Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Implanted Word

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:19-21)

Here is some godly advice from James that seems so simple on the surface, but our sinfulness keeps us from properly exercising it:

1) Be quick to hear. Hearing isn't just listening.  It's taking what you hear and storing it in your heart.  It's following godly advice and rejecting ungodly advice.  It's forming a deep heart knowledge that changes us.  As Christians, we have been opened to the truth.  The Holy Spirit causes us to thirst for truth.  It is food for our souls, and so we must receive it with meekness and quietude.  We can't hear anything, if our mouths are open and running.  Ecclesiastes 5 reads, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil."  We are so desperate to prove ourselves to God that we just barge in and begin to offer ourselves.  First we must listen to his words, because his is the purest of wisdom and can only be the most helpful of advice.  Chances are, what we were about to say becomes unnecessary.  We didn't need to say it.  "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth."  Know where you stand.  The greatest of earthly wisdom is but the braying of a donkey compared to the least wisdom from heaven.  God is omnipotent.  Of course we must listen to him before attempting to offer him anything we may have figured out on earth.  "Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words." We feel we need to defend our positions to each other and to God.  This advice goes against our grain.  Shut up and listen!  Let your words be few, if any!

2) Be slow to speak. Proverbs 10:19 reads, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking," showing us that the incessant talker is ever closer to sinning than the quiet one. "But whoever restrains his lips is prudent." Proverbs 17:27 reads, "Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding."  Talking is like a leak in a balloon.  The more air comes out, the smaller the balloon gets, until it is completely deflated.  We open our mouth to prove ourselves, and the nonsense comes out, and then all of our knowledge and understanding goes with it.  In a world where we are encouraged to defend and prove ourselves, this seems like contrary advice.

3) Be slow to anger. Notice anger and incessant talking are linked.  Have you ever heard someone talk constantly and not stop?  It seems like they are angry, even if they aren't.  Proverbs 14:29 reads, "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly."  Listening and hearing and storing truth in your hearts does not provoke anger.  It calms you.  So, we have three things linked on each side of the line.  On one side we have talkativeness, anger and foolishness, and on the other we have silence, righteousness, and wisdom.  Let's add a fourth thing:

4) Filthiness and rampant wickedness is the seed of foolish talk and anger.  The following passage (Colossians 3:1-10) brings much clarity:

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator."

Sin, folly, anger, and loquaciousness are linked, but what of the opposite?  If sin brings out rambling, anger, and foolishness, what brings out peace, wisdom, and righteousness?

5) The Implanted Word is the source.  Whereas the former things are symptoms of an unchecked sinful life, the Bible itself is the source of righteousness and wisdom.  All truth is in the pages of scripture, and we need to be silent and calm to receive it.  We receive God's Word with meekness, not anger.  An angry babbler cannot even hear a voice calling out to him, much less implant God's word in his heart.

James 3:13 reads, "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom."  The gospel saves our souls. 1 Cor 15:1-2 reads, "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain."  The end result is the saving of our souls, which glorifies God, so be silent and listen.

Having trouble yet?  Of course, because our sinful nature is tearing at us, getting us to open our mouths and defend ourselves, angrily for effect!  But God has given us his gospel, and all words in the Bible point to his gospel.  The focus is Jesus Christ alone, and when we look at his life, we see that to follow James' commands in this section is to be in Christ:

Jesus was quick to hear.  He listened to everyone who approached him, even his enemies.  He only spoke truth.  He never let anything false come from his lips.  He was slow to speak.  He didn't even defend himself to Pilate, and Pilate still found him innocent.  When he did speak, everything he said was Biblical and true.  Jesus was slow to anger.  The only incident we have of anger, really, is when he cleansed the temple.  This, of course, was foreshadowing the day of wrath, when he cleanses the earth of all the ungodly.  Jesus' anger is a righteous anger, without malicious intent or foolhardiness.  His is an effective anger, a holy anger, a heroic anger, the climactic ending of an epic story where the evil and wicked finally get their comeuppance, and the ones who stood on the side of their righteous leader when he was ridiculed are saved forever.  Jesus was without sin, so he had no source of foolishness, rambling, or petty anger.  Jesus himself IS the implanted word.  He is the righteousness of God.  God plants him in our hearts.  We receive him with meekness, not anger.  His glory calms us, prevents us, stops our mouth.  The gospel silences everyone.  Jesus opens our ears; he opens our hearts.  He bestows wisdom upon us.  Right and wrong become easy to discern.  Jesus saves our souls.  He snatches us from the fire.  He lay down his life on our behalf.  He died in our place, and we live because of him.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

And All Jerusalem

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

I was reading this passage to my little ones, and the doctrines of grace just came flooding out so clearly, that I had to share.  Remember the acrostic TULIP.  It is

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

You are wretched sinner, but God chose you before the foundation of the world, died on the cross for you, and now his Holy Spirit has brought you to faith and repentance in Christ, and he will never lose you from his grasp.  This is a beautiful message of redemption that should give peace to all who hear it.  This passage from Matthew also gives amazing encouragement to our hearts today when we read it, because

1) Wise men from the east are gentiles, born in the flesh outside of God's covenant people, and yet he has included them in the new covenant in Christ.  God has chosen people outside of the lineage of Abraham and has died for them.  They are sheep that were originally outside of the fold, but they have now been included in the fold, just like you and me.  The Holy Spirit has filled them with an irresistible grace that has brought them in search of Jesus.  We, too, when we are converted, seek Jesus with all of our hearts, and we find him in the pages of scripture.  We follow the star of the word of God to where it leads: the Christ of the Bible and no other.  We know Jesus through worshiping him in truth and love.

2) The unbelieving world is outside the covenant of grace, and it becomes troubled when it hears about Christ.  Notice the words "and all Jerusalem with him."  This isn't the rejection of Christ by one depraved individual.  No, this is the whole community of people who believed themselves to be inside the covenant.  All of Jerusalem was troubled. We know from scripture that many Jews came into the new covenant by faith, but many did not.  Here we have all of Jerusalem standing in for the unbelieving world.  Likewise, our current world--the secular world and the false church--not only rejects Jesus but tries to figure out how to do away with him altogether.

3) The false church attempts to flatter the people of the new covenant, so that many will fall away.  Remember from Daniel 11: "Many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white..."  The wise men are flattered but they withstand the temptations.  Likewise, the false church attempts to sway true believers to its side, but we persevere.

4) Although we are wretched sinners, when we lay hold of Christ, we rejoice exceedingly.  He has saved us from our sins.  We are forgiven!  Our only true response is worship!  We lay our gifts--ourselves, our souls and bodies--at his feet as an insufficient sacrifice.  It's all we have, it's tainted by sin, and yet God accepts it on the merits of his son. 

5) God keeps us from falling away himself.  The wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  Likewise, God's spirit within us keeps us from aligning ourselves with the false church.  Our ears become stopped to the syrupy sweet words.  Our hearts withstand all temptations to save ourselves by our own efforts, and we only make any move toward Christ because God has drawn us out of our selfish grave clothes like Lazarus hearing the powerful words of his Lord and Savior: "Come out!"

6) Finally, Christ shows us the way to live.  It is narrow and difficult, but it leads to our own country.  The wise men were shown a safe way back to their country, and that country is owned and ruled by Christ.  It was a place once excluded from God's kingdom, but now it is included, while his own city of Jerusalem has rejected him.  Likewise, God sets up his residence in the hearts of the faithful, who have been chosen from before time began, and he lives there forever.  He changes our wretched hearts of stone into palaces of light, worthy of holding him.  His blood washes away all of our sins, and we fall to our knees in thankfulness due to his irresistible grace.  Finally, we persevere to the end, because his will is all-powerful, and not one of his children will be lost.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:9-18)

1) Here we have a little twist on boasting.  Usually we hear "let the rich boast in his riches.  Let the wise boast in their wisdom."  Here we see letting the poor boast in exaltation and the rich in humiliation.  This is very important, because we think the Bible makes a distinction between monetarily rich and poor people, when it really distinguishes between selfish people and people who have faith in Christ.  Aren't the poor to be exalted?  Why is this wrong?  Because they are not boasting in Christ.  They are still boasting in themselves, except this time it is, "look how downtrodden I am!"  Likewise, the rich person, who is humbled in life, should not boast in the fact that he was humbled.  "See how I lost big in that business deal!  How humbled I have become!"  Nor is he to boast in anything except Christ.  Look at Jeremiah 9:23-24:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

We must only boast in that we know and understand God, and we can only know and understand God through Jesus Christ.  If the poor man boasts in anything besides Christ, he is disconnected from God.  Likewise with the rich man.  Christ tells us that he who is "poor in spirit" is blessed.  Why?  Because the poor in spirit is not boasting in himself.  All he has is Christ.

2) All activity on earth is going to fade away, and will count as nothing in and of itself.  This is why we must not boast in anything but Christ.  When all passes away, all we will have is Christ.  All activity on earth is really useful toward either bringing us closer to Christ or taking us further away from Christ.  When it fades--and it will--where will we be standing on Judgment Day?  Will we be presenting to God flowers of achievement that have faded away?  Essentially presenting to God empty hands?  Or will be be presenting Christ, who died on our behalf?

3) Everyone experiences trials, the godly and the ungodly, but God gives the crown of life (everlasting life) to those who love him.  Who are those who love him?  God has chosen those who are "poor in the world" (James 2:5) to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.  Remember "poor in the world" is not a monetary condition.  It is he who does not boast in himself but in Christ.

4) Those who boast in themselves are being tempted not by God, because God tempts no one, but by his own desire.  The desire gives birth to sin, and sin brings forth death, because the wages of sin is death.  By boasting in ourselves, we are actually earning wages toward death.  The only wage that does not perish is Christ.  By knowing him and loving the Jesus of the Bible, we are laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven, wages that do not perish, and earn for us everlasting life.

5) Every good thing comes from God.

6) Every evil thing comes from ourselves.

7) God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

8) God does not change.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

9) The final, and most important point.  The world tempts us, even Christians, to boast in ourselves.  When God gets us through a trial and we come out on the other side, the temptation is there, and it is usually given into, to boast in our own perseverance.  James' last sentence of this section is crucial to our understanding: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."

a) Our boasting in Christ is of God's will.  We can't will it ourselves.  If we try to boast in Christ, we fail.  God wills us to boast in Christ.  As John tells us in his gospel, those who "receive" Christ, who believe in his name, his children, we are born again into this covenant, not through blood or family lineage, nor from earning God's grace, nor from sheer human will, but only from God himself (1:12-13).

b) The word of truth, the scriptures, is God's means of bringing us out of death into life.  We were dead in sins, and God's word preached reached our ears, the Holy Spirit transformed our hearts, our souls, and we began the process of knowing Christ, of loving God through Jesus.

c) In Christ, we obtain an inheritance, which God decided beforehand through his holy will, so that those who hope in Christ--who boast in Christ--on this side of death's veil might do so to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12).  Remember the last of the five solas: to God alone be the glory.  God's glory is the end goal of any boasting in earthly life, and Christ is the object of our boasting.  He is the true glory of God.  He is the amazing means of salvation for all who believe in him.

d) Just as Israel was the firstfruits of the Lord's harvest, designated to bring the Christ into the world, so Christians are to be the firstfruits of boasting in Christ to the world, so that hearing the good news, many may be converted.  The firstfruits are those who--in this world--sing a new song of Christ.  Only the redeemed can learn the song, and they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.  They have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4).

Remember: only by God's will, and only for his glory.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

The book of James is considered the New Testament's book of proverbs.  It's about how to live life as a Christian, after you have been saved.  Last week we transitioned from Daniel to this letter by discussing the purpose of trials in the Christian life.  This week we begin looking deeply at what the brother of Jesus has to say about how to live life in this world of trials and tribulations for the Christian.

We have considered it joy to face various trials.  Now, we are told to ask God for wisdom, because he gives generously of this gift.  Notice, God doesn't give generously of ANY gift.  He gives generously of WISDOM.  This is important, because we believe that we should ask God of ANYTHING, and he will give it to us, because he loves us.  However, God gives us things for our good, even if they might hurt us to strengthen us.  The most important thing is wisdom.  We can see this in action in 1 Kings 3.  Solomon is told by God in a dream to ask him for anything.  Solomon humbly asks for wisdom.  He says that he is but a child who does not know how to go out or come in.  He asked for understanding so that he could discern between good and evil.  Notice the word "discern."  In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The serpent tempted them, telling them that when they ate, they would know good and evil.  Notice the lack of the word "discern."  Before eating of the fruit, Adam and Eve knew only good.  After eating of the fruit, they knew good and evil, as in how to do both good and evil.  They were suddenly aware of their own sinfulness, and they hid.  And so their progeny are born knowing both good and evil.  They know how to sin, and as we see later, everything we do, even the good things, are sinful in God's eyes.  This knowledge was taken from God against his permission.  It is not understanding.  It is not discernment.  It is merely the addition of evil to our nature, and that evil has never left.

God is pleased with Solomon's request, and he not only grants him the wisdom to discern what is right, but he also gives him riches and honor.  Solomon did not ask for these things, and he did not ask for wisdom in order to get riches and honor.  He wasn't tricking God.  He honestly sought wisdom only.  Likewise, we should not seek anything selfish, but what James says here: wisdom.  Proverbs 2:3-5 says, "yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God."  Remember, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, which means we seek a right and reverent relationship with God; we ask him humbly, like Solomon did; and he grants us wisdom.  He has given us pure wisdom in his word.  When Jesus tells his disciples to "ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you," he is speaking about wisdom.  If you look at the context, he is discussing judgment and discernment.  Wisdom is the best thing.  To believe that Jesus is talking about asking God for anything you desire is to believe in the prosperity gospel, which is unbiblical.

Verses 6-8 seem to say that we need to not only ask for wisdom in faith, but with no doubting, or we will not receive anything from the Lord.  This puts a lot of pressure on us for a "perfect" faith.  We know that we are still sinners and have no such perfect faith.  What are we to do? I think an exploration of the fig tree in Mark 11 will help.  We need to look at the events in Mark 11 as a dry run of the last day.  First, we have Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, foreshadowing Christ's return on the last day.  He then curses the fig tree because it does not bear fruit.  This tree represents those who are without faith in Christ on the last day.  James compares them to a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  These people are double-minded and unstable in their ways.  They have faith in everything BUT the Christ of the bible.  So Jesus says to the fig tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again."  Next, Jesus clears out the temple, further demonstrating what the last day will be like.  Next, as they walk by the withered fig tree, demonstrating that without faith there is no salvation, Christ tells his disciples, "Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." (Mark 11:22-25)  Faith involves bearing fruit; faith needs to be IN GOD, not in anything else; faith involves prayer; and faith involves forgiveness.  This is a big clue, because it sounds like James is talking about faith in the request being fulfilled, where Christ is saying the object of faith is not the request but God himself.

And that is the key to this passage.  When we are seeking wisdom, we are actually seeking Christ.  Paul claims Christ to be the wisdom of God.  Indeed the office of Christ is the wisest act of God for all eternity.  Without Christ, none would be saved.  So, to seek true wisdom is to seek Christ.  To ask for wisdom from God with a true, unwavering faith, is to seek Christ and his glory. To ask for wisdom is to ask for the cross itself.  The cross is foolishness to the people of the withered fig tree, but to the elect of God, it is power and it is wisdom.