James 5 – The Life of a Living Faith
A. A rebuke of the ungodly rich.
1. (1-3) The rich and the illusion of wealth.
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
a. Come now, you rich: James had developed the idea of the need for complete dependence on God. He now naturally rebuked those most likely to live independently from God – the rich.
i. While Jesus counted some rich persons among His followers (such as Zaccheus, Joseph of Armithea, and Barnabas), we are compelled to observe that riches do present an additional and significant obstacle to the kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24). It is also true that the pursuit of riches is a motivation for every conceivable sin (1 Timothy 6:10).
ii. “He speaks to them not simply as rich (for riches and grace sometimes may go together) but as wicked, not only wallowing in wealth, but abusing it to pride, luxury, oppression, and cruelty.” (Poole)
b. Weep and howl: In the style of an Old Testament prophet, James tells the rich to mourn in consideration of their destiny (the miseries that are coming upon you). In the life to come, their riches will be revealed as corrupted, moth-eaten and corroded.
i. James probably refers to the destruction of three kinds of wealth. Stores of food are corrupted (rotted), garments are moth-eaten, and gold and silver are corroded. Each one of them comes to nothing in their own way.
ii. “More than that, James adds, with a Dantesque touch of horror, the rust will devour (or corrode) your flesh like fire, you are so bound up with your greedy gains; your wealth perishes and you perish with it and by it, eaten away in burning pain.” (Moffatt)
iii. “Better weep here, where there are wiping handkerchiefs in the hand of Christ, than to have your eyes whipped out in hell. Better howl with men than yell with devils.” (Trapp)
c. Will be a witness against you: The corruptible nature of the wealth of the rich will witness against them. On the day of judgment it will be revealed that they have lived their lives in the arrogant independence James previously condemned, heaping up earthly treasure in the last days, when they should have been heaping up treasure in heaven (Luke 18:22).
i. In the last days: “The doom is depicted in highly coloured Jewish phrases, and the same immediate prospect of the End is held out as a threat to the rich and as a consolation to the oppressed poor.” (Moffatt)
2. (4-6) The sins of the rich are condemned.
Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
a. The wages of the laborers… you kept back by fraud: They had withheld the wages of their laborers. They lived indulgently without regard for others (as the man in Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31). They had condemned and murdered from their position of power.
i. “Deferring payment is a sort of defrauding, as it bereaves the creditor of the benefit of improvement; and so they are taxed here with injustice, as well as covetousness, in that they lived upon other men’s labours, and starved the poor to enrich themselves.” (Poole)
b. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth: The title Lord of Sabaoth in James 5:4 should not be confused with the similar title Lord of the Sabbath (used in Mark 2:28 and Luke 6:5). Instead it is a translation of the idea behind the Hebrew term Lord of Hosts (compare Romans 9:29 with Isaiah 1:9), which means “the Lord of armies,” especially in the sense of heavenly and angelic armies. It describes God as the warrior, the commander-in-chief of all heavenly armies.
i. The use of this title was meant to give these unjust each a sober warning. The cries of the people they had oppressed had come to the ears of the God who commands heavenly armies; the God of might and power and judgment.
ii. “The primary reference is to Yahweh as the God of hosts or the armies of Israel and later the hosts of heaven. The rabbis rarely use the title, but Exodus 3:6 connects it with Yahweh’s war against injustice.” (Adamson)
iii. This is “a frequent appellation of God in the Old Testament; and signifies his uncontrollable power, and the infinitely numerous means he has for governing the world, and defending his followers, and punishing the wicked.” (Clarke)
c. You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you: Often those who are poor and without power in this world have little satisfaction from justice. Yet God hears their cries, and He is the one who guarantees to ultimately right every wrong and answer every injustice.
i. Condemned… you have murdered the just: “Take it either properly, or metaphorically of usurers and extortioners, that not only rob, but ravish the poor that are fallen into their nets.” (Trapp)
B. A call for patient endurance in light of the coming judgment.
1. (7-8) Imitate the patient endurance of the farmer.
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
a. Therefore be patient, brethren: James brought the issue of the ultimate judgment before us in his remarks about the ungodly rich and their destiny. Now he calls Christians (especially those enduring hardship) to patiently endure until the coming of the Lord.
i. “James stirs no class-feeling, e.g. of labourers against their unjust employers; leave the wealthy oppressors to God’s imminent vengeance on their cruelty.” (Moffatt)
ii. “Sometimes, indeed, the very hope of the coming of the Lord has seemed to increase impatience rather than patience… Oh, to be patient in fellowship with God!” (Morgan)
b. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently: A farmer does not give up when his crop does not come to harvest immediately. He keeps on working even when the crop cannot be seen at all. Even so Christians must work hard and exercise patient endurance even when the harvest day seems far away.
i. As James instructs us, we are to wait upon God and not lose heart. “A man to whom it is given to wait for a reward keeps up his courage, and when he has to wait, he says, ‘It is no more than I expected. I never reckoned that I was to slay my enemy at the first blow. I never imagined that I was to capture the city as soon as ever I had digged the first trench; I reckoned upon waiting, and now that is come, I find that God gives me the grace to fight on and wrestle on, till the victory shall come.’ And patience saves a man from a great deal of haste and folly.” (Spurgeon)
ii. When we think about it, the waiting and need for endurance we have in the Christian life is very much like the waiting of the farmer.
· He waits with a reasonable hope and expectation of reward.
· He waits a long time.
· He waits working all the while.
· He waits depending on things out of his own power; with his eye on the heavens.
· He waits despite changing circumstances and many uncertainties.
· He waits encouraged by the value of the harvest.
· He waits encouraged by the work and harvest of others.
· He waits because he really has no other option.
· He waits because it does no good to give up.
· He waits aware of how the seasons work.
· He waits because as time goes on, it becomes more important and not less to do so.
c. Until it receives the early and latter rain: The pictures of the early and latter rain should be taken literally as James intends. He refers to the early rains (coming in late October or early November) that were essential to soften the ground for plowing, and to the latter rains (coming in late April or May) which were essential to the maturing of the crops shortly before harvest. There is no allegorical picture here of an early and a latter outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church.
i. The Bible does explain that there will be a significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days (Joel 2:28-29, Acts 2:17-18); but this passage from James doesn’t seem to be relevant to that outpouring.
ii. Instead, the sense here is more as Moffatt explains: “The farmer had to wait for this rainfall twice in the year; but although he could do nothing to bring it, he did not lose heart, provided that he was obeying the will of his God.”
d. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand: The soon return of Jesus requires that we have established hearts, hearts that are rooted in Jesus and His eternal resolution of all things.
i. “When God shall give you a rich return for all you have done for him, you will blush to think you ever doubted; you will be ashamed to think you ever grew weary in his service. You shall have your reward. Not tomorrow, so wait: not the next day perhaps, so be patient. You may be full of doubts one day, your joys sink low. It may be rough windy weather with you in your spirit. You may even doubt whether you are the Lord’s, but if you have rested in the name of Jesus, if by the grace of God you are what you are, if he is all your salvation, and all your desire, — have patience; have patience, for the reward will surely come in God’s good time.” (Spurgeon)
e. For the coming of the Lord is at hand: There is a real sense in which the coming of the Lord was at hand in the days of James as well as in our own day today. One might say that since the Ascension of Jesus, history has been brought to the brink of consummation and now runs parallel along side the edge of the brink, with the coming of the Lord… at hand.
2. (9) Practicing patient endurance among God’s people.
Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
a. Do not grumble against one another: Times of hardship can cause us to be less than loving with our Christian brothers and sisters. James reminds us that we cannot become grumblers and complainers in our hardship – lest we be condemned even in our hardship.
b. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! Jesus comes as a Judge, not only to judge the world, but also to assess the faithfulness of Christians (2 Corinthians 5:10). In light of this, we cannot allow hardship to make us unloving towards each other.
3. (10-11) Following examples of patient endurance.
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
a. Take the prophets… as an example of suffering and patience: James reminds us that the prophets of the Old Testament endured hardship, yet practiced patient endurance. We can take them as examples.
i. Among these prophets, Jeremiah is one example of someone who endured mistreatment with patience. He was put in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2), thrown into prison (Jeremiah 32:2), and lowered into miry dungeon (Jeremiah 28:6). Yet he persisted in his ministry.
ii. “As much as God honoured and loved them, yet they were not exempted from afflictions, but were maligned, traduced, and persecuted by men, 1 Kings 18:13; 19:14; 2 Kings 6:31; Amos 7:10; Hebrews 11; and therefore when they suffered such hard things, it is no shame for you to suffer the like, Matthew 5:12.” (Poole)
b. You have heard of the perseverance of Job: James essentially tells us three things about Job and why he is a significant example for the suffering Christian.
i. First we see the perseverance of Job. Passages such as Job 1:20-22 show us the tremendous perseverance of this afflicted man, who refused to curse God despite his severe and mysterious suffering.
ii. We see also the end intended by the Lord, speaking of the ultimate goal and purpose of God in allowing the suffering to come upon Job. Perhaps the greatest end intended by the Lord was to use Job as a lesson to angelic beings, even as God promises to use the church (Ephesians 3:10-11). When we understand that God has a good purpose, even painful things are put into different perspective. “If a man were to attack me with a knife I would resist him with all my strength, and count it a tragedy if he succeeded. Yet if a surgeon comes to me with a knife, I welcome both him and the knife; let him cut me open, even wider than the knife-attacker, because I know his purpose is good and necessary.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We see further that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. This is not immediately apparent in the story of Job; we can quickly think that God was cruel to Job. Yet upon consideration, we can see that God was indeed very compassionate and merciful.
· God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He only allowed suffering for a very good reason.
· God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He restricted what Satan could do against Job.
· God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because He sustained Him with His unseen hand through all his suffering.
· God was very compassionate and merciful to Job because in the whole process God used Satan himself. At the end of it all, God had accomplished something wonderful: To make Job a better and more blessed man than ever. Remember that as good as Job was at the beginning of the book, he was a better man at the end of it. He was better in character, humbler, and more blessed than before.
iv. “And when we come to look all Job’s life through, we see that the Lord inmercy brought him out of it all with unspeakable advantage. He who tested with one hand supported with the other. Whatever Satan’s end might be in tempting the patriarch, God had an end which covered and compassed that of the destroyer, and that end was answered all along the line, from the first loss which happened among the oxen to the last taunt of his three accusers.” (Spurgeon)
v. That the Lord is very compassionate: “I wish we could all read the original Greek; for this word, ‘The Lord is very pitiful,’ is a specially remarkable one. It means literally that the Lord hath ‘many bowels,’ or a great heart, and so it indicates great tenderness.” (Spurgeon)
4. (12) An exhortation in light of the coming judgment before Jesus.
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes,” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.
a. Do not swear: Many Jewish people in the time James wrote made distinctions between “binding oaths” and “non-binding oaths.” Oaths that did not include the name of God were considered non-binding, and to use such oaths was a way of “crossing your fingers behind your back” when telling a lie. It is these kinds of oaths that James condemned.
i. The Bible does not forbid the swearing of all oaths, only against the swearing of deceptive, unwise, or flippant oaths. On occasion God Himself swears oaths (such as in Luke 1:73, Hebrews 3:11, and Hebrews 6:13).
ii. “All swearing is not forbidden, any more than Matthew 5:34; (for oaths are made use of by holy men in both the Old and New Testament, Genesis 21:23, 24; 24:3; 26:28; 1 Kings 17:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; and the use of an oath is permitted and approved of by God himself, Psalm 15:4; Hebrews 6:16) but such oaths are false, rash, vain, without just cause, or customary and frequent in ordinary discourse.” (Poole)
b. Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath: James again echoed the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:34-37). The need to swear or make oaths, beyond a simple and clear yes or no betrays the weakness of one’s word. It demonstrates that there is not enough weight in one’s own character to confirm their words.
c. Lest you fall into judgment: This lack of character will be exposed at the judgment seat of Christ. This motivates us all the more to prepare for that judgment by our speaking with integrity.
i. This admonition may seem out of context to us. Yet, “Probably James jotted it down as an after-thought, to emphasize the warning of James 5:9; in excitement or irritation there was a temptation to curse and swear violently and profanely.” (Moffatt)
C. Exhortations for Christians to care for one another.
1. (13-14) How to meet needs arising among Christians.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
a. Is anyone among you suffering? The suffering need to pray, the cheerful should sing psalms of praise to God, and the sick should call for the elders of the church, asking them to pray for their need.
i. Instead of complaining (as in the previous verse), the sufferer should pray. “Instead of murmuring against one another (James 5:9), or complaining peevishly, or breaking out into curses, pray to God.” (Moffatt)
ii. James has the same advice for both the suffering one and the cheerful one: take it all to the Lord. In fact, the two commands could be reversed: sufferers should sing also, and the cheerful should also pray.
iii. “Elsewhere in the N.T. the word to sing praise refers to public worship, and always, if the usage in classical Greek and Greek O.T. be decisive, to songs with a musical accompaniment.” (Moffatt)
iv. James clearly set the initiative on the person in need: let him call. The hesitancy of people to ask for or to seek prayer from the leadership of the church in such circumstances is a true mystery.
b. Let them pray over him: James also said that the elders of the church, as they pray, should anoint the sick person with oil in the name of the Lord. This anointing with oil has been interpreted as either seeking the best medical attention possible for the afflicted (oil massages were considered medicinal), or as an emblem of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.
i. Anointing the sick with oil is also mentioned in Mark 6:13. Luke 10:34 mentions the application of oil in a medicinal sense. “The efficacy of olive oil as a medical agent was well known.” (Hiebert) According to Burdick, the word for anoint here is not the usual one used in the New Testament, but has more of a medicinal meaning to it.
ii. “Oil was and is frequently used in the east as a means of cure in very dangerous diseases; and in Egypt it is often used in the cure of the plague. Even in Europe it has been tried with great success in the cure of dropsy. And pure olive oil is excellent for recent wounds and bruises; and I have seen it tried in this way with the best effects… St. James desires them to use natural means while looking to God for an especial blessing. And no wise man would direct otherwise.” (Clarke)
iii. The Roman Catholic Church mutated this command to anoint the sick into the “sacrament” of Extreme Unction, administered to someone to prepare that one for death. Something James intended to heal was made into a preparation for death!
2. (15-16) God’s answer to the prayers of His people.
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
a. And the prayer of faith will save the sick: Many have wondered if James guarantees healing here for the sick who are prayed for in faith. Some interpret this as a reference to ultimate resurrection. The reference to sins being forgiven adds to the idea that James is considering a spiritual work and healing, not necessarily a physical healing.
i. Yet the context of the statement demands that James does not exclude physical healing as an answer to prayer, though he does seem to mean something broader than only a physical healing. We should pray for others in faith, expecting that God will heal them, then leave the matter in God’s hands.
ii. Clearly, God does not grant immediate healing for every prayer of faith, and the reasons are hidden in the heart and mind of God. Still, many are not healed simply because there is no prayer of faith offered. The best approach in praying for the sick is to pray with humble confidence that they will be healed, unless God clearly and powerfully makes it clear that this is not His will. Having prayed, we simply leave the matter to God.
iii. Often we do not pray the prayer of faith out of concern for God’s reputation if there should be no healing. We should remember that God is big enough to handle His own reputation.
b. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed: James reminds us that mutual confession and prayer brings healing, both physically and spiritually. Confession can free us from the heavy burdens (physically and spiritually) of unresolved sin, and removes hindrances to the work of the Holy Spirit.
i. To one another: Confession to another in the body of Christ is essential because sin will demand to have us to itself, isolated from all others. Confession breaks the power of secret sin. Yet, confession need not be made to a “priest” or any imagined mediator; we simply confess to one another as appropriate. Confession is good, but must be made with discretion. An unwise confession of sin can be the cause of more sin.
ii. Clarke observes that if this passage actually refers to the Roman Catholic practice of the confessional, then the priest should likewise confess his sins to the people. He also adds: “There is no instance in auricular confession where the penitent and the priest pray together for pardon; but here the people are commanded to pray for each other that they may be healed.” (Clarke)
iii. Noting from the context, sin should especially be confessed where physical healing is necessary. It is possible – though by no means always the case – that a person’s sickness is the direct result of some sin that has not been dealt with, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11:30.
iv. Hiebert on confess: “The root form means literally to say the same thing; hence, it means that in confession sin we agree to identify it by its true name and admit that it is sin.”
v. “Now, in the primitive church this was openly done as a rule, before the congregation. The earliest manual of the church practice prescribes: ‘you must confess your sins in church, and not betake yourself to prayer with a bad conscience’ (Didache iv.).” (Moffatt)
vi. The great conviction of sin and subsequent confession of sin is common during times of spiritual awakening. There is really nothing unusual about confession during Revival. Finney – a great apostle of Revival – urged it and described it. In the North China revivals under Jonathan Goforth, confession was almost invariably the prelude to blessing; one writer describing the significant Korean revivals associated with Goforth wrote: “We may have our theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine, but I know that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.” (from Calling to Remembrance by William Newton Blair)
vii. Public confession of sin has the potential for great good or bad. Some guiding principles can help.
· Confession should be made to the one sinned against. “Most Christians display a preference for confession in secret before God, even concerning matters which involve other people. To confess to God seems to them to be the easiest way out. If offenders were really conscious of the presence of God, even secret confession of private sin would have a good effect. Alas, most offenders merely commune with themselves instead of making contact with God, who refuses their prayers under certain conditions. In the words of our Lord, it is clear that sin involving another person should be confessed to that person.” (Orr)
· Confession should often be public. James 5:16 illustrates this principle. A.T. Robertson, the great Greek scholar, says that in James 5:16 the odd tense of the Greek verb confess in this verse implies group confession rather than private confession. It is confession “ones to others” not “one to one other.”
· Public confession must be discrete. Often the confession needs to be no more than what is necessary to enlist prayer. It can be enough to say publicly, “Pray for me, I need victory over my besetting sin.” It would be wrong to go into more detail, but saying this much is important. It keeps us from being “let’s pretend Christians” who act as if everything is fine when it isn’t. “Almost all sexual transgressions are either secret or private and should be so confessed. A burden too great to bear may be shared with a pastor or doctor or a friend of the same sex. Scripture discourages even the naming of immorality among believers, and declares that it is a shame even to speak of things done in secret by the immoral.” (Orr)
· Distinguish between secret sins and those which directly affect others. Orr gives a good principle: “If you sin secretly, confess secretly, admitting publicly that you need the victory but keeping details to yourself. If you sin openly confess openly to remove stumbling blocks from those whom you have hindered. If you have sinned spiritually (prayerlessness, lovelessness, and unbelief as well as their offspring, criticism, etc.) then confess to the church that you have been a hindrance.” (J. Edwin Orr)
· Confession is often made to people, but before God. At the same time, we notice that James says confess your trespasses to one another. One of the interesting things about confession of sin as I have noticed it in the writings of J. Edwin Orr is that the confessions are almost always addressed to people, not to God. It isn’t that you confess your sin to God and others merely hear. You confess your sin before others and ask them to pray for you to get it right before God.
· Confession should be appropriately specific. When open confession of sin is appropriate – more than the public stating of spiritual need, but confessing open sin or sin against the church – it must be specific. “If I made any mistakes I’m sorry” is no confession of sin at all. You sinned specifically, so confess specifically. “It costs nothing for a church member to admit in a prayer meeting: ‘I am not what I ought to be.’ It costs no more to say: ‘I ought to be a better Christian.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have been a trouble-maker in this church.’ It costs something to say: ‘I have had bitterness of heart towards certain leaders, to whom I shall definitely apologise.’” (Orr, Full Surrender)
· Confession should be thorough. “Some confessions are not thorough. They are too general. They are not made to the persons concerned. They neglect completely the necessary restitution. Or they make no provision for a different course of conduct in which the sin is forsaken. They are endeavours for psychological relief.” (Orr)
· Confession must have honesty and integrity. If we confess with no real intention of battling the sin, our confession isn’t thorough and it mocks God. The story is told of an Irishman who confessed to his priest that he had stolen two bags of potatoes. The priest had heard the gossip around town and said to the man, “Mike, I heard it was only one bag of potatoes stolen from the market.” The Irishman replied, “That’s true Father, but it was so easy that I plan on taking another tomorrow night.” By all means, avoid phony confession – confession without true brokenness or sorrow. If it isn’t deeply real, it isn’t any good.
· One need not fear that public confession of sin will inevitably get out of hand. Orr tells of a time when a woman was overwrought by deep sorrow for sin and became hysterical. He saw the danger immediately and told her, “Quiet, sister. Turn your eyes on Jesus.” She did and the danger of extreme emotion was avoided.
· Those who hear a confession of sin also have a great responsibility. Those who hear the confession should have the proper response: loving, intercessory prayer, and not human wisdom, gossiping, or “sharing” the need with others.
viii. According to Moffatt, the English Prayer Book, before the communion service, the minister is to give this invitation: “Come to me or to some other discreet and learned minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution.” There can be great value to opening one’s grief.
ix. Real, deep, genuine confession of sin has been a feature of every genuine awakening or revival in the past 250 years. But it isn’t anything new, as demonstrated by the revival in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19:17-20. It says, many who believed came confessing and telling their deeds. This was Christians getting right with God, and open confession was part of it.
c. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much: In writing about the need for prayer for the suffering, for the sick, and for the sinning, James points to the effective nature of prayer – when it is fervent and offered by a righteous man.
i. The idea of fervent in this context is strong. “It might be rendered literally: ‘Very strong is the supplication of a righteous man, energizing.’” (Meyer)
ii. “When such a power of prayer is granted, faith should be immediately called into exercise, that the blessing may be given: the spirit of prayer is the proof that the power of God is present to heal. Long prayers give no particular evidence of Divine inspiration.” (Clarke)
iii. Much of our prayer is not effective simply because it is not fervent. It is offered with a lukewarm attitude that virtually asks God to care about something that we care little about. Effective prayer must be fervent, not because we must emotionally persuade a reluctant God, but because we must gain God’s heart by being fervent for the things He is fervent for.
iv. Additionally, effective prayer is offered by a righteous man. This is someone who recognizes the grounds of his righteousness reside in Jesus, and whose personal walk is generally consistent with the righteousness that he has in Jesus.
v. Avails much: “It was so with John Knox, whose prayers were more dreaded by Mary of Scots than the armies of Philip.” (Meyer)
3. (17-18) Elijah as an example of answered prayer.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
a. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours: Elijah is a model of earnest prayer that was answered by God. His effectiveness in prayer extended even to the weather! Yet this shows that Elijah’s heart was in tune with God’s. He prayed for the rain to stop and start only because he sensed it was in the heart of God in His dealings with Israel.
b. Prayed earnestly: Literally, this is prayed with prayer. To truly pray, by definition, is to pray earnestly.
i. “He prayed with prayer; a Hebraism for, he prayed fervently.” (Clarke)
c. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours: This being true, we then can be men with the power of prayer like him.
4. (19-20) Helping a sinning brother.
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
a. If anyone among you wanders from the truth: Having introduced the topics of sin and confession, James reminds us of the need to confront those who have wandered from the truth. Wanders from the truth is a good picture. Most people don’t wander deliberately – it just sort of happens. Nonetheless, it still gets them off track and possibly in danger.
i. “Read the verse and you will see that it was that of a backslider from the visible church of God. The words, ‘If any of you,’ must refer to a professed Christian.” (Spurgeon)
b. And someone turns him back: This shows us that God uses human instruments in turning sinners back from the errors of their ways. God does not need to use such human instruments, and sometimes He does not. The Apostle Paul – or rather, Saul of Tarsus – was not converted through any human instrument, save perhaps the prayers of the dying martyr Stephen for him. Yet no one preached to him, but Jesus decided to meet him directly.
i. One reason God uses human instruments is because it brings Him more glory than if He were to do His work by Himself. In this way God is like a skilled workman who makes incredible things using the worst of tools. After the same pattern, God uses earthen vessels to be containers of His glory.
ii. “Most persons have been convinced by the pious conversation of sisters, by the holy example of mothers, by the minister, by the Sabbath-school, or by the reading of tracts or perusing Scripture. Let us not therefore believe that God will often work without instruments; let us not sit down silently and say, ‘God will do his own work.’ It is quite true he will; but then he does his work by using his children as instruments.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Along this line, can we not say that when we refuse to make ourselves available to God’s service – weak and failing as we are – we in fact rob Him of some of His glory? He can glorify Himself through a weak vessel like you; you should let Him do it.
iv. “It may not appear so brilliant a thing to bring back a backslider as to reclaim a harlot or a drunkard, but in the sight of God it is no small miracle of grace, and to the instrument who has performed it shall yield no small comfort. Seek ye, then, my brethren, those who were of us but have gone from us; seek ye those who linger still in the congregation but have disgraced the church, and are put away from us, and rightly so, because we cannot countenance their uncleanness; seek them with prayers, and tears, and entreaties, if peradventure God may grant them repentance that they may be saved.” (Spurgeon)
c. He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins: There is a blessing for the one who loves his brother enough to confront him, and who turns him from the error of his way. He has saved that soul from death and covered a multitude of sins.
i. This speaks powerfully of the restoration that is possible for those who have sinned. “I know of men of good standing in the gospel ministry, who, ten years ago, fell into sin; and that is thrown in our teeth to this very day. Do you speak of them? You are at once informed, ‘Why, ten years ago they did so-and-so.’ Brethren, Christian men ought to be ashamed of themselves for taking notice of such things so long afterwards. True, we may use more caution in our dealings; but to reproach a fallen brother for what he did so long ago, is contrary to the spirit of John, who went after Peter, three days after he had denied his Master with oaths and curses.” (Spurgeon)
ii. James concludes with this because this is exactly what he has endeavored to do through this challenging letter – to confront those who have wandered from a living faith, endeavoring to save their souls from death, by demanding that they not only hear the word, but do it, because a living faith will have its proof.
iii. “So the homily ends – abruptly, even more abruptly than the First Epistle of John, without any closing word of farewell to the readers, abruptly but not ineffectively. The Wisdom writings on which it is modeled end as suddenly.” (Moffatt)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
James 4 – The Humble Dependence of a True Faith
A. The humble character of a living faith.
1. (1-3) Reasons for strife in the Christian community.
Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
a. Where do wars and fights come from among you? James accurately described strife among Christians with the terms wars and fights. Often the battles that happen among Christians are bitter and severe.
i. “He does not mean that they war within a man – although that is also true – but that they set men warring against each other.” (Barclay)
b. Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? The source of wars and fights among Christians is always the same. There is some root of carnality, an internal war within the believer regarding the lusts of the flesh. No two believers who are both walking in the Spirit of God towards each other can live with wars and fights among themselves.
i. “James seems to be bothered more by the selfish spirit and bitterness of the quarrels than by the rights and wrongs of the various viewpoints.” (Moo)
ii. Almost all who have such a critical and contentious attitude claim they are prompted and supported by the Spirit of God. James makes it clear that this contentious manner comes from your desires. “It is self-evident that the Spirit of God does not create desire which issues in envying.” (Morgan)
c. Your desires for pleasure that war in your members: The types of desires that lead to conflict are described. Covetousness leads to conflict (you lust and do not have). Anger and animosity lead to hatred and conflict (murder).
i. Again James looked back to the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus also used murder to express more than actual killing, but also as an inward condition of heart, shown outwardly by anger (Matthew 5:21-22).
ii. “The word kill [murder] is startling and meant to startle; James sought to force his readers to realize the depth of the evil in their bitter hatred toward others.” (Hiebert)
d. Yet you do not have: This points to the futility of this life lived for the desires for pleasure. Not only is it a life of conflict, but it is also a fundamentally unsatisfied life.
i. “The whole history of mankind shows the failure of evil lustings to obtain their object.” (Spurgeon)
ii. This is the tragic irony of the life lived after worldly and fleshly desires; it never reaches the goal it gives everything for. This fundamental dissatisfaction is not because of a lack of effort: “If the lusters fail, it is not because they did not set to work to gain their ends; for according to their nature they used the most practical means within their reach, and used them eagerly, too.” (Spurgeon)
iii. This helps us to rationally understand the folly of living life after the lusts of the world and our animal appetites. You are tempted to fulfill a sinful desire because you think (or hope) that it may be satisfied, but it will never be satisfied. Why not accept your lack of such satisfaction now, instead of after much painful and harmful sin?
e. Yet you do not have because you do not ask: The reason these destructive desires exist among Christians is because they do not seek God for their needs (you do not ask). James reminds us here of the great power of prayer, and why one may live unnecessarily as a spiritual pauper, simply because they do not pray, or do not ask when they pray.
i. We might state it as a virtual spiritual law: that God does not give unless we ask. If we possess little of God and His Kingdom, almost certainly we have asked little. “Remember this text: Jehovah says to his own Son, ‘Ask of me and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’ If the royal and divine Son of God cannot be exempted from the rule of asking that he may have, you and I cannot expect the rule to be relaxed in our favor. Why should it be?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If you may have everything by asking, and nothing without asking, I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is, and I beseech you to abound in it… Do you know, brothers, what great things are to be had for the asking? Have you ever thought of it? Does it not stimulate you to pray fervently? All heaven lies before the grasp of the asking man; all the promises of God are rich and inexhaustible, and their fulfillment is to be had by prayer.” (Spurgeon)
f. You ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures: After dealing with the problem of no prayer, now James addressed the problem of selfish prayer. These ones, when they did ask, they asked God with purely selfish motives.
i. We must remember that the purpose of prayer is not to persuade a reluctant God to do our bidding. The purpose of prayer is to align our will with His, and in partnership with Him, to ask Him to accomplish His will on this earth (Matthew 6:10).
ii. “When a man so prays he asks God to be his servant, and gratify his desires; nay, worse than that, he wants God to join him in the service of his lusts. He will gratify his lusts, and God shall come and help him to do it. Such prayer is blasphemous, but a large quantity of it is offered, and it must be one of the most God-provoking things that heaven ever beholds.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Spend is the same verb used to describe the wasteful spending of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:14. Destructive desires persist, even if we pray, because our prayers may be self-centered and self-indulgent.
2. (4-5) A rebuke of compromise and covetousness among Christians.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
a. Adulterers and adulteresses: This is a rebuke presented in Old Testament vocabulary. God spoke this way in the Old Testament when His people were attracted to some form of idolatry (Jeremiah 3:8-9, Ezekiel 6:9, Ezekiel 16:32, Ezekiel 23:37, and Hosea 3:1). As James saw it here, their covetousness was idolatry (Colossians 3:5) and friendship with the world.
i. Better ancient Greek manuscripts only say you adulteresses. “He uses the feminine form deliberately, for one turn of special contempt and scorn in the ancient world was to call a community or group by some feminine equivalent.” (Moffatt)
ii. The addition of adulterers was probably from an early scribe who thought James meant literal sexual adultery and didn’t want to exclude men from the rebuke. But James used the phrase you adulteresses to give a specific spiritual picture. According to this picture, God is the “husband” and we are His “wife” (as in Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 54:5, Jeremiah 3:20, and Exodus 34:15-16).
iii. “The Jews, because of their covenant with God, are represented as being espoused to him; and hence, their idolatry, and their iniquity in general, are represented under the notion of adultery.” (Clarke)
iv. “You have your hearts full of harlotry… this vile strumpet the world, that lays forth her two breasts of profit and pleasure, and ensnareth many; for the which she must be burnt, as a whore, by the fire of the last day.” (Trapp)
b. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? James recognizes that we cannot both be friends of this world system in rebellion against God, and friends of God at the same time (Matthew 6:24). Even the desire to be a friend (wants to be a friend) of the world makes that one an enemy of God.
i. “Such friendship with the world means that one is on a footing of hostility towards God, for it defies His will and despises His purpose; disguise it as one may, it is an implicit challenge to God.” (Moffatt)
ii. The strong statements James made here remind us that all was not beautiful in the early church. They had plenty of carnality and worldliness to deal with. While the New Testament church is a clear pattern for us, we should not over-romanticize the spiritual character of early Christians.
c. The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously: The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit has a jealous yearning for our friendship with God. The Spirit will convict the Christian who lives in compromise.
i. This phrase is a little hard to accurately translate. Is it God jealously yearning for the devotion of our spirit which He put within us, or is it the Spirit within us jealously yearning for the full devotion of our heart? Either way, the sense is much the same.
ii. “He went so far as to speak of them as adulterers and adulteresses; and then adopting a gentler, pleading tone, he says, ‘You are grieving the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell within you, who yearns with a jealous envy to possess your entire nature for Himself.’” (Meyer)
iii. James agrees with the many passages in the Old Testament that tell us God is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 32:16 and 32:21; Exodus 20:5 and 34:14; Zechariah 8:2). “The idea is that God loves men with such a passion that he cannot bear any other love within the hearts of men.” (Barclay)
iv. Think of the inner pain and torture inside the person who is betrayed by an unfaithful spouse; who must reckon with the truth, I am faithful to them, but they are not faithful to me. This is what the Spirit of God feels regarding our world-loving hearts.
d. The Scripture says: One cannot find this exact quote (“The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”) in any specific Old Testament verse. James seemed to present an idea that is alluded to in several passages without quoting any specific passage.
i. “More probably is the view that James was not citing a particular passage but summarizing the truth expressed in several Old Testament passages.” (Hiebert)
ii. Or it may be that James 4:5 speaks in two independent sentences, and that the words of Scripture quoted refer to what was said in James 4:4.
3. (6-10) The solutions for strife: in humility, get right with God.
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
a. But He gives more grace: The same Holy Spirit convicting us of our compromise will also grant us the grace to serve God as we should. This wonderful statement – but He gives more grace – stands in strong contrast to the previous words.
i. “Note that contrast; note it always. Observe how weak we are, how strong he is; how proud we are, how condescending he is; how erring we are, and how infallible he is; how changing we are, and how immutable he is; how provoking we are, and how forgiving he is. Observe how in us there is only ill, and how in him there is only good. Yet our ill but draws his goodness forth, and still he blesseth. Oh! What a rich contrast!” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Sin seeks to enter, grace shuts the door; sin tries to get the mastery, but grace, which is stronger than sin, resists, and will not permit it. Sin gets us down at times, and puts its foot on our neck; grace comes to the rescue… Sin comes up like Noah’s flood, but grace rides over the tops of the mountains like the ark.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Do you suffer from spiritual poverty? It is your own fault, for he giveth more grace. If you have not got it, it is not because it is not to be had, but because you have not gone for it.” (Spurgeon)
b. God resists the proud: At the same time, James reminds us that this grace only comes to the humble. Grace and pride are eternal enemies. Pride demands that God bless me in light of my merits, whether real or imagined. But grace will not deal with me on the basis of anything in me – good or bad – but only on the basis of who God is.
i. James used a powerful word in the phrase, resists the proud: “Sets himself in battle array against him.” (Clarke) “God resisteth the proud, ‘setteth himself in battle-array against such,’ above all other sorts of sinner, as invaders of his territories, and foragers or plunderers of his chief treasures.” (Trapp)
c. But gives grace to the humble: It isn’t as if our humility earns the grace of God. Humility merely puts us in a position to receive the gift He freely gives.
d. Therefore submit to God: In light of the grace offered to the humble, there is only one thing to do: submit to God. This means to order yourself under God, to surrender to Him as a conquering King, and start receiving the benefits of His reign.
i. It is a wonder that the world does not submit to God. “I have heard much of the rights of man: but it were well also to consider the rights of God, which are the first, highest, surest, and most solemn rights in the universe, and lie at the base of all other rights… Alas, great God, how art thou a stranger even in the world which thou hast thyself made! Thy creatures, who could not see if thou hadst not given them eyes, look everywhere except to thee. Creatures who could not think if thou hadst not given them minds, think of all things except thee; and beings who could not live if thou didst not keep them in being, forget thee utterly, or if they remember thine existence, and see thy power, are foolhardy enough to become thy foes!” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If he were a tyrant it might be courageous to resist, but since he is a Father it is ungrateful to rebel.” (Spurgeon) Instead, Spurgeon (in another sermon) suggested reasons why we should submit to God:
· We should submit to God because He created us.
· We should submit to God because His rule is good for us.
· We should submit to God because all resistance to Him is futile.
· We should submit to God because such submission is absolutely necessary to salvation.
· We should submit to God because it is the only way to have peace with God.
iii. “I desire to whisper one little truth in your ear, and I pray that it may startle you: You are submitting even now. You say, ‘Not I; am lord of myself.’ I know you think so, but all the while you are submitting to the devil. The verse before us hints at this. ‘Submit yourselves unto God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ If you do not submit to God you never will resist the devil, and you will remain constantly under his tyrannical power. Which shall be your master, God or devil, for one of these must? No man is without a master.” (Spurgeon)
e. Resist the devil and he will flee from you: To solve the problems of carnality and the strife it causes, we must also resist the devil. This means to stand against devil’s deceptions and his efforts to intimidate. As we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from you.
i. Significantly, James does not recommend that demons should be cast out of believers by a third party. Instead, James simply challenges individual Christians to deal with Satan as a conquered foe who can and must be personally resisted. “He who, in the terrible name of JESUS, opposes even the devil himself is sure to have speedy and glorious conquest. He flees from that name, and from his conquering blood.” (Clarke)
ii. Resist comes from two Greek words: stand and against. James tells us to stand against the devil. Satan can be set running by the resistance of the lowliest believer who comes in the authority of what Jesus did on the cross.
iii. “Resist, by faith, and the rest of the spiritual armour, Ephesians 6:13, 14, etc. Or, resist i.e. comply not with his motions and temptations.” (Poole)
iv. “And he will flee from you; as to that particular assault in which you resist him; and though he return again, and tempt you again, yet you still resisting, he will still be overcome; ye are never conquered so long as you do not consent.” (Poole)
v. A famous ancient Christian writer named Hermas wrote, “The devil can wrestle against the Christian, but he cannot pin him.” (Cited in Barclay)
f. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you: The call to draw near to God is both an invitation and a promise. It is no good to submit to God’s authority and to resist the devil’s attack and then fail to draw near to God. We have it as a promise: God will draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
i. “When a soul sets out to seek God, God sets out to meet that soul; so that while we are drawing near to him, he is drawing near to us.” (Clarke)
ii. What does it mean to draw near to God? Spurgeon considered a few ways:
· It means to draw near in worship, praise, and in prayer.
· It means to draw near by asking counsel of God.
· It means to draw near in enjoying communion with God.
· It means to draw near in the general course and tenor of your life.
iii. In one way, this text illustrates the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant. In the old covenant, God told Moses to not come any closer to the burning bush and take off his shoes. Under the new covenant, God says to the sinner: “Draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.” Now the ground between God and the sinner has been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, and we can come close to God on the basis of that blood.
iv. This also shows what God wants to do for the sinner. It doesn’t say, “Draw near to God and He will save you” or “Draw near to God and He will forgive you,” though both of those are true. But what God really wants is to be near man; to have a close relationship and fellowship with the individual.
v. From the rest of the chapter we see the results of drawing near to God:
· Drawing near to God helps us to resist the devil.
· Drawing near to God helps us to become pure.
· Drawing near to God helps us to sorrow for sin.
· Drawing near to God helps us to speak well of other people.
· Drawing near to God helps us to think of eternal things.
g. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! As we draw near to God, we will be convicted of our sin. So we lament and mourn and weep as appropriate under the conviction of sin, and we are compelled to find cleansing at the cross.
i. “The word used for sinner is hamartolos, which means the hardened sinner, the man whose sin is obvious and notorious.” (Barclay)
ii. In using terms like lament and mourn and weep, “James speaks in terms of the Hebrew prophets’ language about the anguish of repentance.” (Moffatt)
h. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up: As we come as sinners before the holy God (not as self righteous religionists, as Jesus explained in Luke 18:10-14), we appropriately humble ourselves before Him. Then He will lift us up, because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and grace – the unmerited favor of God – always lifts us up.
i. In this passage James has powerfully described both the duty and the blessing of repentance.
4. (11-12) The solutions for strife: get right with other people.
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
a. Do not speak evil of one another: Humbling ourselves and getting right with God must result in our getting right with other people. When we are right with other people, it will show in the way we talk about them. So we must not speak evil of one another and not judge our brother.
i. Speak evil translates the ancient Greek word katalalia. “Katalalia is the sin of those who meet in corners and gather in little groups and pass on confidential information which destroy the good name of those who are not there to defend themselves.” (Barclay)
ii. This sin is wrong for two reasons. First, it breaks the royal law that we should love one another. Second, it takes a right of judgment that only God has.
b. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law: When we judge our brother, we put ourselves in the same place as the law, in effect judging the law. This is something that we have no authority to do, because there is one Lawgiver – so who are you to judge another?
i. “However high and orthodox our view of God’s law might be, a failure actually to do it says to the world that we do not in fact put much store by it.” (Moo)
c. Who are you to judge another? This is an extension of the same humility that James writes about in this chapter. When we have proper humility before God, it just isn’t within us to arrogantly judge our brother.
i. “This is not to rule out civil courts and judges. Instead, it is to root out the harsh, unkind, critical spirit that continually finds fault with others.” (Burdick)
ii. “Who art thou; what a sorry creature, a man, a worm, that thou shouldest lift up thyself into God’s place, and make thyself a judge of one not subject to thee!” (Poole)
B. A humble dependence on God.
1. (13-16) A caution against an attitude of independence from God.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
a. You who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”: James rebuked the kind of heart that lives and makes its plans apart from a constant awareness of the hand of God, and with an underestimation of our own limitations (you do not know what will happen tomorrow).
i. “This was the custom of those ancient times; they traded from city to city, carrying their goods on the backs of camels. The Jews traded thus to Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea, Crete, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Rome, &c. And it is to this kind of itinerant mercantile life that St. James alludes.” (Clarke)
ii. This attitude that James challenged goes far beyond making wise plans for the future. “Not, let us go, but, we will go, in the indicative mood; noting the peremptoriness of their purposes, and their presuming upon future times and things, which were not in their power.” (Poole)
iii. “Notice, that these people, while they thought everything was at their disposal, used everything for worldly objects. What did they say? Did they determine with each other ‘We will to-day or to-morrow do such and such a thing for the glory of God, and for the extension of his kingdom’? Oh, no, there was not a word about God in it, from beginning to end!” (Spurgeon)
iv. “There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass – one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.” (Spurgeon)
b. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away: James asked us to consider the fragility of human life, and the fact that we live and move only at the permission of God. James does not discourage us from planning and doing, only from planning and doing apart from reliance on God.
i. The idea that our life was a vapor or shadow was a frequent figure of speech in the Old Testament (Psalm 102:11; Job 8:9; 1 Chronicles 29:15).
ii. We also remember the story Jesus told about the rich man who made his great plans for the future, and foolishly lost it all when his soul was required of him (Luke 12:16-21). “They might easily observe that many things fall out betwixt the cup and the lip, betwixt the chin and the chalice.” (Trapp)
iii. “There are a thousand gates to death; and, though some seem to be narrow wickets, many souls have passed through them. Men have been choked by a grape stone, killed by a tile falling from the roof of a house, poisoned by a drop, carried off by a whiff of foul air. I know not what there is that is too little to slay the greatest king. It is a marvel that man lives at all.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Knowing that life is short, we must be diligent and energetic about the common duties of everyday life. “It is sinful to neglect the common duties of life, under the idea that we shall do something more by-and-by. You do not obey your parents, young man, and yet you are going to be a minister, are you? A pretty minister will you make! As an apprentice you are very dilatory and neglectful, and your master would be glad to see the back of you; he wishes that he could burn your indentures; and yet you have an idea you are going to be a missionary, I believe? A pretty missionary you would be!” (Spurgeon)
c. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” It is nothing but sheer arrogance that makes us think that we can live and move and have our being independent of God. This boastful arrogance is the essence of sin: a proud independence, the root of all sin, as was the case with Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-15) and Adam (Genesis 3:5-7).
i. Paul knew and lived this principle: I will return again to you, God willing (Acts 18:21). But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills (1 Corinthians 4:19). I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits (1 Corinthians 16:7).
ii. “All such boasting, when life is so precarious, is worse than absurd, it is wicked, a positive sin, a specimen of the ungodly haughtiness (James 4:6) of which men should repent.” (Moffatt)
iii. You boast in your arrogance: “The word is alazoneia. Alazoneia was originally the characteristic of the wandering quack. He offered cures which were no cures and boasted to things that he was not able to do.” (Moffatt)
2. (17) A challenge to live according to what we know in the Lord.
Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
a. To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin: James knows that it is far easier to think about and talk about humility and dependence on God than it is to live it. Yet he makes the mind of God plain: as we know these things, we are accountable to do them.
i. Here James returned to his consistent theme through his letter: the idea that genuine faith is proved by action. “However high and orthodox our view of God’s law might be, a failure actually to do it says to the world that we do not in fact put much store by it.” (Moo)
ii. Yet we also see that the uncertainty of life, to which James referred to in the previous passage, should not create fear that makes one passive or inactive. The uncertainty of life should make us ready to recognize what is good and then do it. “This uncertainty of life is not a cause either for fear or inaction. It is always a reason for realizing our complete dependence on God.” (Moffatt)
b. To him it is sin: Jesus told a story with much the same point in Luke 12:41-48. The story was about servants and how they obeyed the master in the master’s absence. Jesus concluded the story with this application: For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48). Greater light gives greater responsibility.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
James 3 – Warnings and Words to Teachers
A. The demonstration of a living faith in controlling what we say.
1. (1-2) Opening observations: the greater accountability of teachers and the difficulty of not stumbling.
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
a. Let not many of you become teachers: James has a sober admonition for those who would become teachers in the church. They must take the responsibility seriously, because their accountability is greater and they shall receive a stricter judgment.
i. It is easy to take the position of teacher lightly in the church, without considering its cost in terms of accountability. Jesus warned to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:48)
ii. The words of Jesus and James remind us that being among the teachers in God’s church is more than a matter of having natural or even spiritual gifts; there is an additional dimension of appropriate character and right living. “James found that this department of church-work had become extremely popular. Hence his warning about its serious responsibilities. God will judge us on the last day with special strictness on account of our influence over others.” (Moffatt)
iii. Therefore, teachers were both tested more and would be judged more strictly. “Their case is awful; they shall receive greater condemnation than common sinners; they have not only sinned in thrusting themselves into that office to which God has never called them, but through their insufficiency the flocks over whom they have assumed the mastery perish for lack of knowledge, and their blood will God require at the watchman’s hand.” (Clarke)
iv. “The comparative adjective greater [stricter] implies degrees of treatment at the judgment seat.” (Hiebert)
b. For we all stumble in many things: The greater accountability of teachers is especially sobering in light of our common weaknesses. After all, we all stumble in many things. The ancient Greek word translated stumble does not imply a fatal fall, but something that trips us up and hinders our spiritual progress.
i. We all stumble: James included himself among those who stumble. Yet he did not excuse his or our stumbling. We know that we all stumble, but we should all press on to a better walk with the Lord, marked by less stumbling.
ii. This is another of the several statements in the Bible which tell us that all men sin (also including 1 Kings 8:46; Job 14:4; Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; and 1 John 1:8, 10).
c. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man: James provided a way to measure spiritual maturity for teachers and for all Christians. Jesus demonstrated in Matthew 12:34-37 that words are the revelation of the inner character.
i. To not stumble in word shows true spiritual maturity. This is especially relevant to teachers, who have so much more opportunity to sin with their tongue.
· We stumble in word about ourselves, with our boasting, exaggeration, and selective reporting.
· We stumble in word about others, with our criticism, gossip, slander, cruelty, two-facedness, and anger; or with flattery and insincere words meant to gain favor.
2. (3-6) The power of the tongue.
Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
a. We put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us: A small bit in the mouth controls a strong horse. A small rudder turns a large ship. Even so, if we have control over our tongue it is an indication that we have control over our self. Whoever can control the tongue can bridle the whole body (James 3:2).
i. The bit and the rudder are small but extremely important. If they are not controlled the entire horse is out of control and the entire ship is out of control. It is possible for something as small as the tongue is to have tremendous power for either good or evil.
ii. You don’t solve the problem of an unruly horse by keeping it in the barn, or the problem of a hard-to-steer ship by keeping it tied to the dock. In the same way, even a vow of silence is not the ultimate answer for the misuse of our tongue.
iii. If the tongue is like a bit in the mouth of a horse or the rudder on a ship, it leaves us with the question: Who or what holds the reins, or who or what directs the rudder? Some people have no hand on the reins or rudder, and therefore say whatever comes into mind. Others direct their tongue from their emotions or from aspects of their carnal nature. James points us towards having the Spirit of God, working through the new man, set directing hands on the reins and rudder that is our tongue.
b. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: The fire of the tongue has been used to burn many. Children are told sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. But that child’s rhyme isn’t really true; the bitter pain of a word spoken against us can hurt us for a lifetime, long after a broken bone has healed.
i. “In the two former illustrations, animals and ships are controlled by small objects; in this last illustration, a huge forest is destroyed by a tiny spark. The tongue likewise can either control or destroy.” (Burdick)
ii. What others say to us and what we say to others can last a long time, for good or for evil. The casual sarcastic or critical remark can inflict a lasting injury on another person. The well-timed encouragement or compliment can inspire someone for the rest of their life.
iii. Proverbs speaks of the person who doesn’t consider the destructive power of his words. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “I was only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18-19).
iv. Again, James isn’t telling us to never speak or to take a vow of silence; in many ways that would be easier than exercising true self-control over the tongue. The bridle, the rudder, and the fire can all do tremendous good when they are controlled properly.
c. The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: There aren’t many sins that don’t involve talking in some way. “It is though all the wickedness in the whole world were wrapped up in that little piece of flesh.” (Burdick)
i. “It walketh through the earth, and faceth the very heavens, Psalm 73:9. It can run the world over and bite at everybody; being as a sharp razor… that instead of shaving the hair cutteth the throat, Psalm 52:2. It is made in the shape of sword; and David felt it as a sword in his bones, Psalm 42:10. It is thin, broad, and long, as an instrument most fit to empty both speaker’s and the hearer’s heart. It is of a flame-colour, as apt to set on fire the whole wheel of nature, James 3:6.” (Trapp)
ii. James echoes the testimony of Proverbs regarding the tongue:
· In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. (Proverbs 10:19-21)
· Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)
· Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)
· Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)
3. (7-8) The difficulty of taming the tongue.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
a. Every kind of beast and bird… has been tamed by mankind: A wild animal can be more easily tamed than the tongue. In fact, James tells us that no man can tame the tongue.
i. The human spirit has incredible capacity for sacrifice and self-control. Sometimes we hear a desperate survival story of someone who cuts off their own leg to get free from a tree that has fallen on them, and then they make it to a hospital for medical treatment. Yet that same man can’t tame the tongue perfectly.
b. No man can tame the tongue: Nevertheless the tongue can be brought under the power and the control of the Holy Spirit. We might say that only God Himself is mightier than the human tongue!
c. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison: The untamable tongue is even more dangerous when we consider the deadly poison it can deliver.
i. “The poison of the tongue is no less deadly, it murders men’s reputations by the slanders it utters, their souls by the lusts and passions it stirs up in them, and many times their bodies too by the contentions and quarrels it raiseth against men.” (Poole)
ii. A woman once came to John Wesley and said she knew what her talent was and she said, “I think my talent from God is to speak my mind.” Wesley replied, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.” Speaking forth everything that comes to mind is unwise, poisonous speech.
4. (9-12) The contradictory character of the tongue.
With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
a. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men: The tongue can be used for the highest calling (to bless our God) and it can be used for the lowest evil (to curse men). In those who are born again, it shouldn’t be said that out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing.
i. Peter’s tongue confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God and denied Jesus with curses. John said, “Little children, love one another” and he wanted to say the word to bring down fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village.
b. These things ought not to be so: Our speech should be consistently glorifying to God. We shouldn’t use one vocabulary or one tone of speaking at church and a different one at home or on the job. Like a spring of water, our mouths shouldn’t send forth fresh… and bitter from the same opening.
i. “This outburst of James suggests that he had suffered from the strife of tongues in the religious world… it reads like a transcript of bitter experience.” (Moffatt)
c. Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh: James points to the ultimate impossibility of such a contradiction. If bad fruit and bitter water continue to come forth, it means that there is no contradiction. The tree is bad and the spring is bad.
i. Jesus taught in Matthew 12:34-37 that a man’s words are a reliable revelation of his inner character. What we say can indicate what we are.
ii. Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives: “It would be a monstrosity, a thing to be wondered at, and stared at as unnatural and absurd if a fig tree started bearing olive berries and it is just as unnatural for a Christian to live in sin. Can he so live as to bear the fruits of iniquity instead of the fruits of righteousness? God forbid that it should be so!” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Unless you are regenerated, born from above by a new and heavenly birth, you are not Christians, whatever you may be called, and you cannot, produce the fruit which is acceptable to God any more than a fig tree can produce olive berries.” (Spurgeon)
· You can label a fig tree “Olive Tree” and that will not make it an olive tree.
· You can trim a fig tree to look like an olive tree, and that will not make it an olive tree.
· You can treat a fig tree like an olive tree, and that will not make it an olive tree.
· You can surround a fig tree with many olive trees, and that will not make it an olive tree.
· You can transplant that fig tree to the Mount of Olives, and that would not make it an olive tree.
B. The demonstration of a living faith in the presence of wisdom.
1. (13) Wisdom shows us how to do good works
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
a. Who is wise and understanding among you? At the beginning of James 3, the author addressed those who were teachers or wanted to be teachers among Christians. There he told such teachers how they should talk; here he speaks about how they should live.
i. “James addresses the person who is ‘wise and understanding.’ The word sophos (‘wise’) was the technical term among the Jews for the teacher, the scribe, the rabbi. It appears that the author is still speaking to those who would be teachers (cf. James 3:1); here it is not what they say that he is concerned with, but rather how they live.” (Burdick)
b. Who is wise… Let him show by good conduct: Wisdom is not mere head knowledge. Real wisdom and understanding will show in our lives, by our good conduct.
i. In this sense wisdom and understanding are like faith; they are invisible, inner qualities. If a person considers himself to be wise or understanding, it is fair to expect that this invisible inner quality would show itself in regular life. Here James told us how to judge if a person really is wise and understanding.
c. His works are done in the meekness of wisdom: True wisdom is also evident by its meek manner. Those who do their good works in a way designed to bring attention to themselves show they lack true wisdom.
i. On meekness: “Prautes is gentleness, but not a passive gentleness growing out of weakness or resignation. It is an active attitude of deliberate acceptance.” (Burdick)
2. (14-16) The character of earthly wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
a. Bitter envy and self-seeking: These are the opposite of the meekness of wisdom mentioned in James 3:13. These words actually refer to someone who has a critical, contentious, fight-provoking manner.
i. “It is out of keeping with the temper of bitter jealousy and rivalry (i.e. party-spirit, selfish ambition, factiousness). Do not pride yourselves on that, on the intensity and harsh zeal which lead to such unscrupulous partisanship, which are sometimes justified as loyalty to the truth.” (Moffatt)
ii. “Religious people may be extremely provoking, and defeat their own ends by overbearing methods; right views and sound counsels may lose their effect if they are expressed by men who are self-seeking partisans or unscrupulous controversialists.” (Moffatt)
b. Do not boast and lie against the truth: Anyone who shows bitter envy and self-seeking should not deceive anyone – especially themselves – about how wise they are. They show a wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic. Their wisdom is more characteristic of the world, the flesh, and the devil than of God.
i. “This wisdom” that James referred to was not really wisdom at all. “It is the wisdom claimed by the would-be teachers of James 3:14 whose lives contradict their claims. Such ‘wisdom’ evaluates everything by worldly standards and makes personal gain life’s highest goal.” (Burdick)
ii. Earthly, sensual, demonic: Adam Clarke defined each term:
· Earthly: “Having this life only in view.”
· Sensual: “Animal- having for its object the gratification of the passions and animal propensities.”
· Demonic: “Demoniacal- inspired by demons, and maintained in the soul by their indwelling influence.”
c. Confusion and every evil thing: This is the fruit of human, earthly wisdom. The wisdom of the world, the flesh, and the devil may be able to accomplish things, but always with the ultimate fruit of confusion and every evil thing.
3. (17-18) The character of heavenly wisdom.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
a. But the wisdom that is from above: God’s wisdom also has fruit. James here defined exactly what he meant by the meekness of wisdom in James 3:13.
b. First pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy: The character of this wisdom is wonderful. It is full of love and a giving heart, consistent with the holiness of God.
i. This wisdom is first pure: “The reference is not to sexual purity but to the absence of any sinful attitude or motive.” (Burdick)
ii. This wisdom is then peaceable: “This is one of the great words of character description in the NT. In the LXX it is used mostly of God’s disposition as a King. He is gentle and kind, although in reality he has every reason to be stern and punitive toward men in their sin.” (Burdick)
iii. This wisdom is gentle: “The man who is epieikes is the man who knows when it is actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law. He knows how to forgive when strict justice gives him a perfect right to condemn… It is impossible to find an English word to translate this quality. Matthew Arnold called it ‘sweet reasonableness’ and it is the ability to extend to others the kindly consideration we would wish to receive ourselves.” (Barclay)
iv. This wisdom is willing to yield: “Not stubborn nor obstinate; of a yielding disposition in all indifferent things; obsequious, docile.” (Clarke) “Conciliatory (only here in N.T.) is the opposite of stiff and unbending.” (Moffatt) “Eupeithes can mean easy to persuade, not in the sense of being pliable and weak, but in the sense of not being stubborn and of being willing to listen to reason and to appeal… true wisdom is not rigid but is willing to listen and skilled in knowing when wisely to yield.” (Barclay)
v. This wisdom is full of mercy: It does not judge others strictly on the basis of the law, but will extend a generous hand full of mercy. This wisdom knows that the same measure of mercy we grant to others is the same measure God will use with us (Matthew 7:2).
vi. This wisdom is full of… good fruits: This wisdom can be seen by the fruit it produces. It isn’t just the inner power to think and talk about things the right way; it is full of… good fruits.
vii. This wisdom is without partiality: “Without partiality; or, without judging, i.e. either a curious inquiring into the faults of others, to find matter for censures.” (Poole)
viii. This wisdom is without hypocrisy: “Without pretending to be what it is not; acting always in its own character; never working under a mask. Seeking nothing but God’s glory, and using no other means to attain it than those of his own prescribing.” (Clarke)
ix. “These last two words [without partiality and without hypocrisy] rule out the habit of using speech to half reveal and half conceal the mind of the speaker, who has something (as we say) at the back of his mind all the time.” (Moffatt)
c. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace: This fruit is like a seed that will bear fruit as it is sown by those who make peace.
i. “The fruit of righteousness; either the fruit we bring forth, which is righteousness itself, Luke 3:8, 9; Romans 6:22; Philippians 1:11; or the fruit we reap, which is the reward of righteousness, viz. eternal life.” (Poole)
ii. “Far from being theoretical and speculative, James’s concept of wisdom is thoroughly practical. It is the understanding and attitude that result in true piety and godliness.” (Burdick)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
James 2 – A Living Faith in the Life of the Church
Video for James 2:
A. Partiality and discrimination in the family of God.
1. (1) The principle established.
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
a. Do not hold the faith: The glorious faith we have, the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, should never be associated with partiality (discrimination). The Lord of glory Himself shows no partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17 and Acts 10:34) so neither should those who put their trust in Him.
i. James used strong words to refer to Jesus Christ: The Lord of glory. Moffatt comments: “The Christian religion [is here called] more explicitly belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the divine Glory – a striking term for Christ as the full manifestation of the divine presence and majesty. The Jews called this the shekinah.”
ii. This is especially significant because James is widely (and properly) regarded as one of the first letters of the New Testament written (perhaps somewhere between AD 44 and 48). This means that the earliest Christians considered Jesus to be God, and said so in strong, unmistakable words.
b. With partiality: We do well to remember that James wrote to a very partial age, filled with prejudice and hatred based on class, ethnicity, nationality, and religious background. In the ancient world people were routinely and permanently categorized because they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, Greek or barbarian, or whatever.
i. A significant aspect of the work of Jesus was to break down these walls that divided humanity, and to bring forth one new race of mankind in Him (Ephesians 2:14-15).
ii. The unity and openness of the early church was shocking to the ancient world. But this unity didn’t come automatically. As this command from James shows, the apostles had to teach the early church to never hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ… with partiality.
2. (2-4) An example of the kind of partiality that has no place among Christians.
For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
a. If there should come into your assembly: In the ancient Greek, the word assembly is literally synagogue, the name of the meeting place for Jews. The fact that James calls a Christian meeting place a synagogue shows that he wrote before Gentiles were widely received into the church. At the time James wrote, most all Christians came from a Jewish heritage. This is the only place in the New Testament where an assembly of Christians is clearly called a synagogue.
i. “Till the final rift between Judaism and Christianity both Christian and non-Christian Jews used, at least often, the same word for their sacred meeting-place.” (Adamson)
ii. “As Christians have no church-buildings at this period, their place of meeting was usually some large room in the house of a wealthy member or a hall hired for the purpose (Acts 19:9), where outsiders were free to attend the ordinary services… They were to be welcomed, but welcomed without any servility or snobbery.” (Moffatt)
b. A man with gold rings: This showed the man was rich. “In Roman society the wealthy wore rings on their left hand in great profusion. A sign of wealth, rings were worn with great ostentation. There were even shops in Rome where rings could be rented for special occasions.” (Hiebert)
i. There should also come in a poor man: “The word signifies one very poor, even to beggarliness.” (Poole)
c. Have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? To favor the rich man over the poor man in the way James described shows a deep carnality among Christians. Their evil thoughts are evident by their partial actions.
i. To show partiality shows that we care more for the outward appearance than we do upon the heart. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). God looks at the heart, and so should we.
ii. To show partiality shows that we misunderstand who is important and blessed in the sight of God. When we assume that the rich man is more important to God or more blessed by God, we put too much value in material riches.
iii. To show partiality shows a selfish streak in us. Usually we favor the rich man over the poor man because we believe we can get more from the rich man. He can do favors for us that the poor man can’t.
3. (5-7) Man’s partiality rarely agrees with God’s heart.
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
a. Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom: Though it is easy for man to be partial to the rich, God isn’t partial to them. In fact, since riches are an obstacle to the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24), there is a sense in which God specially blesses the poor of this world.
i. They are chosen… to be rich in faith because the poor of this world simply have more opportunities to trust God. Therefore they may be far more rich in faith than the rich man. “The rich man may trust Him; but the poor man must… the poor man has no fortress in which to hide, except the two strong arms of God.” (Meyer)
ii. “This seems to refer to Matthew 11:5: And the poor have the Gospel preached to them. These believed on the Lord Jesus, and found his salvation; while the rich despised, neglected, and persecuted him.” (Clarke)
b. Has not God chosen: The poor are chosen in the sense that the poor more readily respond to God in faith, having fewer obstacles to the kingdom.
i. “Church history demonstrates that comparatively more poor people than rich have responded to the gospel.” (Hiebert)
ii. When we choose people by what we can see on the surface, we miss the mind of God. Remember that Judas appeared to be much better leadership material than Peter.
iii. What is more, we can say that God has chosen the poor in the sense that when He added humanity to His deity and came to earth, He came into poverty. “There is nothing that men dread more than poverty. They will break every commandment in the Decalogue rather than be poor. But it is God’s chosen lot. He had one opportunity only of living our life, and He chose to be born of parents too poor to present more than two doves at his presentation in the temple.” (Meyer)
iv. Of course, God has not only chosen the poor. Yet we may say that He has chosen the poor first, in the sense Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 1:26: For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. “Not that God hath chosen all the poor in the world, but his choice is chiefly of them.” (Poole)
v. Calvin wrote regarding God’s choice of the poor: “Not indeed alone, but he wished to begin with them, that he might beat down the pride of the rich.”
vi. We should remind ourselves that God also never calls for partiality against the rich. If one must judge in a dispute between a rich man and a poor man, they should let the law and the facts of the case decide the judgment instead of the economic class of those in the dispute.
c. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? James reminded his readers that the rich often sin against them (oppress you… drag you). This is often because the love of money is the root of every kind of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). For this reason alone, the rich are not worthy of the partiality often shown to them.
i. History shows that the rich can indeed oppress the poor. “Trample upon you with the feet of pride and cruelty; yea, devour you, as the greater fish do the lesser… This is a sin against race, grace, and place.” (Trapp)
ii. Do they not blaspheme: “If the rich here spoken of were Christians, then they may be said to blaspheme Christ’s name, when by their wicked carriage they caused it to be blasphemed by others… but if rich unbelievers be here meant, the rich men of those times being generally great enemies to Christianity.” (Poole)
4. (8-9) Partiality is condemned by the Scriptures.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
a. If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture: James anticipated that some of his readers might defend their partiality to the rich as simply loving the rich man as their neighbor in obedience to the law.
b. If you show partiality, you commit sin: The problem isn’t that one is nice to the rich. The problem is that one does show partiality to the rich, and is not nice to the poor man! So you can’t excuse your partiality by saying, “I’m just fulfilling the command to love my neighbor as myself.”
c. The royal law: Our God is a great King, and His law is a royal law. Our King Jesus put special emphasis on this command (Matthew 22:36-40) from the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18). James is reminding us that the poor man is just as much our neighbor as the rich man is.
i. “This commandment, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, is a royal law, not only because it is ordained of God, and proceeds from his kingly authority over men, but because it is so useful, suitable, and necessary to the present state of man… we give the epithet royal to whatever is excellent, noble, grand, or useful.” (Clarke)
5. (10-13) The serious matter of obeying all of God’s commands.
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
a. Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all: James here guards us against a selective obedience, the sort that will pick and choose which commands of God should be obeyed and which can be safely disregarded.
i. We can’t say, “I like God’s command against murder, so I’ll keep that one. But I don’t like His command against adultery, so I will disregard it.” God cares about the whole law.
ii. The whole law must be kept if one will be justified by the law. “In the tract Shabbath, fol. 70, where they dispute concerning the thirty-nine works commanded by Moses, Rabbi Yochanan says: But if a man do the whole, with the omission of one, he is guilty of the whole, with the one.” (Clarke) Adamson quotes one ancient Rabbi who taught: “If a man perform all the commandments, save one, he is guilty of all and each; to break one precept is to defy God who commanded the whole.”
iii. “He breaks the whole law, though not the whole of the law: as he that wounds a man’s arm wounds the whole man, though not the whole of the man.” (Poole)
b. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty: We are under the law of liberty. It has liberty, yet it is still a law that must be obeyed and that we will be judged by at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
i. “It is also called a law of liberty, because it is freely and willingly kept of the regenerate, to whom it is no burden or bondage.” (Trapp)
c. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy: As those who will be judged by the law of liberty, we should always show mercy to others by refraining from partiality. The mercy we show will be extended to us again on the day of judgment, and that mercy triumphs over judgment.
i. James is relating another principle of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Matthew 7:2).
ii. “The law of liberty is the law which defines our relationship to God and man as love-mastered. To speak and do under that impulse, is to be free indeed. If that law be disobeyed, if no mercy be shown, then judgment based upon that law will show no mercy.” (Morgan)
iii. “The law of freedom is not laxity but a strict ethical rule of God, and we shall be judged by our adherence to its supreme principle of brotherly love or mercy, i.e. compassion for the sins and sufferings of our fellows.” (Moffatt)
iv. Mercy triumphs over judgment: Moffatt translates this, “The merciful life will triumph in the face of judgment.” “That is, the merciful man glorieth, as one that hath received mercy, and shall not come into condemnation; for God’s mercy rejoiceth against such a man’s sins, as against an adversary which he hath subdued and trampled on.” (Trapp)
B. The demonstration of a living faith in loving action.
1. (14) The principle established: true faith will be accompanied by action.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
a. What does it profit, my brethren: James thought it impossible that someone could genuinely have saving faith with no works. But someone could say he has faith, but fail to show good works. So, the question is valid: Can that kind of faith save him?
i. “The apostle had just before declared, that they who are unmerciful to men shall find God severe to themselves, and have judgment without mercy: but hypocritical professors boasted of their faith as sufficient to secure them against that judgment, though they neglected the practice of holiness and righteousness.” (Poole)
b. Someone says he has faith but does not have works: James wrote to Christians from a Jewish background that discovered the glory of salvation by faith. They knew the exhilaration of freedom from works-righteousness. But they then went to the other extreme of thinking that works didn’t matter at all.
c. Can faith save him? James did not contradict the Apostle Paul, who insisted that we are saved not of works (Ephesians 2:9). James merely clarifies for us the kind of faith that saves. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works; but saving faith will have works that accompany it. As a saying goes: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone; it has good works with it.
i. Paul also understood the necessity of works in proving the character of our faith. He wrote: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). He also wrote: This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. (Titus 3:8)
ii. Can faith save him? “That is, his profession of faith; for it is not said that he has faith, but that he says, I have faith.” (Clarke)
2. (15-17) An example of dead faith.
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
a. If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food: To fail in the most simple good work towards a brother or sister in need demonstrates that one does not have a living faith, and we can only be saved by a living faith in Jesus.
i. “Under these two of nakedness and hunger, he comprehends all the calamities of human life, which may be relieved by the help of others; as food and raiment contain all the ordinary supports and comforts of life, Genesis 28:20; Matthew 6:25; 1 Timothy 6:8.” (Poole)
b. Be warmed and filled: To say this means you know that the person in front of you needs clothing and food. You know their need well, but offer nothing to help them except a few religious words.
i. “How many have we now-a-days that will be but as friends at a sneeze! The most you can get out of these benefactors is, ‘God bless you, Christ help you.’” (Trapp)
c. What does it profit? Real faith, and the works that accompany it, are not made up of only spiritual things, but also of a concern for the most basic needs – such as the need for comfort, covering, and food. When needs arise, we should sometimes pray less, and simply do more to help the person in need. We can sometimes pray as a substitute for action.
i. “Your pretending to have faith, while you have no works of charity or mercy, is utterly vain: for as faith, which is a principle in the mind, cannot be discerned but by the effects, that is, good works; he who has no good works has, presumptively, no faith.” (Clarke)
d. Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead: This is the first time James speaks of a dead faith. Faith alone saves us, but it must be a living faith. We can tell if faith is alive by seeing if it is accompanied by works, and if it does not have works, it is dead.
i. A living faith is simply real faith. If we really believe something we will follow through and act upon it. If we really put our trust and faith on Jesus, we will care for the naked and destitute as He told us to do.
ii. “He doth not say, faith is dead without works, lest it should be thought that works were the cause of the life of faith; but faith without works is dead; implying, that works are the effects and signs of the life of faith.” (Poole)
iii. What are some marks of saving faith?
· It is faith that looks not to self, but to Jesus Christ.
· It is faith that agrees with God’s word, both inwardly and with words.
· It is faith that in itself is not a work that deserves reward from God; in this sense it is simply refusing to think God is a liar, and that in itself is not a good work, simply the absence of a sinful work.
· It is faith grounded in what Jesus did on the cross and by the empty tomb.
· It is faith that will naturally be expressed in repentance and good works.
· It is faith that may sometimes doubt; yet the doubts are not bigger than the faith nor are they more permanent than the faith. This faith can say, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”
· It is faith that wants others to come to the same faith.
· It is faith that says more than “Lord, Lord” as in Matthew 7:21-23.
· It is faith that not only hears the word of God but does it, as in Matthew 7:24-27.
3. (18-19) A living faith cannot be separated from works.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe— and tremble!
a. You have faith, and I have works: Some might try to say that some have the “gift” of works and others have the “gift” of faith. “It’s fine for you to have your gift of works and that you care for the needy. But that isn’t my gift.”James will not allow this kind of thinking. Real faith will be demonstrated by works.
b. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works: The appeal of James is clear and logical. We can’t “see” someone’s faith, but we can see their works. You can’t see faith without works, but you can demonstrate the reality of faith by works.
c. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble! The fallacy of faith without works is demonstrated by the demons, which have a “dead” faith in God. The demons believe in the sense that they acknowledge that God exists. But this kind of faith does nothing for the demons, because it isn’t real faith, and that is proved by the fact that it doesn’t have works along with it.
4. (20-24) Abraham as an example of living faith.
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
a. Do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? James will now use the Old Testament to demonstrate what he has already said about the character of a living faith, showing that a faith that is not accompanied with works is a dead faith that cannot save.
b. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Abraham was justified by faith long before he offered Isaac (Genesis 15:6). But his obedience in offering Isaac demonstrated that he really did trust God.
i. James properly estimates that Abraham actually did offer Isaac his son on the altar, even though the angel stopped him from actually killing his son. Yet he had offered Isaac his son in his firm resolution and intentions, and would have surely completed the act had not God stopped him. Abraham was so complete in his obedience that he counted Isaac as dead and set him on the altar.
c. Faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect: Faith and works cooperated perfectly together in Abraham. If he never had believed God, he could have never done the good work of obedience when asked to offer Isaac. As well, his faith was proven true – was completed, was made perfect – by his obedient works.
i. “Here is a proof that faith cannot exist without being active in works of righteousness. His faith in God would have been of no avail to him, had it not been manifested by works.” (Clarke)
d. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only: The faith only that will not justify a man is a faith that is without works, a dead faith. But true faith, living faith, shown to be true by good works, will alone justify.
i. “It is faith that justifieth the man; but they are works that justify faith to be right and real, saving and justifying.” (Trapp)
ii. Works must accompany a genuine faith, because genuine faith is always connected with regeneration – being born again, becoming a new creation in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). If there is no evidence of a new life, then there was no genuine, saving faith.
iii. As Charles Spurgeon is reported to have said: “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.”
5. (25-26) Rahab as an example of living faith.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
a. Rahab the harlot: Significantly, James used two examples of a living faith – Abraham (the father of the Jews) and Rahab (a Gentile). James perhaps is subtly rebuking the partiality that may have developed on the part of Jewish Christians against the Gentile believers starting to come into the church.
b. Was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works: Rahab demonstrated her trust in the God of Israel by hiding the spies and seeking salvation from their God (Joshua 2:8-13). Her faith was shown to be living faith because it did something. Her belief in the God of Israel would not have saved her if she had not done something with that faith.
i. The lesson from Abraham is clear: if we believe in God, we will do what He tells us to do. The lesson from Rahab is also clear: if we believe in God, we will help His people, even when it costs us something.
ii. “He designedly put together two persons so different in their character, in order more clearly to shew, that no one, whatever may have been his or her condition, nation, or class in society, has ever been counted righteous without good works.” (Calvin, cited in Hiebert)
c. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also: As much as you can have a body with no life (a corpse), so you can have a faith with no life – and faith without works is a dead faith, unable to save.
i. “Therefore, if no deeds are forthcoming, it is proof that the professed faith is dead. Notice that James does not deny that it is faith. He simply indicates that it is not the right kind of faith. It is not living faith, nor can it save.” (Burdick)
ii. We can think of an apple tree; where is the life of the tree? It is in the root, and underneath the bark of the tree in the trunk. The life is not in the apples, the fruit that is displayed in season; but if the tree is alive it will produce apples in season.
iii. “Man is not justified by faith alone, that is, by a bare and empty knowledge of God; he is justified by works, that is, his righteousness is known and proved by its fruits.” (Calvin)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
James 1 – A Living Faith in Trials and Temptations
A. Trials and wisdom.
1. (1) A Greeting from James.
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
a. James: There are several men named James mentioned in the New Testament, but reliable tradition assigns this book to the one called James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55) and the brother of Jude (Jude 1), who led the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13).
i. Other men mentioned in the Bible named James include:
· James, brother of John and son of Zebedee, the first apostle martyred and also known as James the Less (Matthew 10:2, Mark 15:40, Acts 12:2).
· James the son of Alphaeus, another of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3).
· James, the father of the “other” apostle Judas (Luke 6:16).
ii. Yet the writer of this letter is the same James who received a special resurrection appearance of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7). This was probably the cause of his conversion, because up to that time the brothers of Jesus seemed unsupportive of His message and mission (John 7:5).
iii. When he did follow Jesus, he followed with great devotion. An early history of the church says that James was such a man of prayer that his knees had large and thick calluses, making them look like the knees of a camel. It also says that James was martyred in Jerusalem by being pushed from a high point of the temple. Yet the fall did not kill him, and on the ground he was beaten to death, even as he prayed for his attackers.
b. A bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: Knowing that this James was the half-brother of Jesus makes his self-introduction all the more significant. He did not proclaim himself “the brother of Jesus” but only a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was more than James’ brother; more importantly, Jesus was his Lord.
i. Bondservant is an important word. It translates the ancient Greek word doulos, and is probably better simply translated as slave. “A slave, a bondservant, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another… Among the Greeks, with their strong sense of personal freedom, the term carried a degrading connotation.” (Hiebert)
ii. Lord is also an important word. It translates the ancient Greek word kurios. It simply meant the master of a doulos, and in the context it means that James considered Jesus God. “Hellenistic Jews used Kurios as a name for God; the non-use of the article gains in significance when it is remembered that o Kurios, ‘Dominus,’ was a title given to the early Roman Emperors in order to express their deity.” (Oesterley in Expositor’s)
c. To the twelve tribes: What James meant by this reference to the twelve tribes is difficult to understand. The question is whether James wrote a letter to only Christians from a Jewish background or to all Christians. Certainly this letter applies to all Christians; yet James probably wrote his letter before Gentiles were brought into the church, or at least before Gentile Christians appeared in any significant number.
i. The twelve tribes is a Jewish figure of speech that sometimes referred to the Jewish people as a whole (Matthew 19:28). Paul referred to our twelve tribes in his speech before King Agrippa (Acts 26:7). The concept of the “twelve tribes” among the Jewish people was still strong, even though they had not lived in their tribal allotments for centuries.
ii. In Galatians 2:8-9 Paul described some of the first-century apostles as the apostleship to the circumcised; that is to say they had their ministry mainly to the lost sheep of Israel, even as Jesus mentioned in Matthew 10:6 and 15:24. In the same context Paul mentioned this same James, so it is fair to also regard him as one having the apostleship to the circumcised.
iii. Which are scattered abroad: At this time, the Jewish people were scattered all over the world and there was a Christian presence among most Jewish communities throughout the world. Regarding the extent of the dispersion, Josephus wrote: “There is no city, no tribe, whether Greek or barbarian, in which Jewish law and Jewish customs have not taken root.” (Cited in Barclay)
iv. Since this was written for the body of Christians as it existed at that time, this is also a letter for us today. Some think the book of James isn’t important for Christians, and some quote Martin Luther’s famous estimation of James as “a letter full of straw.” But Luther’s remark should be understood in its context. He was sometimes frustrated because those who wanted to promote salvation by works quoted certain verses from James against him. His intention was to observe that there was little or nothing in James that preached the gospel of justification by faith alone. In another place Luther wrote regarding James, “I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable… It does not expound human doctrines, but lays much emphasis on God’s law.” (Cited in Barclay)
v. Martin Luther knew and taught exactly what the book of James teaches. The following is from his preface to Romans regarding saving faith: O it is a living, busy active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good things incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done this, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works. (Cited in Moo)
vi. In many ways, we listen to the book of James because it echoes the teaching of Jesus. There are at least fifteen allusions to the Sermon on the Mount in James. A man who knew the teaching of Jesus and took it seriously wrote this letter.
d. Greetings: The salutation Greetings was the customary Greek way of opening a letter. Paul never used it; he preferred to salute his readers with the words grace and peace. Here James used this more customary salutation.
2. (2-4) Patient endurance in trials.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
a. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials: James regarded trials as inevitable. He said when, not if you fall into various trials. At the same time trials are occasions for joy, not discouraged resignation. We can count it all joy in the midst of trials because they are used to produce patience.
i. Moffatt translated James 1:2 as, Greet it as pure joy, pointing out a play on word between the Greetings at the end of James 1:1, and a similar word used to start James 1:2. It is “an attempt to bring out the play on words in the original, where the courteous chairein (greeting) is echoed by charan (joy).”
ii. The older King James Version says, when ye fall into divers temptations; but the rendering trials in the New King James Version is preferred. The word translated trials “signifies affliction, persecution, or trial of any kind; and in this sense it is used here, not intending diabolic suggestion, or what is generally understood by the word temptation.” (Clarke)
iii. When you fall into: “Not go in step by step, but are precipitated, plunged… When ye are so surrounded that there is no escaping them, being distressed, as David was, Psalm 116:3.” (Trapp)
iv. Patience is the ancient Greek word hupomone. This word does not describe a passive waiting but an active endurance. It isn’t so much the quality that helps you sit quietly in the doctor’s waiting room, as it is the quality that helps you finish a marathon.
v. The ancient Greek word hupomone comes from hupo (under) and meno (to stay, abide, remain). At its root, it means to remain under. It has the picture of someone under a heavy load and choosing to stay there instead of trying to escape. The philosopher Philo called hupomone “the queen of virtues.” (Cited in Hiebert) The Greek commentator Oesterley said this word patience described “the frame of mind which endures.”
b. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience: Faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. Trials reveal what faith we do have; not because God doesn’t know how much faith we have, but so that our faith will be evident to ourselves and to those around us.
i. We notice that it is faith that is tested, and it shows that faith is important and precious – because only precious things are tested so thoroughly. “Faith is as vital to salvation as the heart is vital to the body: hence the javelins of the enemy are mainly aimed at this essential grace.” (Spurgeon)
ii. If trials do not produce faith, what does? Romans 10:17 tells us: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Supernaturally, faith is built in us as we hear, understand, and trust in God’s word.
iii. James did not want anyone to think that God sends trials to break down or destroy our faith; therefore, he will come back to this point in James 1:13-18.
c. Produces patience: Trials don’t produce faith, but when trials are received with faith, it produces patience. Yet patience is not inevitably produced in times of trial. If difficulties are received in unbelief and grumbling, trials can produce bitterness and discouragement. This is why James exhorted us to count it all joy. Counting it all joy is faith’s response to a time of trial.
i. “It is occasionally asserted that James asks his readers to enjoy their trials… He did not say that they must feel it all joy, or that trials are all joy.” (Hiebert)
d. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing: The work of patient endurance comes slowly and must be allowed to have full bloom. Patient endurance is a mark of the person who is perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
i. “Patience must not be an inch shorter than the affliction. If the bridge reach but half-way over the brook, we shall have but ill-favoured passage. It is the devil’s desire to set us on a hurry.” (Trapp)
ii. “These expressions in their present application are by some thought to be borrowed from the Grecian games: the man was perfect, who in any of the athletic exercises had got the victory; he was entire, having everything complete, who had the victory in the pentathlon, in each of the five exercises.” (Clarke)
iii. Others think that the terms come from the world of sacrifice, where only a potential sacrificial animal that was judged to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing was fit to offer God. It meant that the animal had been tested and approved.
iv. “The natural tendency of trouble is not to sanctify, but to induce sin. A man is very apt to become unbelieving under affliction: that is a sin. He is apt to murmur against God under it: that is a sin. He is apt to put forth his hand to some ill way of escaping from his difficulty: and that would be sin. Hence we are taught to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation; because trial has in itself a measure of temptation’; and if it were not neutralized by abundant grace it would bear us towards sin.” (Spurgeon)
v. Yet, trials can prove a wonderful work of God in us. “I have looked back to times of trial with a kind of longing, not to have them return, but to feel the strength of God as I have felt it then, to feel the power of faith, as I have felt it then, to hang upon God’s powerful arm as I hung upon it then, and to see God at work as I saw him then.” (Spurgeon)
3. (5-8) How to receive the wisdom you need from God.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
a. If any of you lacks wisdom: Trials bring a necessary season to seek wisdom from God. We often don’t know we need wisdom until our time of difficulty. Once in a time of trial, we need to know if a particular trial is something God wants us to eliminate by faith or persevere in by faith. This requires wisdom.
i. In trials, we need wisdom a lot more than we need knowledge. Knowledge is raw information but wisdom knows how to use it. Someone once said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, but wisdom is the ability to put things together.
b. Let him ask of God: To receive wisdom, we simply ask of God – who gives wisdom generously (liberally), and without despising our request (without reproach).
i. “We are all so ready to go to books, to go to men, to go to ceremonies, to anything except to God… Consequently, the text does not say, ‘Let him ask books,’ nor ‘ask priests,’ but, ‘let him ask of God.’” (Spurgeon)
ii. God does indeed give liberally. “He gives according to his excellent greatness; as Alexander the Great gave a poor man a city; and when he modestly refused it as too great for him, Alexander answered, Non quaero quid te accipere deceat, sed quid me dare, The business is not what thou are fit to receive, but what it becometh me to give.” (Trapp)
iii. Without reproach: “This is added, lest any one should fear to come too often to God… for he is ready ever to add new blessings to former ones, without any end or limitation.” (Calvin) Knowing God’s generosity – that He never despises or resents us for asking for wisdom – should encourage us to ask Him often. We understand that He is the God of the open hand, not the God of the clenched fist.
iv. When we want wisdom, the place to begin and end is the Bible. True wisdom will always be consistent with God’s word.
v. The language here implies humility in coming to God. “It does not say, ‘Let him buy of God, let him demand of God, let him earn from God.’ Oh! No – ‘let him ask of God.’ It is the beggar’s word. The beggar asks an alms. You are to ask as the beggar asks of you in the street, and God will give to you far more liberally than you give to the poor. You must confess that you have no merit of your own.” (Spurgeon)
c. But let him ask in faith: Our request for wisdom must be made like any other request – in faith, without doubting God’s ability or desire to give us His wisdom.
i. We notice that not only must one come in faith, but one must also ask in faith; and this is where the prayers of many people fail. “You know, dear friends, that there is a way of praying in which you ask for nothing, and get it.” (Spurgeon)
d. With no doubting… let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord: The one who doubts and lacks faith should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. This lack of faith and trust in God also shows that we have no foundation, being unstable in all our ways.
i. Like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind: “The man who is not thoroughly persuaded that if he ask of God he shall receive, resembles a wave of the sea; he is in a state of continual agitation; driven by the wind, and tossed: now rising by hope, then sinking by despair.” (Clarke)
ii. A wave of the sea is a fitting description of one who is hindered by unbelief and unnecessary doubts.
· A wave of the sea is without rest, and so is the doubter.
· A wave of the sea is unstable, and so is the doubter.
· A wave of the sea is driven by the winds, and so is the doubter.
· A wave of the sea is capable of great destruction, and so is the doubter.
e. A double-minded man, unstable in all his ways: To ask God but to ask Him in a doubting way, shows that we are double-minded. If we had no faith, we would never ask at all. If we had no unbelief, we would have no doubting. To be in the middle ground between faith and unbelief is to be double-minded.
i. According to Hiebert, double-minded is literally two-souled. “The man of two souls, who has one for the earth, and another for heaven: who wishes to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loath to let heaven go.” (Clarke)
ii. The man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) was not double-minded. He wanted to believe, and declared his belief. His faith was weak, but it wasn’t tinged with a double-minded doubt.
iii. “Do you believe that God can give you wisdom, and that he will do so if you ask him? Then, go at once to him, and say, ‘Lord, this is what I need.’ Specify your wants, state your exact condition, lay the whole case before God with as much orderliness as if you were telling your story to an intelligent friend who was willing to hear it, and prepared to help you; and then say, ‘Lord, this is specifically what I think I want; and I ask this of thee believing that thou canst give it to me.’” (Spurgeon)
4. (9-11) Encouragement for those affected by trials.
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
a. Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation: As much as it is appropriate for the lowly to rejoice when they are lifted up by God, so it is appropriate (but far more difficult) for the high (the rich) to rejoice when they are brought to humiliation by trials.
i. “As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches. By faith in Christ the two are equals.” (Hiebert, citing Lenski)
ii. Though we can understand the relative poverty and riches as trials or tests of a living faith that a Christian may deal with, it nonetheless seems that James has made a sudden shift in his subject, from trials and wisdom to riches and humility. In some ways, the Book of James is like the Book of Proverbs or other Old Testament wisdom literature, and it can jump from topic to topic and back again to a previous topic.
b. Because as a flower of the field he will pass away: Trials serve to remind the rich and the high that though they are comfortable in this life, it is still only this life, which fades as the grass grows brown and the flowers fade away.
i. In the land of Israel there are many kinds of beautiful flowers that spring to life when the rains come, but they last for only a short time before withering away. On the scale of eternity, this is how quickly the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
ii. The riches of this world will certainly fade away – but James says that the rich man also will fade away. If we put our life and our identity into things that fade away, we will fade away also. How much better to put our life and our identity into things that will never fade! If a man is only rich in this world, when he dies, he leaves his riches. But if a man is rich before God, when he dies, he goesto his riches.
B. Living for the Lord in times of temptation.
1. (12) A blessing for those who endure temptation.
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
a. Blessed is the man: This sounds like one of Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). In those great statements of blessing, Jesus did not tell us the only ways we can be blessed. Here we learn we can be blessed as we endure temptation.
i. It does not say, “Blessed is the man who is never tempted.” Nor does it say, “Blessed is the man who finds all temptation easy to conquer.” Instead the promise of blessedness is given to the one who endures temptation. There is a special gift of blessedness from God to the one who can say “no” to temptation, thereby saying “yes” to God.
b. For when he has been approved: Here James states the purpose of God in allowing temptation. The purpose is to approve us; that through the testing we would be revealed as genuine and strong in our faith.
c. Who endures temptation: Temptation is one of the various trials (James 1:2) we face. As we persevere through temptation, we are approved, and will be rewarded as the work of God in us is evident through our resistance of temptation.
d. The crown of life which the Lord has promised: James reminds us that it really is worth it to endure under the temptations we face. Our steadfastness will be rewarded as we demonstrate our love for Jesus (to those who love Him) by resisting temptation.
i. “There is a crown for me… Then will I gird up my loins and quicken my pace, since the crown is so sure to those who run with patience.” (Spurgeon)
e. To those who love Him: This describes the motive for resisting temptation, because of our love for God. The passions of sinful temptation can only really be overcome by a greater passion, and that is a passion for the honor and glory and relationship with God.
i. Some resist temptation because of the fear of man. The thief suddenly becomes honest when he sees a policeman. The man or woman controls their lusts because they couldn’t bear to be found out and thus embarrassed. Others resist the temptation to one sin because of the power of another sin. The greedy miser gives up partying because he doesn’t want to spend the money. But the best motive for resisting temptation is to love Him; to love Him with greater power and greater passion than your love for the sin.
ii. “So that those who endure temptation rightly, endure it because they love God. They say to themselves, ‘How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ They cannot fall into sin because it would grieve him who loves them so well, and whom they love with all their hearts.” (Spurgeon)
2. (13-16) How temptation comes and works.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
a. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”: Temptation does not come from God. Though He allows it, He Himself does not entice us to evil, though God may test our faith without a solicitation to evil (nor does He Himself tempt anyone).
i. James knew that most people have an evil tendency to blame God when they find themselves in trials. Yet by His very nature, God is unable to either be tempted (in the sense we are tempted, as James will explain), nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
ii. “He shows the great cause of sin; that lust hath a greater hand in it than either the devil or his instruments, who cannot make us sin without ourselves: they sometimes tempt, and do not prevail.” (Poole)
iii. God sometimes allows great tests to come to His people, even some who might be thought of as His favorites. We think of the hard command He gave to Abraham (Genesis 22:1), and the affliction He allowed to come to Job (Job 1-2). Other times He may send tests as a form of judgment upon those who have rejected Him, such as sending a spirit to bring deception (1 Kings 22:19-23) or departing from a man and refusing to answer him (1 Samuel 28:15-16). Yet in no case does God entice a person to evil.
iv. “Satan tempts: God tries. But the same trial may be both a temptation and a trial; and it may be a trial from God’s side, and a temptation from Satan’s side, just as Job suffered from Satan, and it was a temptation; but he also suffered from God through Satan, and so it was a trial to him.” (Spurgeon)
b. Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed: God doesn’t tempt us. Instead, temptation comes when we are drawn away by our own fleshly desires and enticed – with the world and the devil providing the enticement.
i. Drawn away: “It is either a metaphor taken from a fish enticed by a bait, and drawn after it, or rather from a harlot drawing a young man out of the right way, and alluring him with the bait of pleasure to commit folly with her.” (Poole)
ii. Satan certainly tempts us, but the only reason temptation has a hook in us is because of our own fallen nature, which corrupts our God-given desires. We often give Satan too much credit for his tempting powers and fail to recognize that we are drawn away by our own desires. Some people practically beg Satan to tempt them.
iii. Some who like to emphasize the sovereignty of God say that God is responsible for all things. Yet God is never responsible for man’s sin. In his commentary on this text, John Calvin himself wrote, “When Scripture ascribes blindness or hardness of heart to God, it does not assign to him the beginning of the blindness, nor does it make him the author of sin, so as to ascribe to him the blame.” Calvin also wrote, “Scripture asserts that the reprobate are delivered up to depraved lusts; but is it because the Lord depraves or corrupts their hearts? By no means; for their hearts are subjected to depraved lusts, because they are already corrupt and vicious.”
c. When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin: Springing forth from corrupt desire is sin. Springing forth from sin is death. This progression to death is an inevitable result that Satan always tries to hide from us, but we should never be deceived about.
i. “James represents men’s lust as a harlot, which entices their understanding and will into its impure embraces, and from that conjunction conceives sin. Sin, being brought forth, immediately acts, and is nourished by frequent repetition, until at length it gains such strength that in its turn it begets death. This is the true genealogy of sin and death.” (Clarke)
d. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren: Satan’s great strategy in temptation is to convince us that the pursuit of our corrupt desires will somehow produce life and goodness for us. If we remember that Satan only comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10), then we can more effectively resist the deceptions of temptation.
3. (17-18) God’s goodness stands in contrast to the temptations we face.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
a. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above: We expect no true goodness from our own fallen natures and from those who would entice us. But every good and every perfect gift comes from God the Father in heaven.
i. Of course, the ultimate goodness of any gift must be measured on an eternal scale. Something that may seem to be only good (such as winning money in a lottery) may in fact be turned to our destruction.
b. With whom there is no variation or shadow of turning: God’s goodness is constant. There is no variation with Him. Instead of shadows, God is the Father of lights.
i. According to Hiebert, the ancient Greek is actually “the Father of the lights.” The specific lights are the celestial bodies that light up the sky, both day and night. The sun and stars never stop giving light, even when we can’t see them. Even so, there is never a shadow with God. When night comes, the darkness isn’t the fault of the sun; it shines as brightly as before. Instead, the earth has turned from the sun and darkness comes.
ii. This means that God never changes. Among modern theologians, there are some that are taken with something called process theology, which says that God is “maturing” and “growing” and “in process” Himself. Yet the Bible says that there is no variation or shadow of turning with God.
c. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth: James understood that the gift of salvation was given by God, and not earned by the work or obedience of man. It is of His own will that He brought us forth for salvation.
i. He brought us forth: “The word properly signifies, He did the office of a mother to us, the bringing us into the light of life.” (Trapp)
ii. “Now mostly, men who are generous need to have their generosity excited. They will need to be waited upon; appeals must be laid before them; they must sometimes be pressed; an example must lead them on. But ‘of his own will’ God did to us all that has been done, without any incentive or prompting, moved only by himself, because he delighteth in mercy; because his name and his nature are love because evermore, like the sun, it is natural to him to distribute the beams of his eternal grace.” (Spurgeon)
d. That we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures: We can see God’s goodness in our salvation, as He initiated our salvation of His own will and brought us forth to spiritual life by His word of truth, that we might be to His glory as firstfruits of His harvest.
i. In the previous verses James told us what the lust of man brings forth: sin and death. Here he tells us what the will of the good God brings: salvation to us, as a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
ii. James may refer to his own generation of believers when he calls them firstfruits, especially as being mainly written to Christians from a Jewish background. The fact that these Christians from a Jewish background are firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-4) shows that James expected a subsequent and greater harvest of Christians from a Gentile background.
iii. Some have speculated on the idea of firstfruits of His creatures even more (perhaps too far), saying that James had in mind a wider redemption among unknown creatures of God, of which we are the firstfruits of that wider redemption.
4. (19-20) Standing firm against unrighteous anger.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
a. Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: We can learn to be slow to wrath by first learning to be swift to hear and slow to speak. Much of our anger and wrath comes from being self-centered and not others-centered. Swift to hear is a way to be others-centered. Slow to speak is a way to be others-centered.
i. “But hath not Nature taught us the same that the apostle here doth, by giving us two ears, and those open; and but one tongue, and that hedged in with teeth and lips?” (Trapp)
b. Slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God: In light of the nature of temptation and the goodness of God, we must take special care to be slow to wrath, because our wrath does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Our wrath almost always simply defends or promotes our own agenda.
5. (21) Standing firm against the lusts of the flesh.
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
a. All filthiness and overflow of wickedness: This has in mind an impure manner of living. In light of the nature of temptation and the goodness of God, we are to lay aside all impurity, putting them far from us.
i. All filthiness: “The stinking filth of a pestilent ulcer. Sin is the devil’s vomit, the soul’s excrement, the superfluity or garbage of naughtiness [wickedness]… as it is here called by an allusion to the garbage of the sacrifices cast into the brook Kedron, that is, the town-ditch.” (Trapp)
ii. The older King James Version translates the phrase overflow of wickedness as superfluity of naughtiness.
b. Receive with meekness the implanted word: In contrast to an impure manner of living, we should receivethe implanted word of God (doing it with meekness, a teachable heart). This word is able to save us, both in our current situation and eternally. The purity of God’s word can preserve us even in an impure age.
i. “The first thing, then, is receive. That word ‘receive’ is a very instructive gospel word; it is the door through which God’s grace enters to us. We are not saved by working, but by receiving; not by what we give to God, but by what God gives to us, and we receive from him.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Here James alluded to the spiritual power of the word of God. When it is implanted in the human heart, it is able to save your souls. The word of God carries the power of God.
6. (22-25) How to receive the word of God.
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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
a. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only: We must receive God’s word as doers, not merely hearers. To take comfort in the fact you have heard God’s word when you haven’t done it is to deceive yourself.
i. It was common in the ancient world for people to hear a teacher. If you followed the teacher and tried to live what he said, you were called a disciple of that teacher. We may say that Jesus is looking for disciples: doers, not mere hearers.
ii. Jesus used this same point to conclude His great Sermon on the Mount. He said that the one who heard the word without doing it was like a man who built his house on the sand, but the one who heard God’s word and did it was like a man whose house was built on a rock. The one who both heard and did God’s word could withstand the inevitable storms of life and the judgment of eternity (Matthew 7:24-27).
iii. “A teacher or preacher may give an eloquent address on the gospel, or explain ably some O.T. prophecy about Christ, but when the sermon is done, it is not done; something remains to be done by the hearers in life, and if they content themselves with sentimental admiration or with enjoying the emotional or mental treat, they need not imagine that this is religion.” (Moffatt)
iv. “I fear we have many such in all congregations; admiring hearers, affectionate hearers, attached hearers, but all the while unblest hearers, because they are not doers of the word.” (Spurgeon)
v. “You know the old story; I am half ashamed to repeat it again, but it is so pat to the point. When Donald came out of church sooner than usual, Sandy said to him, ‘What, Donald, is the sermon all done?’ ‘No,’ said Donald, ‘it is all said, but it is not begun to be done yet.’” (Spurgeon)
b. He is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was: The person who only hears God’s word without doing it has the same sense and stability as a man who looks into a mirror and immediately forgets what he saw. The information he received did not do any good in his life.
i. Observing his natural face: The ancient Greek word translated observing has the idea of a careful scrutiny. By application, James had in mind people who give a careful scrutiny of God’s word; they may be regarded as Bible experts but it still doesn’t result in doing.
ii. “The glass of the Word is not like our ordinary looking-glass, which merely shows us our external features; but, according to the Greek of our text, the man sees in it ‘the face of his birth’; that is, the face of his nature. He that reads and hears the Word may see not only his actions there, but his motives, his desires, his inward condition.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Understanding this power of the Word of God, the preacher is responsible for working hard to not hinder this power. “Certain preachers dream that it is their business to paint pretty pictures: but it is not so. We are not to design and sketch, but simply to give the reflection of truth. We are to hold up the mirror to nature in a moral and spiritual sense, and let men see themselves therein. We have not even to make the mirror, but only to hold it up. The thoughts of God, and not our own thoughts, are to be set before our hearers’ minds; and these discover a man to himself. The Word of the Lord is a revealer of secrets: it shows a man his life, his thoughts, his heart, his inmost self.” (Spurgeon)
iv. A healthy person looks in the mirror to do something, not just to admire the image. Even so, a healthy Christian looks into God’s Word to do something about it, not just to store up facts that he will not put to use by being a doer of the word.
v. “The doctrines of God, faithfully preached, are such a mirror; he who hears cannot help discovering his own character, and being affected with his own deformity; he sorrows, and purposes amendment; but when the preaching is over, the mirror is removed… he soon forgets what manner of man he was… he reasons himself out of the necessity of repentance and amendment of life, and thus deceives his soul.” (Clarke)
vi. “Get thee God’s law as a glass to toot [to study carefully] in, saith Mr. Bradford; so shalt thou see thy face foul arrayed, and so shamefully saucy, mangy, pocky, and scabbed, that thou canst not but be sorry at the contemplation thereof.” (Trapp)
c. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it… this one will be blessed in what he does: If we study the Word of God intently, and do it (continue in it), then we will be blessed.
i. He who looks into the perfect law of liberty: In the ancient Greek language, the word for looks into spoke of a penetrating examination, so that a person would even bend over to get a better look. Though James stressed doing, he did not neglect studying God’s Word either. We should look into God’s Word.
ii. Adam Clarke points out that the ancient Greek word translated continues is parameinas and has this sense: “Takes time to see and examine the state of his soul, the grace of his God, the extent of his duty, and the height of the promised glory. The metaphor here is taken from those females who spend much time at their glass, in order that they may decorate themselves to the greatest advantage, and not leave one hair, or the smallest ornament, out of its place.”
iii. The perfect law of liberty: This is a wonderful way to describe the Word of God. In the New Covenant, God reveals to us a law, but it is a law of liberty, written on our transformed hearts by the Spirit of God.
iv. “The whole doctrine of Scripture, or especially the gospel, called a law, Romans 3:27, both as it is a rule, and by reason of the power it hath over the heart; and a law of liberty, because it shows the way to the best liberty, freedom from sin, the bondage of the ceremonial law, the rigour of the moral, and from the wrath of God.” (Poole)
7. (26-27) Examples of what it means to be a doer of the Word of God.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
a. If anyone among you thinks he is religious: James just explained that real religion is not shown by hearing the word, but by doing it. One way to do God’s word is to bridle the tongue.
i. Thinks he is religious: The New Testament never uses this ancient Greek word for “religious”in a positive sense (Acts 17:22, 25:19, 26:5; Colossians 2:23). James used it here of someone who is religious, but is not really right with God, and this is evident because he does not bridle his tongue.
b. This one’s religion is useless: Your walk with God is useless if it does not translate into the way you live and the way you treat others. Many are deceived in their own heart regarding the reality of their walk with God.
i. “This seems to reflect upon the hypocritical Jews, whose religion consisted so much in external observances, and keeping themselves from ceremonial defilements, when yet they were sullied with so many moral ones, Matthew 23:23; John 18:28; devoured widows’ houses.” (Poole)
ii. “He does not deny the place of public worship (see James 2:2, 5:14) or of religious observances, but he explains that in God’s sight a pure, unsoiled religion expresses itself in acts of charity and in chastity – the two features of early Christian ethics which impressed the contemporary world.” (Moffatt)
c. Pure and undefiled religion before God: There is a great deal of pure and undefiled religion in the sight of man that is not pure and undefiled religion before God.
d. To visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world: A real walk with God shows itself in simple, practical ways. It helps the needy and keeps itself unstained by the world’s corruption.
i. “The Biblical Ritualism, the pure external worship, the true embodiment of the inward principles of religion is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Charity and purity are the two great garments of Christianity.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “True religion does not merely give something for the relief of the distressed, but it visits them, it takes the oversight of them, it takes them under its care; so episkeptesthai means. It goes to their houses, and speaks to their hearts; it relieves their wants, sympathizes with them in their distresses, instructs them in divine things, and recommends them to God. And all this it does for the Lord’s sake. This is the religion of Christ.” (Clarke)
e. Unspotted from the world: The idea is not that a Christian retreats away from the world; instead they interact with orphans and widows in their trouble and others such in their need. The Christian ideal is not to retreat from the world; they are in the world, they are not of it; and remain unspotted from the world.
i. “I would like to see a Christian, not kept in a glass case away from trial and temptation, but yet covered with an invisible shield, so that, wherever he went, he would be guarded and protected from the evil influences that are in the world in almost every place.” (Spurgeon)
ii. From the book of Genesis, Lot is an example of a man who was spotted by the world. He started living towards Sodom, disregarding the spiritual climate of the area because of the prosperity of the area. Eventually he moved to the wicked city and became a part of the city’s leadership. The end result was that Lot lost everything – and was saved as only by the skin of his teeth.
iii. “There is no book with so lofty an ideal of what life may become when it is yielded to the grace of Christ. A cleansed heart, and an unspotted robe; no sin allowed and permitted in the soul, and no evil habit allowed to dominate and enthrall the life.” (Meyer)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Hebrews 13 – Living A Positive Christian Life
Videos for Hebrews 13:
A. Instructions for body life.
1. (1-3) General love among believers: express brotherly love.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.
a. Let brotherly love continue: The writer to the Hebrews used the ancient Greek word philadelphia here. He assumed there was brotherly love among Christians, and simply asked that it would continue among them.
i. In the ancient Greek language of the New Testament, there were four words at hand that we might translate love.
· Eros was one word for love. It described, as we might guess from the word itself, erotic love, referring to sexual love.
· Storge was a second word for love. It referred to family love, the kind of love there is between a parent and child or between family members in general.
· Agape was another word for love. It is the most powerful word for love in the New Testament, and was often used to describe God’s love towards us. It is a love that loves without changing. It is a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment. It is love so great that it can be given to the unlovable or unappealing. It is love that loves even when it is rejected. Agape love gives and loves because it wants to; it does not demand or expect repayment from the love given – it gives because it loves, it does not love in order to receive. Agape love isn’t about feelings; it is about decisions.
ii. But the word for love used in Hebrews 13:1 is philadelphia, coming from the root philia. This ancient Greek word spoke of brotherly friendship and affection. It is the love of deep friendship and partnership. There should always be plenty of this kind of love among Christians, and it should continue.
b. Do not forget to entertain strangers: This is a simple and practical way that brotherly love should continue among believers. Hospitality is an important virtue and often it is commanded of Christians and leaders (Romans 12:10-13, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8, 1 Peter 4:9). In the ancient world, where inns did exist, were notorious for immorality. It was important for traveling Christians to find open homes from other Christians.
i. Because of this command of hospitality, Christians had to watch out for people just masquerading as Christians so they could leech off the generosity of God’s people. As time went on, Christian leaders taught their people how to recognize these deceivers.
ii. The Didache was an early church “ministry manual,” written perhaps somewhere between A.D. 90 and 110. It had this to say about how to tell if a false prophet abused the hospitality of those in the church:
Let every apostle that comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain except one day; but if there be need, also the next; but if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread… but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet that speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this one sin shall not be forgiven. But not everyone that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the true prophet be known. (From The Ante-Nicean Fathers, Volume 7, page 380)
c. Strangers: The point was that they were to do this for other Christians who are strangers to us. If you invite your best friends over for lunch, that is wonderful – but it doesn’t fulfill this command. A wonderful way to fulfill this command is to meet and befriend strangers at church and to entertain them with hospitality.
i. The ancient Greek word for hospitality (used in passages like Romans 12:13) is literally translated, “love for strangers.” Brotherly love means love for all our brothers and sisters in Jesus, not just those who are currently our friends.
d. For by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels: When we are hospitable to others, we really welcome Jesus (Matthew 25:35), and perhaps angels. Abraham (Genesis 18:1-22) and Lot (Genesis 19:1-3) are examples of those who unwittingly entertained angels.
e. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them: Prisoners here probably has first reference to those imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. But it can also be extended to all who are in prison. We must serve them with a sympathetic heart (as if chained with them). This is just another way to let brotherly love continue.
i. We do this by doing what we call prison ministry, bringing the truth and love and hope of Jesus to those imprisoned.
ii. We do this by remembering those who are imprisoned for the sake of the gospel, such as the many now imprisoned in the Middle East.
2. (4) Honor marital love.
Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
a. Marriage is honorable among all: The Bible holds high the ideal of married life and the institution of family.
i. This is difficult to speak about today, because many who aren’t married feel put off by an emphasis on marriage and family in the church.
ii. This is difficult to speak about today, because this (marriage is honorable among all) is becoming less and less true in the society as a whole.
· Marriage is dishonored by divorce, justified or not.
· Marriage is dishonored by living together outside of marriage.
· Marriage is dishonored by adultery.
· Marriage is dishonored by neglect.
· Marriage is dishonored by re-definition.
b. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled: This is another place where the Bible celebrates sex as an expression of married love. This is the consistent teaching of the Bible, in such places as The Song of Solomon.
i. The Bible speaks powerfully about the purpose of sex.
· Not just for reproduction, though that is an aspect.
· Not just for pleasure, though that is an aspect.
· The main purpose is to bond together a one-flesh relationship. This is what gives sex meaning, beyond a pleasurable experience; this is what God offers in sexual expression according to His will, what the world can’t offer or match.
ii. With this perspective, we see why God commands what He does in regard to sex and why God says, and the bed undefiled. It also explains why the enemy of our souls wants to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of the marriage bed and he wants to do everything he can to discourage sex inside the marriage bed. Christians must recognize this strategy and not give it a foothold.
iii. Though God allows great freedom in the variety of sexual expression in marriage, all must be done with a concern for the needs of their spouse and in love (1 Corinthians 7:2-5 and Ephesians 5:21-33).
c. But fornicators and adulterers God will judge: As the Bible celebrates sexual expression in marriage, it also condemns sex outside of the marriage commitment. God does this because fornication and adultery work against God’s greatest purpose for sex (though they may fulfill the pleasure purpose).
· In this context, fornicators refers to those who have sex without the commitment of marriage.
· In this context, adulterers refers to those who are not faithful to their marriage vows and have sex outside of their marriage vows.
i. “Fornication and adultery are not synonymous in the New Testament: adultery implies unfaithfulness by either party to the marriage vow, while the word translated ‘fornication’ covers a wide range of sexual irregularities.” (Bruce)
3. (5-6) Learn contentment over covetousness.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The LORD is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”
a. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content: Covetousness is the opposite of contentment. Often covetousness and greed are excused or even admired in today’s culture, and are simply called ambition.
b. Be content with such things as you have: Contentment has much more to do with what you are on the inside rather than what you have. The Apostle Paul had the right idea in Philippians 4:11-13: Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
i. Someone asked millionaire Bernard Baruch, “How much money does it take for a rich man to be satisfied?” Baruch answered, “Just a million more than he has.”
c. I will never leave you nor forsake you: This promise from God (from Deuteronomy 31:6) is the foundation for contentment. We can’t count on material things, but we can depend on God and His promise.
i. “You that are familiar with the Greek text know that there are five negatives here. We cannot manage five negatives in English, but the Greeks find them not too large a handful. Here the negatives have a fivefold force. It is as though it said, ‘I will not, not leave thee; I will never, no never, forsake thee.’” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Here it is – ‘For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ This is the reason why we must not be covetous. There is no room to be covetous, no excuse for being covetous, for God hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ We ought to be content. If we are not content, we are acting insanely, seeing the Lord has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’” (Spurgeon)
iii. “I cannot under the influence of this grand text find room for doubt or fear. I cannot stand here and be miserable to-night. I am not going to attempt such a thing; but I cannot be despondent with such a text as this, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.’ I defy the devil himself to mention circumstances under which I ought to be miserable if this text is true. Child of God, nothing ought to make you unhappy when you can realize this precious text.” (Spurgeon)
d. So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This quotation from Psalm 118:6 points to the truth that real contentment comes only when we trust in God to meet our needs and to be our security. Strangely we are often more likely to put security and find contentment in things that are far less reliable and secure than God Himself is.
4. (7) Follow your leaders.
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
a. Remember those who rule over you: We are told to recognize and follow godly leadership in the body of Christ, leadership shown to be legitimate by faithfulness to the word of God and by godly conduct.
i. Paul advised Timothy along the same lines: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
b. Whose faith follow: Such leaders should be recognized (remember those) and followed. Just as much as a church needs godly leaders, it also needs godly followers.
c. Considering the outcome of their conduct: Leaders don’t need to be perfect, but they should be able to show with their life that the power of Jesus is real as it impacts and transforms the individual life. That demonstrates a faith that can actually be followed.
B. Instructions in worship.
1. (8) The enduring principle: the unchanging nature of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
a. Jesus Christ is the same: The unchanging nature (which theologians call immutability) of Jesus Christ could be inferred from His deity, even if it were not explicitly stated. God doesn’t change over the ages, so neither does Jesus, who is God.
b. Yesterday, today, and forever: His unchanging nature provides a measure for all Christian conduct, particularly in the word and in worship. We should not expect something completely “new” as if it were from a “new Jesus.” The nature of Jesus as it is revealed in the Bible is the same nature of Jesus that should be seen in the church today.
2. (9-14) Following the rejected Jesus.
Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.
a. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines: There is never a shortage of various and strange doctrines in the church. The ones specifically in mind here seem to deal with a return to Mosaic ceremonies and laws that were fulfilled in Jesus.
b. For it is good that the heart be established by grace: Our hearts will only be established by grace. We are established by an understanding and appropriation of God’s undeserved approval of us, and not by an assumed approval gained through keeping a list of rules (not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them).
c. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat: Their friends and relatives remaining in traditional Judaism labeled these Jewish Christians illegitimate because they did not continue the Levitical system. But the writer to the Hebrews insisted that we have an altar, and it is an altar that those who cling to the Levitical system have no right to.
i. Essentially, our altar is the cross – the centerpiece of the Christian gospel and understanding (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
d. Jesus… suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach: If our Savior was rejected and His sacrifice (performed at the cross, our altar) was considered illegitimate then we expect nothing better. Identifying with Jesus often means bearing His reproach, the very thing many are unwilling to do.
i. Outside the camp: The camp refers to institutional Judaism, which rejected Jesus and Christianity. Though these Christians from Jewish backgrounds were raised to consider everything outside the camp as unclean and evil, now they had follow Jesus outside traditional, institutional Judaism of that time.
ii. “It means, first, let us have fellowship with him. He was despised; he had no credit for charity; he was mocked in the streets; lie was hissed at; he was hounded from among society. If I take a smooth part, I can have no fellowship with him: fellowship requires a like experience.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “A sorry life your Master had, you see. All the filth in earth’s kennels was thrown at him by sacrilegious hands. No epithet was thought coarse enough; no terms hard enough; he was the song of the drunkard, and they that sat in the gate spoke against him. This was the reproach of Christ; and we are not to marvel if we bear as much. ‘Well,’ says one, ‘I will not be a Christian if I am to bear that.’ Skulk back, then, you coward, to your own damnation; but oh! Men that love God, and who seek after the eternal reward, I pray you do not shrink from this cross. You must bear it.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “If you can dwell with the wicked, if you can live as they live, and be ‘hail-fellow well met’ with the ungodly, if their practices are your practices, if their pleasures are your pleasures, then their god is your god, and you are one of them. There is no being a Christian without being shut out of the world’s camp.” (Spurgeon)
e. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come: The difficult job of bearing His reproach is easier when we remember that the city or society we are cast out from is only temporary. We seek and belong to the permanent city yet to come.
i. In bearing His reproach we face great difficulty and suffering. The good news is that for those who bear His reproach, this world is the worst they will ever have it. For cowards who turn their back on Jesus, this life is the absolute best they will ever have it.
3. (15-16) Our sacrifice.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
a. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God: Because we do have an altar (the cross) and we do have a High Priest (Jesus), we should always offer sacrifices. Yet they are not the bloody sacrifices of the old covenant but the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips.
i. The writer to the Hebrews explains several essentials for proper praise.
· Praise that pleases God is offered by Him, that is by Jesus Christ, on the ground of His righteousness and pleasing God.
· Praise that pleases God is offered continually, so that we are always praising Him.
· Praise that pleases God is a sacrifice of praise, in that it may be costly or inconvenient.
· Praise that pleases God is the fruit of our lips, more than just thoughts directed towards God. It is spoken out unto the Lord, either is prose or in song. “What proceeds from the lips is regarded as fruit, which reveals the character of its source, as the fruit of a tree reveals the nature of the tree.” (Guthrie)
ii. “Loving hearts must speak. What would you think of a husband who never felt any impulse to tell his wife that she was dear to him; or a mother who never found it needful to unpack her heart of its tenderness, even in perhaps the inarticulate croonings over the little child that she pressed to her heart? It seems to me that a dumb Christian, a man who is thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and never feels the need to say so, is as great an anomaly as either of these I have described.” (Maclaren)
iii. “So, then, we are to utter the praises of God, and it is not sufficient to feel adoring emotions.” (Spurgeon)
b. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased: Praise is not the only sacrifice that pleases God. We also please God with sacrifice when we do good and share. Praise and worship are important, but the Christian’s obligation does not end there.
4. (17) Follow your leaders.
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
a. Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive: We are to be submissive to the leaders God gives us (assuming they have the character mentioned in Hebrews 13:7). We are simply told to obey those who rule over us. When speaking on the authority of God’s Word, leaders do have a right to tell us how to live and walk after God.
i. Sadly, some take the idea of submission to leaders in the church much too far. The “Shepherding Movement” was a clear example of this kind of abuse (which many seem to welcome, wanting someone else to be responsible for their lives). “A teacher should teach us to submit to God, not to himself.” (Chuck Smith)
b. As those who must give account: We obey and submit to our leaders because God put them in a place of responsibility and accountability over us. Of course, this does not relieve individual responsibility but it puts an additional accountability and responsibility upon leaders.
c. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you: Cooperative conduct is not only a joy to leaders, but it is profitable for the whole body. It is for our own sake that we should obey and submit to God-appointed leaders.
C. Concluding remarks.
1. (18-19) A request for prayer.
Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably. But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.
a. Pray for us: The writer to the Hebrews considered it important that others pray for him. We all need and should welcome the prayers of others.
i. In the grammar of the ancient Greek language, pray is in the present imperative verb tense. It indicates continuous activity and implies that they were already praying for him.
b. That I may be restored to you the sooner: Obstacles prevented the writer from being reunited with his readers. He knew that prayer could remove those obstacles.
i. I especially urge you to do this: As far as the writer to the Hebrews was concerned their prayers determined if and when he is reunited with them. This shows how seriously he regarded their prayers for him.
2. (20-21) A blessing is pronounced.
Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
a. Now may the God of peace: This is a blessing in the style of the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
i. After asking his readers to pray for him, the writer to the Hebrews prays for his readers. “The apostle had exhorted the Hebrew believers to pray for him in the words, ‘Pray for us;’ and then, as if to show that he did not ask of them what he was not himself. Willing to give, he utters this most wonderful prayer for them. He may confidently say to his congregation, ‘Pray for me’ who does unfeignedly from his soul pray for them.” (Spurgeon)
b. Now may the God of peace: In this blessing God is first recognized in His attributes: peace, power (brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead), loving care (that great Shepherd), and ever giving love (the blood of the everlasting covenant).
i. Some take the idea of the everlasting covenant to express the covenant that existed before the foundation of the world between the Persons of the Godhead, working together for the salvation of man. Other passages which may speak to this everlasting covenant are Revelation 13:8, Ephesians 1:4, and 2 Timothy 1:9.
ii. Some however simply take the everlasting covenant as another name for the New Covenant.
c. Make you complete in every good work: This expresses the desire for blessing, wanting God’s working in you, and all through Jesus Christ.
3. (22-25) Conclusion to the letter to the Hebrews.
And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly. Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Grace be with you all. Amen.
a. Bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words: The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of his purpose. His desire was to write a word of exhortation to encourage discouraged Christians, both then and now.
i. In Acts 13:15 the phrase word of exhortation refers to a sermon. Perhaps the writer to the Hebrews means in Hebrews 13:22 that he gives his readers a written sermon.
b. Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly: These final words give us a few tantalizing hints of the writer’s identity. But these words only tell us that the writer knew Timothy and that he planned to visit his readers soon. It also tells us that his readers were based in Italy (Those from Italy greet you), probably in the city of Rome.
c. Grace be with you all: This is a fitting end for a book that documents the passing of the Old Covenant and the institution of the New Covenant. Grace be with you all indeed, under what God has given through the superior Savior, Jesus Christ! Amen!
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Hebrews 12 – Reasons to Endure Discouraging Times
Videos for Hebrews 12:
A. Look unto Jesus.
1. (1) Application of the demonstrations of enduring faith in Hebrews 11.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
a. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses: In the mind’s eye, the author pictured these previous champions of faith as spectators from the heavens, cheering us as we press on to overcome present discouragement as in an athletic competition.
i. The author thought of many more than just the 18 specifically mentioned in Hebrews 11. The ancient Greek word translated cloud was a figure of speech indicating a large group, and this is so great a cloud of witnesses. That cloud probably includes great men and women of God who have come since those Hebrews 11 saints, known and unknown to history. We are also under angelic observation (Ephesians 3:10-11) and the world watches our faith and conduct. We are surrounded by them, as spectators in a stadium surround and observe the players.
ii. The idea of the heroes of faith in the past being spectators as we live lives of faith has made some think that in heaven, people can and do observe what goes on earth. This single passage may suggest this, but it is inconclusive to prove this.
iii. We rightly think of heaven as a place where people are always happy and untroubled. It is hard to think that those in heaven are happy and untroubled if they see what is happening on the earth. So, it is difficult to say that people in heaven are actually observing us.
iv. Others consider that these witnesses are not witnessing us as we conduct our lives. Instead, they are witnesses to us of faith and endurance, in all they have lived and experienced. They have the spirit of martyrs – the root of the ancient Greek word translated witnesses.
v. “Both the Greeks and the Latins frequently use the term cloud, to express a great number of persons or things.” (Clarke)
b. Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin: Sin can hold us back. But there are also things that may not be sin (every weight) but are merely hindrances that can keep us from running effectively the race God has for us.
i. Our choices are not always between right and wrong, but between something that may hinder us and something else that may not. Is there a weight in your life you must lay aside?
c. The sin which so easily ensnares us: The words easily ensnares translate a difficult ancient Greek word (euperistaton), which can be translated four ways: “easily avoided,” “admired,” “ensnaring,” or “dangerous.”
i. Let us lay them all aside:
· Some sins can be easily avoided, but are not.
· Some sins are admired, yet must be laid aside.
· Some sins are ensnaring and thus especially harmful.
· Some sins are more dangerous than others are.
ii. If such ensnaring sins were really the work of demonic possession or demonic influence in the Christian, this would be an ideal place for the Holy Spirit to address this. Yet we are never given reason to blame our sin on demons; the appeal is simply for us to, in the power of the Holy Spirit, lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.
d. Let us run with endurance: What is needed is endurance, to finish what we have begun in Jesus Christ – a race that is set before us.
i. “He stands with us at the starting-point, and earnestly says to us, not ‘Run,’ but, ‘Let us run.’ The apostle himself is at our side as a runner.” (Spurgeon)
ii. God has set before you – and each of us – a race. You must run it, and it will involve effort and commitment. Being passive never runs or wins a race. God wants us to run the race and to finish it right.
iii. Endurance is needed to run that race. Endurance translates the ancient Greek word hupomone, “which does not mean the patience which sits down and accepts things but the patience which masters them… It is a determination, unhurrying and yet undelaying, which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected.” (Barclay)
iv. In Acts 20:24 Paul pictured himself as a runner who had a race to finish, and nothing would keep Paul from finishing the race with joy. In that passage, Paul spoke of my race – he had his race to run, we have our own – but God calls us to finish it with joy, and that only happens with endurance.
e. The race that is set before us: Race is the ancient Greek word agona, a word used for conflict or struggle of many kinds, and a favorite word of Paul (Philippians 1:30, Colossians 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7).
2. (2) The ultimate example: Jesus Christ.
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
a. Looking unto Jesus: The New American Standard Version translates this beautifully as, fixing our eyes on Jesus. We can only run the race as we look to Jesus and have our eyes locked on to Him. He is our focus, our inspiration, and our example.
i. In the ancient Greek, looking unto Jesus uses a verb that implies a definite looking away from other things and a present looking unto Jesus.
ii. “The Greek word for ‘looking’ is a much fuller word than we can find in the English language. It has a preposition in it which turns the look away from everything else. You are to look from all beside to Jesus. Fix not thy gaze upon the cloud of witnesses; they will hinder thee if they take away thine eye from Jesus. Look not on the weights and the besetting sin-these thou hast laid aside; look away from them. Do not even look upon the race-course, or the competitors, but look to Jesus and so start in the race.” (Spurgeon)
iii. We must guard against seeing Jesus as only an example; He was and is so much more. But He also remains the ultimate example of Christian endurance. “Looking unto Jesus means life, light, guidance, encouragement, joy: never cease to look on him who ever looks on you.” (Spurgeon)
b. The author and finisher of our faith: Jesus is not only the author of our faith; He is the finisher of it also. The idea of He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) was comforting indeed to these discouraged Christians.
i. One may say that Jesus is with us at the starting line and the finish line and all along the way of the race that He sets before us.
c. Who for the joy that was set before Him: Jesus did not regard the cross itself as a joy. But He could look past the horror of the cross to enjoy the joy beyond it. The same mentality would enable these Jewish Christians (and we ourselves) to endure.
d. Endured the cross: Jesus was able to endure the ordeal of the cross because He understood the good that would come of it – the good of a redeemed, rescued people honoring God for all eternity.
i. Knowing all the good that would flow from this most agonizing experience, Jesus was able to do it and to endure it with triumph. Through the ordeal of the cross:
· Jesus kept His tongue.
· Jesus kept His course.
· Jesus kept His progress.
· Jesus kept His joy.
· Jesus kept His love.
e. Despising the shame: One of the most prominent elements of the torture of the cross was its extreme shame. Jesus did not welcome this shame – He despised it – yet He endured through it to victory.
i. Shame is a significant trial. Daniel 12:2 says that shame will be an aspect of the terrors of hell: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Jesus bore this hellish shame to accomplish our redemption.
· Jesus bore a shameful accusation: blasphemy.
· Jesus bore shameful mocking.
· Jesus bore a shameful beating.
· Jesus wore a shameful crown.
· Jesus wore a shameful robe.
· Jesus bore a shameful mocking even as He prayed on the cross.
ii. This is a stumbling block to many. They will do just about anything for Jesus except endure shame or embarrassment. Spurgeon spoke boldly to Christians who could not bear shame comes from the world for following Jesus: “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!”
iii. “I heard of a prayer the other day which I did not quite like at first, but there is something in it after all. The good man said, ‘Lord, if our hearts are hard, make them soft; but if our hearts are too soft, make them hard.’ I know what he meant, and I think I can pray that last prayer for some of my friends who are so delicate that a sneer would kill them. May the Lord harden them till they can despise the shame!” (Spurgeon)
f. And has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God: This speaks of Jesus’ glorification. The same promise of being glorified (though in a different sense) after our shame is true for the Christian.
3. (3-4) Consider Jesus.
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
a. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself: Even in their difficulty if they would consider Jesus they could be encouraged, not discouraged, knowing that they were following in the footsteps of Jesus. As Paul wrote, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:17)
i. Think of all the hostility Jesus endured from sinners:
· At His own synagogue in Nazareth they wanted to kill Him.
· The religious leaders constantly tried to trap and embarrass Him.
· They lied about Jesus, saying He was a drunkard and a glutton.
· He was betrayed by one of His own disciples.
· He was mocked and beaten by many.
· His own people cried out against Him, “Crucify Him!”
ii. “If in the Sunday-school a class seems unmanageable; if the boys cannot be taught; if the girls seem so giddy; if in the little village station the hearers seem, so dull, so inattentive, so careless, and so forgetful; if in any other sphere of labor you do not seem to be appreciated, but to meet with very serious rebuffs, never mind. These are nothing compared with the contradictions which the Saviour endured, and yet swerved he never, and therefore swerve not you.” (Spurgeon)
b. Lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls: Knowing that Jesus doesn’t ask more of us than what He has Himself experienced, and that He knows exactly what we are going through keeps us from becoming weary and discouraged in your souls.
c. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin: These Jewish Christians were so discouraged because they started to experience significant social and economic persecution (though not yet to the shedding of blood).
B. Why God allows difficult times: the chastening of God.
1. (5-6) Remember the exhortation regarding the discipline of the Lord.
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
a. You have forgotten: One great reason for the discouragement among these Jewish Christians was because they saw no reason why God would allow difficult times to arise. They forgot principles regarding the chastening of the LORD.
i. Much difficulty in the Christian life comes from those three words: you have forgotten. Perhaps it is some principle we remember in the mind, but have forgotten in the heart – and we must remember it again.
ii. In times of trial or stress many Christians forget some of the basics. They seriously wonder if God is still in control or if He still loves them. We must admit that God does allow every thing that happens; so He must at least passively approve of it, because He certainly has the power to stop bad things that happen.
iii. Of course, God can never be the author of evil. But He does allow others to choose evil, and He can use the evil choice another makes to work out His ultimately good purpose, even if only to demonstrate His justice and righteousness in contrast to evil.
b. Which speaks to you as sons: The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 reminds us that God’s chastening should never be taken as a sign of His rejection. It is rather a sign of His treating us as His children.
i. Only the most proud Christian would claim they are never in need of correction from God. No one is above this training.
c. Do not despise the chastening of the LORD: When chastening comes it is an offense to God when we despise it. Chastening is His loving tool of correction and we should receive it gratefully. This is the training we need to run the race we must run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2).
i. “I have often heard a father say, ‘Boy, if you cry for that you shall have something to cry for by-and-by.’ So, if we murmur at a little God gives us something that will make us cry. If we groan for nothing, he will give us something that will make us groan.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Chastening should not be regarded as the only reason God allows difficult times, but it is an important one. For example, we know that God allows difficult times so that we can, at a later time, comfort someone else with the same comfort God shows towards us in our crisis (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
iii. This is why James recommends a prayer for wisdom in the context of enduring trials (James 1:2-5). We need to know how to react differently when God does different things.
2. (7-8) Chastening is a sign of being a son of God.
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.
a. God deals with you as sons: A fundamental fact of the believer’s relationship with God is that He is to His people as a loving, good father is to a son or daughter. Some have trouble receiving this because they never knew a loving, good human father in their own experience. Yet, even these can still receive the love of God the Father.
i. We all do not know by experience what a model father is, but we all know by intuition what a good father is. God is that perfect Father, and He gives us that intuition. One feels cheated or disappointed by a bad father because they intuitively compare them to our good Father in heaven.
b. God deals with you as sons: God’s correction is never to punish us or make us pay for our sins. That was done once and for all at the cross. His correction is motivated only by His love, not by His justice; He chastens us without anger.
i. “While he shall never be arraigned before God’s bar as a criminal, and punished for his guilt, yet he now stands in a new relationship-that of a child to his parent: and as a son he may be chastised on account of sin.” (Spurgeon)
c. If you are without chastening… you are illegitimate and not sons: Those who consider themselves beyond God’s correction do not appreciate that it is a mark of a true son, and unknowingly associate themselves with illegitimate children of God.
i. “When this attitude is realized, then we understand the direct and blessed connection between ‘discipleship’ and ‘discipline.’“ (Thomas)
d. Illegitimate and not sons: God shows His wrath when He ignores our sin, allowing it to pass without correction. His inactivity is never due to ignorance or a lack of initiative, as may be true with a human father.
3. (9-10) God’s chastening is superior to that of human fathers.
Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
a. We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect: We should be even more submissive and respectful to our Heavenly Father’s correction than to an earthly Father’s correction.
b. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live? Therefore, we must never despise God for His chastening, though it is unpleasant at the moment. When we resent it, we consider ourselves virtual equals with God instead of His children.
i. It can be humiliating and bitter to be chastened by an equal, but it isn’t the same to be chastened by someone who is legitimately our superior. Resentment at chastening shows how we see God and how we see ourselves.
c. But He for our profit: Human fathers, even with the best of intention, can only chasten imperfectly because they lack perfect knowledge. The all-knowing God can chasten us perfectly, with better and more lasting results than even the best earthly father.
i. “Faith sees that in her worst sorrow there is nothing penal; there is not a drop of God’s wrath in it; it is all sent in love.” (Spurgeon)
4. (11) Look to the result of chastening more than the process of chastening.
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
a. No chastening seems to be joyful for the present: Trials are trials and chastening is chastening. If it does not hurt or press us, then they do not serve their purpose. We sometimes want trials that are not trials and chastening that is not chastening.
i. Spurgeon observed that in the natural realm we can be led astray by what seems to be. The earth does not seem to move, or seem to be round; the sun seems to be larger at sunset, and so on. “Now, if even in natural things the seeming is not the truth, and the appearance is very often false, we may rest quite sure that though affliction seemeth to be one thing, it really is not what it seemeth to be.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If affliction seemed to be joyous, would it be a chastisement at all? I ask you, would it not be a most ridiculous thing if a father should so chasten a child, that the child came down stairs laughing, and smiling, and rejoicing at the flogging. Joyous? Instead of being at all serviceable, would it not be utterly useless? What good could a chastisement have done if it was not felt? No smart? Then surely no benefit!” (Spurgeon)
b. The peaceable fruit of righteousness: This fruit must be evident in the life of the Christian. The reason why many experience one crisis after another in life is because they are either blind to God’s chastening or they resist it. They are not trained by it and therefore the peaceable fruit of righteousness is not evident.
i. Trained in the ancient Greek language is a word from the world of athletics. The training of an athlete is marked by some agony and so is our training as God’s “spiritual athletes.”
ii. God has a purpose for training you. Think of David after a lion attacked when he was just a boy tending the sheep. He could easily despair and ask, “Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen to me? I barely escaped!” If David could see ahead, he could see God had a giant named Goliath he was destined to face and the battle with the lion prepared him ahead of time. God always has a purpose. We can trust Him.
c. Afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness: God’s correction – a spanking from heaven – smarts, but we must look beyond the process to the result. The result does not come immediately, but afterward.
i. “Many believers are deeply grieved, because they do not at once feel that they have been profited by their afflictions. Well, you do not expect to see apples or plums on a tree which you have planted but a week. Only little children put their seeds into their flower-garden, and then expect to see them grow into plants in an hour.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We notice that in this section on chastening the author never pointed to Jesus as an example. This is because Jesus never needed to be corrected by His Father. Jesus suffered, but not for the sake of correction.
C. Application: Get strong, get right, get bold, and watch out.
1. (12-13) Take encouragement, be strong.
Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
a. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down: Almost like a coach or a military officer, the author told his fellow followers of Jesus to take courage and be active. He gave exhaustive reasons to be strong in the Lord and to put off discouragement, the time had now come to do it.
b. But rather be healed: The pictures here (strengthened hands and knees, “straight-ahead” feet) speak of readiness to work and move for Jesus and His kingdom. This readiness is first to go when one surrenders to discouragement.
2. (14-17) Use God’s strength to set things right in your manner of living.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
a. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness: This means to walk right with both men (pursue peace with all men) and to walk right with God (and holiness). Discouragement makes us sloppy and unconcerned with holiness and personal relationships.
i. Regarding holiness, we are told without which no one will see the Lord. A lack of holiness is a critical obstacle to a close relationship with God.
ii. “Unholy Christians are the plague of the church. They are spots in our feasts of charity. Like hidden rocks, they are the terror of navigators. It is hard to steer clear of them: and there is no telling what wrecks they may cause.” (Spurgeon)
iii. At the same time “This holiness is a thing of growth. It may be in the soul as the grain of mustard-seed, and yet not developed; it may be in the heart asa wish and a desire, rather than anything that has been fully realized, — a groaning, a panting, a longing, a striving.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Spurgeon described four types of people who try to get on without holiness:
· The Pharisee: Confident in outward ceremonies instead of true holiness.
· The moralist: Feels no need for holiness because his life is so good.
· The experimentalist: Their entire Christian life is lived inward, never looking to outward conduct but only to feelings.
· The opinionist: Their Christian life is all about believing the right doctrines and is unconcerned about the way one lives.
b. Lest anyone fall short of the grace of God: We must live right in regard to the grace of God. This means to diligently keep both our self and others from a return to legalism in either outward form or inward attitude that falls short of God’s grace, lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble.
i. “A bitter root is a root that bears bitter fruit… So it is possible for the seed of bitterness to be sown in a community and, though nothing is immediately apparent, in due time the inevitable fruit appears.” (Morris)
ii. Bitterness corrupts many, rooted in a sense of personal hurt, and many hold on to the bitterness with amazing stubbornness. What they must do is remember the grace of God extended to them, and start extending that grace towards others – loving the undeserving.
iii. William Barclay wrote that the phrase fall short of the grace of God might also be translated failing to keep up with the grace of God. The idea is that the grace of God is moving on, past the pain and hurt of the past. We should move on also.
c. Lest there be any fornicator or profane person: We must get right in regard to our moral conduct. Remember that there are blessings reserved only for the pure in heart: they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
i. Thomas on profane: “It comes from the Latin words pro-fanum. Outside every fane or temple there was an area of land open to every one, where people gathered, and open place without enclosure. In contrast with this was the sacred enclosure of the temple or ‘fane’ itself. Esau had not such sacred enclosure in his life, and in this sense was a purely secular man.”
d. Like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright: Many Christians today sell a birthright of intimacy with God as cheaply as Esau sold his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34 and 27:30-40).
i. For he found no place for repentance: “It is not a question of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is always open to the penitent. Esau could have come back to God. But he could not undo his act.” (Morris)
ii. Though he sought it diligently with tears: When Esau later sought the blessing he was rejected by his father Isaac and found no place for repentance before Isaac. Esau’s birthright wasn’t restored simply because he wished it back. It could never be regained because he despised it.
3. (18-21) Be bold, because you have not come to Mount Sinai.
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
a. For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire: Exodus 19:10-25 explains what it was like when Israel came to Mount Sinai.
· The mountain was fenced off; there was no trespassing on pain of death.
· They were commanded to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual relations.
· There was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud.
· There was the sound of a trumpet, calling forth the nation to meet with God.
· There was more smoke, like a furnace, and earthquakes.
· Then the trumpet sounded long – until Moses spoke, and God Himself answered.
· God spoke to Israel from Sinai, but warned them in every way possible to stay away.
b. So that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore: The reaction of Israel was understandable: they were terrified (Exodus 20:18-21). They wanted the experience to stop, not to continue.
i. Even Moses was afraid: Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Deuteronomy 9:19).
ii. All this fear did not succeed in promoting holiness among the people of Israel. It did not succeed in changing the heart of Israel. 40 days later, they worshipped a gold calf and said it was the god that brought them out of Egypt.
4. (22-24) Be bold, because you have come to Mount Zion.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
a. But you have come to Mount Zion: We are in a different place. Our relationship with God is not modeled after Israel’s experience on Mount Sinai. We come to God’s other mountain: Zion, the name of the hill upon which Jerusalem sits. The law came to Sinai; the cross was on Zion.
b. The city of the living God: There was no city at Mount Sinai; it was out in the desolate desert.
c. The heavenly Jerusalem: Sinai was associated with Egypt; Zion is associated with heaven.
d. To an innumerable company of angels: A few angels delivered the law to Moses on Mount Sinai; yet Mount Zion has an innumerable company of angels.
e. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven: What God gave at Mount Sinai was mainly for Israel; what God gave at Mount Zion is for all and it spans all the redeemed, both the church and the general assembly of the redeemed, all together.
f. To God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Mount Zion doesn’t do away with God as Judge of all – not at all. Rather, the work Jesus did on Mount Zion satisfies the justice of God, bringing forth the spirits of just men made perfect.
g. To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant: Mount Sinai was all about an old covenant based on earning and deserving. Mount Zion is based on a new covenant with Jesus the Mediator based on believing and receiving.
h. To the blood of sprinkling that speaks of better things than that of Abel: The blood of Abel does not mean the blood he shed in his martyrdom. Rather, it was the blood of the sacrifice he made – the first recorded sacrifice from man to God in the Bible. The blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of animal sacrifice, the blood of Abel.
i. Yet it is true that the blood of Jesus the Messiah speaks better things than that of the blood of Abel the martyr. The blood of Abel cried, justice must be satisfied, bring vengeance. The blood of Jesus cried, justice has been satisfied, bringmercy.
i. But you have come to Mount Zion: The lesson is plain. We shouldn’t come to Mount Zion as if we were coming to Mount Sinai. So put away your hesitation, be encouraged and get bold in coming to God.
i. Consider the contrasts between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
· Mount Sinai was marked by fear and terror – Mount Zion is a place of love and forgiveness.
· Mount Sinai is in the desert – Mount Zion is the city of the Living God.
· Mount Sinai spoke of earthly things – Mount Zion speaks of heavenly things.
· At Mount Sinai, only Moses was allowed to draw near to God – at Mount Zion, an innumerable company, a general assembly is invited to draw near.
· Mount Sinai was characterized by guilty men in fear – Mount Zion features just men made perfect.
· At Mount Sinai, Moses was the mediator – at Mount Zion, Jesus is the mediator.
· Mount Sinai brought an Old Covenant, which was ratified by the blood of animals – Mount Zion brought a New Covenant, which is ratified by the blood of God’s precious Son.
· Mount Sinai was all about exclusion, keeping people away from the mountain – Mount Zion is all about invitation.
· Mount Sinai is all about Law – Mount Zion is all about grace.
ii. Of course, the idea of the superiority of the New Covenant is also repeated. It shows that these Jewish Christians should not even consider going back and preferring the religion of Mount Sinai to the relationship of Mount Zion.
5. (25-26) Watch out; great privilege has a great warning and danger within it.
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”
a. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks: As described in the previous verses, God holds the goodness and glory of Mount Zion before us – the perfect and finished work of Jesus and the New Covenant through Him. If we choose to refuse this from God, we can’t ignore the consequences.
b. They did not escape: There were consequences for rebelling at Mount Sinai. There are and should be even greater consequences for resisting God’s greater work at Mount Zion.
c. Whose voice then shook the earth… Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven: At Mount Sinai God shook the earth with His voice. The New Covenant shakes things up even more (Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven).
i. It’s easy – and dangerous – to think that God was severe and mean in the Old Testament and somehow became nice in the New Testament. This is so simplistic that it is deceiving – there is more mercy in the Old Testament than many imagine, and there is more judgment in the New Testament than many imagine.
ii. When everything is shaken the only question is, where are you standing? Is it safe and secure?
6. (27) Why God shakes the existing order.
Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
a. Indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken: God promises to shake things again to take away (the removal) reliance on the material – as in material things, materialism.
b. That the things which cannot be shaken may remain: God shakes things to test them, and then to take away the things that can’t take the test.
7. (28-29) The unshakable kingdom.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
a. Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken: In contrast to the instability of the world around us, the kingdom of Jesus cannot be shaken, and we are receiving this kingdom.
i. This is our stability in an unstable world. We don’t yet full have this kingdom; it is yet to come. Yet we are receiving it. Griffith Thomas noted that the ancient grammar and phrasing indicates “We are constantly and perpetually (Greek) receiving a Kingdom that is incapable of being shaken.”
ii. How we have already received the kingdom
· We have received it in promise; a promise from a trustworthy man is just as sure as having the thing itself.
· We have it in principle, and we see the principles of God’s kingdom at work in the world.
· We have received it in power, and see the life-changing and miraculous power of God at work in the world today.
· We have received some of the provision and protection of the kingdom, because our King provides for and protects us.
· We have in received it in community, for our congregational gatherings are kingdom communities.
b. Let us have grace: The kingdom itself will never be shaken. So we must seize God’s unmerited approval in Jesus, helping us to serve God acceptably.
i. “Glory be to God, our kingdom cannot be moved! Not even dynamite can touch our dominion: no power in the world, and no power in hell, can shake the kingdom which the Lord has given to his saints. With Jesus as our monarch we fear no revolution and no anarchy: for the Lord hath established this kingdom upon a rock, and it cannot be moved or removed.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We may serve God acceptably: These words explain just how this may be done.
· Our acceptable service begins with our being receivers (since we are receiving a kingdom).
· Our acceptable service is offered by the work of God’s grace in us (let us have grace).
· Our acceptable service is marked by reverence (with reverence).
· Our acceptable service is marked by the spirit of happy reverence (with godly fear).
· Our acceptable service is marked by a profound sense of the divine holiness (for our God is a consuming fire).
iii. Some wrongly argue that “too much” grace gives license and breeds disrespect towards God. Actually, grace gives us reverence and godly fear. Perhaps those who think grace gives them license to sin aren’t walking in grace at all.
c. Our God is a consuming fire: Since God is in fact a consuming fire, we do best to come to Him on His terms. These are the terms of unmerited approval in Jesus. He will consume all that is outside of that sphere.
i. Elijah knew that God was a consuming fire; He consumed the sacrifice at the altar on Mount Carmel. Solomon knew that God was a consuming fire; He consumed the sacrifice at the altar at the dedication of the temple.
ii. The truth that God is a consuming fire is a comfort to the believer. They realize that the Father poured out His consuming fire of judgment on the Son in our place. When He did, it completely consumed the guilt of sin in all who believe. The penalty of sin was consumed in Jesus at the cross.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Hebrews 11 – Examples of Faith to Help the Discouraged
Videos for Hebrews 11:
A. Faith defined.
1. (1) A definition of faith.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
a. Now faith is the substance: Just as our physical eyesight is the sense that gives us evidence of the material world, faith is the “sense” that gives us evidence of the invisible, spiritual world.
i. Faith has its reasons. The Bible doesn’t recommend a “blind leap” of faith. But the reasons can’t be measured in a laboratory; they have to be understood spiritually.
ii. “Faith extends beyond what we learn from our senses, and the author is saying that it has its reasons. Its tests are not those of the senses, which yield uncertainty.” (Morris)
iii. “Physical eyesight produces a conviction or evidence of visible things; faith is the organ which enables people to see the invisible order.” (Bruce)
b. Of things hoped for… of things not seen: If you have the substance before you or if you can see it, there is no use for faith. Faith is needed for what we can’t see and can’t touch.
i. Faith does not contradict reason, though it may go beyond reason. One may objectively prove the Bible is the most unique book ever published and has impacted society more than any other book. But only faith can prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Therefore, this is a belief beyond reason but not in contradiction to reason or against reason.
c. Faith is the substance… the evidence: Faith is not a bare belief or intellectual understanding. It is a willingness to trust in, to rely on, and to cling to.
2. (2) Faith enabled people in the past to overcome.
For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
a. For by it the elders: The great examples of godliness all had different circumstances and personalities, but they all had one thing in common – faith.
b. Obtained a good testimony: These Jewish Christians were discouraged and thought of giving up on Jesus and a distinctive Christianity. They needed a good testimony, and so they needed these examples of faith to break them out of discouragement.
3. (3) Faith gives understanding regarding the invisible world.
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
a. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word: This happened when God simply commanded, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). As the Psalmist explained: By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth… For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6, 33:9)
b. By faith we understand: We did not see this act of creation; we only know of it by faith. We also know this by reason, because we know the world was created and created by an intelligent Designer. Again, this is faith going beyond but not in contradiction to reason.
i. Even in times when it seems when God expects a faith that contradicts reason, closer examination reveals He does not. For example, it might seem contrary to reason for God to expect Abraham to believe that Sarah’s dead womb could bring forth a child. But it is not unreasonable to believe that the God who created life and the womb could do this, and that He would do it according to His promise.
c. By faith we understand: This text does not say that God created the world with or by faith. Since God sees and knows all things, “faith” in a human sense does not apply to Him. Since we understand faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, we know that God sees everything and does not “hope” for anything.
d. So that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible: Most scientists at the time the Book of Hebrews was written believed the universe was created out of existing matter, not out of nothing. They believed the world was made out of things which are visible. But the Bible corrects this misunderstanding, clearly saying that the world was not made of things which are visible.
B. Faith at the beginning of man’s history.
1. (4) Abel’s faith.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
a. By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice: The difference between the sacrifice of Cain and the sacrifice of Abel (Genesis 4:3-5) was not between animal and vegetable. The difference was that Abel’s sacrifice was made by faith.
i. “Abel’s sacrifice was preferred to his brother’s for no other reason than that it was sanctified by faith; for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odour, pacify God.” (Calvin)
b. God testifying of his gifts: It is likely that God testified of His pleasure with Abel’s sacrifice by consuming it with fire from heaven, as happened at the dedication of tabernacle (Leviticus 9:24), the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1) and upon offerings made by David (1 Chronicles 21:26) and Elijah (1 Kings 18:38).
c. Through it he being dead still speaks: Right off with his example of Abel, the writer reminds us that faith is not necessarily rewarded on earth. But God Himself testifies to the righteousness of the faithful. Abel’s blood still speaks to us, reminding us of the value of eternity.
2. (5-6) Enoch’s faith.
By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
a. By faith Enoch: Enoch is one of the mystery men of the Old Testament being mentioned only in Genesis 5:21-24 as the man who walked with God and he was not, for God took him.
i. Many Jewish and Christian traditions make Enoch the recipient of some spectacular and strange revelations. Jude recognized him as a prophet (Jude 14-15). But the value of other prophecies attributed to him is uncertain at the very best.
b. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death: The writer to the Hebrews assumed that only a man of faith could enjoy close communion with God. Obviously, anyone who had this kind of fellowship with God must have pleased God, and in pleasing God, Enoch fulfilled the purpose for which man was created (Revelation 4:11).
c. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: This is the basic faith required of any who seeks God. One must believe that He is, and one must believe He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We must believe that God is there, and that He will reveal Himself to the seeking heart.
i. The writer to the Hebrews didn’t say that it is difficult to please God without faith. He said that it is impossible.
ii. “These two elements seem most simple, but, alas, how many professing Christians act as if God were not living; and how many others, though seeking after Him, are not expecting from Him as Rewarder!” (Newell)
3. (7) Noah’s faith.
By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
a. Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen: Noah was warned of something that had never happened before. His faith was shown in not merely agreeing that the flood would come, but in doing what God told him to do regarding the flood – he was moved with godly fear.
b. Prepared an ark: Real faith will always do something. The book of James repeats this theme over and over again.
c. He condemned the world: We shouldn’t think that Noah was a man who preached sermons of condemnation to the world. Instead, the mere conduct of the godly, without any preaching at all, can feel like condemnation to the world.
C. Faith in the life of Abraham and the Patriarchs.
1. (8) Abraham’s obedience by faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
a. By faith, Abraham obeyed: Abraham did step out in faith, going to the place God promised him; but his faith was less than perfect. This is seen by comparing Genesis 12:1-5 with Acts 7:2-4, where it is evident that Abraham first went half way to where God called him, and only eventually obeyed completely. Yet thousands of years later, God did not “remember” the delayed obedience, only the faith.
2. (9-10) Abraham’s sojourning life of faith.
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
a. By faith, he dwelt in the land of promise: Abraham lived as a “sojourner” in the land God promised, never owning any of it except the plots that he and Sarah were buried on. Dwelt translates the ancient Greek word paroikos, describing a “resident alien” – one who lives at a certain place, but doesn’t have permanent status there.
i. A resident alien or a sojourner is evident. The way they talk, the way they dress, their mannerisms, their entertainment, their citizenship, and their friends, all speak of their native home. If someone is the same in all these areas as the “natives,” they are no longer sojourners – they are permanent residents. Christians shouldn’t live as if they were permanent residents of planet earth.
b. Dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob: Because they had no permanent home, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents instead of houses. They looked forward to a better city – the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
3. (11-12) Sarah’s faith and its results.
By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude; innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
a. By faith Sarah: Sarah’s faith was not perfect. She first laughed in unbelief (Genesis 18:9-15) and then she learned to laugh in faith (Genesis 21:6).
b. Because she judged Him faithful who had promised: Faith comes down to judging that God is faithful and able to keep His promises. It was this faith that enabled Sarah to receive strength to conceive seed. God gave the strength, but Sarah received it by faith.
c. Were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude: Because of the faith of Sarah and Abraham, thousands – even millions – of descendants were born. Their faith had an impact on more lives than they ever dreamed of.
4. (13-16) What the faith of Abraham and Sarah teaches us.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
a. These all died in faith, not having received the promises: The promise of the Messiah was made to Abraham and Sarah, and they believed the promise. Yet they died having never received it, only seeing it in faith.
i. They saw the promises afar off, willing to look at and consider the promise of God, even though the fulfillment seemed so far away.
ii. They were assured of them, carefully considering the promise, assured that the promise was valid because God made the promise.
iii. They embraced them, taking the promise and embracing it in faith. Abraham and Sarah probably thought many times a day about the son God promised them and these many times they embraced the promise. “The saints ‘embraced’ the promises. The Greek word signifies ‘salutes,’ as when we see a friend at a distance.” (Spurgeon)
iv. They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims: Abraham and Sarah always took the promise with the understanding that this world was not their home. They knew God had a better and more enduring home for them in heaven.
v. If these examples of faith endured through difficulty and discouragement without having received the promises, then we who have received the promises have even more reason for endurance.
vi. These all died in faith:
· They did not need to seek faith on their deathbed. They died in faith.
· Though they did have faith, they did also die. We do not have faith to escape death, but to die in faith.
· They never went beyond faith and “grew beyond” simple dependence on God.
· They never went below faith or lost faith.
b. They seek a homeland… they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country: Living by faith is easier when we remember that this world is not our home. It is easier when we remember that on this side of eternity, not everything is settled and not every wrong is righted. That is why they seek a homeland and a better… heavenly country.
i. Faith is very difficult when we live as “practical atheists.” This describes someone who may have a theoretical belief in God, but the belief doesn’t matter in what they do from day to day. When we remember there is a spiritual reality – a heavenly home that is our real home – faith is much easier.
ii. The great theme of modern times is naturalism, the belief that only what can be found and measured in nature is “real.” Scientists and educators who trust in naturalism may be content to let us believe in God, just as long as we agree that God is a fairy tale – someone not real. But when we believe in the reality of God and of heaven and of His word, it is completely unacceptable to those who live by naturalism.
iii. H.L. Mencken said faith is the “Illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible.” This would only be true if there is no God or if He does not matter. Since God is and since He does matter, faith is entirely logical.
c. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: For those courageous enough to believe in God, and to believe in Him as real, and heaven and eternal life as real, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
i. We often consider the idea that we should not be ashamed of God, but we must also consider that we may make God ashamed of us. When we do not regard God and heaven and eternity as real, there can be a sense in which God is ashamed to be called our God.
5. (17-19) Abraham’s faith was great enough to know God was able to raise the dead, and that God was able to keep His promises.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
a. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac: The verb tense for offered up indicates that as far as Abraham was concerned the sacrifice was complete. In his will and in his purpose he really did sacrifice his son.
b. Offered up his only begotten son: Though Abraham had another son (Ishmael, the son of his fleshly attempt to fulfill God’s promise), God did not recognize the other son (Genesis 22:1-14) – so Isaac could be called his only begotten son.
c. Accounting that God was able: The ancient Greek word translated accounting means just what it sounds like in English. It is a term from arithmetic expressing “a decisive and carefully reasoned act.” (Guthrie) This means that Abraham calculated God’s promise worthy of confidence.
d. From the dead, from which he also received him: As far as Abraham was concerned, Isaac was as good as dead and it was from the dead that he received him back, in a manner that prefigured the resurrection of Jesus.
i. Bruce wonders if this is not the incident that Jesus referred to in John 8:56 when Jesus said: Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad.
ii. When Abraham was confronted with a promise and a command from God which seemed to contradict each other, he did what we all should do: he obeyed the command and let God take care of the promise. God was more than able to do this.
6. (20) Isaac’s faith.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
a. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob: Isaac was really in the flesh, not in faith, when he first intended to bless Esau instead of Jacob. He wanted to bless Esau with the birthright for carnal reasons. He liked Esau as a more “manly” man, and he liked the wild game he brought home. Instead he should have chosen Jacob, whom God chose.
b. By faith Isaac blessed: Yet Isaac came to the place of faith when he discovered that he had actually blessed Jacob instead of Esau. Genesis 27:33 says, Isaac trembled exceedingly. When Isaac trembled exceedingly, he was troubled because he knew that he had tried to box God in, to defeat God’s plan, and that God beat him. He realized that he would always be defeated when he tried to resist God’s will, even when he didn’t like it. And he came to learn that despite his arrogant attempts against the will of God, God’s will was glorious.
c. By faith: The faith in Isaac’s blessing came in after Isaac’s attempt to thwart the will of God was destroyed, when he said of Jacob, and indeed he shall be blessed (Genesis 27:33). Isaac knew that his weak attempt to tell God what to do was defeated, and he responded in the faith that said, “O.K. God, You win. Let Jacob be blessed with the birthright, and let Esau be blessed after him in his own way.”
7. (21) Jacob’s faith.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
a. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph: Jacob led a rather carnal life. Yet his faith could also look beyond death – and he blessed each of his sons.
b. And worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff: Jacob had to lean on the top of his staff because he was given a limp many years before when God confronted him at Peniel (Genesis 32:24-32). As he leaned on his staff he remembered that God was great and held his future and the future of his descendants. Therefore he worshiped, demonstrating his faith and dependence on God.
8. (22) Joseph’s faith.
By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.
a. By faith Joseph: Joseph made mention of the departure of the children of Israel in Genesis 50:24, when he said: God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. He knew God’s promise was true!
b. Gave instructions concerning his bones: When Joseph died he was never buried. His coffin laid above ground for the 400 or so years until it was taken back to Canaan. It was a silent witness all those years that Israel was going back to the Promised Land, just as God had said.
i. “The Holy Spirit in this chapter selects out of good men’s lives the most brilliant instances of their faith. I should hardly have expected that he would have mentioned the dying scene of Joseph’s life as the most illustrious proof of his faith in God… Does not this tell us, dear brethren and sisters, that we are very poor judges of what God will most delight in?” (Spurgeon)
c. By faith Joseph: Joseph’s faith testified for years after his death. All during that time, when a child of Israel saw Joseph’s coffin and asked why it was there and not buried, they could be answered, “Because the great man Joseph did not want to be buried in Egypt, but in the Promised Land God will one day lead us to.”
D. Faith in the nation of Israel.
1. (23) The faith of Moses’ parents.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
a. By faith Moses… was hidden three months by his parents: Moses’ parents showed faith when they perceived that he was specially favored by God they took measures of faith to save his life despite danger.
b. They were not afraid of the king’s command: When the Pharaoh of Egypt commanded the murder of Hebrew children faith gave Moses’ parents the courage to obey God instead of man.
2. (24-26) The faith of Moses in Pharaoh’s court.
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
a. Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: Moses showed faith when he let God chart his destiny instead of allowing Pharaoh or raw ambition to do it.
b. Choosing rather to suffer affliction: This choice had consequences. Moses knew that to go God’s way meant to suffer affliction rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. Sin does have its pleasures; but Moses properly saw them as passing, even if they should last our entire earthly life.
c. The reproach of Christ: Moses probably didn’t know it at the time but the persecution he suffered for his choice of serving God and His people put him in the company of Jesus – who suffered to set men free.
3. (27) The faith of Moses when he left Egypt.
By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
a. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: Moses’ natural eyes could see the danger from Pharaoh, and he understood the danger in remaining anywhere near Egypt. Yet his eye of faith could see Him who is invisible, and he understood that God was a greater fact in his situation than an angry Pharaoh was.
4. (28) Moses showed faith when he led Israel in the Passover, in obedience to God’s command.
By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
a. By faith he kept the Passover: It took faith to believe that the blood of a lamb on the doorpost would save a household from the terror of the angel of death. But Moses had that faith and led the nation in observing the Passover.
b. Lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them: Those who did not share the faith of Moses and obedient Israel found their firstborn sons destroyed at that first Passover. They did not trust in the blood of the Passover Lamb.
5. (29) The faith of the nation of Israel when crossing the Red Sea.
By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.
a. By faith they passed through the Red Sea: The difference between the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and the Egyptians who followed them was not courage, but faith.
b. The Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned: The Egyptians had as much (or more) courage than the Israelites, but not the same faith – and they each had different fates. The Israelites passed through and the Egyptians were drowned.
6. (30) The faith of the nation of Israel when circling around Jericho as God had commanded.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.
a. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down: At Jericho, the people of Israel had a daring faith. There was no turning back, having already crossed the river Jordan at flood stage, which cut off any line of retreat.
b. After they were encircled for seven days: At Jericho the people of Israel had an obedient faith. They did not really understand what God was doing, yet they obeyed nonetheless.
c. After they were encircled for seven days: At Jericho the people of Israel had a patient faith. The walls did not fall down for the first six days, yet they kept marching as God commanded.
d. For seven days: At Jericho the people of Israel had an anticipating faith. They knew God would act on the seventh day when they shouted.
7. (31) The faith of Rahab.
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
a. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish: Joshua 2 tells us of Rahab, who might seem an unusual example of faith. Yet her willingness to become a traitor to the gods of Canaan and to identify with Yahweh with His people despite the cost is worthy of praise.
i. “She was a harlot, a woman that was a sinner, and universally known to be such. Desperate attempts have been made to find some other meaning for the word rendered harlot, but they have been utterly fruitless.” (Spurgeon) Spurgeon described Rahab’s faith like this:
· Saving faith.
· Singular faith.
· Stable faith.
· Self-denying faith.
· Sympathizing faith.
· Sanctifying faith.
b. When she had received the spies with peace: When the Hebrew spies came to Rahab, she declared He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath (Joshua 2:11). This was proof of her faith. It was not strong faith and it was not perfect faith, but her faith was commendable nonetheless.
i. Clement of Rome, the earliest Christian writer outside of the Bible, was the first to see a symbol of the blood of Jesus in the scarlet cord that Rahab set outside her window (Joshua 2:18).
8. (32) Other heroes of faith.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:
a. Gideon: He boldly destroyed idols and was mightily used of God to defeat a much larger army of Midianites (Judges 6-7). Yet he was also a man who doubted God’s word to him at first and repeatedly asked for confirmation.
b. Barak: He led the people of Israel in a dramatic victory over the Canaanites (Judges 4). Yet he hesitated and went forward only when Deborah encouraged him.
c. Samson: He was used mightily of the Lord to defeat the Philistines. Yet he never lived up to his potential, and had a tragic ending to his life after being enticed by Delilah (Judges 13-16).
d. Jephthah: He was used of God to defeat the Ammonites. Yet Jephthah made a foolish vow and stubbornly kept it (Judges 11).
e. David: The great king of Israel was a remarkable man of faith. Yet he also failed with Bathsheba and with his own children.
i. Each one of these were men of faith, yet had notable areas of failure in their life. Still, Hebrews 11 commends their faith and lists them in the “Hall of Faith.” This shows that weak faith is better than unbelief, and you don’t have to be perfect to make it into God’s “Hall of Faith.”
9. (33-35a) By faith, some were victorious over circumstances.
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again.
a. Subdued kingdoms: Some of these were David, Joshua, King Asa, Jehoshaphat, King Hezekiah, and King Josiah.
b. Worked righteousness: Some of these were Elijah, Elisha, and the other prophets in general; King Josiah also.
c. Obtained promises: Among these we could include Caleb, Gideon, and Barak.
d. Stopped the mouths of lions: These include Daniel, David, and Benaiah (one of David’s mighty men).
d. Quenched the violence of fire: Among these are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
e. Escaped the edge of the sword: David escaped the sword of Goliath and the sword of Saul, Moses escaped the sword of Pharaoh, and Elijah escaped the sword of Jezebel.
f. Out of weakness were made strong: Among these are Sarah, Gideon, Abraham, Esther, and King Hezekiah.
i. “Many of us may never have to brave the fiery stake, nor to bow our necks upon the block, to die as Paul did; but if we have grace enough to be out of weakness made strong, we shall not be left out of the roll of the nobles of faith, and God’s name shall not fail to be glorified in our persons.” (Spurgeon)
g. Became valiant in battle: Some of the many in this description are David, King Asa, and Jehoshaphat.
h. Women who received their dead raised to life again: The Old Testament mentions at least two who fit this description, the widow of Zarepheth and the Shunamite woman.
10. (35b-38) By faith, some were victorious under their circumstances.
And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
a. Tortured: This is a brutal word in the ancient Greek language. It carries the idea “to beat with a stick or a baton.”
b. A better resurrection: As Jesus said in John 5:29, there is a resurrection unto life and a resurrection unto condemnation. These worthies received the better resurrection.
c. Trial of mockings: Isaac endured the cruel mocking of Ishmael, and Samson was mocked at the feast of the Philistines.
d. Chains and imprisonments: Joseph was cast into prison for his faith, and the evil King Ahab imprisoned the prophet Micaiah.
e. They were stoned: Zechariah was stoned to death between the altar and the temple and Naboth was stoned to death by Jezebel’s henchmen.
f. Sawn in two: According to reliable tradition Isaiah was sawn in two and killed.
g. Were tempted: Among these terrible physical tortures, the writer brings up being tempted in the same context. Some think the text was corrupted here and the writer to the Hebrews originally wrote, “branded,” “burnt alive,” “mutilated,” or “strangled.” But for those who know the pain of temptation, it is not unreasonable to think that the writer regarded overcoming temptation as a true triumph of faith.
i. “‘They were tempted’: it does not say how. If one form of temptation had been mentioned, we should have surmised that they did not suffer in other ways, but when the statement is, ‘they were tempted,’ we shall not be wrong in concluding that they were tried in any and every form.” (Spurgeon)
h. Were slain with the sword: Such as the eighty-five priests murdered by Doeg, or the prophets murdered in Elijah’s day.
i. Wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins: Such as Elijah, who wore this kind humble clothing and did not mind the humility or the discomfort.
j. Of whom the world was not worthy: The world is not necessarily friendly to people of faith, and the world isn’t necessarily worthy of them either.
i. “The despised and ill-treated group of servants of God was of greater real worth than all the rest of humanity put together.” (Morris)
k. In dens and caves of the earth: David, Elijah, and prophets under the leadership of Obadiah were all forced to flee and hide in caves.
11. (39-40) Conclusion: We have even more reasons for faith, more reasons to hold on to faith, than these heroes of the faith did.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
a. Having obtained a good testimony through faith: Though they obtained this good testimony, they did not receive the promise, the testimony of the completed work of the Messiah on their behalf. If these followers of God were steadfast without receiving the promise, those who have received the promise have even more reason to continue on through trials and difficulty.
b. God having provided something better for us: We are provided something better (seeing and enjoying the completed work of Jesus on our behalf) and therefore have much more reason to hold on to faith, and to not let discouragement and tough times defeat us.
c. They should not be made perfect apart from us: The idea of perfect is “complete.” They could not be made complete until the work of Jesus. They looked forward to Jesus and His work, we look at it from behind – and enjoy the fruit of His work.
i. “This chapter proves that the saints of all ages are essentially one. There is a link which unites them; a thrill which passes from one hand to hand around the circle.” (Meyer)
ii. Their faithfulness makes our faith a little easier. The writer to the Hebrews began this chapter speaking of faith in the present tense: Now faith is… By faith we understand (Hebrews 11:1 and 11:3). The end of the chapter reminds us that faith is and it is for we who follow in the footsteps of the faithful men and women of previous ages.
iii. “It is what Christ has done that opens the way into the very presence of God for them as for us. Only the work of Christ brings those of Old Testament times and those of the new and living way alike into the presence of God.” (Morris)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Hebrews 10 – Holding Fast with a Perfect Sacrifice
Videos for Hebrews 10:
A. The once for all sacrifice of Jesus.
1. (1-4) Sacrifice under the Old Covenant could not truly take away sin.
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.
a. Having a shadow of the good things to come: The Old Covenant (the law) was a mere shadow of the substance that is the New Covenant (also in Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 8:5). Shadow means that the law communicated the outline and the figure of the fulfillment to come in Jesus, but was not the very image of the things.
i. Shadow isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes a shadow can tell you a lot. But the shadow is not the substance. The Old Covenant and its law were not themselves bad or evil, they are only incomplete and insufficient to bring total cleansing from sin, and to save. The shadow… can never… make those who approach perfect.
ii. Newell notes that here the law is called a shadow and not the very image of the things – it is not an eikon. “An image, or eikon, like a good statue or a photograph, reveals features and facts accurately. This a shadow cannot do… Now The Law had only shadows.” (Newell)
iii. “For example, you need a load of wood: you go to the wood man, and he takes you to a large oak tree in the far corner of the lot. Pointing to the long shadow it casts, he offers to sell you this shadow. Will you take it? Now, if God says that in the Law there was a shadow, not even the very image of the things – and of course, not the things themselves, why will you hold to the shadow?” (Newell)
iv. “When the sun is behind, the shadow is before; when the sun is before, the shadow is behind. So was it in Christ to them of old. The Sun was behind, and therefore the law or shadow was before; to us under grace the Sun is before, and now the ceremonies of the law, these shadows, are behind you, vanished away.” (Trapp)
v. “In effect he is saying: ‘Without Christ you cannot get beyond the shadows of God.’” (Barclay) The very image: The ancient Greek word eikon “Suggests what is in itself substantial and also gives a true representation of that which it images.” (Dods)
b. Would they not have ceased to be offered? The writer to the Hebrews repeats a familiar argument: the repetition of sacrifice shows its inherent weakness. If animal sacrifices had solved the sin problem, then they could have ceased to be offered.
c. For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year: Every repeated sacrifice was a reminder of sins. It brought the consciousness of sins to the people again and again. But the work of Jesus on the cross takes away sin!
i. “All they are is a reminder of sin. So far from purifying a man, they remind him that he is not purified and that his sins still stand between him and God.” (Barclay)
ii. “An atonement that needs constant repetition does not really atone; a conscience which has to be cleansed once a year has never been truly cleansed.” (Robinson)
d. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins: Animal sacrifice under the Old Covenant could cover sin. The Hebrew word for atonement is kophar, which literally means, “to cover.” Yet animal sacrifice could never take away sins. Only Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice of the New Covenant, takes sins away.
i. “There was a kind of priestly tread-mill of sacrifice…There was no end to this process and it left men still conscious of their sin and alienated from God.” (Barclay)
ii. “‘Take away’ (aphaireo) is used of a literal taking off, as in Peter’s cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave (Luke 22:50), or metaphorically as of the removal of reproach (Luke 1:25). It signifies the complete removal of sin so that it is no longer a factor in the situation. That is what is needed and that is what the sacrifices could not provide.” (Morris)
iii. “Hering, for example, points out that this distinguishes Christianity from the mystery religions, where the sacrifice of the god was repeated annually. In fact, there is no other religion in which one great happening brings salvation through the centuries and throughout the world. This is the distinctive doctrine of Christianity.” (Morris)
2. (5-10) Psalm 40:6-8 gives a prophetic foundation for Jesus’ perfect sacrifice under the New Covenant.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’”
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
a. He said: This quotation is taken from the Septuagint version of Psalm 40:6-8 (the Septuagint is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that was the most commonly used Bible in the first century). It shows that prophetically Jesus declared the insufficient character of Old Covenant sacrifice and declared His willingness to offer a perfect sacrifice under the New Covenant.
i. “The text of the LXX is followed in the main which differs from the Hebrew chiefly in having sōma (body) rather than ōtia (ears).” (Robertson)
b. Sacrifice and offering You did not desire: More animal sacrifices, made under the law, would not please God. Repeatedly in the Old Testament God expressed His desire for obedience rather than sacrifice.
i. Sacrifice and offering… burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin: “It is probable that the four terms which the psalmist uses for sacrifice are intended to cover all the main types of offering prescribed in the Levitical ritual.” (Bruce)
c. But a body You have prepared for Me: Instead, what pleased God could only come through Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. In the incarnation the body of Jesus was perfectly prepared and suited to live as fully man and fully God.
i. “There is no question that the author is convinced about the reality of the pre-existence of Christ.” (Guthrie)
ii. “His incarnation itself is viewed as an act of submission to God’s will and, as such, an anticipation of His supreme submission to that will in death.” (Bruce)
d. Behold, I have come… to do Your will, O God: Jesus’ submission to God’s the Father’s will had its ultimate fulfillment in His obedience to the cross. This desire to do God’s will was shown in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-44) and fulfilled at the cross.
i. “To do thy will, O God is the aim of the perfect man. It has only partially been fulfilled by even the most pious of men, except by Jesus. What was seen as the most desirable aim by the psalmist, becomes an expression of fact on the lips of Jesus.” (Guthrie)
e. Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God: The sacrifice of Jesus was determined before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8). Yet it was still an act of His will to submit to the incarnation and the cross at the appointed time; by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.
i. Our sanctification – our being set apart to God – is founded on the will of Jesus, not our own will. It is founded on the offering of Jesus, not on our own offering or sacrifices for God.
f. Once for all: These are the important words of this passage, and the writer to the Hebrews repeats the theme over and over again: once for all.
i. “The one sacrifice does the work that the many failed to do. One wonders how priests who claim that the ‘mass’ is the sacrifice of Christ’s body repeated explain this verse.” (Robertson)
ii. “The heavenly high priest has indeed a continual ministry to discharge on His people’s behalf at the Father’s right hand; but that is the ministry of intercession on the basis of the sacrifice presented and accepted once and for all, it is not the constant or repeated offering of His sacrifice. This last misconception has no doubt been fostered in the Western Church by a defective Vulgate rendering which springs from a well-known inadequacy of the Latin verb.” (Bruce)
3. (11-18) The finished work of Jesus Christ.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
a. Every priest stands ministering daily: The priests had to stand continually in their work. Their work continued daily and sacrifices had to be repeatedly offered. The priests could never sit down! In contrast, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, having finished His work of sacrificing for sin.
i. But this Man: “Opposed to the plurality of Levitical priests. One sacrifice, and once for ever, not many and often, as they.” (Trapp)
ii. The sacrifices under the Old Covenant could never cure the sin problem, left us as a patient who continually needed the medicine, or like a weed that only has its head plucked out, not the root.
iii. In contrast, the seated posture of Jesus is important. It shows that His work is finished. He doesn’t need to stand ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices as priests under the Old Covenant had to. Jesus still ministers in heaven – He has a ministry of intercession for His people. But that ministry flows from His completed work, so He can adopt a posture of rest – He sat down at the right hand of God.
iv. Spurgeon pointed out that the comma can be placed differently in the sentence, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. It is possible to translate, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins, forever sat down at the right hand of God. Either one is permitted and either one is correct, though the common translation is probably preferred.
v. When Jesus claimed the place at the right hand of God, the high priest regarded it as blasphemy – as Jesus claiming to be God Himself (Mark 14:62-63).
b. Till His enemies are made His footstool: This looks forward to the consummation of the work of Jesus, and every part connects. The incarnation leads to His perfect life; His perfect life leads to His atoning death; His atoning death leads to His resurrection; His resurrection leads to His ascension to glory; His ascension to glory leads to His return and triumph over every enemy.
c. He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified: This makes it plain that the work of Jesus is effective only for those who are being sanctified. The work of Jesus is capable of saving every human being, but it is only effective in saving those who are being sanctified (set apart to God).
i. “What a glorious word! Those for whom Christ has died were perfected by his death. It does not mean that he made them perfect in characters so that they are no longer sinners, but that he made those for whom he died perfectly free from the guilt of sin. When Christ took their sins upon himself, sin remained no longer upon them, for it could not be in two places at one and the same time.” (Spurgeon)
d. The Holy Spirit also witnesses to us… says the LORD: In this passage, the writer to the Hebrews clearly shows that the Holy Spirit is the LORD, Yahweh of the Old Testament. When the Holy Spirit speaks, the LORD speaks.
i. “We have the threefold revelation of God in this passage, a very definite spiritual and practical exemplification of the Holy Trinity, in the will of God (Hebrews 10:9), the work of Christ (Hebrews 10:12), and the witness of the Spirit (Hebrews 10:15).” (Thomas)
e. This is the covenant: In the passage quoted from Jeremiah, the writer to the Hebrews makes note of the promises of the new covenant, instituted by the Messiah.
i. I will make with them after those days: The new covenant is new. It comes after those days.
ii. I will put My laws into their hearts: The new covenant has to do with an inner transformation. God changes the heart of man, and writes His law into their hearts.
iii. Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more: The new covenant offers complete forgiveness. The forgiveness is so complete that God can say that doesn’t even remember our sins in light of the new covenant!
iv. The Christian must endeavor to do with their sin exactly what God has done: forget about it. As well, this reminds us that the believer is in no way on probation. Before God his past sin has no bearing on God’s present dealing.
v. “Forgiveness of sin is the characteristic of the new covenant. In Jeremiah complete pardon of sins is promised. If the pardon is complete, there is left no place for the Levitical sacrifices under the new covenant.” (Vincent)
f. Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin: Where sins are really forgiven and forgotten (remission of these), there no longer must be an offering for sin.
i. “In the words, No more offering for sin, we reach the conclusion of the doctrinal part of this great epistle to the Hebrews.” (Newell) What follows after is mainly exhortation.
ii. “The Christ who died on Calvary’s cross, will not have to die again for my new sins, or to offer a fresh atonement for any transgressions that I may yet commit. No; but, once for all, gathering up the whole mass of his people’s sins into one colossal burden, he took it upon his shoulders, and flung the whole of it into the sepulcher wherein Once he slept, and there it is buried, never to be raised again to bear witness against the redeemed any more for ever.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The work of Jesus for atonement is finished. If it is not enough for us, then nothing will be. “God has set forth Christ for you as guilty sinners to rest on; and if that is not enough for you, what more would you have? Christ has offered himself, and died and suffered in our stead, and gone into his glory; and, if you cannot depend upon him, what more would you have him do? Shall he come and die again? You have rejected him once; you would reject him though he died twice.” (Spurgeon)
B. Encouraging the discouraged in light of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.
1. (19-21) A summary of what Jesus did for His people.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God,
a. Having boldness: This is stated as a fact, not an exhortation. We have access for a bold approach to God. The point is simple: we must take advantage of this access, and take it with boldness. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the holiest place of all with fear and trembling, but we can enter the Holiest with boldness.
i. We can have boldness because we enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus. If we entered as the Old Testament high priest did, with the blood of animals, we wouldn’t have boldness. But with the blood of Jesus providing a new and living way which He consecrated with us, we really can come into the presence of God with boldness.
ii. This boldness is a complete contrast to the way the High Priest entered the Holy Place under the Old Covenant. “He went with fear and trembling, because, if he had neglected the smallest item prescribed by the law, he could expect nothing but death. Genuine believers can come even to the throne of God with confidence, as they carry into the Divine presence the infinitely meritorious blood of the great atonement; and, being justified through that blood, they have a right to all the blessings of the eternal kingdom.” (Clarke)
iii. Having boldness to enter: “Special notice should be taken of the word ‘having,’ which, as elsewhere, always implies a present and conscious experience. It is impossible to exaggerate the ‘present tenses of the blessed life,’ of which this is one.” (Thomas)
b. A new and living way: This means that the sacrifice of Jesus is always fresh in the mind of God. Though it happened centuries ago it is not “stale.” It means that a living Jesus ushers us into the presence of God.
i. Newell on a new and living way: “It is eternally as if just now He had borne our sins in His own body on the Tree, as if just now He had said, ‘It is finished,’ and the soldier had pierced His side and there had come forth blood and water. He is evermore freshly-slain.”
ii. “This is evidently an allusion to the blood of the victim newly shed, uncoagulated, and consequently proper to be use for sprinkling. The blood of the Jewish victims was fit for sacrificial purposes only so long as it was warm and fluid.” (Clarke)
iii. It is a living way. Under the Old Covenant, the High Priest had access because of the blood of a dead animal. Now under the New Covenant we have access because of the perfect sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, and it is as if the living, resurrected Jesus ushers us into the throne room of God.
c. Through the veil: The veil separated the Holiest from the holy place. To enter into the Holiest, you had to pass through the veil. But this veil separating man from God’s intimate presence is forever opened wide, being torn into two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
i. That is, His flesh: The writer to the Hebrews makes an analogy between the veil that stood between God and man and the body of Jesus. Jesus’ body was “torn,” and so was the veil, each indicating that now we can come to God boldly.
ii. “For believers the veil is not rolled up, but rent. The veil was not unhooked, and carefully folded up, and put away, so that it might be put in its place at some future time. Oh, no! But the divine hand took it and rent it front top to bottom. It can never be hung up again; that is impossible. Between those who are in Christ Jesus and the great God, there will never be another separation.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “What he does seem to suggest is that it was only when the body of Jesus was torn asunder on the Cross that His life-blood became available for its supreme purpose, the salvation of men.” (Robinson)
d. Having a High Priest over the house of God: We have a High Priest who presides over the heavenly courts to make certain the believer has total access.
i. “The combination of the way and the Priest gives us confidence, frees us from fear and all other inhibitions, and makes it possible for us to come, as ourselves, into the presence of God.” (Robinson)
ii. “The ‘house of God’ over which He exercises His high priesthood is, of course, the community of God’s people.” (Bruce)
2. (22) In light of what Jesus did, let us draw near to God.
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
a. Let us draw near: With the perfect cleansing available to us, described in terms of promises of the New Covenant in the Hebrew Scriptures (hearts sprinkled) and the Christian practice of baptism (bodies washed), we can draw near to God in a way never available to someone under the Old Covenant. The work of Jesus makes us able to draw near in a full assurance of faith.
i. “Therefore the appeal to me is not a call to prepare myself, or to make a way for myself to God. It is simply to come, to draw near, to enter in. This I do through my great High Priest, but this I may do through Him without faltering and without fear.” (Morgan)
ii. Bodies washed: “The thing that distinguished Christian baptism from the multiplicity of lustrations that were practiced in the religions of the ancient world was that it was more than an outward rite cleansing the body from ritual defilement. Baptism is the outward sign of an inward cleansing, and it was the latter that was the more important.” (Morris)
iii. Hearts sprinkled… bodies washed: “These participles express not conditions of approach to God which are not yet to be achieved, but conditions already possessed.” (Dods)
b. Let us draw near: We can draw near because several issues are settled. The problem of access to God has been settled. The problem of a perfect High Priest has been settled. The problem of moral and spiritual pollution has been settled.
i. The encouragement to draw near wouldn’t be given unless it was necessary. These discouraged Christians had a problem in drawing near. This was their real problem: they lost their intimate relationship with Jesus, and nothing else is going right.
ii. They may have thought that they had many, many problems – persecution, difficult relationships, hard times with culture or economy. But the real problem was their relationship with God wasn’t on track. They didn’t draw near to God on the basis of what Jesus had done.
iii. When we are in tough times, we should remember that many people have gone through worse times and have had a better attitude, and more joy, than you do now. What is the difference? They knew how to draw near.
iv. Just as importantly, the original readers of this letter are reminded that they will never regain that close relationship with God coming through the institutions of the Old Covenant.
3. (23) In light of what Jesus did, let us hold fast to the truth.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
a. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering: Discouragement made them waver from the truth. A renewed confidence in the greatness of Jesus and in the New Covenant will make them stand strong in the faith.
i. “That exhortation, ‘Let us hold fast,’ might well be written on the cover of every Christian’s Bible. We live in such a changeful age, that we need all to be exhorted to be rooted and grounded, confirmed and established, in the truth.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Without wavering: “The Greek word translated in this way is used only here in the New Testament and is based on the idea of an upright object not inclining at all from the true perpendicular. There is not place in the Christian experience for a hope that is firm at one time and shaky at another.” (Guthrie)
b. For He who promised is faithful: The reason we can stand strong is because He who promised is faithful. It is far better to trust in His faithfulness instead of ours!
4. (24-25) In light of what Jesus did, let us pursue the community of God’s people.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
a. Let us consider one another: Discouragement made them avoid community at the very time they needed it most. Jesus meets us in one another to stir up love and good works.
i. One another: “The is the only place where the author uses the expression ‘one another’ (allelous), though it is frequently found in the NT. He is speaking of a mutual activity, one in which believers encourage one another, not one where leaders direct the rest as to what they are to do.” (Morris)
ii. The wording of stir up is strong. “A striking term meaning ‘incitement’ and is either used, as here, in a good sense or, as in Acts 15:39, in a bad sense (i.e. contention). It seems to suggest that loving one another will not just happen.” (Guthrie)
iii. Love here is the ancient Greek word agape, filled with significance by the New Testament. “Love needs stimulation and society. Faith and hope can be practiced by a solitary, in a hermit’s cell or on a desert island. But the exercise of love is possible only in a community.” (Robinson)
b. Forsaking the assembling of ourselves together: Forsaking fellowship is a sure way to give place to discouragement. This discouragement festers where God’s people are not exhorting one another.
i. Some only go to church if they feel they “need it” at the time. But our motivation for fellowship must be to obey God and to give to others. We can and should gather with believers to encourage someone who needs to stand strong against a tide of discouragement.
· We gather to receive something from God.
· We gather to give something to God.
· We gather to encourage each other by our shared faith and values.
· We gather to bless one another.
· We gather to work together.
ii. “Any early Christian who attempted to live like a pious particle without the support of the community ran serious risks in an age when there was no public opinion to support him.” (Moffatt, cited in Morris)
iii. Because it is so important that Christians gather together, things that work against their gathering must be regarded as serious dangers. “Schism is the very putting asunder of the very veins and arteries of the mystical body of Christ. We may not separate, but in the sense of intolerable persecution, heresy, idolatry, and Antichristiansim.” (Trapp)
iv. “Dr. Mackintosh has well pointed out that the word saint never occurs in the singular, and that ‘inevitably it is plural.’” (Thomas)
v. Assembling: “The words, not neglecting to meet together, presumably refer to worship meetings, although this is not stated. It may purposely be left ambiguous so as to include other gatherings of a more informal kind, but the Greek word (episynagoge) suggests some official assembly.” (Guthrie)
c. So much the more as you see the Day approaching: As the Day of Jesus’ return draws nearer, we should be more committed to the fellowship of God’s people, the assembling of ourselves together.
i. As you see the Day approaching: “It is worth noting in the present context that the verb is indicative and records an accomplished reality – you see – and is not as the preceding verbs, in the form of an exhortation. The immanence of the day was considered to be plain. It is not to be regarded as secret. Christians were to live as if the dawning of the day was so near that its arrival was only just beyond the horizon.” (Guthrie)
ii. “Each successive Christian generation is called upon to live as the generation of the end-time, if it is to live as a Christian generation.” (Bruce)
C. Another warning to endure.
1. (26-31) The danger of a willful rejection of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for us.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
a. For if we sin willfully: To sin willfully is defined in Hebrews 10:29. It speaks of someone who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace. It is a knowing, deliberate rejection of Jesus’ great work for us on the cross.
i. Sin willfully: In a sense, every sin is a “willful sin.” But here, the writer to the Hebrews spoke of something much more severe and relevant to these discouraged Jewish Christians who contemplated a retreat from a distinctive Christianity and a return to Judaism with its sacrificial system. This is turning your back on Jesus.
ii. “It has nothing to do with backsliders in our common use of that term. A man may be overtaken in a fault, or he may deliberately go into sin, and yet neither renounce the Gospel, nor deny the Lord that bought him. His case is dreary and dangerous, but it is not hopeless.” (Clarke)
iii. “The thought seems to be closely connected with the preceding verse, suggesting that if we forsake our fellow-Christians, it may easily lead to our forsaking Christ.” (Thomas)
b. There no longer remains a sacrifice for sins: If Jesus’ sacrifice for sin is rejected, there remains no other sacrifice that can cleanse.
i. “If this great way of salvation, this mightiest sacrifice of all is refused, no other sacrifice remains.” (Morgan)
c. How much worse punishment: If someone does reject Jesus’ sacrifice, fearful judgment is certain, even more certain than it was under the Old Covenant.
d. If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth: When we sin willfully by rejecting Jesus’ work on the cross as sufficient, we have:
i. Trampled the Son of God underfoot: We disgrace Him by rejecting His greatest work. We devalue Him by devaluing what He did. Of this phrase, Vincent notes: “Frequent in LXX for spoiling, defeating, treating contemptuously. The strong term is purposely selected in order to convey the sense of the fearful outrage involved in forsaking Christ and returning to Judaism.”
ii. Counted the blood of the covenant… a common thing: We consider Jesus’ blood of no greater importance than the countless animals sacrificed under the Old Covenant. Vincent: “Here the word admits of two explanations: (1) that Christ’s blood was counted common, having no more sacred character or specific worth than the blood of any ordinary person; (2) that in refusing to regard Christ’s blood as that of an atoner and redeemer, it was implied that his blood was unclean as being that of a transgressor.”
iii. Insulted the Spirit of grace: We offend the Holy Spirit, whose purpose it is to present Jesus and His work to us (John 16:8-15) when we reject Jesus and His finished work on our behalf.
iv. Vengeance: “An unfortunate translation, since it conveys the idea of vindictiveness which does not reside in the Greek word. It is the full meting out of justice to all parties.” (Vincent)
e. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: It is fearful indeed to one-day face the God you have rejected and offended so greatly.
i. “To fall into the hands of the Living God is, therefore, to have resisted His love, refused His salvation, despised the warnings of His Spirit, and to have persisted thus past the point where God can consistently show further grace.” (Newell)
2. (32-34) Take heart in your discouragement, and remember how you have stood for God in tough times before.
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
a. But recall the former days: These Christians had already suffered for Jesus, being rejected from their Jewish community and perhaps being counted as dead. This came after they trusted in Jesus (after you were illuminated).
b. A great struggle with sufferings: Their persecution was a struggle that came many different ways. They were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations. They were companions of those who were so treated – including the writer to the Hebrews himself (you had compassion on me in chains). They also had faced economic persecution (the plundering of your goods). But the point is that they had faced these things, and had endured them. They could take a look at their past endurance, and be encouraged to keep standing strong in the future.
i. Clarke on a great struggle with sufferings: “Here we have an allusion to the combats at the Grecian games, or to the exhibitions of gladiators at the public spectacles.”
ii. Made a spectacle: This uses the same ancient Greek word as in 1 Corinthians 4:9: For we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. The idea is to be made theater for a watching world. “Greek, set upon a theatre; take it either properly, or metaphorically, both befell Christians.” (Trapp)
c. Knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven: They made it through the time of persecution by keeping a heavenly perspective. The writer to the Hebrews’ point is clear: you can make it through this present time of discouragement also.
3. (35-39) Draw on your past experience to gain strength to endure for the future.
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
“For yet a little while,
And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith;
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
a. Therefore do not cast away your confidence: These discouraged Christians were in danger of casting away their confidence in Jesus, and relapsing into an Old Covenant relationship with God.
i. Do not cast away your confidence: “Do not throw it away…neither men nor devils can take it from you, and God will never deprive you of it if you continue faithful. There is a reference here to cowardly soldiers, who throw away their shields, and run away from the battle. This is your shield, your faith in Christ, which gives you the knowledge of salvation; keep it, and it will keep you.” (Clarke)
b. You have need of endurance: They, and we, have need of endurance to receive the promise of God after we have done the will of God. The toughest and most discouraging trials are when we are called to obey God’s will when the fulfillment of His promise seems so far away. This is why we need endurance. Faithfulness during the time when the promise seems unfulfilled is the measure of your obedience and spiritual maturity.
i. This endurance is built through trials, the testing of our faith (James 1:2-4).
c. Now the just shall live by faith: We need to follow in the footsteps of the just who will live by faith, and endure to see the promise fulfilled.
i. Every word in Habakkuk 2:4 is important, and the Lord quotes it three times in the New Testament just to bring out the fullness of the meaning.
· In Romans 1:17 Paul quotes this same passage from Habakkuk 2:4 with the emphasis on faith: “The just shall live by faith.”
· In Galatians 3:11 Paul quotes this passage from Habakkuk 2:4 with the emphasis on just: “The just shall live by faith.”
· Here in Hebrews 10:38 the emphasis is on live: “The just shall live by faith.”
d. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul: This is a confident conclusion. We will be those who endure on and gain the promise of God. We will not draw back into old traditions or into an Old Covenant relationship with God – or any other replacement for Jesus.
i. “Drawing back in the Christian life is sometimes due to disappointment, at other times to depression, at still others to discouragement, but always to distrust.” (Thomas)
ii. To the saving of the soul: “Greek, to the giving of the soul. A metaphor from merchants, who either get more or lose what they have; or else haply from gamesters, who keep stake in store, however the world go with them.” (Trapp)
iii. To the saving of the soul: “The word ‘saving’ does not refer to what is generally understood as salvation from sin, but is a word meaning ‘complete possession.’ Faith is first receptive in spreading its sails to catch the breeze of God’s revelation, and then it is responsive to His Word and grace.” (Thomas)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Hebrews 9 – The Old Covenant and the New Covenant Compared
Videos for Hebrews 9:
A. Features of the Old Covenant described.
1. (1-5) The Old Covenant’s tabernacle and its furnishings.
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
a. The earthly sanctuary: The tabernacle ordained by the Old Covenant was planned by God, but planned for an earthly service.
b. For a tabernacle was prepared: The tabernacle was a tent 45 feet (15 meters) long, 15 feet (5 meters) wide, and 15 feet (5 meters) high, divided into two rooms. The larger room (the first part) was a 15 feet (5 meter) by 30 feet (10 meter) “holy place.” Behind the second veil was the smaller room was a 15 feet (5 meter) by 15 feet (5 meter), called the Holiest of All.
c. The lampstand: This setting for the lamps of the tabernacle had a middle stem and six branches stood in the first part. It was of an unspecified size, made of pure gold and provided the only light for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40).
d. The table: This sat in the first part and was made of acacia wood covered with gold, 3 feet long, 1½ feet wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. It held twelve loaves of showbread, each representing God’s fellowship with the twelve tribes of Israel (Exodus 25:23-30).
e. The sanctuary: This refers to the first part, known as the “holy place.” A veil (a thick curtain) separated the first part from the Holiest of All, also known as the “holy of holies” (Exodus 26:31-33).
f. The golden altar of incense: This was made of acacia wood covered with gold, 1½ feet (½ meter) square, and 3 feet (1 meter) high. It stood at the veil before the “holy of holies” and was used to burn incense (Exodus 30:1-8).
g. The ark of the covenant: This stood inside the Holiest of All and was a chest made of acacia wood covered with gold, 3¾ feet long, 2¼ feet wide, and 2¼ feet high, with rings for polls along its side to carry it without touching the ark itself (Exodus 25:10-22).
i. Inside the ark were the golden pot that had the manna (Exodus 16:33), Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:6-11), and the tablets of the covenant (Exodus 25:16).
· The manna reminded Israel of God’s provision and their ungratefulness.
· Aaron’s rod reminded Israel of their rebellion against God’s authority.
· The tablets of the covenant reminded Israel of their failure to keep the Ten Commandments and rest of the law.
h. The mercy seat: This was the ornate “lid” for the ark of the covenant, made with the designs of cherubim upon it. The blood of sacrifice was sprinkled upon it for the forgiveness of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:17-22).
i. As God looked down into the ark, He saw the symbols of Israel’s sin, rebellion and failure. But when the blood of sacrifice was applied to the mercy seat, the blood of sacrifice covered His sight of the sin of Israel.
2. (6-7) Priestly service in the tabernacle under the Old Covenant.
Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance;
a. The priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services: The priests, as appointed, went daily into the holy place to perform priestly functions such as tending the lampstand and replacing the showbread.
b. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year: The second part – sometimes known as the “holy of holies” – was entered only once a year by the high priest alone, on the Day of Atonement.
c. The high priest went alone once a year, not without blood: His entrance into the second part was not for fellowship, but only for atonement. The atoning blood was first for his own sins and then for the sins of his people.
i. Access into the Holiest of All was thus severely restricted. Even when someone could enter, it wasn’t for real fellowship with God.
ii. The ancient Jewish Rabbis wrote of how the high priest did not prolong his prayer in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, because it might make the people think he had been killed. When he came out he threw a party for all his friends, because he had emerged safely from the presence of God.
d. The people’s sins committed in ignorance: Sins of ignorance were the specific aim of the Day of Atonement. It was assumed that known sin would be taken care of through the regular sin offerings and the daily sacrifices.
i. In this respect, Jesus’ work is far greater than the work done on the Day of Atonement. Jesus’ work on the cross is sufficient to atone for both the sins we do in ignorance and sins that we know.
3. (8-10) The Holy Spirit gives understanding regarding the priestly service under the Old Covenant.
The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.
a. The way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing: The old had to pass away before God’s new way could be revealed.
b. It was symbolic for the present time: Symbolic is the ancient Greek word parabole. The tabernacle itself and all that the Old Covenant represented were suggestive of deeper truths, parables of the New Covenant.
c. Cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience: The priestly service under the Old Covenant could not make the priests offering those sacrifices perfect and clean in regard to the conscience.
i. If the cleansing is incomplete for the priest, how much more for the person the priest worked on behalf of!
c. Fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation: The weakness of the priestly service under the Old Covenant was its inability to address the need for inner transformation in man. Therefore it was only imposed until the time of reformation.
B. Features of the New Covenant described.
1. (11) The superior sanctuary of the New Covenant.
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
a. The greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands: Jesus, as our High Priest, ministers in a superior sanctuary – the very throne room of God. This is obviously a place greater than anything human hands could make.
2. (12-15) The superior sacrifice of the New Covenant.
Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
a. The blood of goats and calves: Animal sacrifice was sufficient for a temporary covering of sin, but only a perfect sacrifice could obtain eternal redemption.
i. Jesus’ sacrifice was superior in that it was perfect, voluntary, rational, and motivated by love.
b. With His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all: At the tabernacle, the sacrifice was made outside the veil, at the altar; but the atoning blood was brought into the most holy place, which represent the throne of God. In the same pattern Jesus had to die here, outside heaven and among sinful men, but the payment his death made had to be satisfied in heaven itself.
i. He entered the Most Holy Place: The High Priest entered once a year, going through the veil and back again, letting the veil fall behind him as he left – the barrier remained. Jesus tore the veil, and stays in the most holy place, heaven itself, welcoming us in. This is what makes Christianity all about access, not barriers.
ii. With His own blood: “Blood in Scripture always includes the two thoughts of a death suffered and a life offered.” (Thomas)
iii. “The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to earth to make a reconciliation by the holiness of his life, or by the earnestness of his teaching, but by his death.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “The Lord Jesus did not bring before God the sufferings of others or the merits of others, but his own life and death.” (Spurgeon)
c. For if the blood of bulls and goats… sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ: If these imperfect sacrifices were received as sufficient by Israel, then they should much more regard the ultimate sufficiency of the perfect sacrifice.
i. The ashes of a heifer refer to the remains of a burnt offering that was preserved. The ashes were sprinkled in the laver of washing to provide water suitable for ceremonial cleansing (Numbers 19:1-10).
ii. This was a shadow, fulfilled and done away with when Jesus offered a perfect cleansing. Therefore there is no value in “holy water” used by the Roman Catholic Church.
iii. Reportedly, there is a search for a “red heifer” that can be sacrificed, and its ashes used as part or a restoration of priestly functions for a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
d. How much more shall the blood of Christ… cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to even restore our damaged conscience.
i. Our conscience is a wonderful tool from God. But it isn’t perfect. Our conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2). Our conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). Our conscience can be evil (Hebrews 10:22).
e. Cleanse your conscience from dead works: The idea behind dead works is probably of sin in general, in the sense of “works that bring death.” But it must also speak to the vain continuation of Old Covenant sacrifice, which is certainly a dead work – and the very type of thing these discouraged Jewish Christians were tempted to go back to.
f. To serve the living God: The believer is cleansed, conscience and all, not to live unto himself but to serve the living God. The ancient Greek word translated serve here is latreuo, which speaks of religious or ceremonial, priestly service.
i. “And, dear friends, do keep in mind that you are henceforth to ‘serve the living God.’ You that are acquainted with the Greek will find that the kind of service here mentioned is not that which the slave or servant renders to his master, but a worshipful service such as priests render unto God. We that have been purged by Christ are to render to God the worship of a royal priesthood. It is ours to present prayers, thanksgivings, and sacrifice; it is ours to offer the incense of intercession; it is ours to light the lamp of testimony and furnish the table of shewbread.” (Spurgeon)
g. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death: Jesus’ work as a Mediator is fundamentally accomplished at His death. His heavenly work of mediation looks back to that perfect sacrifice.
h. For the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant: Jesus’ payment on the cross accomplished redemption for those under the first covenant. Every sacrifice for sin made in faith under the Mosaic command was an IOU paid in full at the cross.
3. (16-22) The necessity of Jesus’ death.
For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
a. For a testament is in force after men are dead: A testament (in the sense of a “last will and testament”) only takes effect when the person who made the testament dies. Therefore Jesus had to die for the testament – the covenant – to take effect.
i. “The same word in the Greek is used for ‘covenant’ and ‘testament,’ and although the double use is difficult, there seems to be no doubt that in verse 15 the word means ‘covenant,’ and in verses 16 and 17 ‘testament,’ and then in verse 18 ‘covenant’ again.” (Thomas)
ii. “If there be a question about whether a man is alive or not, you cannot administer to his estate, but when you have certain evidence that the testator has died then the will stands. So is it with the blessed gospel: if Jesus did not die, then the gospel is null and void.” (Spurgeon)
b. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood: Clearly, death was necessary to the Old Covenant. Virtually every part of the sacrificial system under the Law of Moses was touched by blood in some way or another.
c. Without shedding of blood there is no remission: This is a foundational principle of God’s dealings with men. Modern people think that sin is remitted (forgiven) by time, by our good works, by our decent lives, or by simply death. But there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and there is no perfect forgiveness without a perfect sacrifice.
i. The shedding of Jesus’ blood is God’s answer to man’s problem of sin. In his sermon The Blood-Shedding, Spurgeon began by showing us three fools. The first is a soldier wounded on the field of battle. The medic comes to the soldier, and immediate the solider wants to know everything about the rifle and the soldier that shot him. The second fool is a ship captain, whose ship is about to go under in a terrible storm. The captain is not at the wheel of the ship, trying to guide it through the crashing waves; he is in his room studying charts, trying to determine where the storm came from. The third fool is a man who is sick and dying with sin, about to go under the waves of God’s justice, yet is deeply troubled about the origin of evil. We should look to the solution more than to the problem.
4. (23-28) The perfect sanctuary receives a perfect sacrifice.
Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
a. It was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these: It was acceptable for the copies of the things in the heavens in the earthly sanctuary to be “purified” with imperfect sacrifices. But the heavenly things themselves could only be purified with a perfect offering.
i. “Purification implies, not only cleansing from defilement, but also dedication or consecration. All the utensils employed in the tabernacle service were thus purified though incapable of any moral pollution.” (Clarke)
b. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands… but into heaven itself: Jesus’ sacrifice was made on earth, but it is the basis for His continuing work as our mediator and High Priest in heaven. The writer to the Hebrews proclaims it: now to appear in the presence of God for us. It’s not hard to believe that Jesus does appear in the presence of God. But to believe that He appears there for us is glorious!
c. Not that He should offer Himself often: Jesus’ ministry for us continues in heaven, but not in the sense of continuing to atone for our sin. His ministry continues for us in intercession and defending us against the accuser of God’s people (Revelation 12:10). But it does not continue in the sense that He should offer Himself often. His sacrifice was once-for-all, and perfectly satisfied God’s holy justice.
i. This passage and principle is a direct rebuke to the Roman Catholic practice and theology of the mass. In the mass, the Roman Catholic Church desires to repeat – not remember, but repeat – the atoning sacrifice of Jesus innumerable times. This is absolutely indefensible Scripturally, and denies the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. The Scriptures make it plain: not that He should offer Himself often.
d. He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world: If the sacrifice of Jesus were not perfect, then it would have to be continual and constant – even since the foundation of the world. Imperfect sacrifices must be repeated continually but a perfect sacrifice can be made once for all time, and genuinely put away sin (not just cover sin, as with sacrifice under the Old Covenant). The message is clear: He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
i. This principle of sacrifice explains why the suffering of hell must be eternal for those who reject the atoning work of Jesus. They are in hell to pay the penalty of their sin, but as imperfect beings they are unable to make a perfect payment. If the payment is not perfect, then it has to be continual and constant – indeed, for all eternity. A soul could be released from hell the moment its debt of sin was completely paid – which is another way of saying never.
e. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many: Just as certainly as we die once and then face judgment, so Jesus only had to die once (not repeatedly, not continually) to bear our sins.
i. It is not the intention of the writer to the Hebrews to discuss the issue of reincarnation. That is a side issue; he simply brings up the obvious point, it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. Just as that is obvious, so it is plain that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. For the writer to the Hebrews, the truth that it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment is an indisputable principle.
ii. “A man dies once, and after that everything is fixed and settled, and he answers for his doings at the judgment. One life, one death – then everything is weighed, and the result declared: ‘after this the judgment.’ So Christ comes, and dies once; and after this, for him also the result of what he has done, namely, the salvation of those who look for him. He dies once, and then reaps the fixed result, according to the analogy of the human race, of which he became a member and representative.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Though it was not really the point of the writer to the Hebrews to discuss reincarnation, he certainly and completely denies it here. We do not die and live and die and live, facing an eternal reckoning some number of lives down the road. This life is it, and then we face judgment. This means that there are no second chances beyond the grave. Now is the time to choose for Jesus Christ, because when we die we simply face the judgment.
iv. It is important to note that the principle of it is appointed for men to die once is not an absolute principle. There are some unique, remarkable exceptions. Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) never died once. Several people in the Bible were raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:22, 2 Kings 13:20-21, Matthew 9:25, John 11:43-44, Acts 20:9-11), and therefore died twice. Those taken in the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17) will never die once. Yet these remarkable, unique exceptions do not deny the principle of it is appointed for men to die once; they are exceptions that prove the rule.
f. He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation: The focus of Jesus’ first coming was to deal with the sin problem through His atoning sacrifice. But now, having dealt with the sin problem perfectly, He comes again apart from sin – for the salvation (in the sense of rescue) of His people.
i. To those who eagerly wait for Him: It is assumed that all believers will eagerly wait for Him. It’s a sad case that this assumption doesn’t always play out as true.
ii. “It ought to be a daily disappointment when our Lord does not come; instead of being, as I fear it is, a kind of foregone conclusion that he will not come just yet.” (Spurgeon)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
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