Saturday, September 24, 2016


If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8)

We've been exploring what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.  It depends on our definition of "love," but we need to know the Bible's definition of love to be certain we are loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Go to Leviticus 19.  This is the chapter after the infamous Leviticus 18, which deals with unlawful sexual relations and includes child sacrifice (sacrificing one's child to Molech in OT times, but abortion would fit nicely in that passage today).  Chapter 19 deals mostly with theft and ripping others off.  What 18 and 19 have in common is loving one's neighbor as oneself.  If you love your neighbor, you do NOT have immoral sexual relations with them, of the kind described in chapter 18, and you do NOT take advantage of their class and financial difficulties, as described in chapter 19.  Here is the part of Chapter 19 that deals with robbing one's neighbor:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:9-18)

Punctuated with God's holy name, the laws come tumbling in: we are not to steal, to deal falsely; we are not to lie; we are not to swear by God's name falsely. Profaning the name of the Lord by swearing falsely by his name can be connected with the same Hebrew language in chapter 18: child sacrifice also profanes the name of the Lord.  Why? Because when one takes the life of a child, one is calling into question God's judgment in giving life to that child in the first place.  This is the same as swearing falsely--blasphemy.  We are not to withhold earnings that another deserves by working.  The pair of commandments about the blind and deaf show how we can take advantage of the weaker members of society.  We are not to drag others into court.  We are to show partiality neither to the poor NOR the rich.  We are to judge others righteously (note that we are still to judge, but righteously).  Next, there is another verse about NOT standing up against the LIFE of your neighbor.  See how loving one's neighbor involves standing up for LIFE, not death?  Finally, God begins to add murder into the mix (hating your brother in your heart). We do not argue, either, but reason frankly.  We do not take vengeance, but we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  See how we stretched out over many of the ten commandments, including the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth?  If we include the verses in Leviticus 19 not covered here, loving our neighbor includes keeping ALL of the commandments.  And we know that by loving our neighbor, whom we have seen, we prove that we love God, whom we have not seen.

But there is this one place at the beginning of the passage that we have not covered, and to leave it out would be to feed you all law and no gospel.  The passage in Leviticus 19 begins with a positive command, and it's one that is both easy and difficult to keep.  It also points us to Christ and what he did for us as our kinsman redeemer.  The verses in question are 9&10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.  These are beautiful verses because they speak of giving of oneself to the needy, in a charitable way, of course, but not in the way that we are used to.  We don't live in an agrarian society anymore, and the parts of our society that are agriculturally based do not follow this gentle command at all.  We are a consumer-driven society that uses things up at a very quick rate under the guise of "not wasting."  God counters this concept with, "you cannot waste, because everything is mine."  We may not have a crop, and we may not have a harvest (and if we do, we tend to not let any part slip through the cracks), but we do have stuff that wears out and gets thrown away or sold (instead of given away), and we do have food leftovers that get thrown away or stashed in the fridge, where they are forgotten about and eventually thrown out.  This is what we all do.  But this passage is telling us that we should let things go and give them away.  We should not care about getting our money back, or some part of it, but give away what we don't need, to show the sojourner that we care.  To love our neighbors as ourselves.

Now look at Ruth 2.  Ruth is "gleaning" in Boaz's field (collecting the leftovers that God instructs us to leave behind in Leviticus 19).  Listen to verses 14-16: And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”  Boaz goes beyond the gleaning rule.  He even pulls some of the already-bundled barley out and lets her have it.  He even gives her roasted grain.  He even gives her bread and wine (Holy Communion!).  He goes far beyond what we would, because Boaz is a type and shadow of Christ, who loves his church and gives far beyond what is expected to satisfy it.  Just as Boaz redeems and marries Ruth, so Jesus redeems and marries his church.  Psalm 34:22 reads, "The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned."  Our God is the God of Life.  He gave us life, and he died to save our lives.  Put your faith in him, take refuge, and you will not be condemned.

So, in answer to James' implied question, "how do I love my neighbor as myself?" the answer is to allow your neighbor to glean.  Give away what you don't need.  Jesus, however, gave to us more than we could ask or imagine.  We begged for bread, and he gave us the bread of life.  We prayed to glean, to eat the crumbs from his table, and he gave us life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven, eternal relationship with the triune God in Heaven.  The least we can do in response is to love our neighbor, allow our neighbor to glean.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Poor

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? (James 2:1-7)

Remembering that James is addressing Christians, he reminds his audience to show no partiality between classes of people.  Why?  Well, first, God shows no partiality (in either direction; rich or poor).  Now, this letter assumes that any partiality will be for rich over poor, and indeed that slant has been the case throughout history, although these days we tend to politically slant in favor of the poor, just because of the class itself, in order to earn merit with our fellow men, and oftentimes we can earn a great deal of wealth from championing the poor.  God judges the heart of a person, and so should we. Not all poor are righteous, and not all rich are unrighteous.  Historically, and even today, the rich have a more difficult time being rich in faith because they have the obstacle of wealth.  Wealth and its benefits are able to block a person's spiritual development, and keep them away from a close communion with God.  So, we are not to judge on appearances but on the fruit of faith, a righteous judgment that God approves of.  The fruit of faith is easy to detect in rich and poor.  It comes out in behavior that keeps or violates God's commandments.  Unfaithful rich are easy to pick out, because they violate the commandments by outwardly oppressing others.  The rich are usually the oppressive ones.  They are usually the ones who sue others, and they are usually the ones who blaspheme God, Christ, and Christians in thought, word and deed.  However, the poor class can violate the commandments, too, usually in the realm of self-abuse, which is the inward sin manifesting itself in the flesh.  And one does not need wealth in order to blaspheme God.  Many in the world today, rich and poor, disgrace the name of God with their tongues.

Now, let's look at this a different way.  The pharisees were usually wealthy people.  They were legalists, in that they kept the letter of the law, but not the spirit, and they judged others on whether they kept the letter of the law or not.  At the same time, they were antinomians in spirit, because they did whatever they wanted to, violating the spirit of God's commandments, and encouraging others to do likewise.  These are the people who persecuted Christ and stirred up the Gentiles in order to have Jesus crucified.  Christ was poor in class, and so were his followers, but Christ was rich in faith.  He was sinless, and he had the deepest of connections with the Father.  Christ was judged on his appearance, but the pharisees never were able to condemn him on his thoughts, words, or deeds.  However, due to their sin, the pharisees oppressed him.  They captured him and took him to court, where the blasphemed him and persecuted him.  Later they would do the same to Christians.  They killed Christ, and they rallied up the rest of the world to participate in his crucifixion. 

Christ is "the poor." We are not to be partial to the poor class because they are poor.  We are to be partial to Christ because he is The Poor.  The second part of the Trinity volunteered to be the poor, in order to be rich in faith and the heir of the kingdom.  Anyone IN Christ is "the poor" as well and will be an heir of the kingdom through Christ.  This he has promised to those who love him.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Religion Pure and Undefiled

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

Psalm 39, one of my favorites, is a perfect illustration of what James calls the difficulty in maintaining true religion.  The sentiments of this psalm work in any time period. We are always in a struggle to, as James tells us, bridle our tongues and practice pure and undefiled religion before God the Father.  Remember that sin covers thought, WORD and deed, so violating God's law is not restricted to just acting.  Murdering someone with your hands is prohibited, but Jesus said that being angry with your neighbor falls into the same category.  All ten commandments can be broken by deed and thought.  The tenth commandment is a violation of thought in and of itself.  All ten commandments can be violated by word as well.  So, lying is directly prohibited by the ninth commandment, but slander violates the sixth and perverted speech violates the seventh.  Talking disrespectfully to your parents violates the fifth.  Of course, there's blaspheming God, either directly or through bad worship.  The point is that the spoken word can be just as sinful as any physical act.

So, here is Psalm 39, a wonderful psalm, and it covers the struggle that we undergo to attempt to follow God and not the world.  We try to not sin with our tongues, especially in the presence of the ungodly.  They will either suck us into their way of life, or they will ridicule us as hypocrites.  Either way, this disrespects God.  Have you noticed how our language changes, depending on the company we keep?  The scriptures tell us to keep silent in the midst of the wicked.  But this becomes a struggle.  Even David had trouble keeping silent and "hold his peace."  But his distress increased, because the world will never stop attacking us in its attempt to either suck us in or show us up.  David responds to his agony with a direct prayer to God.  Is the prayer for the power to keep silent?  No, the prayer is for an acute awareness of how short his own life is.  By being always mindful of how fleeting life is, he puts more hope in the Lord, and this sentiment culminates in the line, "I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it." (39:9)  Obedience to the Lord comes from maximizing the Lord himself, seeking out his glory and righteousness, and minimizing ourselves as sinners in need of salvation.  When Christ's glory is made paramount, obedience to God's word necessarily follows.  This is how we keep ourselves "unstained" from the world.  It's not about trying harder to resist, but putting our focus on Christ and his glory, and only thinking of ourselves as wretched sinners in need of salvation.

Notice that in the practice of pure and undefiled religion before God, the qualifier "the Father" is added.  Why that singular aspect of the trinity?  Well, let's understand what orphans and widows means.  Elsewhere in scripture, orphans are more referred to as "the fatherless."  Widows are, of course, without husbands.  In both cases, there is a male, guiding figure missing.  We know from the scriptures that the father/husband is supposed to fill in Christ's role for the family, guiding the members in godly instruction and leading them to salvation, reminding of them the gospel of grace.  Many fail in this role, but this is the godly role of the man, a great burden that holds them accountable for the well-being of their families.  So, to visit widows and orphans in their affliction means what?  To restore the missing Father/Husband.  To show these people Christ, and to instruct them in biblical principles.  To re-establish a right relationship between these people and God.  With this in mind, even though we are to aid and support actual widows and orphans (as our neighbors), however this opens up the category to everyone: all are without fathers, if they don't have Christ, and all are without the guiding husband of Christ, if they are outside the true church.   

So, in Matthew 25, when Christ talks about visiting the "least of these" in their affliction--clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, giving drink to the thirsty--an implied aspect of "visiting" is sharing the gospel in order to restore the "father/husband" relationship to that person.  In preaching Christ, and through the repentance of the one in need, he or she is born again as a child of God and as a member of the universal, invisible church.  Just providing for the needs of the people is not enough.  Without Christ preached, the ungodly remain ungodly.  Christ came to save sinners.  Without an awareness of sin and a need for Christ, the most physically cared-for person on earth will be lost forever.

Finally, remember that Christ himself practiced pure and undefiled religion before his Father in heaven.  Psalm 39 can be read from the mouth of Christ.  He visited the widows and orphans in their affliction, those widows and orphans being all of mankind, who are without the God figure in our lives.  He restored our relationship with God the Father and as members of the church with Christ as the head, our husband.  He restored this relationship by temporarily breaking his own relationship with the Father.  That is why we see Jesus cry out in Mark 15, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  He took upon him the punishment that we deserved, breaking his bond with the Father, in order to seal the bond between repentant sinners and the Father they had lost.  Jesus never opened his mouth.  He kept himself unstained from the world.  He never tried to "play along" and he never opened his Father up to attack because of foolish talk.  Jesus never sinned.  He was a perfect, obedient servant.  He was everything we fail to be.  Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy through is Son Jesus Christ!  We can be forever connected with our Father and restored to our Husband.  All thanks to Christ's perfect life and redeeming sacrifice.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Law of Liberty

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

1. Be doers of the word.  Is this Law?  No, this is living in the new covenant of grace, because anyone still living in the old covenant is unable to be a doer of the word.  Look at what Jesus says about being a doer of the word: 

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)

The first son, who did the will of his father, was a doer of the word, because he not only heard his father, he took in the truth of his father's word in his heart.  Even though he spoke with his lips that he did not wish to go, he went anyway, because the truth of the father's word compelled him.  Doing the word is not an act of man, but an act of God.  Likewise, those with faith in Christ will be saved, because their faith is a penitent faith that comes from a broken heart from sin, a deep repentance that brings them into doing the word, not to earn God's favor but to express gratitude for Jesus saving them.  Only sinners can express such gratitude.

2. Looking intently at our natural faces.  This is essentially desiring to please man rather than God.  We are exercising the original sin of Adam, to live without God and to put ourselves first in all things.  See what Paul says here to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)

All man-made successes in this life, all philosophies and religions, are futility.  It is as if one looked into a mirror at oneself and then forgot himself, because he had denied the truth.  All of our operations are a turning away from God. They are futility.  Turning to God's truth, incorporating it in our hearts, will turn us away from the mirror, away from ourselves, and turn us towards God's word.  Jesus said the truth will set us free, and the truth is found in Jesus himself. 

3. What is the Law of Liberty?  The best answer for this can be found a little further down in James.  Remember, Jesus saves us of his own will and choice.  We contribute nothing to our salvation.  We did not earn it.  How do we react to this truth?  With gratitude, with love for God.  How do we show and invisible God that we love him?  By loving those we CAN see, those whom God has made.  James 2:8 reads, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well."  Jesus told a parable that really brings love for God home:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

The unforgiving servant was only a hearer of the word.  He did not DO.  What does DOING look like?  Forgiving his neighbor would have shown the king his love for him.  Do you see?  God is invisible but our neighbor is not.  When we show our neighbor that we love him, we show God that we love HIM.  The doing is compelled by the love that is brought forth by the Holy Spirit in all whom Jesus has saved.  That is why many will hear the gospel, but only some will truly follow Christ.

4. The Law of Liberty is freedom.  Peter summarizes everything I said above with these two verses: Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:16-17)  Christ has set us free, from sin, but if we continue in unrepentant sin, then we never incorporated that freedom into our lives.  How do we know someone whom Christ has set free?  By his love for his neighbor.  The unrepentant sinner will only use his freedom as a cover to continue sinning.  This one has not been regenerated at all!

Think of your sin.  Think of the debt you owe to God.  Realize that you will never pay it.  Now realize that Christ has paid the price for your sin.  You are free, but true freedom is loving your neighbor and not a continuance of selfish living.  Being a doer of the word--only through the act of Christ on the cross and the response of love in your heart by the Holy Spirit--will truly set you free.