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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

James 5:7-11 – Patience today

As we think of James’ focus on patience, three applications seem suitable. First, the requirement for patience is very counter cultural and that in two ways. Often the response of people when they have suffered is to take revenge. Here the believers are being told to leave revenge with the Lord and not to take it themselves. Again, today we live in instant society where we are led to assume that answers will be provided immediately. But that is not the law of God’s kingdom. He works to his own timetable, and our response is to be steadfastness or persistence.

Second, we should choose our heroes from those who are good examples of devoted service for Jesus. We all need role models. Sadly, today people try and copy celebrities and most of them are not good examples for Christians. Instead we should follow those who serve the Lord from the heart. We can read about them in biographies and see some of them in videos. It is also inevitable, given the nature of God’s grace, that we will see them in churches to which we belong. The best ones are in the Bible because there we have God’s descriptions of their lives. Not one of them was perfect, but all of them were dedicated servants of the Lord.

Third, the words of James here about the second coming challenge us to think about how our lives will look when they are assessed on the Day of Judgement. What will Jesus the Judge think then of our words and actions said and done today? He knows all the details and he will pronounce an accurate verdict. Our degree of dedication and the value of our words will resurface on that day. It is good to know that the Lord is merciful, but it is also important to remember that he is truthful and impartial, and we will discover each of them when we stand before him at the end of the day.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

James 5:9-11 – Grumbling doesn’t help

When James mentions grumbling here, he connects it to the second coming of Jesus, except that on this occasion he describes Jesus as the Judge. The picture James uses is that of the Judge observing what is happening and listening to what is said. 

Obviously, this fits with James’ ongoing comments on the misuse of the tongue. It may be the case that times of opposition are occasions when grumbling is more likely. Yet grumbling, whenever it occurs, is an inaccurate comment on the providence of God, and is obviously not an expression of brotherly love.

Instead of grumbling, James says that his readers should think about Old Testament examples of persevering in times of trial. The first example are the Old Testament prophets who remained steadfast in times of severe opposition. We should be able to recall what happened to some of them. Jeremiah was placed in a pit, Daniel was put in a den of lions, and Isaiah was sawn in two. The message given to each by God resulted in very strong opposition and several paid for their testimony with their lives. But they persevered!

The second example mentioned by James is an individual, Job. We know his story, how he had to persevere in his faith through a sequence of tragedies involving his possessions, his family and his health. How did Job cope with his troubles? He did not get much help from the advice of his friends. Instead he thought of the coming of the Lord. 

We are familiar with the words recorded in Job 19:25-27: ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!’ 

In that verse, he accepts the possibility that things in this life might get even worse for him, yet he also affirms that eventually he would meet with God in the form of a Redeemer, a wonderful description of Jesus. And so he persevered.

Friday, 28 October 2016

James 5:7-8 – Patience

How should suffering believers respond as they endure their problems and wait for the coming of the Lord? James does not suggest that they should attack their persecutors physically or verbally. Instead he mentions several outlooks that they should develop as Christians, each connected to perseverance.

The first response is patience itself. When we are asked to show patience, we are usually told how long we will have to be patient for. Perhaps we are in a traffic queue and we are told that we will have to wait for half an hour. We can spend the time jumping in and out of the car in order to see if the traffic is moving, or we can speculate with our passengers about what is causing the problem, or we can turn on the radio and listen to a nice piece of music. Which option is a sign of patience? The one listening to the music. In the Christian life, how long to we have to wait for things to be put right? The second coming of Jesus. It will be a great event and the equivalent of listening to the music is thinking about the promises of his coming.

James uses the illustration of a farmer who has to show patience until the time of harvest – that is the time when the rains would come. In Palestine, the early rains are the autumn and winter rains that come between October and January and the later rains come in March and April in time for the harvest (barley harvest was in March and wheat harvest was in April and May). Could the farmer make the rains come earlier by getting anxious? Could he make them come sooner by having a prayer meeting? He would be regarded as silly if he engaged in such behaviour.

James’ point is that we need to a have a fixed point of guaranteed fulfilment. The farmer looked ahead to when the rains would come. Until then, life in a hot country would seem to be doing the opposite for a good harvest. Similarly, we look ahead to the return of Jesus even although everything seems to indicate that there is no point in doing so. But the farmer got the harvest, and we will get our blessings when Jesus comes.

The second response is the necessity of establishing our hearts. The plural seems to suggest that this is a communal responsibility in distinction from developing patience which is an individual responsibility. Again James links this response to the second coming, so the means of strengthening is connected to a proper focus on the return of Jesus. This focus would have been helped in the early church by the practice of having the Lord’s Supper every Sunday since it is to be done until he comes. The necessity of strengthening is a reminder that the patience required is not passive. Instead, it includes resolve to be loyal and a determination to encourage one another.