Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bible Study - James 5 Brotherhood

Warning about Wealth
The foundation must be right for having good relationship. James mentioned wealth again (The earlier mention was in James 2:1-4 about our bad behaviour of favoring the rich). It is about how we should not do with wealth.  
  1. We should not hoard it --> Use it for good.
    We can immediately recall the Parable of Rich Fool and Jesus' exhortation for us to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. What are treasures for heaven? James covered them later in addressing the Brotherhood (5:13-19).
  2. We should not use its power to exploit the others. Treat other fairly - pay fair wages and uphold righteousness.
  3. We should not be self-indulgent. It is not that God is against our enjoying of wealth but that we should be concern about others welfare. We should not be used by wealth but use wealth to bless others.
Personal Conduct First
In order to be able to help others, we must be able to manage ourselves first. Here are a few pointers for maturity:
  1. Be patient - be like the farmer who sows and wait for the harvest. Invest now for future gains.
  2. Be steadfast in the work of the Lord despite the suffering, knowing His purpose and His love.
  3. Do not grumble against one another.
  4. Be honest and do not try to impress with empty promises - over promising and under deliver. Don't boast.
As the church - the body of people belonging to Christ, we must be concerned about the affairs of our brothers and sisters. Look for them and minister to their needs accordingly.
  1. People who are suffering - encourage them to pray and to pray with them
  2. People who are cheerful - encourage them to celebrate and to celebrate with them.
  3. People who are sick - pray for them with faith and anointing of oil. Help them to repent and forgive if needed.
  4. Sharing each other burdens and keeping each other accountable.
  5. Praying for one another - for healing to be whole in spirit, soul and body. How to pray effectively is covered here as well.
    1. Righteousness - Elijah was like us. Our righteousness is in Christ. Praying for the right cause and using the right methods.
    2. God's will - Elijah knew the will of God. Be sure it is God's will. There are many right things to do. But we must do the right things at the right time in the right way. Let God leads us. See Joh 15:7, Mat 6:7
    3. Fervently - Don't give up. Pray till the peace or answer come. See 1 King 18:45 Elijah prayed seven times before the sign of rain was seen.
  6. Bring the wanderer back.
Questions for Reflection
  1. How should we handle riches?
  2. How to live the Christian Life?
  3. How should we pray?
  4. What are our responsibilities towards brothers?
  5. How are we to convert those who err, those who wander away?
  6. What is the best thing learned today? How do I put it into practice? 
See Bible Study - James 5 Brotherhood Discussion for the answers. 

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    BIble Study - James 4 Conduct

    Continuing with the earthly wisdom discussed in Chapter 3,  Chapter 4 begins with consequences - the bad conducts....

    Bad Conducts
    1. Quarrels and fights for selfish gains - ask not or ask wrongly for selfish lusts.
      This verse teaches us God does not say 'yes' to all our prayer requests. God can only answer our requests according to His own character. Hence, if we ask for things that are no good to us or to others, God's answer will be no. God is not our magic charm and can be manipulated by us. We are to change our thinking and will to submit to God to be Christ like.
    2. Friendship with the World
      Our values should follow God's and be not for the world. The Spirit of Christ in us will guide us. We have the responsibility of responding to His guidance. We just need to be humble and seek and listen to His voice. The easiest way is to start with reading the Bible and let God speak through the Bible to our heart. We will not be distracted or misled when guided with the Bible. For the matured, with many years of walking with the Lord, the Bible is internalized, and we can recognize who is speaking. But for the beginners, let start with the safer route - start with hearing God from the Bible.
    3. Speaking against another.
      In the context, the speaking against, or speaking evil against in some translation, is about gossiping and saying bad things behind others' back. This is opposite of 5:16 where we are told to confess our sin one to another. The word 'judge' should be better translated as "condemn without fair investigations". Most Christians are confused and claimed that the Bible teaches us not to judge. That cannot be so because we are our brothers keeper and we are encouraged to 'save' our brothers from their sins. Without making right judgment, how could be know our brothers are in sins? see 5:19, Gal 6:1, 1John 5:16, see also To Judge or Not to Judge people? That's Irrelevant... for a set of guides to know how to judge rightly.

      How does speaking evil of another is being linked up with judging God's laws?

      a. Because we are using our own set of standards, rather that God's standards to speak evil of and to condemn another. When we do that, we actually considered our standards better than God's standards.

      b. If the standards we use are in fact God's laws, then we are not speaking 'evil' but are 'correcting' the bad behavior. But the way we correct another needs to be done properly, with love.
    4. Omission is sin!
      5:17 Knowing what is right and failing to do it is sin! This is beyond the Law but within the New Commandment of Love. This is also true humility - see  Humility is Forceful Too
    Repent and Change
    1. Know that God cares about you - He gives you Grace-Power.
      We will not repent when we loose hope. But when we know someone cares for us and is able to help us, then we will change. That someone is God. God cares and He will give us the grace - the power to change. 
    2. Ask God for the Grace Power to Change.
      God give grace to the humble - those who know they can't help themselves and acknowledge the reality, seeking help from the Source of Life. v8 assures us that we draw near to God, He will not reject us and draw near to us.
    3. Submit to God - Obey God and Say NO to the Devil or Temptations.
      The Bible assures us that the devil will flee from us. But we must first draw near and obey God.
    4. Attitudes for Drawing Near to God
      1. Cleaning our hands i.e. repentant heart.
      2. Pure - Single Minded i.e. only God not God and some sinful pleasure.
      3. Remorseful - Sorry and disgusted with our sins
      4. Humility - Admitting that we can't overcome our sinful habits. Ask Him for the grace-power.(Grace is power that God freely give to those who ask for it to do the right things that we could not).
    5. Outcome - Victory.
      God will exalt you - vs 4:10
    Living in Victory
    The key to living in victory is to know the will of God daily. We don't boast about what we want to do and fall back to the devil's trap. Instead, we find out what God want us to do and do it heartily with His grace powering us.

    Questions for Reflections
    1. What are the bad conduct or sins?
    2. What should we do about them?
    3. Where is the strength based development? Are we too sin conscious to be stuck in sin all the time?
    4. Should we plan since we can't be sure of the future?
    5. What is a best idea that you learned? What action can you take to put this idea into practice?
    See the discussion of this chapter at Bible Study James Chapter 4 Discussion

      Sunday, March 14, 2010

      Bible Study James Chapter 3 Tame the Tongue

      The Criteria for Teachers.
      Chapter 3 started with an advise that many should not rush to become teacher. This is because teacher is subjected to stricter standard. Teacher talk more and hence greater opportunity to commit error. The talk has to be measured with the work done else we become a hypocrite. When we talk, we have the tendency to add salt and sauce to spice up our message trying to create an impression. That kind of 'boasting' is lying. Nevertheless, James did not suggest that we should not become a teacher. He is telling us that teachers need stringent criteria. We must choose the mature and those with self-control to become teachers.

      The Measure of Maturity - Self Control
      v3:2 He who does not stumble with tongue is a perfect man - able to control the whole body. Our tongue, or more accurately, our speech, is probably the best measure of our self-control and maturity. We can easily sin with our tongue by telling lie, gossip, curse, and just exaggerate. Tongue is just the external interface from our inner self. The tongue reveals our inner self. We must carefully listen and reflect on messages coming out of our tongue.

      Power of Control - It is not the Size but the Position.
      It is the position, the bit of horse, the rudder of ship, the spark at the right place that determine the outcome. We tend to judge thing by the external size rather than identifying the true source that control the whole body. A Chinese proverb says that to catch the robbers you must catch the chief. To control the behavior of a person, we must influence the inner man, expressed through the tongue and hands. This is done through wisdom from above. It is actually not the tongue but the person.

      Taming the Tongue - Godly Wisdom
      We are the product of what we believe. What we believe comes from what we learned. To have godly conduct then we must have Godly wisdom. It begins with humility - I don't know and I need to learn or to be taught (v13). If pride be the original sin then humility or meekness is the solution. James has a list of what Godly wisdom is like.... pure (single-minded devotion to God), peaceable (reap fruits of righteousness v18), gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, goodness, impartial (fairness), sincere (faithfulness). We can compare it with the list from Paul's fruit of the Spirit. You will find that Paul's list has patience and joy. But joy and patience are covered right up in Chapter 1 - count it all joy when we face trials because they will produce patience and strength.

      Worldly Wisdom
      Worldly wisdom is also described as earthly, unspiritual and demonic! What are these?
      1. selfish ambition
      2. jealousy
      3. boastful
        The outcome will be disorder and vile practices. More details are described in chapter 4.

        The common thread that link the above 3 is actually "I", or more specifically, our EGO. We must know how to let it go, from self centeredness to Christ centeredness.

        Questions for Reflection
        1. What are the qualifications to be teachers of the Word?
        2. What are some of measures to know we have self control?
        3. How to tame our tongue?
        4. How can you judge a wisdom is from above or hell?
        5. What is the best idea that you learned? What next action will you do to put this idea into use?
        See Bible Study James Chapter 3 Discussion for more details.

          Thursday, March 11, 2010

          Bible Study - James 2:14-2:24 Work Actualizes the Inner Faith

          This short 10 verses causes much controversies.

          2:17 faith by itself without work is dead & 2:26 faith apart from works in dead
          2:20 faith apart from work is useless.
          2:24 a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

          Faith is something we have on the inside. It cannot be seen by man (only God knows). How can we show others we have faith? How can we know someone else have faith? Our inners self is expressed through our outer body. We show our inner self through our speech and our action.

          James spent much time talking about speech (tongue) and action (work). He first pointed out speech without corresponding work is useless, dead, of no effect (no justification). He covered speech extensively in the following chapter 3. But now he want to address work. He is covering his subject backward - first, he talked about trails overcoming good work, then work counts more than speech, and then controlling your speech.

          Why are we justified by work and not by faith alone?
          Our inner faith is shown through our speech backed by corresponding work. Speaking A and not doing A or doing B instead is a lie and our inner faith is not A but B. Our true self is not expressed by our speech but by our work. Hence, James can conclude that we are justified by our work and not by our faith-alone (or more accurate, our proclaimed faith alone). Our children know this best. They follow what we do rather than what we say! Show me the child and I can tell what the parent truly is like. Our actions speak louder than our words and our work reflect our true self - whether we have the true faith. Our work completes our faith v22. James pointed out that our belief is not good enough. Satan also belief God and shudder. It is what we do to our belief that counts.

          Work comes from our True Faith - Our Beliefs
          Nevertheless, our work comes from our beliefs and hence we must make sure of our beliefs and guard our hearts.

          I will ask some tough questions for your own reflections. Feel free to share your answers with us.

          1. Why are we justified by work and not faith alone? Does it contradict Eph 2:8 we are saved by faith and not of work?
          2. How was Abraham justified?
          3. How was Rahab justified?
          4. Are those who have said the sinners' prayers saved?

          Previous: Bible Study James 1:1-2:13 Behavior of the Matured...
                       Next: Bible Study James Chapter 3 Tame the Tongue

          Tuesday, March 9, 2010

          Bible Study James 1:1-2:13 Behavior of the Matured

          Behavior of Matured Believers
          Instead of following chapter by chapter, I think it is better to regroup them into logically linked topic. So we shall cover James 1:1 to James 2:13.

          Check#1 How You Handle Trials and Temptations
          1. Attitude:
          Mature believers faces trials with joy. They welcome trials. What are the kinds of trials that we face? It could be verbal or physical attacks on you to stop you from doing the work that God has called you. They ridicule your hardworkingness like staying late as being stupid because the boss is not watching. Some may even want to stop you from setting the standards. In certain places, they may put you in jail for your sharing of the gospels. For those of us who enjoyed religion freedom, our persecutions tends to be ridicules for our faith. But, have you known the secret of using turning every ridicule into an opportunity for sharing the gospel truth? Sometimes we just keep quiet and response with a smile. Sometimes we bring out truths that they may be shocked. The worse reaction is to attack back which shows that we are no different from them. Your sincerety and integrity in your workplace is a good testimony for Christ. Friends shared that colleagues approach them for help and advices because they can see that they truly caring and have wisdom.

          Mature believes welcome trials because trials are like physical training for our body.  Physical training builds stronger muscles. Trials produces steadfastness and make us complete and prepare us to receive the crown of life in future. Paul's version in Rom 5:2 tells us it produces endurance, character and hope and reality of God. Peter's version in 2 Pet 1:5-7 says the testing of our faith brings virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and love. They are stages of our spiritual growth.

          2. Method:
          We tend forget about the Christ in us when we faces trials. We try this and that and approach God as a last resort. This should be reversed. The first thing to do is to ask God. Ask God for wisdom and the grace to handle the trials. We must ask in faith. It is ok to have doubts. But we must handle them. Resolved doubts produces stronger faith. Doubt is believe in the opposite of faith. Our faith is not increased by our trying to believe. Bible tells faith is increased with presentation of more envidences -the Word of God. Find the promises of God and stand on them. The worse thing to do is sit on fence and vibrate between faith and doubt. Handle your doubts with prayers, the reading of Bible, and consult your spiritual mentors or just brothers and sisters around you who may be able to present you Godly evidences to remove your doubts and strength your faith.

          3. Outcome - by what yardstick?:
          We cannot use the worldly standards to judge the outcome. Worldy standards uses money-wealth, popularity-glory as measures of success. By worldly view, Christ's death on the cross is the greatest defeat (that was what Satan thought too). But Christ's death is the greatest victory for men - for the price of our sins was paid in full. James warn us often not to trust in riches and using wealth as a yardstick. Wealth is temporary. Christ tell us to use the temporary wealth to exchange for true lasting tresures in heaven. Don't be enslaved by wealth so as to pursue and hoard them as security, get wealth to use them on building the kindgom of God.

          Check#2 Temptations
          James is quick to point out temptations are different from trials. Temptation comes from our own desire, not from God. We can partly blame it on the devil who know sour weakness and leads us to sin but we hold the final decision on whether to yield or not. Sin brings bondage and finally death.  Temptations are bad. Only good things come from God. Don't blame God for your sins and failures.  Here is quick comparison.

          Check#3 Good Behavior List
          • Quick to Hear
          • Slow to Speak
          • Slow to Anger
          • Humble to learn
          • Doers of the Words and not hearer only
          There is big Know-Do Gap. Most people confused knowing as doing. Minutes are written and the boss thinks that things will be done. Such is an imature boss. Leaders, Elders and Preachers suffer this most. They know so much and hence must do a lot more to consumerate with the knowledge. Hence, James later tell us to rush to be teachers. Talk without corresponding action is a lack of integrity - it is falsehood and hypocrisy. If you get this, it is easy to understand why James later say that faith without work is dead or even stronger - we are justified by our work.

          Check#4 Not to Do List - No Excuse Please
          • wickedness and filthiness - (we are keep away from worldly standards and practices)
          • partiality (different treatment for different class of people)
          The Law is indivisible though we can see subset of it. It is like a human being. We have eyes and toes. But cutting away our toes make our incomplete as a human being. Hence, breaking a little law means we break the Law. To justify ourselves, we play the game of size and degree thinking little things does not matter. But a black dot on a white sheet destroy the white sheet. It is no longer truly white. Let not have excuses for us to sin even before we sin! Even though we are not yet perfect, we cannot therefore say the little sin is not sin or is not important. Maturity means taking care of the details too. Christ warned us that he is that is not faithful in little will not be faithful in the large.

          Check#5 Accountability
          How can we manage our lives? Who is to prevent us from going astray? The key is to have accountability. We are accountable firstly to God for all speech and actions. In Chapter 5, James tell us that we are accountable to one another in Christ. Accountability to God is also being accountable to the authorities in the roles we play in our lives. Husband and wife are accountable to each other. So are bosses and staff, parents and children and between friends too.

          Questions for Reflections:

          1. What are the differences between trials and temptations? How do we handle them?
          2. What are the behavior of mature believers? List the do and don't.
          3. What is the meaning of accountability? What are the elements involved?
          Previous: Bible Study - Book of James - True Faith is Just D...

            Monday, March 8, 2010

            Bible Study - Book of James - True Faith is Just Do IT

            We started with the book of Ephesians which covered the basic doctrines, the conduct and the overcoming life. A good tagline for Ephesians is Sit-Walk-Stand by Watchman Nee. I think a slight improvement could be "Sit-Walk-Overcome". Ephesians talkes about what should be. The book of Galatians teached what should not. It correct the common error of adding work to the completed work of grace of Christ making Christianity a legalistic religion rather than a vital personal relationship with Christ. We now go on to the study of the book of James. James talk about practical faith. It is about putting our faith in action. Our faith should be reflected in the work we do and not just in our confessions only.

            True Faith is manifested in Good Work -Not just Talk only
            Some people think that James is preaching justification by faith. This is not correct. James is preaching our inward faith should be shown in outward behaviour. True faith is more than just talk. True faith can be seen in outward behaviour. True faith will manifest itself in the good work done or in Paul's words, bearing out the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Or using Jesus' term, the salt and light.

            True faith is Walk your Talk.

            Main Teachings
            1. Trials bring Growth - Face it with Joy. 1:2-4
            2. True Believers are doer, not just hearer of the Words. 1:22. They are quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, learn the Word, help the needy, pure (as unstained by the world), impartial and be accountable to God in speech and action.
            3. A person is justified by true faith shown in the work 2:17,24.
            4. Self-control starts with and best measured with our tongue - our speech.
            5. Godly wisdom starts with devotion to God, and is peaceable, gentle, rational, merciful, bearing good fruits, impartial and faithful (sincere) 3:17
            6. Worldly wisdom results in fights caused by passions, jealousy, selfish ambition. 3:14,4:1
            7. Believers are transformed by : be humble, ask God for grace, submit to God and resist the devil 4:6-10
            8. Believers should help and care for others - change from self-indulgence (pursue of and hoarding of riches) to caring and saving others. James 5.
            James' letter has no farewell benedictions. May be that part was lost. But the message is clear - live out your faith - Just do it!

            Next:  Bible Study James 1:1-2:13 Behavior of the Matured...