Posts Tagged 'Christian persecution'

Your Amazing Faith, Part 4

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There is no more amazing thing in a believer’s life than his faith. A Christian may be highly educated, credentialed, celebrated, talented, and decorated, but his faith is his most amazing possession. The thing about the Christian’s faith is that nobody else in the world has it; only Christians. The world has its pale imitation of the believer’s faith, and while practicing positive thinking and while maintaining a positive mental attitude may lead to a better and more fulfilling life, those kinds of things are NOT Biblical faith. You don’t have faith naturally; it is placed into your heart by the Holy Spirit. We take our faith for granted but we shouldn’t. It’s what separates us from the rest of the world. It makes us special. It makes us supernatural people.

The basis of our faith is the Word of God, according to Romans 10:17 –

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17 | NIV84)

The object of our faith is not our feelings or our emotions. We can’t gin up faith. Our faith is completely objective, and its object is a Person: God –

So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Acts 27:25 | NIV84)

Faith may be a mystery to some, but not to Paul who had discovered the secret of his faith:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 | NIV84)

But possessing faith and living by faith isn’t all sunshine and buttercups. Nobody knew that better that the apostle Peter, and he wrote to Christians who also knew all about how difficult living a life of faith can be.

These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

Background

Some people might refer to Peter as “just a fisherman.” But nobody who spent three years in the company of Jesus Christ could be called “just a fisherman.” In fact, if you were to sit down and read through both of Peter’s letters in the New Testament, you would be reading about such things as the doctrines of election, foreknowledge, sanctification, obedience, the extent of Christ’s finished work on the Cross, God’s grace, the Trinity, salvation, faith, and hope! Peter was not “just a fisherman,” and while we always think about Paul as being the towering intellectual of the Christian faith, Peter was no intellectual slouch. He juggled mighty theological concepts while dealing with the day-to-day problems encountered by believers scattered all over the known world.

Here was a man who, at one time, was impetuous; the kind of guy that rushes in where angels fear to tread. Peter often spoke before he thought and some of the dopey things he said surely caused our Lord’s head to shake. Speaking of our Lord, Jesus said this to and about Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my
Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be e loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17 – 19 | NIV84)

Peter was the “rock” upon which the church was to be built. But before you get all excited about that, Peter, whose name means “rock,” would go on to write this in 1 Peter 2:5 –

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4, 5 | NIV84)

So, in Peter’s inspired opinion, all believers are “rocks.” We are all Peter. Peter knew there was nothing special about him; he knew he was an apostle, but he also knew he was just one of many. The church is built on people like Peter; people like you and me.

Peter wrote his letters after Paul wrote his, probably between 64 and 67 AD, after Nero had come to power and had begun his persecution of Christians. And we know to whom he wrote his letters, particularly the first one:

To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1:1 | NIV84)

These were believers in peril; their lives were constantly threatened by persecution on account of their relationship with Jesus Christ and His church. And though Peter mentions persecution many times in his letter, the theme of the letter is not persecution but rather hope in times of persecution. Dr McGee refers to Peter as the “apostle of hope,” and hope in the New Testament is always linked to suffering. What that means is startling and counterintuitive. Suffering, what we all try to avoid at all costs, is something that produces hope.

And the readers of this letter needed hope. They were “strangers in the world, scattered…” all over the place. The recipients were a mixture of both Jew and Gentile believers, and both groups were literally “strangers in the world” and “scattered.” For the Jewish Christians, they were forced out of their homes in Jerusalem and forced to lived in strange, pagan cities. For the Gentiles, their citizenship was in heaven but they had lost so much just to follow the way of Jesus . So both of these groups of precious believers were suffering and that suffering (those trials they were dealing with) was producing something in their lives they didn’t have before: HOPE.

Trials in perspective

It’s easy to understand how trials produce suffering, but how does that produce hope? It all boils down to perspective. When a believer is facing a trial that produces suffering, what he pays attention to makes all the difference in the world. Peter gives us something to think about:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:6 | NIV84)

There’s your perspective right there. What Peter is referring to when he wrote “In this,” will become self-evident, but for right now, his point is a simple one: in the midst of “suffering grief in all kinds of trials” Christians should rejoice, not worry or be anxiety-ridden. That may sound crazy to you, but you need to pay attention to it. When you are experiencing trials that lead to suffering, you ought to rejoice – not praising the trials, but focusing on God instead of the trial. The key is forcing yourself to see God, not get bogged down in the trial. Remember what kind of trial Peter is talking about here. It’s a trial you experience because of your faith. We’re not talking about the trial of a bad cold or a feverish child, although you should focus on God regardless of what’s going on in your life.

As a side note, modern Christians have a completely warped out perspective on suffering. We foolishly think that whatever is happening at the moment is the most important thing in our lives. So when we are suffering the trial of a bad cold or a feverish child, those things tower over horizon and we behave in an unseemly way for a Christian to behave. When you drag your sick child to the emergency ward at the hospital and are freaking out because you have to wait to see a doctor, that’s unseemly behavior for a Christian to engage in because it says something very disturbing about your faith. It says you don’t have very much. A moment in the waiting room can ruin your testimony for Jesus Christ. And nothing is more important than that. How you behave when the thumb screws of life get tight says everything the quality of your faith.

But Peter is specifically referring to those trials you may face on account of your Christian faith. When that happens, here’s what “in this” refers to:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 | NIV84)

You may be facing trials on account of your faith, but if you keep your focus on what God has done for you and given you in Jesus Christ, your trials pale by comparison. The jeers and mocking, the persecution of losing your job or home because of your faith are NOTHING compared to what you GET in Christ! Thinking about what you have waiting for you in heaven may also seem counterintuitive and a denial of reality, but it isn’t.

Here’s the thing. Our faith in this is both objective and subjective. It is objective in the sense that our faith is in “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” and in “his great mercy” that led to our “new birth.” It is subjective in the sense that there are definitely “rewards,” what Peter refers to “an inheritance that can never spoil or fade” that we should think about.

In the midst of these kinds of trials, if we can keep them in perspective and keep our focus on God, we’ll be fine. And that brings us to the verse that started this whole thing:

These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7 | NIV84)

If you think that verse is a little hard to swallow in light of what came before it, try what Peter’s associate, James, wrote on for size:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 | NIV84)

Both Peter and James were not deniers of reality. Neither of them denied that the readers of their letters were suffering trials. They’re giving Holy Spirit-inspired advice that needs to be noticed and taken by modern believers.

As a Christian, you will face some forms of persecution on account of your faith. That persecution may take many forms, but it will come. Even in America. You may find that hard to believe, but all you have to do is ask the Christian who spoke out in support of traditional family values who has been denied a promotion because of it. Or the baker who refused to bake a cake for a “gay wedding” who had to pay a heftY fine. Those are forms of persecution. That you will face some form of persecution is guaranteed. How will you react to it? Peter wants you to understand that your most precious possession is not your job. It’s not your home. It’s not your friendship. It’s not your family. Your FAITH is your most precious possession and though you may lose much because of your relationship with Christ, you can never lose your faith. In fact, that faith is strengthened when you suffer persecution.

Augustine observed:

In the fiery furnace, the straw is burned by the gold is purified.

Martin Luther chimed in:

The fire does not lessen the gold but makes it pure and bright, removing any admixture. So God lays the Cross upon all Christians in order to purify and cleanse them well in order that their faith may remain pure even as the Word is pure, and that we may cling to the Word and nothing else.

Both of those guys were right. Why does your faith need to be purified? It’s because when we live and prosper and enjoy the blessings God gives us, we as sinful people tend to start focusing on them and trusting in them instead of God. Our faith becomes corrupted by other things, even very good things like friends and family and pension plans. When that happens, those corruptions in our faith – those impurities – need to be removed. And God will allow those persecutions that lead to suffering to do just that.

Perspective is everything. And it’s the one thing Peter’s friends needed and it’s the one thing we need, too.

Be’s of the Bible, Part 5

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Many times in Scripture, we are told to “be” something. In our study of some “Be’s” of the Bible, we’ve covered four so far. The four we’ve looked at include:

• Be holy (because God is holy), 1 Peter 1:15, 16
• Be perfect (this one is really, “Be mature”), 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be still (and let God do the work), Psalm 46:10
• Be sober (stay clear headed, keep your eyes open), 1 Peter 5:8

All the “be’s” are imperative; they are things God wants us to do or become. Consider them to be commands from your Commander. We’d all be better off if we paid attention to the all the “be’s” of the Bible because, obviously, God knows what’s best for us.

Our fifth “be” is found in Revelation 2:10, and is part of John’s letter to the congregation in Smyrna –

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (NIV)

What is a Smyrna?

No, it’s not a disease. Smyrna is a place that no longer exists. Along with six other destinations, the church located at Smyrna received a letter from John containing either good news or bad news from Jesus Christ concerning the particular church to whom the letter was addressed. These seven churches in chapters two and three of Revelation are significant. First of all, they were real places that existed at this point in time. We’re familiar with two of them – Ephesus and Laodicea – because they are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. But all seven were real churches, filled with real Christians with the same problems and strengths our churches have today.

So we might say that while John wrote specifically to these seven churches, they actually represent all churches of that time and those of every century since. Just as, for example, Paul wrote letters to a church in Thessalonica, what was written in those letters could be applied to many other churches because all churches, everywhere and at any time, have the same problems.

One other chilling point. Each of the seven letters opens like this:

“To the angel of the church in…”

The “angel” is really just the pastor. So each letter is addressed to the pastor. I say that’s chilling because that means that the Lord sees the condition of a local church as the pastor’s responsibility (or fault!). Good or bad, it’s on the pastor.

You may not have heard of Smyrna, but maybe you’ve heard of Izmir. That’s what Smyrna is today. Izmir today is the third most populous city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. The letter written to Smyrna was written after the one written to Ephesus, perhaps because they were located in very close proximity, about thirty miles apart. It was a large, metropolitan commercial center known for its many fine wines. It was, as it is today, a beautiful city, filled with stunning architecture. Back then, there were all kinds of temples built to accommodate the worshippers of all kinds of gods, including a huge temple erected in honor of Emperor Tiberias.

Unfortunately, Smyrna had a dark underbelly courtesy of the many apostate Jews there. They were social agitators, often the instigators in the persecution of Christians. In fact, the word “Smyrna” means “bitter,” and is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “myrrh.” Living in Smyrna was a bitter experience for many Christians.

Smyrna was also a major center in the worship of government; specifically, of Caesar. This came from an attitude of appreciation to Rome for their benevolence, and later it evolved into a kind of patriotic religion. It wasn’t so bad in the beginning; worship of Caesar was wholly voluntary, but it soon because compulsory. Of course, no Christian could ever worship any god, be it Caesar or any other one, save the One true God.

So the Christians were getting it from all sides in Smyrna; there was bitterness aplenty. No wonder our Lord wanted to speak to them personally. If ever a church needed to hear from it’s Head, it was the church in Smyrna.

The letter

John sent these seven letters to the pastors of seven churches. The letters contained the revelation John had of future events, but also personal words from the Lord unique to each church. The first letter was sent to Ephesus, capital of the province of Asia and the place John called home before and after his exile on the island of Patmos.

The second letter went to Smyrna, a neighboring city. It began like this –

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (Revelation 2:8 NIV)

The greeting from Jesus probably meant a lot more to the Christians in Smyrna than it does to Christians today. This church was under relentless persecution and many of its members would become martyrs. To these, our Lord referred to Himself as the One who died yet lives, assuring them of the motivating hope of resurrection. During His earthly ministry, our Lord told His disciples this –

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28 NIV)

Motivational? Yes! Many Christians today have it backwards; they fear what people might do to them if they take a stand for Christ instead of fearing what Christ thinks of them when they compromise their testimony. It’s a measure of how worldly you are if you’re like that.

Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26 NIV)

Believe me, you don’t want the Lord to be ashamed of you!

John’s letter continues –

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NIV)

That’s Jesus talking, not John, and those first two words can be cut both ways: “I know.” Yes, the Lord knows – He knows the good and the bad about you and your church. He knows how you’ve compromised your faith for your comfort, and He knows how you’ve suffered on account of your faith. For these precious believers in Smyrna facing the very real prospect of martyrdom, what a comfort it must have been to be reassured that Jesus knows. He knew all about their “afflictions and poverty.” Apparently their afflictions (or tribulations) caused their poverty. This suggests that not everybody in the congregation was poor to start with; they became poor because of their affiliation with Jesus Christ. This was not unheard of in the early church –

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (Hebrews 10:34, 35 NIV)

In all probability, the Jewish and pagan mobs were pillaging the property of the Christians and it’s entirely probable that many of these Christians lost their livelihood on account of their faith and were cut off from their families. These believers had it bad.

The Greek word translated “afflictions” is a funny looking one: thlipsis, and it’s a very intense word meaning things like, “pressed” or “squeezed.” It’s a graphic description of how these believers felt: like grapes in a winepress, squeezed until every ounce of juice was squeezed out of them. The pressure exerted against these believers and this church must have been awful. Yet it didn’t shut down and its members didn’t disperse.

From all appearances, this was a church overcome with poverty, yet by our Lord’s own estimation, it was rich! They had become materially poor, yet spiritually rich. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but this combination is seen over and over in the New Testament.

All of this persecution found its source primarily in the Jews who were living in Smyrna. The thing about these Jews was they while they may have been Jews by race and religion, their actions demonstrated that these people were not true sons of Abraham. Paul knew all about people like this –

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. (Romans 2:28, 29 NIV)

It’s not an accident or a clever turn of phrase that these Jewish persecutors were described as being from “the synagogue of Satan.” Their treatment of God’s people showed with whom they had aligned themselves. How evil were these Jews? The story of the martyrdom of Polycarp illustrates the fact of the blackness of their hearts. Polycarp, disciple of John, was a harmless preacher and teacher of the Gospel, yet he was so hated by the Jews of Smyrna that, even though it was the Sabbath, they collected enough word to burn this man of peace alive.

A word of encouragement

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10 NIV)

That’s the background of our fifth “Be” of the Bible, “be faithful.” But before we get to that, our Lord issues a mild admonition: “do not be afraid.” These amazing believers were hanging tough to be sure, but obviously  some were becoming fearful, and our Lord certainly doesn’t sugar-coat their prospects: things were about to get a whole lot worse. Our Lord wasn’t trying to scare these people but to fortify them! Keep it in perspective: their future (and ours) is in the hands of “the first and the last,” the one who was dead and became alive. If Jesus can do that, He is surely able to carry believers through death to life.

That phrase, “the devil will put some of you in prison to test you,” may bother you a little. It shouldn’t. This refers to the testing of their faith. Yes, the Devil is the one who is inspiring these persecutions, but the Lord will allow them to accomplish HIS purpose in the lives of these Christians. So Job well understood –

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 28:10 NIV)

This word of encouragement goes beyond the expected for these believers encouraged to keep on keeping on even to the point of death. In other words: Never give up! Never give the Devil a quarter.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

The good news is that for those believers who will remain faithful no matter what, a great reward is waiting them: The victor’s crown. Now, that’s not the crown a king wears. There’s only ONE king and that’s not you. The Greek word for “crown” is stephanos, the “victor’s crown.” It’s really the “crown of life,” as in “eternal life.” Yes, eternal life depends on believers remaining faithful right up until the bitter end. It’s not how you began the race that counts, it’s how you end it.

James, Part 5

Simon Legree

Simon Legree

King Solomon, who knew a thing or two about wealth, wrote this:

The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.  (Proverbs 10:22  NIV)

We know this is true because it was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and since we believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture, that verse not only conveys God’s thoughts on the matter, but also the words He would have used had He written personally.  John Milton wrote something about wealth, too.  What he wrote isn’t inspired, but it’s noteworthy:

There is nothing that makes men rich and strong but that which they carry inside of them.  Wealth is of the  heart, not of the hand.

Riches may be a blessing of the Lord, but wealth without the Lord’s blessing is always accompanied by trouble in the form of jealousy, misery, oppression, theft, murder, abuse, and even fear.  A believer may start out with love for God and neighbor, but that love can become love for wealth and money when that believer takes his eyes off God and begins to pursue the things of the world.  When possessing wealth and money becomes more important that possessing God, a believer becomes a friend of the world and an enemy of God.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  (1 Timothy 6:10  NIV)  

Pursue justice

Wealthy church members need not be offended because James 5:1 – 6 is directed at wealth unbelievers; Christians are not the targets of James’ admonitions.  That comes later on the chapter.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  (James 5:1  NIV)

Wealthy people, by the way, are never condemned anywhere in the Bible simply because they are wealthy.  Rather, God always warns against the temptations to which the wealthy are especially prone.  Wealth without God’s blessing, as noted previously, causes problems.  That’s why even the Apocrypha says this:

Lose your money to a brother and a friend, and let it not rust hidden beneath a stone.  (Sirach 29:10)  

James has in mind unbelievers who are in the habit of  hoarding their riches.  Here’s a good example of the power and influence of the Word of God.  It’s teachings are for everybody, believer or not.  James will deal with wealthy believer in a few verses, but here’s his warning to the non-Christian –

Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  (James 4:2, 3  NIV)

Unsaved people already live lives that are empty, unsatisfied, and often full of misery and fear, but wealth that is hoarded piles on even more problems.  Wealth takes many forms, but James teaches all forms of wealth, if hoarded, will rot, will get eaten up, and corrode over time.  His more famous half-brother taught the same thing, a few years earlier –

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19 – 21  NIV)

Nothing in this world is permanent, as much as we may wish otherwise.  When wealth is not used for positive things, like helping other people, it testifies against the person who possesses it.  In other words, that wealth will most certainly harm the possessor, or at the very least, that hoarded wealth won’t do the poor schlub any good at all.

Christians shouldn’t live like that; ungodly people do, but Christians shouldn’t.  Our attitude toward wealth and earthly possessions should be based on the notion that not a single possession is permanent; they are all like the waves of the sea – they come and go.  How foolish is it to build your destiny on the instability and impermanence of earthly riches?  Instead, believers ought to receive God’s blessings with gratitude but then use them wisely, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  Why is this benevolence and philanthropy so important?  It’s because when we take note of the needs of others and do what we can to help them out, we are reflecting God’s generosity toward us.

But remember, James is addressing unbelievers, and pretty despicable ones at that.  They were guilty of treating other people very shabbily.

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  (James 6:4  NIV)

James is addressing certain wealthy people, not all of them.  These verses shouldn’t be read with a universal application.  Not all wealthy people and business owners are like this; most of them are not.  God always hears the cries of the oppressed.  He heard the Israelites in Egypt and when any person or people are oppressed or caused to suffer anywhere in the world, God hears them.  He is the great equalizer.  The wealthy who hoard their wealth thus causing others to suffer will themselves be the recipients of suffering caused their attitude toward what they possess.  That’s the Biblical “law of reciprocity” at work.  A person reaps what they sow.  A lot of people are familiar with that so-called law even if they don’t know it’s in the Bible.  But here it is in its full context –

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.  (Galatians 6:7 – 10  NIV)

It’s pretty clear.  When God blesses people, they are to bless others.  This is especially true of Christians.

The last beef James has against these wealthy unbelievers relates to something he wrote back in chapter 2 –

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  (James 2:6  NIV)

And here James fleshes out what he wrote above –

You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.  (James 5:6  NIV)

It’s not Jesus James is referring to, although you might find some Bible scholars who think that.  Apparently James is addressing a particular incident that happened.  Some wealthy unbelievers had literally dragged at least one innocent righteous man into court and had him executed for no reason.

Rarely does a New Testament writer turn his attention to anybody outside the church, but here James is fullbore accusing these men of a crime.

Be patient

Knowing what we know now, we can easily understand why James encouraged his readers earlier on in his letter.  They were facing persecution – all kinds of persecution including that from these wealthy unbelievers.  The persecution was bad enough, but it seemed to the Christians that these non-Christians were prospering in spite of what they were doing.  That’s a seeming inequity believers in God have long wondered about.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  (Psalm 73:3, 4  NIV)

Believers need to be careful what thoughts they allow to remain in their heads!  If you’re not careful and you dwell on the unfairness of it all, you’ll slip into sin.  Patience is what’s needed.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  (James 5:7  NIV)

This sounds like a cliché, but it really is the very best way to approach the situation of persecution and suffering, and for two very good reasons.  First, when the Lord returns in glory, the ungodly will be judged.  They will finally get theirs and all their wealth and prestige will be for nothing.  And second, when the Lord returns believers will be completely vindicated in every way.

If we truly believe this, then our attitude should reflect it.

Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  (James 5:9  NIV)

More good advice from James!   We ought to be careful what attitudes we harbor because those attitudes will dictate our actions.  The Lord who is returning is also the Judge.  That should govern what we think and how we behave.  Lee Strobel comments –

Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is always a poison.  It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it.  Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over.

Respect the Lord’s Name!

All of a sudden, James takes a sharp turn:

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.  (James 5:12  NIV)

A lot of Christians like to take this verse and apply it globally.  That is, some see this as a complete prohibition of all oath-taking.  That’s not what James is getting at here.  “Above all” is a phrase the NIV uses to tie the admonition of verse 12 to what he’s been dealing with.  In spite of all the persecution, Christians need to be patient because the Lord is coming back and He will make everything right.  Christians should take care to treat all people, rich or poor, equitably.  Christians should keep it simple:  just say “yes” or “no” and stop misusing the Lord’s good Name.  The Christian should be honest in his attitudes, honest in his actions, and honest in his speech.  Using the Lord’s Name to buttress questionable attitudes must never happen.  D.A. Carson made a shrewd observation –

No oath is necessary for the truthful person.

Learn to depend on God

Here’s more good advice for these persecuted Christians who were trying to gain the favor of the wealthy people who were persecuting them:  Depend of God!  Instead of wasting time and effort currying the favor of people harming them; instead of misusing God’s name, these Christians needed to learn how to depend on God through praying properly.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.  Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  (James 5:13  NIV)

Don’t complain, don’t grumble, don’t seek to mollify those mean, nasty rich  people!  Pray about it!  Turn to God and depend on Him.  And if you’re happily living without persecution for the moment, thank God for it.  In other words, God should always be first on the mind of believers no matter what the circumstance.

Included in circumstances one should depend on God is sickness.  James gives Christians the template for dealing with that circumstance –

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  (James 5:14  NIV)

That’s more good advice from James, an elder himself.  If a Christian is sick, he should call for guys like himself – elders from the church – to come and pray for them and anoint them with oil.  By adding the phrase, “in the name of the Lord,” James is simply saying that both acts need to be done in faith believing that God’s will concerning the sick person will be done.

A word about the word “anoint.”  The Greek word James used, aleipsantes, is not – NOT –  sacramental or sacred anointing, but rather a word that simply means to “smear.”  James is not advising a religious use of oil here.  For example, when we want to fix a leaky door, we don’t “anoint” the hinge with oil, we “oil” it.  That’s what James is getting at.  In the first century of the Church, oil was used by sick people like sick people today use aspirin.  If you were sick during James’ day, you would apply some oil to your hurting body.  Today we take two aspirins and call the doctor in the morning.  What James is getting at here is powerful common sense.  When you are sick (in any age), trust God and call your pastor or an elder to come and pray for you.  But take an aspirin, too. Do both things trusting the Lord will bring about His will for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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