Friday, April 30, 2010

Reflections on 2 Peter 2

    2 Peter 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Sometimes false prophets spoke to the people of Israel. False teachers will also sneak in and speak harmful lies to you. But these teachers don't really belong to the Master who paid a great price for them, and they will quickly destroy themselves.
  2. Many people will follow their evil ways and cause others to tell lies about the true way.
  3. They will be greedy and cheat you with smooth talk. But long ago God decided to punish them, and God doesn't sleep.
  4. God did not have pity on the angels that sinned. He had them tied up and thrown into the dark pits of hell until the time of judgment.
  5. And during Noah's time, God did not have pity on the ungodly people of the world. He destroyed them with a flood, though he did save eight people, including Noah, who preached the truth.
  6. God punished the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and this is a warning to anyone else who wants to sin.
  7. Lot lived right and was greatly troubled by the terrible way those wicked people were living. He was a good man, and day after day he suffered because of the evil things he saw and heard. So the Lord rescued him.
  8. (SEE 2:7)
  9. This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.
  10. The Lord is especially hard on people who disobey him and don't think of anything except their own filthy desires. They are reckless and proud and are not afraid of cursing the glorious beings in heaven.
  11. Although angels are more powerful than these evil beings, even the angels don't dare to accuse them to the Lord.
  12. These people are no better than senseless animals that live by their feelings and are born to be caught and killed. They speak evil of things they don't know anything about. But their own corrupt deeds will destroy them.
  13. They have done evil, and they will be rewarded with evil. They think it is fun to have wild parties during the day. They are immoral, and the meals they eat with you are spoiled by the shameful and selfish way they carry on.
  14. All they think about is having sex with someone else's husband or wife. There is no end to their wicked deeds. They trick people who are easily fooled, and their minds are filled with greedy thoughts. But they are headed for trouble!
  15. They have left the true road and have gone down the wrong path by following the example of the prophet Balaam. He was the son of Beor and loved what he got from being a crook.
  16. But a donkey corrected him for this evil deed. It spoke to him with a human voice and made him stop his foolishness.
  17. These people are like dried up water holes and clouds blown by a windstorm. The darkest part of hell is waiting for them.
  18. They brag out loud about their stupid nonsense. And by being vulgar and crude, they trap people who have barely escaped from living the wrong kind of life.
  19. They promise freedom to everyone. But they are merely slaves of filthy living, because people are slaves of whatever controls them.
  20. When they learned about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they escaped from the filthy things of this world. But they are again caught up and controlled by these filthy things, and now they are in worse shape than they were at first.
  21. They would have been better off if they had never known about the right way. Even after they knew what was right, they turned their backs on the holy commandments that they were given.
  22. What happened to them is just like the true saying, "A dog will come back to lick up its own vomit. A pig that has been washed will roll in the mud."

Chapter 1 concluded with Peter's reference to the prophets of old who attested to his message concerning the Messiah. Now, in chapter 2, Peter continues his reference to the prophets of old by saying that among them there were false prophets just as now there would be false teachers among those who were readers of his letter. He is warning them to be on the outlook for these false teachers, for they will not be obvious, but rather they will be deceptive in their exploitation of true believers. Unfortunately, many will be deceived and will follow their unrestrained ways.

We may wonder why such false teachers are not readily recognized if their ways are unrestrained and they go so far as to deny Christ. However, they cloak their debauchery in deceptive words. They make it sound as if their debauchery is actually spiritual and many believe them. Who would believe such teaching after knowing the teachings of Christ? I suspect it is those who want to believe them. Those who are enticed by the promise of the best of both worlds -  you can have the blessings of God while also having the supposed blessings of a life that fulfills the desires of the flesh. It is not unlike those who are enticed by "get rich quick" schemes and lose all their money as the result. They hear the scheme and it sounds too good to be true, but they turn off the alarms in their heads because they want the possibility of getting rich so easily. It is a formula for disaster, as is accepting the teachings of these false teachers.

But Peter says that judgment for these false teachers is certain, just as it was certain for angels who sinned and as it was for the people of Noah's day who were destroyed by the flood because of their sin and as it was for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed because of their ungodliness. Also certain is the deliverance of the righteous from the unrestrained behavior of the false teachers just as Lot was rescued from those in his day whose unrestrained behavior distressed him. Peter says, "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment." 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reflections on 2 Peter 1

    2 Peter 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. To everyone who shares with us in the privilege of believing that our God and Savior Jesus Christ will do what is just and fair.
  2. I pray that God will be kind to you and will let you live in perfect peace! May you keep learning more and more about God and our Lord Jesus.
  3. We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God's own power, when we learned that he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness.
  4. God made great and marvelous promises, so that his nature would become part of us. Then we could escape our evil desires and the corrupt influences of this world.
  5. Do your best to improve your faith. You can do this by adding goodness, understanding,
  6. self-control, patience, devotion to God,
  7. concern for others, and love.
  8. If you keep growing in this way, it will show that what you know about our Lord Jesus Christ has made your lives useful and meaningful.
  9. But if you don't grow, you are like someone who is nearsighted or blind, and you have forgotten that your past sins are forgiven.
  10. My friends, you must do all you can to show that God has really chosen and selected you. If you keep on doing this, you won't stumble and fall.
  11. Then our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will give you a glorious welcome into his kingdom that will last forever.
  12. You are holding firmly to the truth that you were given. But I am still going to remind you of these things.
  13. In fact, I think I should keep on reminding you until I leave this body.
  14. And our Lord Jesus Christ has already told me that I will soon leave it behind.
  15. That is why I am doing my best to make sure that each of you remembers all of this after I am gone.
  16. When we told you about the power and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling clever stories that someone had made up. But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness.
  17. God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honored him by saying, "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him."
  18. We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven.
  19. All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true. So you should pay close attention to their message, as you would to a lamp shining in some dark place. You must keep on paying attention until daylight comes and the morning star rises in your hearts.
  20. But you need to realize that no one alone can understand any of the prophecies in the Scriptures.
  21. The prophets did not think these things up on their own, but they were guided by the Spirit of God.

In this, Peter's second letter, the apostle encourages his readers to live the life of godliness God intended for them (and for us) and made possible through His divine power. By living this life, they (we) become participants or partners in the "divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world." (1:4) To acquire this life God has promised to us, we have already been given "everything required." (1:3)

Verses 5-7 outline the qualities that will enable us to acquire this life God has empowered us to live. The first step is faith. It is by faith that we become partners with God in the divine nature that makes possible this life. But to fully acquire what is available to us in this nature we need to add the qualities given in these verses. To faith we need to add goodness. Then comes knowledge and to knowledge we add self-control and to self-control we add endurance and then godliness. To this point the qualities are inward and personal. Though Peter does not specify that there is a progressiveness to the adding of these qualities, the very nature of how he presents them suggests that they are. And if seen in that light, it then follows that the inward qualities need to be acquired before the outward qualities of brotherly affection and love can be added.

Peter points out both the advantage of acquiring these qualities and the disadvantage of not acquiring them. Those who acquire them will not be "useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1:8)  But those who fail to acquire them are "blind and shortsighted" and have "forgotten the cleansing from (their) past sins." (1:9)  Therefore, Peter encourages them to make every effort to acquire them and thus "confirm (their) calling and election." (1:10)  Furthermore, by acquiring these qualities they will never stumble, or in other words, experience a reversal.

Peter does not presume that by telling them these things he is informing them of things they do not already know. Instead, his intent is to "remind you about these things," and thus keep them awake to these things. To add weight to these truths, Peter reminds them that these are not things he has contrived. Rather, he received them directly from "our Lord Jesus Christ" of whose majesty Peter was an eyewitness.  (1:16) 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 5

    1 Peter 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Church leaders, I am writing to encourage you. I too am a leader, as well as a witness to Christ's suffering, and I will share in his glory when it is shown to us.
  2. Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. Do it willingly in order to please God, and not simply because you think you must. Let it be something you want to do, instead of something you do merely to make money.
  3. Don't be bossy to those people who are in your care, but set an example for them.
  4. Then when Christ the Chief Shepherd returns, you will be given a crown that will never lose its glory.
  5. All of you young people should obey your elders. In fact, everyone should be humble toward everyone else. The Scriptures say, "God opposes proud people, but he helps everyone who is humble."
  6. Be humble in the presence of God's mighty power, and he will honor you when the time comes.
  7. God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him.
  8. Be on your guard and stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is like a roaring lion, sneaking around to find someone to attack.
  9. But you must resist the devil and stay strong in your faith. You know that all over the world the Lord's followers are suffering just as you are.
  10. But God shows undeserved kindness to everyone. That's why he appointed Christ Jesus to choose you to share in his eternal glory. You will suffer for a while, but God will make you complete, steady, strong, and firm.
  11. God will be in control forever! Amen.
  12. Silvanus helped me write this short letter, and I consider him a faithful follower of the Lord. I wanted to encourage you and tell you how kind God really is, so that you will keep on having faith in him.
  13. Greetings from the Lord's followers in Babylon. They are God's chosen ones. Mark, who is like a son to me, sends his greetings too.
  14. Give each other a warm greeting. I pray that God will give peace to everyone who belongs to Christ.

In the closing comments of his first letter, Peter had a word for the leaders of the church. What would we expect to be Peter's counsel to church leaders in the face of growing persecution? Would we expect his counsel to be practical, giving them specific words of advise? That might be our expectation, but instead, Peter references their personal conduct and integrity. They should have a concern for the church, compared to that of a shepherd for his flock, which is motivated, not out of compulsion or a desire for the money, but they should respond eagerly from a free response to God's will.  Understanding, then, that their leadership in the church comes from their service to God, they should not lord it over "those entrusted to" them. (5:3) They are, in fact, an under-shepherd of the chief Shepherd who is Christ.

A proper perspective of roles in the church should lead to unity and cohesiveness in the church.  From the leaders to all in the church, their roles are a response to their submission to God's will. Therefore, the elders serve as shepherds to the flock, the younger men submit to the elders, and everyone responds with humility toward one another. This humility is motivated first by their own response to God and then by their understanding that each member of the congregation is responding to God's will. Throughout scripture humility is key in our response to God and to others. Without humility we do not even take the first step to respond to God, nor will any further steps of submission follow. Peter says that "God resists the proud", (5:5) and the opposite will also tend to be true - the proud resist God.

Giving attention to roles and relationships in the church, Peter then turns his attention to threats from without. Although they were being threatened by Neroian persecution, the source of their threat was the Devil who Peter described as "a roaring lion." (5:8) Scripture describes Satan in three ways: a roaring lion who terrorizes people through persecution, an angel of light who deceives people, and a snake who lures people into moral corruption. How are we to deal with the Devil's threats? We are to resist him, hold firm to our faith, and recognize that our experience is not unique from that of other brothers in the faith. If we do not resist the Devil, hold firm to our faith, and recognize our experience is not unique, we succumb to self-pity, turn to blaming God, and fall prey to the Devil's attacks.

Peter's benediction states our position in God. "Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little." (5:10)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 4

    1 Peter 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Christ suffered here on earth. Now you must be ready to suffer as he did, because suffering shows that you have stopped sinning.
  2. It means you have turned from your own desires and want to obey God for the rest of your life.
  3. You have already lived long enough like people who don't know God. You were immoral and followed your evil desires. You went around drinking and partying and carrying on. In fact, you even worshiped disgusting idols.
  4. Now your former friends wonder why you have stopped running around with them, and they curse you for it.
  5. But they will have to answer to God, who judges the living and the dead.
  6. The good news has even been preached to the dead, so that after they have been judged for what they have done in this life, their spirits will live with God.
  7. Everything will soon come to an end. So be serious and be sensible enough to pray.
  8. Most important of all, you must sincerely love each other, because love wipes away many sins.
  9. Welcome people into your home and don't grumble about it.
  10. Each of you has been blessed with one of God's many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well.
  11. If you have the gift of speaking, preach God's message. If you have the gift of helping others, do it with the strength that God supplies. Everything should be done in a way that will bring honor to God because of Jesus Christ, who is glorious and powerful forever. Amen.
  12. Dear friends, don't be surprised or shocked that you are going through testing that is like walking through fire.
  13. Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when he makes his glorious return.
  14. Count it a blessing when you suffer for being a Christian. This shows that God's glorious Spirit is with you.
  15. But you deserve to suffer if you are a murderer, a thief, a crook, or a busybody.
  16. Don't be ashamed to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God that you belong to him.
  17. God has already begun judging his own people. And if his judgment begins with us, imagine how terrible it will be for those who refuse to obey his message. The Scriptures say,
  18. "If good people barely escape, what will happen to sinners and to others who don't respect God?"
  19. If you suffer for obeying God, you must have complete faith in your faithful Creator and keep on doing right.

Peter is giving instructions to his readers on how to live as citizens of heaven who are "aliens and temporary residents" (2:11) in this world. Such living requires a new mindset to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpreting what life brings to them and thus avoid becoming overwhelmed by it. Those who are followers of Christ, and thus citizens of heaven, are not to look at those who live in this world around them and take their cues from them as to what they should expect from life. Instead, it is Christ who is their example, and Christ experienced suffering. So we, too, should not be surprised when we have suffering. Rather than wondering why God is allowing or even causing us to suffer, we should understand that it is a part of our identity in Christ. But we should also realize that it is only temporary.

Peter explains, in the first few verses of chapter 4, the source of some of this suffering that a follower of Christ might experience. It comes from those who continue to live "the will of the pagans" who are surprised that Christ's followers do not continue to live as they do. Therefore, they slander them. But before becoming too concerned by this, we should remember that they "will give an account" of their actions "to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead."  (4:5)

To arm one's self against losing perspective in light of such treatment, Christ's followers should "be clear-headed and disciplined for prayer." (4:7) It is through prayer - abiding in Christ - that we can keep our perspective. In addition, we must keep our love for one another "at full strength," (4:8) because "love covers a multitude of sins." (4:8) Christians should not be joining the pagans in slandering one another, but through love, they should overlook the minor faults and failures of other believers. Rather than slandering each other, this love for fellow believers will lead to being "hospitable to one another."  (4:9) This hospitality will flow from the proper management of the "varied grace of God." (4:10) Such actions and attitudes toward fellow believers will bring glory to God.

This perspective is a far-cry from the thinking of some who go to church on Sunday as a religious duty in order to please God. Such thinking does not come from God but from misguided thinking about God. Christ did not die that we might continue as world citizens who might later avoid the fires of hell. He died, not only that we might avoid the fires of hell, but that we might also live this present life on a new level. A level that brings freedom and life abundant. Yes, there will be suffering for the Christian, but so also does the pagan suffer. But he suffers because of his own actions. When the Christian suffers, he should not be surprised by it, but should instead, "as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory." (4:13) 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 3

    1 Peter 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. If you are a wife, you must put your husband first. Even if he opposes our message, you will win him over by what you do. No one else will have to say anything to him,
  2. because he will see how you honor God and live a pure life.
  3. Don't depend on things like fancy hairdos or gold jewelry or expensive clothes to make you look beautiful.
  4. Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special.
  5. Long ago those women who worshiped God and put their hope in him made themselves beautiful by putting their husbands first.
  6. For example, Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her true children, if you do right and don't let anything frighten you.
  7. If you are a husband, you should be thoughtful of your wife. Treat her with honor, because she isn't as strong as you are, and she shares with you in the gift of life. Then nothing will stand in the way of your prayers.
  8. Finally, all of you should agree and have concern and love for each other. You should also be kind and humble.
  9. Don't be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God's chosen ones, and he will bless you. The Scriptures say,
  10. "Do you really love life? Do you want to be happy? Then stop saying cruel things and quit telling lies.
  11. Give up your evil ways and do right, as you find and follow the road that leads to peace.
  12. The Lord watches over everyone who obeys him, and he listens to their prayers. But he opposes everyone who does evil."
  13. Can anyone really harm you for being eager to do good deeds?
  14. Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you. So stop being afraid and don't worry about what people might do.
  15. Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.
  16. Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ.
  17. You are better off to obey God and suffer for doing right than to suffer for doing wrong.
  18. Christ died once for our sins. An innocent person died for those who are guilty. Christ did this to bring you to God, when his body was put to death and his spirit was made alive.
  19. Christ then preached to the spirits that were being kept in prison.
  20. They had disobeyed God while Noah was building the boat, but God had been patient with them. Eight people went into that boat and were brought safely through the flood.
  21. Those flood waters were like baptism that now saves you. But baptism is more than just washing your body. It means turning to God with a clear conscience, because Jesus Christ was raised from death.
  22. Christ is now in heaven, where he sits at the right side of God. All angels, authorities, and powers are under his control.

Peter was addressing those he referred to in chapter 2 as, "aliens and temporary residents." This would also describe those of us today who are believers in Christ. We live in a temporary setting, but we are actually citizens of heaven, waiting for the time when our "salvation . . . is ready to be revealed in the last time. " (1:5) Peter was instructing his readers (and us) on how they should live as temporary residents. In chapter 2 he instructed them to live as "God's slaves," (2:16) and in so doing, they will serve their master (God) if they "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor." Furthermore, he told those who were household slaves to "submit yourselves to your masters with all respect."  We do not serve God as His slaves by seeking our own rights.

In this same vein, Peter gives instructions for the family in chapter 3. As Christians are to submit to each other and to authority, etc., wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to show honor to their wives. The goal for the wife is not outward beauty but rather inward beauty, though outward beauty is not prohibited. Rather than using outward beauty and manipulation to sway their husbands, wives can have greater affect with an inward beauty displayed through a gentle and quiet spirit and submission. The husband should give his wife understanding and honor, recognizing she is a co-heir with him of the "grace of life." She is the husband's equal in God's kingdom.

Beyond the family, believers are to "be like-minded and sympathetic," toward each other and to "love believers." Toward all they are to "be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing." This is the way to "love life and to see good days," and a good way to avoid harm. For "who will harm you if your are passionate for what is good?" And yet, some will do harm even to those who seek what is good.

However, Peter says that if we "should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed." If we will "set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts," we should not fear what others will do. I believe Peter refers here to a controlling fear that guides what we do. Will Christians who "set apart the Messiah as Lord" in their hearts never experience fear? Probably not, but our choices and decisions should not be determined by the fear. We must keep on following the Messiah as Lord. We must keep Christ's model in our minds, for He suffered even though He did good. And it is His suffering that makes it possible for us to live above fear. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 2

    1 Peter 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don't be jealous or say cruel things about others.
  2. Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved.
  3. You have already found out how good the Lord really is.
  4. Come to Jesus Christ. He is the living stone that people have rejected, but which God has chosen and highly honored.
  5. And now you are living stones that are being used to build a spiritual house. You are also a group of holy priests, and with the help of Jesus Christ you will offer sacrifices that please God.
  6. It is just as God says in the Scriptures, "Look! I am placing in Zion a choice and precious cornerstone. No one who has faith in that one will be disappointed."
  7. You are followers of the Lord, and that stone is precious to you. But it isn't precious to those who refuse to follow him. They are the builders who tossed aside the stone that turned out to be the most important one of all.
  8. They disobeyed the message and stumbled and fell over that stone, because they were doomed.
  9. But you are God's chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done. The Scriptures say,
  10. "Once you were nobody. Now you are God's people. At one time no one had pity on you. Now God has treated you with kindness.
  11. Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you.
  12. Always let others see you behaving properly, even though they may still accuse you of doing wrong. Then on the day of judgment, they will honor God by telling the good things they saw you do.
  13. The Lord wants you to obey all human authorities, especially the Emperor, who rules over everyone.
  14. You must also obey governors, because they are sent by the Emperor to punish criminals and to praise good citizens.
  15. God wants you to silence stupid and ignorant people by doing right.
  16. You are free, but still you are God's servants, and you must not use your freedom as an excuse for doing wrong.
  17. Respect everyone and show special love for God's people. Honor God and respect the Emperor.
  18. Servants, you must obey your masters and always show respect to them. Do this, not only to those who are kind and thoughtful, but also to those who are cruel.
  19. God will bless you, even if others treat you unfairly for being loyal to him.
  20. You don't gain anything by being punished for some wrong you have done. But God will bless you, if you have to suffer for doing something good.
  21. After all, God chose you to suffer as you follow in the footsteps of Christ, who set an example by suffering for you.
  22. Christ did not sin or ever tell a lie.
  23. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even. And when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he had faith in God, who judges fairly.
  24. Christ carried the burden of our sins. He was nailed to the cross, so that we would stop sinning and start living right. By his cuts and bruises you are healed.
  25. You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector.

In the first chapter of Peter's letter to "the temporary residents of the Dispersion in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," he provided a reality check, pointing out that their citizenship is in heaven and they were sojourners on this planet, thus their circumstances were temporary. In this chapter he describes them (and us) as " aliens and temporary residents." They, as are we, were living in an interim period during which they were to conduct themselves, not as citizens of the world, but as citizens of heaven. He then began to outline what this meant. He continues in chapter 2 with this description of their (and our) conduct during their interim existence on earth.

With the knowledge of who we are as followers of Christ, now the foundation must be laid for our conduct as His followers. We must be like "newborn infants," and "desire the unadulterated spiritual milk." This will enable us to grow in our salvation. This involves continually "Coming to Him" who is the living stone. So the foundation of our conduct as followers of Christ (or citizens of heaven) is to dwell in Him. And should we be tempted to do otherwise, we need to be reminded of the alternative. Those who are disobedient to this message stumble and are destined for destruction. In contrast to those who stumble, those who follow Christ are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession." (2:9)

Beginning with verse 11, Peter instructs his readers (and us) on how they should conduct themselves as a people who belong to God. As we read these instructions, we need to recognize that they do not outline two sets of conduct: one as dwellers in this world and another as citizens of heaven. Rather, have only in mind our heavenly citizenship. As such, all we do is done in service to Christ who is our king. Therefore, we should conduct ourselves honorably in all circumstances among those who are unbelievers so they have no just cause to be critical of our conduct. They will be critical of us, but it should not be with cause. We should also submit ourselves to every human institution.

All of this is in the context of serving Christ. As Peter says, "As God's slaves, live as free people, but don't use your freedom as a way to conceal evil." If we make ourselves "God's slaves," we are then free people on this earth. We need not fear any consequences that might come in our earthly environment. No man can destroy or do harm to our status or inheritance as citizens of heaven. So as God's slaves we observe proper conduct in our earthly setting and submit ourselves to all earthly authority because it is God's will that we do. In our earthly context we will suffer because of our heavenly citizenship but it should not be because we deserve it. As Peter says, "For what credit is there if you endure when you sin and are beaten? But when you do good and suffer, if you endure, it brings favor with God." By enduring, even though we suffer unjustly, we emulate Christ who suffered for us, "leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Reflections on 1 Peter 1

    1 Peter 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God's people who are scattered like foreigners in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
  2. God the Father decided to choose you as his people, and his Spirit has made you holy. You have obeyed Jesus Christ and are sprinkled with his blood. I pray that God will be kind to you and will keep on giving you peace!
  3. Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on.
  4. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.
  5. You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day. Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do.
  6. On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while.
  7. Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.
  8. You have never seen Jesus, and you don't see him now. But still you love him and have faith in him, and no words can tell how glad and happy
  9. you are to be saved. That's why you have faith.
  10. Some prophets told how kind God would be to you, and they searched hard to find out more about the way you would be saved.
  11. The Spirit of Christ was in them and was telling them how Christ would suffer and would then be given great honor. So they searched to find out exactly who Christ would be and when this would happen.
  12. But they were told that they were serving you and not themselves. They preached to you by the power of the Holy Spirit, who was sent from heaven. And their message was only for you, even though angels would like to know more about it.
  13. Be alert and think straight. Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears.
  14. Behave like obedient children. Don't let your lives be controlled by your desires, as they used to be.
  15. Always live as God's holy people should, because God is the one who chose you, and he is holy.
  16. That's why the Scriptures say, "I am the holy God, and you must be holy too."
  17. You say that God is your Father, but God doesn't have favorites! He judges all people by what they do. So you must honor God while you live as strangers here on earth.
  18. You were rescued from the useless way of life that you learned from your ancestors. But you know that you were not rescued by such things as silver or gold that don't last forever.
  19. You were rescued by the precious blood of Christ, that spotless and innocent lamb.
  20. Christ was chosen even before the world was created, but because of you, he did not come until these last days.
  21. And when he did come, it was to lead you to have faith in God, who raised him from death and honored him in a glorious way. That's why you have put your faith and hope in God.
  22. You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart.
  23. Do this because God has given you new birth by his message that lives on forever.
  24. The Scriptures say, "Humans wither like grass, and their glory fades like wild flowers. Grass dries up, and flowers fall to the ground.
  25. But what the Lord has said will stand forever." Our good news to you is what the Lord has said.

Peter was addressing "the temporary residents of the Dispersion," who were undergoing various trials. He began his letter by pointing them to their permanent reality rather than their temporary circumstances. Whether we are undergoing various trials which may include persecution and suffering or trying to live as Christians in a pluralistic and materialistic world, we need a reality check. And the question becomes, "What is real?" Is it the mundane things we encounter everyday or is it the new life we have in Jesus Christ as citizens of heaven? Peter would say it is the later. He says as much in 1:3-4, "He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you."

So reality for the Christian is the inheritance they have which is kept for them in heaven. The present is an interim period. It is temporary. And during this period we are "being protected by God's power through faith." Peter says that this temporary condition has a purpose, though, for it demonstrates the genuiness of our faith and will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus is revealed for all to see. We are, in fact, privileged in this reality that is ours, for the prophets of old were able only to see it from afar. As Peter says, "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things." So it is a privilege not only that the prophets dreamed of but that angels desire as well. And it is ours. We must keep our eyes focused on this rather than the immediate circumstances that surround us.

With these things well in mind, Peter says to "get your minds ready for action." Our state as citizens of heaven who are temporarily dispersed in this world is not one in which we drift mindlessly along until this period is past. This is a period in which the genuiness of our faith is demonstrated so we are called to action. With our hope set completely on the grace that is ours, we are to be obedient children who are no longer conformed to the desires that were previously ours and are to be holy in all our conduct as "the One who called (us) is holy."

Peter will refer more in coming chapters to this holy conduct, but in the last verses of this first chapter he refers to its result in "sincere love of the brothers." Indeed, love among Christian brothers is a distinguishing mark of Christians. Jesus pointed to this with His disciples, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reflections on James 5

    James 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. You rich people should cry and weep! Terrible things are going to happen to you.
  2. Your treasures have already rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.
  3. Your money has rusted, and the rust will be evidence against you, as it burns your body like fire. Yet you keep on storing up wealth in these last days.
  4. You refused to pay the people who worked in your fields, and now their unpaid wages are shouting out against you. The Lord All-Powerful has surely heard the cries of the workers who harvested your crops.
  5. While here on earth, you have thought only of filling your own stomachs and having a good time. But now you are like fat cattle on their way to be butchered.
  6. You have condemned and murdered innocent people, who couldn't even fight back.
  7. My friends, be patient until the Lord returns. Think of farmers who wait patiently for the spring and summer rains to make their valuable crops grow.
  8. Be patient like those farmers and don't give up. The Lord will soon be here!
  9. Don't grumble about each other or you will be judged, and the judge is right outside the door.
  10. My friends, follow the example of the prophets who spoke for the Lord. They were patient, even when they had to suffer.
  11. In fact, we praise the ones who endured the most. You remember how patient Job was and how the Lord finally helped him. The Lord did this because he is so merciful and kind.
  12. My friends, above all else, don't take an oath. You must not swear by heaven or by earth or by anything else. "Yes" or "No" is all you need to say. If you say anything more, you will be condemned.
  13. If you are having trouble, you should pray. And if you are feeling good, you should sing praises.
  14. If you are sick, ask the church leaders to come and pray for you. Ask them to put olive oil on you in the name of the Lord.
  15. If you have faith when you pray for sick people, they will get well. The Lord will heal them, and if they have sinned, he will forgive them.
  16. If you have sinned, you should tell each other what you have done. Then you can pray for one another and be healed. The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot.
  17. Elijah was just as human as we are, and for three and a half years his prayers kept the rain from falling.
  18. But when he did pray for rain, it fell from the skies and made the crops grow.
  19. My friends, if any followers have wandered away from the truth, you should try to lead them back.
  20. If you turn sinners from the wrong way, you will save them from death, and many of their sins will be forgiven.

The central point in these verses seems to be verse 7 - "Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord's coming." The first six verses address the rich, then James turns to the "brothers" in verse 7 to encourage their patience with their oppression at the hands of the rich until "the Lord's coming." And in their patient wait for the Lord's coming, he gives additional counsel.

James seems to lump all rich in his comments of verses 1-6, but that is not the general understanding of these verses. Rather they are a commentary on the rich who have gained their wealth at the expense of others and who hoard their gains for their own pleasures rather than using them for the relief of those in need. While James assures the rich that their life of ease and wealth will not last, the tacit message to those who have suffered at the hands of those rich people who have gained their wealth by oppressive means is that the tables will eventually be turned. A day is coming when the rich will have their own miseries and their wealth will be ruined. During the intervening period, the oppressed should be patient for the Lord's coming when He will make all things right.

Why doesn't the Lord make things right now? Why must some be allowed to oppress while others must endure the oppression? James does not address this question which falls under the topic of man's free will to make his own choices. God has not made us puppets who He dangles on a string, controlling our every move. Either we have the freedom to make choices of our own volition or we do not. And if we have that freedom we must also have the freedom to make bad choices, which we all do - some more so than others. And the bad choices of one usually infringes on the wellbeing of another. However, the Lord has not set us adrift to making choices in life without help in making good choices. Choices that benefit not only ourselves but others as well. This, in fact, was James' message in the previous chapter when he said, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." (4:8) By choosing to draw near to God, He will guide us through the sea of choices in life.

James' message through the remainder of this chapter is advise on how to live as we wait patiently for the Lord's coming. During this intervening time he says:
  • Do not complain about one another.
  • Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your "yes" must be "yes," and your "no" must be "no."
  • Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. 
  • Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful. 
  • If any among you strays from the truth, . . . he should know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reflections on James 4

    James 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Why do you fight and argue with each other? Isn't it because you are full of selfish desires that fight to control your body?
  2. You want something you don't have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill! But you still cannot get what you want, and you won't get it by fighting and arguing. You should pray for it.
  3. Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons.
  4. You people aren't faithful to God! Don't you know that if you love the world, you are God's enemies? And if you decide to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
  5. Do you doubt the Scriptures that say, "God truly cares about the Spirit he has put in us"?
  6. In fact, God treats us with even greater kindness, just as the Scriptures say, "God opposes everyone who is proud, but he is kind to everyone who is humble."
  7. Surrender to God! Resist the devil, and he will run from you.
  8. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Clean up your lives, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you people who can't make up your mind.
  9. Be sad and sorry and weep. Stop laughing and start crying. Be gloomy instead of glad.
  10. Be humble in the Lord's presence, and he will honor you.
  11. My friends, don't say cruel things about others! If you do, or if you condemn others, you are condemning God's Law. And if you condemn the Law, you put yourself above the Law and refuse to obey either it
  12. or God who gave it. God is our judge, and he can save or destroy us. What right do you have to condemn anyone?
  13. You should know better than to say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to the city. We will do business there for a year and make a lot of money!"
  14. What do you know about tomorrow? How can you be so sure about your life? It is nothing more than mist that appears for only a little while before it disappears.
  15. You should say, "If the Lord lets us live, we will do these things."
  16. Yet you are stupid enough to brag, and it is wrong to be so proud.
  17. If you don't do what you know is right, you have sinned.

In this chapter James outlines several problems among his readers along with a central solution to them all - indeed the solution to all our problems. The solution? Submit to God and draw near to Him. (4:7-8)  This solution involves getting our "house" (ourselves) in order. Submitting to God includes resisting the Devil. By drawing near to God we also mourn for our sin. And mourning for our sin will lead us to humbling ourselves before the Lord. This is the solution, what were the problems?

The first problem was warring and fighting among the readers who were believers. Many were driven, not by God's Spirit, but by their inner cravings that led them to desire and covet what they did not have and to seek pleasure as a primary concern. No wonder they were fighting among themselves. Their self-centeredness naturally caused a conflict of interest between them as the self-interest of one got in the way of the self-interest of another. James' solution applies to this problem. Rather than submitting to God, they were submitting to the world. And submission to the world is about the fulfillment of our desires for pleasure and inner cravings which naturally leads to selfishness. We may try to convince ourselves that we can be a friend of the world while also submitting to God, but James dispells that argument by pointing out that friendship with the world is hostility toward God.

A second problem which would naturally flow from the first problem was criticizing one another. Such criticism, James points out, is to also criticize the law by making one's self a judge of the law. Furthermore, if one judges the law he is no longer a doer of the law, but a judge. But there is only one judge, God, who is also the lawgiver.

The same prideful thinking that leads one to judge the law also leads to the third problem which was for persons to assume control of their own destinies as illustrated in verses 13 & 14. Rather than submitting one's plans to God's will, such a person would make his own plans even a year in advance without confering with God and arrogantly assumed they would play out as he imagined them. What they should be doing was to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." Again, the solution outlined by James applies - submitting one's self, and their plans, to God.

We often do not consider ourselves to have sinned if nothing bad can be attributed to us, but James tells us it is sin to know to do good and not to do it. More specifically, to know we should submit ourselves to God and not to do it, or to know friendship with the world is hostility toward God but to do it anyway, or to know that criticism of others is to place ourselves above the law but to do it anyway, are all sins.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reflections on James 3

    James 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My friends, we should not all try to become teachers. In fact, teachers will be judged more strictly than others.
  2. All of us do many wrong things. But if you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body.
  3. By putting a bit into the mouth of a horse, we can turn the horse in different directions.
  4. It takes strong winds to move a large sailing ship, but the captain uses only a small rudder to make it go in any direction.
  5. Our tongues are small too, and yet they brag about big things. It takes only a spark to start a forest fire!
  6. The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person's entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself.
  7. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures can be tamed and have been tamed.
  8. But our tongues get out of control. They are restless and evil, and always spreading deadly poison.
  9. My dear friends, with our tongues we speak both praises and curses. We praise our Lord and Father, and we curse people who were created to be like God, and this isn't right.
  10. (SEE 3:9)
  11. Can clean water and dirty water both flow from the same spring?
  12. Can a fig tree produce olives or a grapevine produce figs? Does fresh water come from a well full of salt water?
  13. Are any of you wise or sensible? Then show it by living right and by being humble and wise in everything you do.
  14. But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, don't brag or lie to cover up the truth.
  15. That kind of wisdom doesn't come from above. It is earthly and selfish and comes from the devil himself.
  16. Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things.
  17. But the wisdom that comes from above leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere.
  18. When peacemakers plant seeds of peace, they will harvest justice.

Though attention in chapter 3 is often given only to its teaching regarding the tongue, it is actually a passage about teachers. In its regard to teachers, it offers both wise counsel to those who teach and a standard by which to judge those whose teaching under which one chooses to sit.

James begins this section with the advise that not many should become teachers. Why? Because teachers receive a stricter judgment and not many are mature enough to avoid that judgment by not stumbling in what they say. After describing the unruliness of the tongue through illustrations, James concludes that the only way the tongue is controlled is with wisdom from above. We might then conclude that those who should be teaching are those who demonstrate sufficient wisdom to control their tongues, and conversely, that we need not sit under the teaching of one who does not possess such wisdom.

This attention to the tongue might give the impression that the tongue is an agent of the body that functions independently, and unlike animals, such as horses, cannot be tamed by man. But on the contrary, the tongue operates only as directed by the mind, therefore, the tongue serves as a window on the mind of the individual wielding the tongue. What if the tongue espouses conflicting thoughts, such as cursing men on the one hand and blessing God on the other? Which reflects the true thoughts of the person in question? Anyone who is prone to curse men can easily speak blessings of God as well, but one who truly blesses God cannot easily curse men. The true person in such instances is the one who curses men.

James tells us that the wisdom from above is, "first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy." (3:17)  Those who possess this wisdom will be slow to take the position of teacher. Rather, teaching will be drawn from them by those who recognize their wisdom and seek their counsel or request them to teach.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections on James 2

    James 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others.
  2. Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes.
  3. You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor.
  4. That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge.
  5. My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.
  6. You mistreat the poor. But isn't it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court?
  7. Aren't they the ones who make fun of your Lord?
  8. You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.
  9. But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned.
  10. If you obey every law except one, you are still guilty of breaking them all.
  11. The same God who told us to be faithful in marriage also told us not to murder. So even if you are faithful in marriage, but murder someone, you still have broken God's Law.
  12. Speak and act like people who will be judged by the law that sets us free.
  13. Do this, because on the day of judgment there will be no pity for those who have not had pity on others. But even in judgment, God is merciful!
  14. My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don't do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you?
  15. If you know someone who doesn't have any clothes or food,
  16. you shouldn't just say, "I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat." What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help?
  17. Faith that doesn't lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!
  18. Suppose someone disagrees and says, "It is possible to have faith without doing kind deeds." I would answer, "Prove that you have faith without doing kind deeds, and I will prove that I have faith by doing them."
  19. You surely believe there is only one God. That's fine. Even demons believe this, and it makes them shake with fear.
  20. Does some stupid person want proof that faith without deeds is useless?
  21. Well, our ancestor Abraham pleased God by putting his son Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him.
  22. Now you see how Abraham's faith and deeds worked together. He proved that his faith was real by what he did.
  23. This is what the Scriptures mean by saying, "Abraham had faith in God, and God was pleased with him." That's how Abraham became God's friend.
  24. You can now see that we please God by what we do and not only by what we believe.
  25. For example, Rahab had been a prostitute. But she pleased God when she welcomed the spies and sent them home by another way.
  26. Anyone who doesn't breathe is dead, and faith that doesn't do anything is just as dead!

The first half of this chapter speaks to the issue of partiality within the ranks of these early Christians whom James is addressing. He makes it clear that this partiality is a sin, one which is a total contradiction of who we are as bearers of the name of Christ. First of all, he points out who it is we call Lord. It is Christ we call Lord, not the rich to whom they were showing favoritism or partiality. So it is Christ to whom they should give their allegiance, not the rich. Christ he called glorious, but the rich, he pointed out, were those who took them to court and blasphemed the name of Christ that they bore. Where is their value here? Is it not misplaced?

We can never forget that in the kingdom of God things are turned upside down. The things normally valued among people are not those that are valued in God's kingdom. Christ, who is King of Kings, was not born in a palace or have servants or wealth. He was born in a lowly manger and served rather than be served. Thus, he was discounted by most. He didn't fit their expectation. Now we, who have accepted Him, receiving Him as Lord and King, do we operate under a different value system than our Lord by showing a favoritism He does not show? We must remember that if Christ were to show favoritism we would likely be left out. But He leaves no one out regardless of their standing in terms of earthly values. Any who will receive Him as Lord will be received by Him.

I suspect one reason this favoritism was an issue for this group of Christians addressed by James is that they had just come out of Judaism and had long been in a culture that considered the rich to be favored and blessed by God. It was a form of "prosperity theology." If one had wealth and health it was an indication they were in good standing with God, and if they did not, an indication of sin in their life and thus not in good standing with God. Before viewing these actions too critically we should consider the culture in which we live that practices celebrity worship. Though we may not consider ourselves too caught up in this craze, who might we push out of the way in order to rub shoulders with a person of celebrity? Such attitudes lie near the surface in many Christian settings. Who is it we like to hold up in our illustrations of those who follow Christ? Do we not highlight the celebrity rather than the person of low standing? Who do we fall all over ourselves to have speak at our gatherings giving testimony of their faith in Christ? Is it not the celebrities? And do we not justify this with the argument that they will draw a larger crowd and thus have greater opportunity to bring unbelievers to Christ? But in doing this, how close do we come to falling under James' admonitions on favoritism?

We just need to keep some things clearly in mind. It was the lowly that God has chosen to make rich in faith. If we are to hold up examples in our gatherings let it be of those rich in faith. In addition, let us also keep in mind that in Christ we are made equals. There are no celebrities and there are none against whom He discriminates. We are motivated by the "royal law" which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Christ's value system we do not ask, "who is my neighbor" but we ask, "whose neighbor am I?" In so doing, we seek to be a neighbor to all, and thus to love all as we do ourselves. In so doing, we will be judged with mercy by our Lord.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Reflections on James 1

    James 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. From James, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes scattered all over the world.
  2. My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.
  3. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.
  4. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything.
  5. If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won't correct you for asking.
  6. But when you ask for something, you must have faith and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like an ocean wave tossed around in a storm.
  7. If you are that kind of person, you can't make up your mind, and you surely can't be trusted. So don't expect the Lord to give you anything at all.
  8. (SEE 1:7)
  9. Any of God's people who are poor should be glad that he thinks so highly of them.
  10. But any who are rich should be glad when God makes them humble. Rich people will disappear like wild flowers
  11. scorched by the burning heat of the sun. The flowers lose their blossoms, and their beauty is destroyed. That is how the rich will disappear, as they go about their business.
  12. God will bless you, if you don't give up when your faith is being tested. He will reward you with a glorious life, just as he rewards everyone who loves him.
  13. Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't use evil to tempt others.
  14. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.
  15. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
  16. Don't be fooled, my dear friends.
  17. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.
  18. He wanted us to be his own special people, and so he sent the true message to give us new birth.
  19. My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry.
  20. If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.
  21. You must stop doing anything immoral or evil. Instead be humble and accept the message that is planted in you to save you.
  22. Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it.
  23. If you hear the message and don't obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror
  24. and forget what they look like as soon as they leave.
  25. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don't just hear and forget.
  26. If you think you are being religious, but can't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless.
  27. Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.

We are prone to think of faith as something that is primarily mental - something we believe. But, until we have acted on what we believe it cannot yet be considered faith - only belief. Faced with a situation that requires us to act on what we say we believe our belief faces its test as to whether it is faith or not. And more likely than not, this situation requiring our action will be one in which the choices for action will be between a more costly option as opposed to a less costly one, and the more costly option will be the one representing the faith we say we have. Understand, the cost involved is not necessarily financial. It is just as likely to be the cost of position or lifestyle or reputation or a number of other possibilities. Will we adhere to our believe regardless of the cost? If so, our belief will prove to be faith.

I believe this is what James refers to in this first chapter of his book. A testing of our faith will validate it. Not only this, but James says it will produce endurance and maturity. This result, and not the testing itself, is something we should consider a joy. Furthermore, we are blessed if we pass the test for we will receive the crown of life that is promised to those who love the Lord. These tests are not something we should endure without help, though. Rather, we should pray for wisdom that will carry us through the testing and can expect that God will give it to us generously and without criticizing us for asking.

Through verse 12 James refers to testing that comes from an outward source. But in verse 13 he shifts to temptations which come from within us. It is as if he is saying that while we undergo the testing of our faith we will also be subject to temptations within. And when these come to us we need to know they are not from the Lord. God is not the source of temptations, "For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone." These come from our own evil desires, he says. Rather than being the source of temptations, God is the source of every good and perfect gift. Why, then, do we so often attribute the bad things that come into our lives to God? No, God is the source of good, not of evil.

Toward the end of the chapter James speaks of our response to God's Word. This Word, he says, if implanted in us, is able to save us. However, it is much like faith - it requires action. "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." We deceive ourselves concerning our religion if we do not act on what we hear and what we say we believe. If what we believe and hear from God's Word does not affect our life choices, our behavior, and our service to others, we are truly deceived if we think our religion is of value.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reflections on Acts 28

    Acts 28 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When we came ashore, we learned that the island was called Malta.
  2. The local people were very friendly, and they welcomed us by building a fire, because it was rainy and cold.
  3. After Paul had gathered some wood and had put it on the fire, the heat caused a snake to crawl out, and it bit him on the hand.
  4. When the local people saw the snake hanging from Paul's hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer! He didn't drown in the sea, but the goddess of justice will kill him anyway."
  5. Paul shook the snake off into the fire and wasn't harmed.
  6. The people kept thinking that Paul would either swell up or suddenly drop dead. They watched him for a long time, and when nothing happened to him, they changed their minds and said, "This man is a god."
  7. The governor of the island was named Publius, and he owned some of the land around there. Publius was very friendly and welcomed us into his home for three days.
  8. His father was in bed, sick with fever and stomach trouble, and Paul went to visit him. Paul healed the man by praying and placing his hands on him.
  9. After this happened, everyone on the island brought their sick people to Paul, and they were all healed.
  10. The people were very respectful to us, and when we sailed, they gave us everything we needed.
  11. Three months later we sailed in a ship that had been docked at Malta for the winter. The ship was from Alexandria in Egypt and was known as "The Twin Gods."
  12. We arrived in Syracuse and stayed for three days.
  13. From there we sailed to Rhegium. The next day a south wind began to blow, and two days later we arrived in Puteoli.
  14. There we found some of the Lord's followers, who begged us to stay with them. A week later we left for the city of Rome.
  15. Some of the followers in Rome heard about us and came to meet us at the Market of Appius and at the Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and was encouraged.
  16. We arrived in Rome, and Paul was allowed to live in a house by himself with a soldier to guard him.
  17. Three days after we got there, Paul called together some of the Jewish leaders and said: My friends, I have never done anything to hurt our people, and I have never gone against the customs of our ancestors. But in Jerusalem I was handed over as a prisoner to the Romans.
  18. They looked into the charges against me and wanted to release me. They found that I had not done anything deserving death.
  19. The Jewish leaders disagreed, so I asked to be tried by the Emperor. But I don't have anything to say against my own nation.
  20. I am bound by these chains because of what we people of Israel hope for. That's why I have called you here to talk about this hope of ours.
  21. The leaders replied, "No one from Judea has written us a letter about you. And not one of them has come here to report on you or to say anything against you.
  22. But we would like to hear what you have to say. We understand that people everywhere are against this new group."
  23. They agreed on a time to meet with Paul, and many of them came to his house. From early morning until late in the afternoon, Paul talked to them about God's kingdom. He used the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets to try to win them over to Jesus.
  24. Some of the leaders agreed with what Paul said, but others did not.
  25. Since they could not agree among themselves, they started leaving. But Paul said, "The Holy Spirit said the right thing when he sent Isaiah the prophet
  26. to tell our ancestors, 'Go to these people and tell them: You will listen and listen, but never understand. You will look and look, but never see.
  27. All of you have stubborn hearts. Your ears are stopped up, and your eyes are covered. You cannot see or hear or understand. If you could, you would turn to me, and I would heal you.' "
  28. Paul said, "You may be sure that God wants to save the Gentiles! And they will listen."
  29. (SEE 28:28)
  30. For two years Paul stayed in a rented house and welcomed everyone who came to see him.
  31. He bravely preached about God's kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one tried to stop him.

Paul's shipwreck, recorded in the previous chapter, left him and the other passengers marooned on the island of Malta, just south of Sicily. They remained there for three months until it was safe to sail again, and caught an Alexandrian ship headed to Italy. During his stay on Malta God gave him the ability to not be affected by a venomous snake bite and to heal many of the islanders of illnesses. Though not mentioned, he undoubtedly gave witness of Christ as well.

Paul's ship reached port in Puteolli, Italy, and he was then taken the 152 mile trip across land to finally arrive in Rome. In Puteolli he found believers and then as he approached Rome, believers who had heard of his coming went out to meet him and his party. This was an encouragement to Paul. Arriving in Rome, Paul was allowed to stay in a rented house with only one guard staying with him. He had complete freedom to receive guests and so he wasted no time in calling together the Jewish leaders to explain to them why he was there. He concluded his explanation by saying, "it is for the hope of Israel that I'm wearing this chain." He was not an enemy of Israel but was actually suffering on her behalf. The claim of these leaders was that they had received no letters about Paul and as for "this sect" (Christians), all they knew of it was that "it is spoken against everywhere."

Following this initial meeting with Paul, the leaders arranged a time to return and hear from Paul concerning his thinking. A larger group came for this gathering and Paul spoke to them all day (dawn to dusk) witnessing "about the kingdom of God," persuading "them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets." Some were persuaded by his expounding, but the majority did not, and they began to leave, disagreeing among themselves. This left Paul to conclude to them that their "heart has grown callous, their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes." Therefore, he announced to them that "this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!" Throughout Paul's ministry he had faithfully taken the gospel to the Jews before going to the Gentiles. And just as consistently as he had taken the gospel to them, the Jews, as a whole, rejected it. Fortunately, a few did receive the gospel, but as a whole they rejected it. He encountered this throughout Macedonia, Greece, and Asia. Both he and the gospel were dramatically rejected in his last visit to Jerusalem which initiated his trip to Rome under arrest, and now he again encountered this rejection by the Jews in Rome. And so it continues to this day. However, in God's timing there will be a turning of the people of the Covenant to the Messiah.

Acts concludes with just a brief statement concerning Paul's two year stay in Rome. During that time he continually welcomed people who came to him and proclaimed to them "the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ." There is no explanation of Paul going before Caesar to conclude his legal case or of what might have ended his stay in Rome. We do know that he left Rome and continued his ministry elsewhere and that his ministry and life eventually ended when he was arrested while preaching in the Aegean area, taken once again to Rome, and executed. Time and again throughout history men have attempted to silence the gospel. While individual preachers of the gospel have been silenced, the gospel has not been silenced, nor can it be. Every attempt serves only to stir up its proclamation even more.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reflections on Acts 27

    Acts 27 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When it was time for us to sail to Rome, Captain Julius from the Emperor's special troops was put in charge of Paul and the other prisoners.
  2. We went aboard a ship from Adramyttium that was about to sail to some ports along the coast of Asia. Aristarchus from Thessalonica in Macedonia sailed on the ship with us.
  3. The next day we came to shore at Sidon. Captain Julius was very kind to Paul. He even let him visit his friends, so they could give him whatever he needed.
  4. When we left Sidon, the winds were blowing against us, and we sailed close to the island of Cyprus to be safe from the wind.
  5. Then we sailed south of Cilicia and Pamphylia until we came to the port of Myra in Lycia.
  6. There the army captain found a ship from Alexandria that was going to Italy. So he ordered us to board that ship.
  7. We sailed along slowly for several days and had a hard time reaching Cnidus. The wind would not let us go any farther in that direction, so we sailed past Cape Salmone, where the island of Crete would protect us from the wind.
  8. We went slowly along the coast and finally reached a place called Fair Havens, not far from the town of Lasea.
  9. By now we had already lost a lot of time, and sailing was no longer safe. In fact, even the Great Day of Forgiveness was past.
  10. Then Paul spoke to the crew of the ship, "Men, listen to me! If we sail now, our ship and its cargo will be badly damaged, and many lives will be lost."
  11. But Julius listened to the captain of the ship and its owner, rather than to Paul.
  12. The harbor at Fair Havens wasn't a good place to spend the winter. Because of this, almost everyone agreed that we should at least try to sail along the coast of Crete as far as Phoenix. It had a harbor that opened toward the southwest and northwest, and we could spend the winter there.
  13. When a gentle wind from the south started blowing, the men thought it was a good time to do what they had planned. So they pulled up the anchor, and we sailed along the coast of Crete.
  14. But soon a strong wind called "The Northeaster" blew against us from the island.
  15. The wind struck the ship, and we could not sail against it. So we let the wind carry the ship.
  16. We went along the island of Cauda on the side that was protected from the wind. We had a hard time holding the lifeboat in place,
  17. but finally we got it where it belonged. Then the sailors wrapped ropes around the ship to hold it together. They lowered the sail and let the ship drift along, because they were afraid it might hit the sandbanks in the gulf of Syrtis.
  18. The storm was so fierce that the next day they threw some of the ship's cargo overboard.
  19. Then on the third day, with their bare hands they threw overboard some of the ship's gear.
  20. For several days we could not see either the sun or the stars. A strong wind kept blowing, and we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
  21. Since none of us had eaten anything for a long time, Paul stood up and told the men: You should have listened to me! If you had stayed on in Crete, you would not have had this damage and loss.
  22. But now I beg you to cheer up, because you will be safe. Only the ship will be lost.
  23. I belong to God, and I worship him. Last night he sent an angel
  24. to tell me, "Paul, don't be afraid! You will stand trial before the Emperor. And because of you, God will save the lives of everyone on the ship."
  25. Cheer up! I am sure that God will do exactly what he promised.
  26. But we will first be shipwrecked on some island.
  27. For fourteen days and nights we had been blown around over the Mediterranean Sea. But about midnight the sailors realized that we were getting near land.
  28. They measured and found that the water was about one hundred twenty feet deep. A little later they measured again and found it was only about ninety feet.
  29. The sailors were afraid that we might hit some rocks, and they let down four anchors from the back of the ship. Then they prayed for daylight.
  30. The sailors wanted to escape from the ship. So they lowered the lifeboat into the water, pretending that they were letting down an anchor from the front of the ship.
  31. But Paul said to Captain Julius and the soldiers, "If the sailors don't stay on the ship, you won't have any chance to save your lives."
  32. The soldiers then cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall into the sea.
  33. Just before daylight Paul begged the people to eat something. He told them, "For fourteen days you have been so worried that you haven't eaten a thing.
  34. I beg you to eat something. Your lives depend on it. Do this and not one of you will be hurt."
  35. After Paul had said this, he took a piece of bread and gave thanks to God. Then in front of everyone, he broke the bread and ate some.
  36. They all felt encouraged, and each of them ate something.
  37. There were 276 people on the ship,
  38. and after everyone had eaten, they threw the cargo of wheat into the sea to make the ship lighter.
  39. Morning came, and the ship's crew saw a coast that they did not recognize. But they did see a cove with a beach. So they decided to try to run the ship aground on the beach.
  40. They cut the anchors loose and let them sink into the sea. At the same time they untied the ropes that were holding the rudders. Next, they raised the sail at the front of the ship and let the wind carry the ship toward the beach.
  41. But it ran aground on a sandbank. The front of the ship stuck firmly in the sand, and the rear was being smashed by the force of the waves.
  42. The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners to keep them from swimming away and escaping.
  43. But Captain Julius wanted to save Paul's life, and he did not let the soldiers do what they had planned. Instead, he ordered everyone who could swim to dive into the water and head for shore.
  44. Then he told the others to hold on to planks of wood or parts of the ship. At last, everyone safely reached shore.

Through observance of God's activity, both in life and in scripture, one can realize that though he or she may not understand what God is doing, He has a plan and a purpose for the events of life that is good, as unlikely as it may seem. Ever since the accounts of Acts chapter 19 while Paul was in Ephesus, by the leading of the Holy Spirit he was intent on getting to Rome by way of Jerusalem. Referencing a map one can easily see that this is not a direct route to Rome from Ephesus. In fact, Jerusalem is as far or farther to the Southeast of Ephesus as Rome is to the Northwest. If God wanted Paul in Rome, why didn't he go directly to Rome from Ephesus? Why travel all the way to Jerusalem only to be arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner?

I do not presume to know why God does what He does, only to trust Him in all things. Therefore, I can only guess at the reasons for Paul' journey to Jerusalem before making the treacherous trip to Rome we read of in this chapter. Paul's calling was to be Christ's witness to the Gentiles. Increasingly throughout his missionary journeys the Gentiles were receiving his witness while the Jews were increasingly rejecting it. Paul's last visit to Jerusalem seems to represent a final and dramatic rejection of Paul's witness and of the Messiah. This last trip to Jerusalem served not only as a last opportunity for Paul to give witness of the Messiah to the Jews but also thrust Paul before the Roman officials of Jerusalem, Caesarea, and finally those in Rome with not only the opportunity, but an open invitation to give witness to Christ. These were opportunities Paul would not have had if he had set out for Rome on his own.

From the time Paul first sensed the leading of the Spirit in Ephesus that he was destined for Rome, he was repeatedly given the clear message through Christian brothers and prophets that: chains awaited him in Jerusalem and that he would go to Rome. These messages, in addition to the angelic visit he had onboard the ship in the midst of the storm, gave Paul no doubt that he would indeed get to Rome. Nothing would deter him including the storm. But all along his journey to Rome, God provided him opportunity to be Christ's witness. By the conclusion of chapter 27 when all passengers and crew made it safely to land from the disentigrating ship, all 276 aboard the ship had no doubt that Paul was God's messenger. For whatever time they were to be marooned in this place, Paul had both a captive and interested audience for his gospel message.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reflections on Acts 26

    Acts 26 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Agrippa told Paul, "You may now speak for yourself." Paul stretched out his hand and said:
  2. King Agrippa, I am glad for this chance to defend myself before you today on all these charges that my own people have brought against me.
  3. You know a lot about our religious customs and the beliefs that divide us. So I ask you to listen patiently to me.
  4. All the Jews have known me since I was a child. They know what kind of life I have lived in my own country and in Jerusalem. And if they were willing, they could tell you that I was a Pharisee, a member of a group that is stricter than any other.
  5. (SEE 26:4)
  6. Now I am on trial because I believe the promise God made to our people long ago.
  7. Day and night our twelve tribes have earnestly served God, waiting for his promised blessings. King Agrippa, because of this hope, the Jewish leaders have brought charges against me.
  8. Why should any of you doubt that God raises the dead to life?
  9. I once thought that I should do everything I could to oppose Jesus from Nazareth.
  10. I did this first in Jerusalem, and with the authority of the chief priests I put many of God's people in jail. I even voted for them to be killed.
  11. I often had them punished in our meeting places, and I tried to make them give up their faith. In fact, I was so angry with them, that I went looking for them in foreign cities.
  12. King Agrippa, one day I was on my way to Damascus with the authority and permission of the chief priests.
  13. About noon I saw a light brighter than the sun. It flashed from heaven on me and on everyone traveling with me.
  14. We all fell to the ground. Then I heard a voice say to me in Aramaic, "Saul, Saul, why are you so cruel to me? It's foolish to fight against me!"
  15. "Who are you?" I asked. Then the Lord answered, "I am Jesus! I am the one you are so cruel to.
  16. Now stand up. I have appeared to you, because I have chosen you to be my servant. You are to tell others what you have learned about me and what I will show you later."
  17. The Lord also said, "I will protect you from the Jews and from the Gentiles that I am sending you to.
  18. I want you to open their eyes, so that they will turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then their sins will be forgiven, and by faith in me they will become part of God's holy people."
  19. King Agrippa, I obeyed this vision from heaven.
  20. First I preached to the people in Damascus, and then I went to Jerusalem and all over Judea. Finally, I went to the Gentiles and said, "Stop sinning and turn to God! Then prove what you have done by the way you live."
  21. That is why some men grabbed me in the temple and tried to kill me.
  22. But all this time God has helped me, and I have preached both to the rich and to the poor. I have told them only what the prophets and Moses said would happen.
  23. I told them how the Messiah would suffer and be the first to be raised from death, so that he could bring light to his own people and to the Gentiles.
  24. Before Paul finished defending himself, Festus shouted, "Paul, you're crazy! Too much learning has driven you out of your mind."
  25. But Paul replied, "Honorable Festus, I am not crazy. What I am saying is true, and it makes sense.
  26. None of these things happened off in a corner somewhere. I am sure that King Agrippa knows what I am talking about. That's why I can speak so plainly to him."
  27. Then Paul said to Agrippa, "Do you believe what the prophets said? I know you do."
  28. Agrippa asked Paul, "In such a short time do you think you can talk me into being a Christian?"
  29. Paul answered, "Whether it takes a short time or a long time, I wish you and everyone else who hears me today would become just like me! Except, of course, for these chains."
  30. Then King Agrippa, Governor Festus, Bernice, and everyone who was with them got up.
  31. But before they left, they said, "This man isn't guilty of anything. He doesn't deserve to die or to be put in jail."
  32. Agrippa told Festus, "Paul could have been set free, if he had not asked to be tried by the Roman Emperor."

Paul now stood before both Festus, governor of Judea, and King Agrippa. This was not a trial but rather an informal hearing at Agrippa's request so he could hear Paul's defense. Agrippa was a practicing Jew and thus acquainted with the law and with Jewish history. He understood the intricacies of Paul's argument, though he was not willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

The central point of Paul's case, as he states it, is seen in verses 6 & 7. He was on trial, not because of some crime he committed or even for breaking Jewish law, but "for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers." Paul agreed with Jewish teaching. He was not contradicting it. He was merely saying that Jewish prophecy had been fulfilled in Jesus. The worse charge that could legitimately be brought against him was incorrect interpretation of scripture, which was not a crime. The Jews argued incessently over interpretations on one topic or another. So what was different about what Paul claims concerning Jesus?

The problem was not with Paul's claims but with the magnitude of the issue at hand. One might argue over the interpretation of a particular law without great consequence one way or the other. They might even argue over belief in the resurrection without there being considerable affect to their practice of Judaism or their way of life regardless of the position they took on the subject. But what one believed concerning the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy in Jesus Christ changed everything for the Jew as it did also for the Gentile, though the change was more dramatic for the Jew. Acceptance of Jesus as Messiah suddenly nullified centuries of tradition. The offering of sacrifices was no longer necessary for Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. The need for a priest to act as mediator with God was no longer necessary for Jesus is now our mediator. The list of traditions nullified could go on and on.

To add to the enormity of the situation was the fact that Jewish leadership had not only rejected Jesus as the Messiah, they had orchestrated His death in an attempt to be rid of Him. The recognition of having killed the One for whom they had anxiously waited for centuries was too horrible to conceive of or to admit. If they could not admit their wrong then they must do away with any who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah for it was a proclamation of their sin. Agrippa understood the issue but was not willing to accept Jesus as Messiah. As with all other Jews of his day and as with all people in all times, the inability to accept Jesus as Messiah and Savior is not always an inability to believe. As often as not, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah is an unwillingness to accept the life-change that comes with acceptance of Jesus. True acceptance of Jesus is to give our lives to Him and accept the life He gives us. It is not a simple mental assent to the concept of Jesus as Messiah. It involves the giving of one's life to Him in response to our mental accept of Jesus as Messiah and making Him Lord of our lives. This is the part that stops people from acknowledging Jesus as Messiah maybe more than the mental assent. And this may have been Agrippa's problem.