In our sermon text today, we noted that the tabernacle and the priests were anointed with oil for their dedication. In the New Testament, all Christians are ordained to the new priesthood through the water of baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But in James 5 it says that if anyone is sick, he should call for the elders of the church to come pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord (Js. 5:14-15). The elders of Trinity take this seriously, and this is why from time to time we gather with individuals and families and anoint them with oil and lay hands on them and pray for their healing. One of the things that we regularly say when we perform this is to remind the individual or family that this anointing should remind them and is a prayer to God to remember their baptism, to remember His promises to them in Jesus. It’s a way to enact prayer before God with actions, we are asking the Holy Spirit to heal, to empower, to transform a difficult trial, a sickness into an occasion for great glory. We want Jesus to shine out in power, just like the oil makes your face shine. Continue Reading…
Archives For Bible – James
Ok, Justin Bieber is actually some form of soft porn. Justin Bieber is the swimsuit issue in the grocery store checkout line. And yes, I realize that porn is a buzz word. It’s a bit over the top. I’ve taken to using it as a multi-purpose slur of various trends I’ve noticed here and there in the broader reformed, evangelical world. And some have wondered if I’m just blowing hot air. If it’s so elastic to include both Eastern Orthodox icons and Justin Bieber as well as pictures of nekked people, has the word ceased to mean anything?
Well let me try to assure you that I’m not smoking anything illegal, and I don’t have to do any sort of rhetorical acrobatics to pull off the connections. I believe fornication (from whence the word “porn” originates) is just a straightforward biblical category of sin and idolatry that pastors and all Christians are charged to attack, destroy, and burn to the ground. But let me get a running start here:
First off, let’s settle the fact that we are in a culture war. And in order to be in a culture war we must have at least two things: we must be asserting a culture, proposing one, cultivating one, and on the other hand, we must be throwing grenades, tomatoes, and generally giving other false, idolatrous cultures our most enthusiastic and slobbery raspberries. And to be clear, this means people are going to get hurt. You can’t bust out “culture war” rhetoric, and then whine when there’s smoke in the air and someone next to you catches shrapnel in the leg. That’s what a war is, people. This isn’t an excuse for being nasty or vengeful; but it means we can’t sit on the sidelines checking our hair in the mirrors. So for example, if I say that I think Sufjan Stevens is basically a limp-wristed poser with security issues who writes mediocre poetry set to trendy indie rebel tunes (as I think is the case), some of my friends will show up with pitch forks and some of them might think I’m attacking them. But I’m not. (Did you catch that? I’m not!) I’m actually attacking that version of culture, that version of a Christian culture, that version of masculinity, that version of popular/folk aesthetic values. I’m actually not even attacking Mr. Sufjan directly either. I’m challenging his version of the world, the way he’s telling the story, the picture he’s painting and asking us to buy, support, defend, celebrate. No thanks, Mr. Sufjan. But I do occasionally listen to his music (and I don’t become violently ill). Continue Reading…
Physical adultery is always the result of spiritual adultery. If we want to be faithful to our spouse, we must first be faithful to our God.
Joshua gathers all of the elders of Israel together to renew the covenant with them before God (Josh. 24:1). Joshua reviews Israel’s history, particularly focusing on the fact that their ancestors originally worshipped other gods (Josh. 24:2), and yet Yahweh God has been the one who has repeatedly saved, rescued, and blessed (Josh. 24:3-10). God has brought them into the land of promise and drove out the nations before them, not with their sword or bow (Josh. 24:11-12). God has lavished blessings upon His people and calls them to fidelity to Him, putting away the gods their fathers served (Josh. 24:13-15). The people respond by saying that they will serve the Lord since He has done all these things (Josh. 24:16-18). But Joshua is not satisfied, and pushes back, telling them that God is holy and jealous, and He will not forgive them if they forsake Him and turn away to other gods (Josh. 24:19-20). But when the people insist, Joshua instructs them to put away the foreign gods and incline their hearts to the Lord (Josh. 24:21-24). So Joshua makes a covenant with the people on that day, writing down the words of the covenant in the book of the Law, and set up a stone as witness of the covenant (Josh. 24:25-28). Continue Reading…
Pride is a promiscuous sin and begets bastard iniquities all over the landscape of any given life. But one sin fathered by pride and frequently unnoticed is depression. In a fallen world there may be numerous factors contributing to depression, darkness, deep sadness: Death, sickness, chemical imbalances, sin, guilt, broken relationships, failures, regrets, etc. I grant all of that, and this is not meant as a one-size-fits-all diagnosis for you or someone you know.
But pride is idolatry of self. Pride pretends to be sitting in a palace, on a throne. Pride imagines importance, glory, and authority. Pride is brash, pride is haughty, pride is self-assured, self-serving, self-loving, self-vindicating. Pride is self-worship.
As it turns out, fallen, sinful people are losers. Left in their sin, people are naked, exposed, ashamed, scrambling for leaves. And thus the need for lots of pretending and wild self-aggrandizing imagination. Pride is a liar and a deceiver, and tells a tall tale to cover the shame. Pride re-tells the Fall, guilt, sin, and death renaming these curses as virtues, personality traits, gifts, callings, differences. In the history of the world, the race of Adam which is at war with God and His grace is a Naked Empire. The city of man, as Augustine called it, is more than just an emperor with no clothes, it’s an entire empire full of naked, guilty people.
People are small, people are mortal, people are weak, people really are naked under all their clothes. But pride hates shame; pride hates humility. Pride is opposed to everything weak, everything small.
But pride is destined to make you sad. Pride is destined to make you despair. This is because apart from Christ people are losers. Apart from Christ, you are naked, ashamed, guilty, alone. Pride lies and tells a different story, but self-worship, self-love, self-assurance has to look in the mirror. You have to worship your image, and as many people worship the image, they become more and more empty, more and more hopeless because look at you: you are a lousy god. Continue Reading…
James rebukes Christians who are tangled up in the web of lust and envy: “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” (Js. 4:4). James echoes Moses in Deuteronomy, where immediately after Moses reviews and restates the Ten Commandments, he summarizes the whole law as loving God with all that you are: all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength, with no remainder, with nothing left over. All of the law is summarized in this command, but the First Commandment points most directly to this. There are to be no other gods before the one true God. This is God’s own loyal claim of His people, His jealous love for His bride, and unfaithfulness to this claim is adultery and betrayal. Moses continues and says that this means that Israel is required to declare holy war on the pagan nations in the land that the Lord is giving them. “You shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them” (Dt. 7:2). You shall not make friends with them, Moses insists, and James says this is still true in the New Covenant that friendship with the world is to be at war with God. To make friends with the world is to become an enemy of God. Friendship with the world is adultery, betrayal of the love that God has shown for you. Continue Reading…
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Js. 4:6-7
There are many different species of pride. There is pride that refuses to listen to godly counsel. There is pride that refuses to ask for advice. There is pride that is offended when counsel is offered. There is pride that resists loving correction. There is pride that masquerades as humility. There is pride that masquerades as strength. There is pride that preens in the mirror; there is pride that mourns in the mirror. There is pride that ignores sin; there is pride that obsesses over past failures. There is pride that thinks it is not proud. But at its root, pride hates God. Pride hates God’s wisdom, pride hates God’s providence, pride hates the way God is telling the story, pride hates the fact that God is God. And this is why James knows that the devil is never far off when pride is glowing hot. And this is because whether you admit it or not, when you are being proud, when you are being self-sufficient, when you are refusing the advances of grace, you are resisting God, and God is resisting you. God is at war with all pride. God hates your pride because it is a deadly poison that will kill you. But the devil doesn’t come in with his pitchfork and red suit, the devil comes as an angel of light. He comes encouraging you to be strong, he comes encouraging you to see humility as ugly, he comes speaking sweet words, showing you humility as weakness. He comes with fists full of lies, and they are lies that your flesh longs to be true. You don’t want to look weak, you want to look strong, you want to look confident, you want to look brave and courageous and beautiful and handsome. You want to be right, and you want everyone to know. And so you cling to your pride, cling to your rights, cling to your story, clinging to the very poison that will kill you.
But there is good news. James does not say that if the demon of pride has overtaken you, there is no hope or escape. He simply tells you to resist the devil, and he will run. The devil is dangerous, the devil is poison, and pride will kill you. But this is an enemy that will flee from you. Submit to God and resist the devil, and he will run away. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.” (Js. 4:8)
In his new book The Four, Peter Leithart notes that the gospel of Matthew begins with a number of similarities to Genesis. Matthew begins with a “book of generations” which is one of the organizing principles of the book of Genesis (cf. 2:4, 5:1, etc.). He also notes some resemblances between Matthew’s gospel and the epistle of James.
One similarity, which he doesn’t explicitly mention (but which I suspect he’s alluding to), is the fact that the word “generations” is used only five times in the NT, twice in Matthew and twice in James (once in Luke).
Both of the uses in James need some elucidating, but just on the surface, Js. 3:6 is one of the instances and James is warning particularly about the dangers of the tongue (see my earlier post). James says that the tongue is set among our members so that it can defile the whole body and set “on fire the whole course of nature.” Literally, James says that it can set on fire the “cycle of generations.” With the emphasis at the beginning of the chapter on “teachers,” it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to see James addressing specifically generational challenges. He seems to be warning teachers in particular about the use of their tongues and the kind of impact it has on their students, children, congregations, etc. Their words have the potential to send their hearers to hell. Jesus has similar warnings for people who cause little ones to stumble.
My closing charge to the congregation yesterday at Trinity keyed off of the image Peter Leithart used in his sermon of Isaiah as a “fire-breather” (Is. 6). Having touched his lips with a coal from the altar, Isaiah became like one of the seraphim, one of the fire breathers of God who is commissioned to bring the fire of God’s judgment on Jerusalem, so that they might be consumed and refined. And this imagery certainly seems to be taken up at Pentecost, coals of fire for every believer, and suddenly everyone is speaking in tongues, declaring the mighty works of God.
But as I was meditating on the “fire-breather” imagery it struck me that James picks up this picture as well only as a warning (Js. 3:5-6). The tongue is able to kindle great fires with only a few little sparks. This means that as image bearers and renewed image bearers, there is some sense in which our mouths are always on fire, we always breathe fire. This goes back to the idea that words are always magical and powerful.
The only question is: Whose fire are we breathing? Whose magic are we speaking? The Devil is a dragon who breathes the fire of division and deception and bitterness, but God is a Dragon who breathes the life-giving fire of the Spirit. Our prayer must be to be filled with that fire, that Spirit of life.
My charge (which was much more succinct than this post!) reminded the congregation that with Christmastime upon us, we will be spending a good bit of time with our families and friends, and there will be many words in the air, we will have much to say to one another. And the charge was to speak the fire of the Spirit, specifically I reminded them of the words of Peter, the original fire-breather at Pentecost:
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:8-9)
May our words for our children, our wives and husbands, the neighbors, the grocery clerks, the TSA officials, our cranky and absurd relatives, may our words be seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6) and be filled with the fire of love (Song 8:6).
1. God created the world with words (Gen. 1:3-2:3). (Words are magic.)
2. God created the world through the Son, who is the Word (Jn. 1:2, Col. 1:16). Words are like people. The created world is words that speak (Ps. 19:1-11) and is upheld by the Word (Heb. 1:3). (Very magic.)
3. God gave man the glorious task of imaging Him in his use of words/naming/ruling (Gen. 2:19-20). (Words are still magic).
4. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:1, Heb. 1:1-3). This is the proof that God’s Word does not return void (Is. 55:11). (Deep magic.)
5. That same Word is spoken in the words of Scripture by the working of the Spirit, and it is sharp and powerful (Heb. 4:6). This is why the prayer of the righteous man avails much (Js. 5). (Our spell book.)
6. Some warnings about the power of words:
a. Some words pierce like a sword (Pr. 12:18)
b. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (Pr. 15:4).
c. He who has a perverse tongue falls into evil (Pr. 17:20).
d. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Pr. 18:21).
e. Guarding the tongue is guarding your soul (Pr. 21:23)
f. Bridling the tongue has everything to do with the central tenets of the faith (Js. 1:26).
g. The tongue is powerful and dangerous (Js. 3:5-8).
h. A good life is does not proceed from an evil tongue or speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).
7. Therefore, put away filthy language (Col. 3:8) and coarse jesting (Eph. 5:4). Let it not even be named among you (Eph. 5:3). We begin speaking the truth and speaking words of healing when we confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:5ff).
8. Ultimately, the way we use our words has everything to do with the gospel. Our words either conform to the Word and His word in Scripture or they are at odds. They are either gospel words of resurrection and forgiveness or they are satanic words of condemnation and accusation. The gospel is the declaration of the Kingdom of the Risen Jesus. Is the resurrection true? Has God invaded this world with the Kingdom of His Mighty Word?
9. Tell good jokes. Love the best stories. Curse like Jesus. And bless those who persecute you.
Ever since sin entered the world, God’s people have struggled to understand how to interact with those who do not walk in the light. The sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men, and God sent the flood. While Israel was in the wilderness, the men took a liking to the Moabite girls, and when they were invited over for dinner and a sacrifice, idolatry ensued. And God struck down twenty-four thousand in a plague which did not end until Phinehas took a javelin and struck down one Israel man and his new Midianite girlfriend. The sin of intermarrying continued to plague Israel down through the centuries, though God commanded Israel to break down the Canaanite altars, dash in pieces their pillars, and chop down their images and burn them with fire.
Gideon was one exception, a man filled with the Spirit, though it made a bunch of people mad when he and his buddies took down one of Baal’s shrines one night. But Paul’s exhortation was the point then as much as it is today, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Or James who condemns his audience, calling them “adulterers and adultressess” – “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?” James says that the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously.
The Spirit is God’s love for us, but like fools, we treat the Spirit cheaply. Rather than cultivating a fierce loyalty and love for God and His people, many Christian young people just try to see how close they can get to Moab before they get struck with a plague. It’s not pornography; it’s art. Sure, the lyrics are pretty scary, but she really is a great musician. It’s not the story I’m into so much as the acting. I’m sure there was at least one Israelite teenager pleading with his dad: It’s not the Moabites I’m into, it’s just the music that’s pretty sweet.
But the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously. And when we ask the questions: who is your God, who are your people? Many other questions clear up pretty quickly. And this isn’t an argument for monasticism, swearing off everything that the world does or produces. The point is loyalty to the God who saved you, loyalty to His Spirit, and this loyalty drives us to conquest. Which shrine of Baal are you and your friends planning to take down next?