SIBLING RIVALRY – John 7:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

If you weren’t an only-child, or if you’re the mother or father of more than one child, you’ve probably experienced sibling rivalry, or watched it take place.  I was one of three boys, so when the three of us got into arguments or fights, it was usually two against one!  The rivalry doesn’t necessarily go away when children become adults, as you probably know.  The Old Testament Scriptures contain several rivalries between brothers, sisters, or both.  The first rivalry was between Cain and his brother Abel.  As we move through the Old Testament we also find the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and her sister Leah, and Joseph and his brothers.  There were some serious, negative results in each case.  I’m reminded of a popular TV show in the 1960’s and 1970″s:  “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”.  As part of their comedy routine, Tommy Smothers would say angrily to his brother, Dick, “Mom always liked you best!”, and a funny argument would ensue.  It was funny because the people in the audience could relate to what they were saying to each other.  They may have used similar phrases and had the same arguments with their own brothers or sisters at some point in their lives.

Why do such rivalries exist among family members?  What are some of the causes?  From the research I’ve done so far, I’ve learned that children are sensitive to differences in parental treatment, as well as unequal amounts of attention and discipline.

The passage of Scripture we are studying, John 7:1-9, tells us that the Lord Jesus was not an only-child.  His mother Mary and His step-father Joseph had several children while Jesus was growing up.  This passage of Scripture will mention His brothers (step-brothers), but He had step-sisters as well, and we will be looking into those details as we study this text of Scripture.

TRANSITION:

Before we begin to study the text, I would like you to exercise your imaginations and recall some memories along with me.  Try to imagine yourself as the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, growing up with Him in the same household, interacting with Him and with your other brothers and sisters every day as children, then adolescents, and finally as adults.  What kinds of potential situations, issues, feelings and tensions come to your mind?  Bring back to mind your own childhood experiences and your experiences as an adolescent and as an adult.  Now keep those thoughts in your mind and continue to ponder them.  Those thoughts and memories are going to be useful to us as the scene changes here in chapter 7 of John’s Gospel.

I.  A CHANGE OF LOCATION (verse 1)

Verse one begins with the words “After these days” – the same words the apostle John used at the beginning of the previous chapter (6:1).  John is not only referring to the things Jesus said and did in chapter 6, but also to the response from the crowd, and especially from the rulers of the Jews.  Bible commentator William Barclay aptly described John 6 as the “beginning of the end”.  Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel begins the last six months of Jesus’ life.  The Lord Jesus had already “signed His own death warrant”, so to speak, by claiming to be God (5:18).  Now He has lost many of His potential defense-witnesses, in chapter 6, when He stated that belief in Him was the only way to eternal life.  Hundred of “followers” walked away and may have become witnesses for the prosecution.  

The rest of verse 1 says, “Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.”  So Jesus was going around the region of Galilee preaching and teaching the Galileans about the kingdom of God.  He did not go from Judea to Galilee out of fear for His life, but because it wasn’t His Father’s timing for Him to be arrested yet.  His reason was not fear, but obedience to His heavenly Father.

II.  THE FEAST (verse 2)

Verse 2 says, “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand.”  The Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Tabernacles.  Bible expositor Warren  Wiersbe gives a brief and concise description of it:

“The Feast of Tabernacles looked back on Israel’s journey through the wilderness,
and looked forward to the promised kingdom of Messiah.  The Jews
lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s provision for
nearly forty years (Leviticus 23:33-44). . . . Tabernacles was a festive time
for the people.  The temple area was illuminated by large candlesticks
that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire; and each day the priests
would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel,
reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock.”

This was one of the three feasts that Jewish males were required to attend.  Great numbers of Jews arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.  It was a time of joy and fellowship that lasted seven days, with a solemn feast on the eighth day.  Many animals were sacrificed to the Lord, and many free-will offerings were given during that period of time (Numbers 29:7-40; Deuteronomy 16:14-16).

III.  BROTHERLY ADVICE? (verses 3-5)

In verses 3 and 4, the apostle John writes down for us the only words spoken to Jesus by His brothers that are recorded in the Scriptures.  Let’s pay close attention to their words and see if we can gain any insights into their purpose for saying those words, and the manner in which they may have said them to Jesus.  Verse 3 says:

His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea,
that your disciples may behold Your works which You are doing.”

Since all of His brothers are saying these words to Jesus, they probably had been discussing the matter among themselves and had come to an agreement about what they wanted to say.to Him.  Matthew 13:55-56 gives us the names of four brothers:  “James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude)”.  The parentheses are mine.  He also mentions that Jesus had sisters.

Their words are not in the form of a suggestion or a request, but rather a command or a challenge.  The word “therefore” tells us that they must have known about all the followers who had turned away from Him in Capernaum, and assumed that this was the reason why He was now ministering in Galilee.  As you look at their words, do you detect a bit of sarcasm?  Are they making fun of Him and ridiculing Him?  We don’t know the inflection in their voices, but we do see the words “your disciples”.  His brothers are not His followers, at least not at this point in time.  They are excluding themselves by the use of those words.  To put it into today’s vernacular, they were saying to Jesus:  “Leave those lower-class Jews in Galilee and make your pitch before the ‘big wigs’ in Judea, where the action is.  Show your disciples your best miracles.  See if you can convince them, and us, that you’re really who you claim to be.  Give it your best shot!”  That paraphrase seems to fit what they say next in verse 4:

“For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be
known publicly.  If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”

Notice the little word,“if” in verse 4.  His brothers don’t believe His miracles.  They have probably not seen any of them, and are unwilling to believe the reports they have heard.  In an attempt to put their words into 21st century slang, His brothers are saying, “Come out of hiding; get the word out, and take a world tour.”  But Jesus wasn’t seeking to become a celebrity or a status symbol.  Their “marketing strategy” is similar to Satan’s temptation in Matthew 4:5-7, where Satan tried to make Jesus take action on His own, rather than submit to the will of His heavenly Father.

Even though His brothers don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, how could they treat their older brother in such a way.  What would motivate them to say the things they said to Him in such a cruel way?  Why are they “ganging up on Him” – four against one?

It’s time to bring back to your mind those rivalries between you and your own brothers and sisters, and rivalries between your own children.  Have the memories come back to mind?  Now ask yourself this question:  “What would it be like to grow up with a brother who never sinned; who never did anything wrong, and was never punished?”  Would you be looking for weak spots in his character?  Would you be trying to find a hole or a crack in his armor?  Would you be trying to make one?  Would you be doing everything in your power to get him into trouble just once, to make sure he was human like you?   Would there be times when you would like to get into an argument with him or pick a fight with him?  Would you be calling him names such as “Mr. goody two-sandals”?  You don’t have to answer those questions.  We both know the answers already, don’t we?

This poses another question.  As the children were growing up, did Mary and Joseph tell them about Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth, and all the details surrounding those events.  Did they tell their children that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of heaven and earth?  The Scriptures don’t give us that information, but apparently Mary and Joseph kept that information from them, and for good reasons.  You know how hard it is for little children to keep secrets, especially if they are speaking in a brother’s defense.  For example, if someone were to say to them, “My brother is better than your brother”, they might get the response, “No he’s not, my Brother is the Messiah, the Son of God.”  If that news spread, Jesus and His whole family might be in danger of death from the Romans and the Jews.

Even though Mary and Joseph probably didn’t communicate that information about Jesus, children can detect differences in the way their parents talk to each of them and respond to each of them.  Whether they consciously realized it or not, how could Mary and Joseph hide the sense of awe and wonder they felt inside every time they looked at Jesus, touched Him, and conversed with Him.  As adolescents, His brothers and sisters may have thought to themselves, and commented to one another about their parents:  “It’s almost as if they worshiped Him.”  Such thoughts and observations could easily provoke jealousy and anger among Jesus’ siblings.

John expresses his amazement, in verse 5, by saying, “not even His brothers believed in Him”.  After all they had seen, heard, and experienced, they still refused to acknowledge that their brother was the Messiah.  He’s confirming that their words to Jesus, here in verses 3-5, were not motivated by faith in Him.

IV.  JESUS’ RESPONSE TO HIS BROTHERS (verses 6-9)

ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10 (Continued)

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Welcome back to James 4:1-10!  I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section.  We are now studying verses 5-10.  Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret.  No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers.  Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations.  Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?  (KJV)

Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?  (RSV)

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels.  Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.

That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5.  There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter.  There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words.  This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.

So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it?  I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole.  He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture.  Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:

Or do you think that vainly the scripture says:  to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you?  (Greek Interlinear New Testament)

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?

James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds.  That was part of their upbringing.  But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives.  So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel.  Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”?  James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!

A psalm of David comes to mind.  At the end of his song, David says,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers.  They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!

In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement:  “But he gives more grace” (NIV).  The word translated “more”  actually means “greater”.  As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness.  As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,  Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV).  I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half.  But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride?  A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:

“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.”  Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary:  “BEND OR BUMP!”

I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height.  One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door.  I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames.  Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head.  I was tempted to wear a helmet!  Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance.  Then a wonderful thing happened!  I didn’t have to think about it any longer.  Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God!  However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!

We are never humble enough, are we?  Humility is something we are to ask for from God.  But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!

Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test?  Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you?  Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit?  Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?

Second, can you pass the sincerity test?  A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!”  Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be.  You have nothing to be proud of!”  At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t?  Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!”  This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.

Third, how would you score in the criticism test?  Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings?  What if someone rebukes you?  Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself?  Do you retaliate by finding fault with others?  Or do you remain meek and unruffled?

Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they?  And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean.  His standard is perfection, not “above average”.

In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives.  James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children.  James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother.  The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance.  We don’t know.  But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children.  He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.

In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first.  The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term.  It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”.  God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.

Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan.  I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable.  The result was an outburst of anger on my part.  There was no excuse for it.  Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God?  Do you still maintain control over areas of your life?  The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”.  (Luke 22:42)  You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often:  “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”

The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half.  It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Ephesians 4:27 says:  “Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.”  Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world.  The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history.  The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures.  That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.

Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter.  He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8).  The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God.  When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation.  So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again.  Then I went to sleep.  In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.

Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience.  A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”  However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all.  At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him.  For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil.  Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!”  In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.

Has the devil been troubling you?  If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God.  Put on the “full armor of God”.  Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.

Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent.  Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written:  “Draw near to God!”  “And He will draw near to you!”  Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture?  I sure am!

I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result.  I also hope you have someone  with whom you can be brutally honest.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?

The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God.  In Exodus 19:22  Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying:  ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”  God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.

In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse.  James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!”  When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean?  Can you remember being shown how to do it properly?  I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists.  Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel.  The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain.  We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean.  In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.

James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”!  If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”

The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner.  Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers.  No wonder James is so upset!  They profess to be godly but their actions deny it.  He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world.  So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes.  Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.”  King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?  Or who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)

Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you?  You may be familiar with this accrostic:  ACTS.  It stands for:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers.  Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS:  CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication.  You cat-lovers might like that!  And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.

When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39).  God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.

Are you double-minded or single-minded?  An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.  Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God?  Be honest!  God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it?  It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29).  So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.

The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”.  But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel:  “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.  (Joel 2:12).  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is:  “Don’t take sin lightly”.  Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.

James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he?  There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet!  It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him.  But that’s not all he hurled at him!  Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16.  “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!

When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.”  (II Samuel 16:5-14).  David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly.  Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it?  Especially for a king and his army!  But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.

In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses.  He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself?  Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way?  “I can do better than that!”  “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!”  James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life.  We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.

The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  Self is a god, isn’t it?  And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today.  How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud?  Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled?  The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them.  Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses.  Moody said:  “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finallyhe spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He.  Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him.  Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?

We live in an “instant society”.  There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything.  But there’s no such thing as instant humility.  There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie  that can make you humble.  And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness.  As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV)  But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?

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This work-in-progress is progressing.  I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also.  There is much more work to be done!  I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way.  Keep your hard hats on!  If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient.  I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before.   The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress.  He has His blueprints in hand!  Thank you for visiting this construction site.  Please come back soon!

 

EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!

 

THE PROFILE OF A LEADER – II Timothy 2:1-7

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INTRODUCTION:

William Sangster, a popular preacher and writer of the 1950’s, said this:  “The church is painfully in need of leaders.”  In the Scriptures God is frequently described as searching for a man of a certain type;  not “men”,  but “a man”;  not a group, but an individual.             I Samuel 13:14 says, “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart.”  In Ezekiel 22:30 God says, “I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap . . . but I found no one.”  Are you such a person?  What kind of a person is it that God is looking for?  In II Timothy 2:1-7,  the apostle Paul, after telling Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus”, describes such a person by using four images:

I.  A TEACHER (verse 2)

In verse 2, the first image Paul uses to describe the Christian leader is that of a teacher.  A college student was having difficulty with his studies so he finally decided to talk to his professor.  He complained, “I’m studying hard.  I’m doing my best, but I just can’t retain what I read or try to memorize.  Do you think it would help if I hired a tutor?”

Clearly understanding the young man’s problem, the instructor replied, “No, I wouldn’t recommend that at all.  You don’t need a teacher, you need a pupil!”  He knew that learning is increased when we share our knowledge with others.

This professor’s advice reminds us of believers who know many Bible facts but still have a poor understanding of scriptural truths.  They attend church every Sunday, listen faithfully to religious broadcasts, and study the Scriptures personally;  yet they seem to lack a working knowledge of the Bible.  What’s the problem?  They never do anything with that information!  They don”t need to be taught more;  they need to tell others what they have learned.  As they put it into practice, they will begin to understand it more fully.  That is what Paul said to Timothy in verse 2.  The things Paul said were confirmed by many witnesses as being the truth of God.  There are many teachers today who compromise the Scriptures so that they are acceptable to the mentality of this age in which we live.  Paul is telling Timothy to “entrust” the things he’s learned from him to faithful men.  The word “entrust” gives the picture of a precious treasure being placed in the safekeeping of another person.  We each have things that we treasure, either because they are expensive or because they have sentimental value.  If you were going on a trip, would you hand these items over to a total stranger?  No!  You would give them to a trusted friend with information on how to care for and protect them.  The Gospel is a precious treasure and should be given to “faithful men” who won’t misuse it or abandon it.

The teacher is described in verse 2 as equipping others to teach, not satisfied with just communicating the message.  The nature of the Gospel message demands that it be propagated or reproduced in the lives of others.  The ultimate goal of the teacher is to see God’s Word passed on to others, and through them to still others.  That is the key to reaching this world for the Lord Jesus Christ.

II.  A SOLDIER (verses 3-4)

The second image that Paul uses is that of a soldier.  You could say that if any apostle was an authority on soldiers, it was the apostle Paul.  He had been in prison and chained to soldiers during much of his Christian life.  What comes to your minds when you think of a soldier’s life?  In verse 3, Paul describes a soldier as one who is willing to suffer hardship.  The apostle Paul was a good soldier of Jesus Christ because he suffered for the cause of Christ, and had the scars to prove it.  There was a popular saying during World War II:   people would often say to each other, “there’s a war on!”  It was a reminder to them that hardships were to be expected and accepted.

Fellow Christians, there IS a war on!  We, as Christians, are in a war against the world, against our own sinful flesh, and against Satan.  Are we willing to accept all the hardship that comes as a result of identifying with the cause of Christ?  As modern-day believers, we may not all experience great persecution for our faith, but we do face hardships and trials.  Our faith in Christ is not an escape from them, but it does give us the strength to endure them.

In verse 4, Paul says that a soldier is obedient and loyal.  The words “on active duty” describe the life of a soldier of Christ as a constant battle.  There are no “furloughs” or “vacations” from the Christian life.  Constant and complete dedication is needed.  A soldier  also does not “entangle himself in the affairs of everyday life”.  A Roman soldier was forbidden to engage in civilian occupations and was told to avoid becoming overly involved in the affairs of the market-place.  He was a soldier first and his loyalty was to be to his commander.

The Christian is also to be single-minded.  This may mean laying aside certain habits, amusements, pursuits, and maybe even certain relationships, not necessarily because they may be wrong in themselves, but because they may be an entanglement, keeping us from performing our primary responsibilities as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

III.  AN ATHLETE (verse 5)

In verse 5, Paul uses the image of an athlete to describe the Christian.  The word “competes” comes from two Greek words which were used together to describe a “professional” as opposed to an “amateur” athlete.  It was a full-time dedication of one’s life to excellence in the athletic event or events he had chosen.  Paul says that the goal of the athlete is to win the prize by “competing according to the rules”.  Several athletes in the 1976 olympic games were discovered to have taken prohibited drugs.  Their medals were taken away from them.  All those years of preparation and hard work were for nothing!

As a Christian leader, the standard is God’s Word, and we have several umpires observing what we do and how we do it.  We have the divine umpire, and He doesn’t miss a thing.  But we also have the Christians and non-Christians around us.  I’ve personally found that some non-Christians will tempt you, test you, argue with you, and antagonize you, but inwardly many of them want you to succeed, to pass their tests, because they want something worth believing, and worth giving themselves to.  God is looking for faithful Christians, faithful to Him and to His Word,  whatever the cost.  And some day we will win the prize when God rewards our faithfulness to Him.

IV.  THE FARMER (verses 6 and 7)

The fourth image that Paul uses to describe the Christian leader is that of the farmer.  In verse 6, he describes the farmer as being “hardworking”.  The word means working to the point of weariness and exhaustion.  As a kid, I remember spending a week with a friend on his parents’ farm.  We went to bed early every night and got up really early every morning.  His mother made the biggest breakfasts that I have ever seen!  There were eggs, pancakes, potatoes, meat, rolls, fruit, and hot cereal.  I soon found out why there was so much food.  We worked hard after breakfast gathering the eggs, feeding the chickens, cows, horses, and pigs, spraying the weeds, and picking the ripe fruit and vegetables.  By lunch time, and also at supper time, I was famished and ate lots of food.  After the week was over, I can remember coming home exhausted.  Now I knew why their son liked to spend a week with us once in a while!

The farmer must be content to keep working hard,  and also to keep waiting.  More than any other worker, the farmer has to learn that there is no such thing as quick results.  It takes months after the seed is sown and the ground is continually watered and cultivated, that the fruit, vegetables, and grain finally begin to ripen and can be harvested.  But all that hard work will finally pay off.

The Christian life is also hard work  The Christian too must learn to work hard and also to wait.  Often he will sow the seed of God’s Word into the hearts of others and see no immediate results.  Sometimes it takes years of sowing and watering before some people respond to the Gospel message and are saved.  But we must, like the farmer, keep on working and waiting.  The pastor and author, John R.W. Stott, said:  “This notion that Christian service is hard work is so unpopular in some happy-go-lucky Christian circles  today.”

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION:

Let me summarize the qualities of a good Chrtistian leader.  As a teacher, he should be characterized by faithfulness to uphold the truth of God’s Word, and a zeal to see it reproduced in the lives of faithful people, and then passed on to others.  As a soldier, he is to be undistracted from his calling and willing to endure anything for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As an athlete, he is to be above reproach in his actions, attitudes, and methods, both before the eyes of the world and the eyes of God.  And as a farmer, he is to work long and hard, trusting God for the harvest to come.

Will you be such a person:  the kind of person that God and His church seeks after;  the kind of person that this world needs?  Will you be able to say confidently to those you are teaching and helping to grow spiritually, what the apostle Paul said in verse 7:  “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”?

 

 

JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE – John 2:12-17

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I.. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)

Have you ever been ripped off?  Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what your paid for them?  I imagine that most of us can think of a particular product, movie, place of entertainment or eating establishment that has left a bad impression in our minds.  Rip-offs aren’t just common to our day.  You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden.  Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth.  He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would become like God, knowing good and evil.  They fell for his lie, and as a result, they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.

We human beings aren’t the  only  ones who get ripped off.  God gets ripped off sometimes too.  This passage of Scripture shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people.  In verses 12 and 13, Jesus, His mother, His family, and His disciples spent a few days in Capernaum.  A figure of speach called a “polysyndeton” is found here.  The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group.  From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ step-father, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.

The city of Capernaum was to become Jesus’ home and the headquarters for His ministry in Galilee.  In this case they were there only a few days because they went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover.  The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land.  In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside doorposts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children.  They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.

CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)

In verse 14, Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes.  In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards.  First, there is the court of the gentiles, then the court of the women, then the court of Israel, and finally the court of the priests.  Jesus was in the court of the gentiles in verse 14.

Because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities decided to set up their animal market and tables for the money changers in the court of the gentiles. It had become a very corrupt system.  For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to attend the Passover feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal right there in the temple.  But there were many cases where a priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable.   So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals.  Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals.  On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell, the highpriest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar.  That’s quite a reduction in price!

This monopoly on sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship hateful to the people.  The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals, an animal that the person cared for from its birth and cherished.  By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the person was giving a part of himself and his work to God.

This was also the time of the year for the annual temple tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple.  The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged, and, of course, there was a substantial service change!  The temple had become like a circus!  The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the money changers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship.  That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.

III.  CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)

In Exodus 12:15 God tells His people on the first day of the week of the Passover to remove all leaven, and everything with heaven in it, from their houses in preparation for the Passover meal.  Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption, and the Lord Jesus was about to rid the temple of the corruption that was in it.  He made a scourge of cords and used it to drive out the oxen.  He turned over the money tables, and you can imagine the scramble for the rolling coins!  He also herded out the sheep, and ordered those who sold the doves to remove the cages from the temple.  You can see the Lord’s restraint.  He wanted to safeguard the innocent birds and do no harm to the animals or the people.  It’s at this time that He calls God His Father in verse 16, thereby proclaiming Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God.  Within minutes the place was cleared.  All that remained to be done was the picking up of the litter and cleaning the floor!

Jesus took on the powerful hierarchy of the scribes, pharisees, priests, and sudducees.  In Matthew 23:38, when Jesus cleansed the temple for the second and last time, He called it “your house”.  Jesus had prophetically handed “their” temple over for destruction, and the temple was later destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.

IV..  LESSONS LEARNED (verse 17)

This incident in Christ”s life made a definite impression on His disciples, who remembered Psalm 69:9 – a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says  “Zeal for my Father’s house shall consume Me.”  In this passage it was predicted that when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God.  They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure.

Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple in Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them.  Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary.  It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him.  Have we given the Lord Jesus Christ the place of ownership in our own individual lives?  Are we being good stewards of all that He has given us, using it for His glory, as an act of worship to Him?  If so, it will be obvioius to those around us.  If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW – Philippians 2:5-8

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INTRODUCTION:

In Philippians 2:1-4 we studied what it means to be humble, to put others first, to look out for the interests and needs of others. We learned that true satisfaction and joy come from loving others and being unselfish toward others. Remember the motto that Dwight L. Moody gave to a graduating class at Moody Bible College? “Do all the good you can to all the people you can in all the ways you can for as long as you can.”

How do you teach humility? The only way is by example. This next passage of Scripture, Philippians 2:5-8, is one of the most profound and amazing passages of Scripture in the whole Bible. The apostle Paul uses the perfect illustration of humility – Jesus Christ Himself. Paul says in verse 5, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Our attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ’s because our attitude determines our actions. If our attitude is selfish, our actions are going to be selfish and destructive. In reviewing what the Son of God did to become the Son of man, we should be reminded that one who suffers little does not groan in the presence of one who suffers much. For instance, would it be appropriate to complain bitterly about chapped hands while visiting a person who recently had one of his hands amputated? Or what sensitive citizen would complain about having to pay taxes while standing at the graveside of one who had given his life for his country? When we think about the birth, life, and death of Christ, all our problems and inconveniences become insignificant.

I. HE THOUGHT OF OTHERS (verses 5-6)

Following Jesus’ example means humbly serving others. Verse 6 takes us back to eternity past. The phrase “form of God” has nothing to do with shape or size. God is spirit. The word “form” refers to Jesus’ inward nature. It means that in eternity past, Jesus Christ was God. But Jesus didn’t consider His equality with God as “something to hang on to.” Jesus didn’t think of Himself. He thought of others. Jesus’ attitude was: I can’t keep my privileges to myself. I must use them for others, and I’ll gladly pay whatever price is necessary. What a contrast to Lucifer. Most Bible scholars believe that Lucifer and Satan are the same person. Lucifer was the highest of the angels and was close to the throne of God, but he wanted to be “on” the throne of God. His pride cost him his place in heaven and he was cast into hell, along with his followers.

II. HE SERVED (verse 7)

In verse 7 Paul traces the steps in the humiliation of Christ. First. He emptied Himself, laying aside His majesty, and the independent use of His attributes as God. Secondly, He permanently became a human, in a sinless physical body. Thirdly, He used that body to be a servant. And fourthly, He took that body to the cross and willingly died. Have you noticed that as you read the four Gospels that it is Jesus who served others, not others who served Him, with only a couple of exceptions?

III. HE SACRIFICED (verse 8)

Have you ever talked to or heard about people who thought that they had finally achieved humility? One man wrote a book entitled “Humility and How I Attained It”. When a person thinks he has attained humility, he is actually far from it. Our desire and prayer should not be “Lord, keep me humble”, but “Lord, make me humble”.

Jesus chose the way He would come to this earth, and He chose a lowly birth. He was born in a stable. He chose lowly parents. His step-father, Joseph, was a lowly carpenter. He chose to be very plain looking. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He has no stately form or majesty, that we should look upon Him.” He chose to have no status or reputation. In Luke 22:27 Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves”. He chose to have no abilities. In John 5:30 Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing”. He chose not to be independent. In Luke 22:42 Jesus said, “I seek not my own will, but the will of Him who sent me”. No wonder the apostle Paul encourages us to be like Christ.

The word “servant” in verse 7 is the Greek word “doulos”, which means “slave”. Under Roman law, a slave was greatly humiliated. A slave had no rights and no justice. A slave could be bought and sold, and could be tortured to the extreme. That description of a slave also describes the life and death of Jesus Christ.

Many people are willing to serve others if it doesn’t cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest. Jesus, however, “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing. The person with a submissive mind does not avoid sacrifice. He lives for the glory of God and for the good of others. If paying the price will honor Christ and help others, he is willing to do it. A man by the name of Douglas Hyde was a communist for 20 years. In his book, “Dedication and Leadership” he says that communists never ask a person to do a small task. They always ask him to do something that will cost him. They make big demands, and they get a willing response. The “willingness to sacrifice” is one of the most important factors in the success of the communist movement. Even the young people in the movement are expected to study, serve, give, and obey, and that is what attracts them and keeps them going.

A church board met with their youth group as they planned the annual “youth Sunday program”, and one of the board members suggested that the teenagers could serve as ushers, lead in prayer, and bring special music. One of the teens stood up and said, “quite frankly, we’re tired of being asked to do little things. We’d like to do something different this year, and maybe keep it going all year long. We’ve talked and prayed about this, and we’d like to work with our trustees in remodeling that basement room so it can be used as a classroom, and we’d like to start visiting our elderly members each week and taking them cassettes of the services. And, if it’s OK we’d like to have a weekly witness on Sunday afternoons in the park. We hope this will be OK with you.” He sat down, and the new youth pastor smiled to himself. He had privately challenged these teenagers to do something that would cost them, and they enthusiastically responded to the challenge. He knew that sacrifice is necessary if there is going to be true growth and ministry.

The test of a submissive mind is not just how much we are willing to take in terms of suffering, but how much we are willing to give in terms of sacrifice. And in the Christian life, the more we give, the more we receive; the more we sacrifice, the more God blesses. The result is an inner joy. As we share in Christ’s sufferings we also share in His joy. Is it costing you anything to be a Christian?

ESSENTIALS FOR VICTORY – Philippians 1:27-30

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INTRODUCTION:  Several years ago a believer in Jesus Christ was walking past a tavern in the city of Philadelphia.  Looking in, he saw a man who claimed to be a Christian drinking and gambling.  He took a pencil and wrote a message on a slip of paper.  Seeing a young man standing near the door, he greeted him and said to him, “Would you do something for me?  Do you see that man over there playing cards?  Would you give him this note?”  The young man agreed to do it.  When the backslidden believer opened the note, he blushed, for it read, “Ye are my witnesses!”  Immediately he got up and left the tavern.  That note was used by the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to his heart.  He realized that he had not been true to Christ.  In the passage of Scripture we are studying today, Philippians 1:27-30, the apostle Paul gives us three essentials for victory as we strive to demonstrate our faith in Christ and in His Word.

I.  CONSISTENCY (1:27a)

The first essential is consistency.  In verse 27 Paul says, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”  The Greek word translated “conduct yourself” is the word from which we get our word “politics”.  Paul is saying, “behave the way citizens are supposed to behave.”  Speaking to people about the Lord is important because the witness of our lives is not enough to save other people.  It’s the Word of God that contains the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives.  However, if our words are not backed up by living evidence, our words are empty.  Dr. Daniel Steele says, “All jurists in a court of law will tell you that one bit of authentic evidence is worth 10,000 words of pleading.”  Paul is implying that we Christians are the citizens of heaven, and while we’re on this earth we ought to behave like heaven’s citizens.  This argument of Paul’s was very meaningful to the people in Philippi because Philippi was a Roman colony, and its citizens were actually Roman citizens, protected by Roman law.  Similarly, the church of Jesus Christ is a colony of heaven on earth, and we ought to behave like citizens of heaven.

The word “worthy” means “to be of equal weight”.  Paul is saying, “Make sure your behavior as citizens adds up to, or is consistent with, the gospel message you present.  That’s our challenge today!

While the great French artist Dore was travelling in Southern Europe, he lost his passport.  When he came to the border of a particular country, a border guard asked him to show his papers. ” I’ve lost them”, Dore said, “but you can trust me.  I am Gustav Dore, the artist.  Please let me proceed.”  “Oh no!”, said the officer.  “many have tried to pass themselves off as important people”.  A lengthly conversation  followed, with both parties protesting.  Finally the officer said, “Here is a pencil and paper.  If you are the famous artist, prove it by drawing a picture!”  With a masterful hand Dore quickly sketched some of the features of the surrounding countryside.  “Now I’m perfectly sure of who you are!” exclaimed the officer.  “Only Dore could do that!”

In living the Christian life, an ounce of illustration is worth many pounds of talk.  There’s a well-known poem that goes like this:

You are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do, by the words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true.
Say, what is the gospel according to you?

II.  COOPERATION (verse 27b)

The second essential for victory, as we strive to represent Christ and obey His Word, is cooperation.  In the middle of verse 27, Paul speaks of “striving together for the faith of the gospel”.  The words “striving together” were used to refer to the teamwork of athletes. The key word is “together”.  The local body of believers is to be like a team of athletes.  Each of us has an assigned place and job, and if each one is doing his job, it helps all the others.  Not everyone can be captain or quarterback.  The team has to follow the rules, and the word of God is our “rule book”.  God doesn’t want any “glory hounds” in His church.  You know, the ones who always want to be in the spotlight and get all the praise.  We are called to be a team, and our goal is to make one Person look good and receive all the praise.  That person is our Lord Jesus Christ.  There is joy in our lives, even as we do battle with our enemy, Satan, if we live for Christ and practice “Christian teamwork”.  Remember, we are members of the same team and should work cooperatively.

III.  CONFIDENCE (verses 28-30)

The third essential for success as we face the enemy is confidence.  The apostle Paul says in verse 28:  “Don’t be alarmed by your opponents”.  This phrase was used by the Greeks to describe a horse shying away from battle.  There’s no reason for us to be afraid.  We are on the winning side because Satan was defeated when Christ died on the cross for our sins.  We have the victory when we trust in Christ’s power.

In verses 29 and 30 Paul gives us several reasons to be confident in the battle.  First, these battles prove that we are saved.  For some reason many Christians have the idea that trusting Christ means the end of their battles.  Actually, it means the beginning of new battles.  Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”  II Timothy 3:12 says, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Secondly, the presence of conflict is a privilege.  When we suffer for Christ or with Christ, it is an honor.  Thirdly, others are experiencing the same conflict.  Satan wants us to think that we are alone in the battle, that our difficulties are unique.  But this is not true.  Paul is reminding the Philippians that he’s going through the same difficulties they are experiencing.  Knowing that other believers are also engaged in the battle is an encouragement for us to keep going and to pray for them as well as for ourselves.

We all have our bad days when it seems like our whole world is against us.  Life isn’t always a picnic, is it?  But Paul is saying that he’s had many of those rough days, but he hasn’t let those days rob him of joy. Paul was faithful and persistent, in spite of his obstacles. That’s the kind of attitude Paul is looking for in the Philippians, and God is looking for in each of us.

Do you want to have joy today in spite of the circumstances you’re in, or may be facing?  Remember, you can be confident that you’re a citizen of heaven if Christ is your Savior and Lord, and He wants you to act like one.  Remember, we are all members of the same team, and God wants us to cooperate with each other and be concerned for each other.  Remember, we face the same enemy and need the confidence that only Christ can give us as we depend on Him.  Christianity was never meant to be dull, but exciting!