Friday, February 14, 2014

The Epistle of James

To whom is James writing?   
There can be no debate over this question (1:1)! James is writing to the twelve tribes of Israel that had been scattered due to the great persecution mentioned in Acts 8:1. James is NOT writing to the body of Christ because there are NOT twelve tribes in the body of Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). There were believing Jews from all twelve tribes in the kingdom church (Acts 2:14, 22, 36). The kingdom church of Acts is NOT the same as the church which is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). A church is simply a called out assembly and there is more than one kind of called out assembly in the Bible (Acts 7:38). The kingdom church was the “little flock” (Lk. 12:32) that believed on the Lord Jesus as their Messiah and were looking for the kingdom to be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6). Jews and Gentiles were NOT in the same body in the kingdom church! During the latter half of the Acts period BOTH the kingdom church and the body of Christ were co-existing (some of the kingdom saints, like Barnabas, heard Paul’s gospel and became part of the body). I do not believe that the twelve apostles became members of the body of Christ (Matt. 19:28). Acts records a transition from the kingdom church to the body of Christ (one is phasing out while the other is phasing in).

This epistle, as well as the other Jewish epistles, certainly has a future application to the kingdom church that will go through the tribulation period (Jam. 5:7-11). The tribulation could have started in Acts 7 but was postponed due to the revelation of the mystery committed to Paul. After the rapture of the body of Christ, God will resume His dealings with Israel and the day of the LORD will begin.   

“The closing books of the Bible- Hebrews through Revelation- relate to the future, and will uphold the faith of the elect members of the Hebrew people and of the Gentiles who will love and confess the true Messiah, and brave the persecutions of the future false Messiah. These Books specially belong to them, and will be understood by them.” (George Williams, 1850-1928)   

What is the theme of this epistle?
The key words are: faith (16 times), works (13 times), and law (10 times). James is exhorting Jews, whose faith is being tried (1:3), to have true faith that works according to the law (2:12) and endures patiently to the end (Matt. 24:13-14). This epistle teaches pure RELIGION (1:25-27). The word “religion” is only found 5 times in scripture and it is used in reference to the works of the law (Acts 26:5; Gal. 1:13-14; the “Jews religion” included their traditions). Notice that “pure religion” is to DO and continue in “the perfect law of liberty”. What is the “law of liberty”?  Many think that the law of liberty cannot be a reference to the Law of Moses because it was called a “yoke of bondage” by Peter and Paul (Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1). The law was a “yoke of bondage” to those who were required to obey it in order to be saved. Although the law itself cannot save (Rom. 3:20) it was at one time required for salvation (Luke 1:5-6). As a nation, Israel failed under the old covenant but will be saved when God makes a new covenant with them when the kingdom is set up (Heb. 8:6-13). Under the new covenant, Israel will keep the law from the heart because they will be filled with the Holy Spirit. If the law is kept from the heart it is not a “yoke of bondage” but a “law of liberty” (Ps. 119:32, 45; Jn. 8:31-32). The Jews to whom James was writing were filled with the Spirit. The kingdom church of Acts was a preview of Israel in the Kingdom Age (Ezek. 36:24-28). The kingdom church lived by the law (Acts 2:1, 46; 3:1; 5:42; 21:20). God has not killed the law (Christ fulfilled it for us, Rom. 10:1-4). Christ will rule by the law in the Kingdom Age (Isa. 2:1-5).

The King taught “pure religion” in the beginning of His ministry when He taught the righteous principles of His kingdom in Matthew 5-7. The “Sermon on the Mount” was pure law (Matt. 5:17-20).

Compare the following verses and you will easily see that James has the same theme as the Sermon on the Mount.

            James                                 Sermon on the Mount
1.         1:2                                         5:10-12
2.         1:4                                         5:48
3.         1:5, 17, 4:2, 5:15                   7:7-11
4.         1:9, 2:5                                   5:3
5.         1:25, 2:10-12                         5:19
6.         1:22, 2:14                              7:21-26
7.          2:8                                        7:12
8.          2:13                                      6:14-15, 7:2
9.          3:12                                      7:16  
10.        3:17-18                                 5:9
11.        4:4                                        6:24
12.        4:8                                         5:8
13.        4:9                                         5:4
14.        4:10                                       5:3-4
15.        4:11-12                                  7:1-2
16.        4:13-16                                  6:25, 34
17.        5:1-3                                      6:19
18.        5:9                                          5:22-24
19.        5:10                                        5:12
20.        5:12                                        5:34

Under the kingdom program of Israel works were required to prove faith for justification (Jam. 2:24) but today, in the age of grace, no works are required to prove faith for justification (Rom. 3:28; 4:5) because we are instantly and permanently justified by the "faith of Christ" (Gal. 2:16). Of course, good works should follow salvation (Eph. 2:10). We do not need to reconcile James and Paul because they were not enemies. They wrote to DIFFERENT groups under DIFFERENT programs!

James is profitable for the body of Christ to study (2 Tim. 3:16). It certainly contains moral principles and spiritual applications for us (as with the “Sermon on the Mount”). But, if we fail to rightly divide the epistle of James it will cause us great doctrinal confusion and problems.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Strife and Separation

Genesis 13:5-13
5    And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents.
6    And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.
7    And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land.
8    And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.
9    Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
10    And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.
11    Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
12    Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
13    But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.

Material wealth is often the cause of strife and division (especially among family). Abram and Lot had so much wealth that they couldn’t dwell together comfortably. Perhaps their herdmen fought over the best pastures to feed the flocks. God mentioned that that the Canaanite and Perizzite dwelled in the land for several reasons:
1. The land was promised but still not possessed 
2. The space was limited by their presence
3. The strife was a bad testimony before the heathen 

Strife is inevitable in this life. It will occur within a family and a church family. We need God’s wisdom to deal with it properly. The Bible distinguishes between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom:

James 3:13-18
13    Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14    But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15    This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16    For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17    But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18    And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. 

Abram demonstrated godly wisdom in how he handled the situation:
1. He took the initiative to solve the problem 
2. He sought to prevent an escalation of strife
3. He showed generosity (usually quenches strife)
4. He showed humility (he was the elder and it was HIS land)

Lot demonstrated worldly wisdom in how he handled the situation. His choice was based on:
1. Wrong perspective – sight (contrast: Heb. 11:10)
2. Wrong motive – self 
3. Wrong company – separated from godly to join ungodly 
4. Wrong direction – away from land of promise and toward a wicked city

Lot winds up dwelling in Sodom and holding a position of leadership in that wicked city. He should have consulted with God about his decision. Got could have informed him about how wicked that city was (v.13) and that He was about to destroy it. The story of Lot begins with him following his uncle as he followed God’s call (it seems he followed Abraham more than God). It ends with him lying drunk in a cave having lost everything. This didn’t happen suddenly. It was a gradual process. Like the song says, "Sin will take you farther than you want to go..." 

The separation turned out bad for Lot but good for Abram. In fact, Abram should have separated from him much earlier (Gen. 12:1). 

Genesis 13:14-18
14    And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
15    For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.
16    And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
17    Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.
18    Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.

Lot was actually a saved man (2 Pet. 2:6-8). He is a type of the worldly believer. We must seek to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). But there are times that we need to separate from worldly brethren (1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Tim. 2:19-24). 

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