were the Gospel of John and the Book of James. Several decades have come and gone since then, but the popularity of those books as not waned.

James is one of the first New Testament books to be written.  Many Scholars say it was first. I think that’s a real possibility, though Matthew may be slightly older. Both were written around the mid 40s AD.

James’ back story is every bit as fascinating to me as that of the Apostle Paul. James is from the tribe of Judah, and the biological son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. He is the direct descendent of King David through Solomon.  He, then, is the half brother of Jesus. Like Jesus, he would have grown up a tradesman, a carpenter.

With the exception of Mary, probably no one knew Jesus the way James did. They grew up, playing, rough housing, and working together. I would have loved to have been privy to some of their one on one conversations during their years together.

Despite, or possibly because of, their closeness, James was not a disciple of Jesus during His ministry years. In fact, as we read through the Gospels, it appears as if Jesus’ siblings took a bit of a sarcastic, if not outright cynical view of their older Brother’s ministry.

I tend to believe, though, that Jesus and James were close. I make that claim, based on the fact that James was one of the individuals Jesus made a personal appearance to following His resurrection.  You can read about that in I Corinthians 15.

The next time we meet James, he is already a leader in the Jerusalem Church. He seems to have been on equal footing with the Apostles. Obviously, his familial connection with Jesus would have given him some leverage, but his character and faith were obvious from the beginning. The legends that grew up around him, say he was so devoted to prayer, that great, thick callouses grew on his knees, earning him the nickname, ‘Old Camel Knees’.

7:227:48According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, James was martyred in A.D. shortly after Governor Festus died, and before the new Governor, Albinus, arrived.

There are two versions of James’ Death. One says that James was lured to the roof of the temple where he was invited to address the crowd. While he was preaching, some of the Pharisees threw him off in an effort to kill him, but failed. James rose to his knees and began to pray for the assassins, whereupon, they began to stone and club him until he died.

Josephus tells a much less fanciful tale, and says the high priest, Ananus, took advantage of his interim leadership, between Festus’ death and Albinus’ arrival to have a number of his least favorite people executed. James was among that number, when he was publicly stoned.

Somehow, Josephus’ account has a more ring of truth to it, but Hegesippus’ tale of intrigue and conspiracy would make a great movie. Perhaps someone should get Mel Gibson on the phone…

Again, according to tradition, James never left Jerusalem. He lived, ministered, and died in that great city.

The letter that bears his name, might be a favorite now, but has not always been so. Martin Luther and many of the early reformers disliked it because of its emphasis on good works. In fact, Luther called it, ‘an epistle of straw’, or, ‘a right strawy epistle.’

For some reason, it appeared to the reformers that James was somehow contradicting Paul’s emphasis on Grace and Faith.  A few people continue to make that mistake even in the 21st century.

Frankly, I just can’t see the conflict. It is clear from Paul’s letters that he was comparing salvation by faith, to trying to keep the law of Moses as a way to earn salvation. James is saying that if we truly have faith, it will show itself in the way we live. A faith that doesn’t shape our behavior is not faith.

The little book of James is much more, though, than a challenge to walk the walk we talk.

In Chapter one, he encourages the Church to sees their suffering as growing spiritual stamina and patience.  He finishes the chapter by reminding the readers that we need to do more than hear or acknowledge the gospel. We need to put it into practice.

In short, James says, the Gospel isn’t dressed until it has shoes on.

Chapters 2 and 3 contain the juiciest bits. These are the two chapters that have stirred the pot for centuries.

James begins chapter 2 by denouncing favoritism; especially economic favoritism. When we show favoritism for the wealthy, we look really tacky.  Examples.  But back in Exodus, God told Moses not to show favoritism to the poor OR the rich.  The truth (which is, or should be, implied in the word, justice), is blind. It doesn’t show favoritism. That’s why we always see ‘lady justice’ wearing a blindfold.

11:08 These days, we see it in other ways, too. Talent. A struggling congregation will grab a musician like a monkey grabs a peanut.  Good looks will get you a seat at the table PDQ as well.  Celebrity. The list goes on. Its so tempting. But it’s still wrong.

After his excellent words on favoritism, James returns to the subject of putting faith into action. Here he says things like, ‘it is by works a man is justified and not by faith alone. And Faith without works is dead.

Chapter 3 is all about how much our mouths get us into trouble. No man can tame the tongue.

Chapter 4, while not nearly as dramatic as 2 and 3, is deep. It reads almost like a commentary on Jesus’ statement, ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. ‘  The source of quarrels, ugly words, selfish actions all have their roots buried in stony, self engrossed hearts.

In Chapter 5, James returns to the danger of riches. Coveteousness and greed are siblings and they  hide everywhere.

From there he goes back to patience, especially as we wait for Christ’s return.  And he finishes with a powerful statement about prayer. He reminds us of the power of prayer, and that every Believer has access to that Power. Prayer is for everyone, especially ordinary people.

I won’t dive any deeper into James’ letter, because I want you to read it for yourself and discover just how much is packed into it. This little letter by the camel kneed brother of Jesus is both powerful and practical. I think you’ll love it. Let me know.  For now, that’s all I got. See you next week. Until then….

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It’s All About That Grace!

 

ReDiscovering The Bible Online Radio Show

Episode 25 – Ephesians

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Notes:

So glad to be back after some time away. I didn’t expect to be gone quite so long, but life is full of surprises. More experienced podcasters have a few episodes in the bank so that when things come up, they don’t have a gap in broadcasts. I’m not that smart, but I thank you all for your patience and I’m back in the saddle.

This week we’re looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and it’s especially interesting because the Ephesian Church may well be the congregation Paul had the strongest relationship with. It was certainly the place he stayed the longest, a full 3 years.

You can read all about the dramatic founding of the Church in Ephesus, including the miracles, growth, and opposition in the 19th Chapter in Acts. In fact, that chapter is so exciting, I encourage you, if you’re in a place to do so, pause the show right now and go read Acts 19. If you can’t do so at the moment, go back and do so at your earliest opportunity.

This Church is so important to Paul, that later, when he is on his way to Jerusalem, he summons them to join him for a meeting at Miletus (about 38 miles south of Ephesus) when his ship docks there for a short time.

During that meeting he shares many insights with the elders and in 20:15 he mentions that they will they will never see each other again. After that statement, Paul warns them about false teachers and other trouble makers who will try and break up the Church.

At the end of Paul’s speech, there is a great deal of weeping as they pray and say their goodbyes. Verse 38 says the thing the Ephesians were most sad about was that they would never see him again.

I find that one of the most tender passages in the New Testament. Paul loved these people very much and they loved him just as much.

Sometime after Paul leaves, probably around AD 63, Paul writes the letter we call the Book of Ephesians.

It appears that following Paul’s death, Ephesus becomes one of the most prominent Churches in the Kingdom., certainly in the province of Asia. After Paul’s death, it becomes the home of the Apostle John. According to some traditions, when John moved there, Mary, the mother of Jesus was still alive and moved with him.  John did his writing from Ephesus (and maybe some on Patmos) and Ephesus was the first of the 7 Churches Jesus dictated special letters to in the Book of Revelation (see chapter 2).

Ephesus is no little backwater place like Galatia, but rather the most important city in Asia Minor. Over time, it had replaced Troy (troas) and was a prominent port, trade, education and religious center. It’ a large and influential place.

As we look through the book, we find some of the most important and central doctrines of Christianity within it’s 6 small chapters.

It also contains a few verses (Chapter 1, verses 4-7) that are among the most contentious verses in all of Christianity. So let’s take a quick look at those verses and see if we can’t clear up some of the misunderstanding.

Most of the confusion comes from verse 5 and the word ‘predestined’. It says, ‘He predestined us us for adoption as sons…’ That word connotes for many people an assumption that God individually selects certain people for salvation and others to miss out. Entire denominations and ‘Theologies’ have been built around that concept. Millions have feared they are left out or that loved ones are left out because of ‘predestination’. Many have turned away from Christ because of the idea that this would either negate the loving nature of God, or that it eliminates the free will of man.

If we look a little deeper, however, the explanation is much more hopeful and inclusive. This kind of misunderstanding is what comes from focusing on a single word pulled out of its context with the rest of the Bible.

Let’s put it back in context and see what happens. Back in verse 4 Paul writes that ‘he chose us in Him before the foundation of the world….”  Keep in mind, Paul has already addressed this in a letter he wrote to the Church in Rome some years before this one. In chapter 8, verse 29, he wrote, “Those He foreknew, He predestined.”

Here he is saying the same thing.  God knows everything. Before we were ever born, God knew that millions would be willing to accept that we are sinners and turn to Him, so, in His Grace, He created a plan of redemption that He Implemented even before the world was created. That’s all that’s meant by predestination here. It isn’t that God selected some and not others. He selected ALL who would follow Him by creating an avenue of redemption. So in verse 5, (everything is plural). When He is talks about Predestination he is referring to the Church as a whole.

Remember, Paul is writing to the whole congregation and explaining that our salvation is God’s work, not ours. He planned everything from before the beginning. We didn’t create it and we don’t deserve it. It’s a gift of His Grace.

It’s all explained in Chapter2. We must always remember that chapters and verses are not a part of the original, so we shouldn’t let them divorce us from the way the entire message fits together.

In Chapter 2, Paul zooms in on this subject by highlighting Grace as the source of salvation. The decision to offer forgiveness is God’s alone,

BTW, This is the chapter that provides the verses that led me to title this episode, “It’s all about that Grace”.

In verses 4 and 5 Paul talks about God’s mercy and His grace, which are the heart of His Salvation. In verse 4 God’s love for us, despite all our rebellion and screw ups is the motivation behind salvation. Wow.

Let’s take a quick side road for a minute. It’s not unusual for us to hear about God’s Mercy and Grace and not think about the difference between them. Understanding that difference can make us really appreciate what God has done for us.

Mercy is God withholding from us the punishment we deserve. Jesus took that in our place.

Grace,on the other hand, is God giving us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness and new life.

Verse 8 is the key to the whole chapter. Let’s read it. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. It is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

There is nothing you or I can do to gain salvation. We can’t pray enough, work enough, preach enough, be baptized enough, give enough or any enough. Salvation is by God’s favor upon us, pure and simple.

Salvation is by Grace, period. Yes, we must respond to His Grace, but we have nothing to do with creating it or making it available. Grace. Period. That’s the list. The end.

Just one more thought before we go. Neither grammatically nor contextually is there a comma after saved in verse 8. The emphasis in verse 8 and 9 is not comparing faith to works, but comparing grace to works. And also, grammatically, it is Grace that is the gift of God. Not faith that is the gift of God. The entire section has grace as its focus. There are several denominations that make Faith the gift, but grammatically and contextually, that just doesn’t fit.

When all is said and done, I’m so glad our Salvation is in God’s hands, rather than ours, because I would screw it up like I do everything else. Instead, I am confident that the one who made me, loves me, and sustains me is the one who guarantees my hope. I hope you’re glad about that, too.

Moving on, the heart of the book, from chapters 3 on are dedicated to instructions for living. They are incredibly practical and straight to the point. Some of the things, particularly in chapter 5 about families are controversial in our post modern 21st century, but remain a basic part of Christian doctrine and practice, at least in Bible Believing Churches.

Before we go, I want to spend just  minute in Chapter 6. Paul is getting ready to close, but just before asking for prayer and offering final greetings, Paul reminds the Ephesians that we are at war. Our battle is not merely a political or physical one, but is spiritual. He reminds them that if we are at war, we need to be prepared. So he advises them, and by extension, us, to put on ‘the full armor of God

I love it as he paints a word picture of a Roman soldier and uses the soldier’s armor as a model for our spiritual war.

He begins with the belt of truth which gives us flexibility and mobility.

The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts

The Gospel is on our feet as shoes laced up for movement. The Gospel is meant for going, not standing still.

The shield of faith, puts out the flaming arrows launched our way by the Enemy.

Salvation is described as our helmet. The truth of our hope in Christ isn’t just something we feel, it’s something we KNOW. It is part of our intellect and not merely emotional.

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God is the Scripture. Our great weapon is for hand to hand combat and is the only weapon mentioned. Our defense and our offense is not primarily built on our testimony, but on the Bible.

This analogy about armor is key to our understanding of how to be prepared to deal with opposition.

And that’s all I’ve got. As always, please do your own homework. Use the comments section on the show notes at samburtonpresents.com to share your thoughts and questions. Or…email me: samburtonpresents@gmail.com.

Next week we’ll take a look at Colossians and “The God Particle”. Until then, be blessed, and, be a blessing.