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blue_parakeet_by_midoriakaryu-d67kcj5I’ve just finished reading Scot McKnight‘s book “the Blue Parakeet” (sub titled: “Rethinking How You Read the Bible”).  It was a timely read for me.  It addresses several topics but two were of particular interest to me – what is our relationship with the Bible and what about those difficult passages that don’t seem to fit in with our current practices (Scot calls the latter Blue Parakeets for reasons he explains in chapter 2) particularly about women teaching adult men?  

On the first one it was good to read “God does not equal the Bible” (pg. 88) .  I knew that of course but it is funny how many evangelicals don’t seem to.  Another good phrase is on page 91:  “God gave the Bible not so we can know it but so we can know and love God through it.”  It is good to be reminded of these things.  Seeing eye to eye with Scot on these issues helped give me confidence about his views on “Blue Parakeets”.

Before I read the book I had been going in depth through an issue that bothered me in the bible.  It was the passage in Acts 15:20 where James recommends that Gentiles follow certain laws (abstain from the meat of strangled animals and from blood) which Paul, for one, and I and many other Christians ignore these days.  Like all Blue Parakeets (difficult issues) in the Scripture there is an answer that is satisfying to the mind in relationship with Christ (we have the mind of Christ – 1 Cor. 2:16) and for this issue I was satisfied after studying it in depth for about a week.  These commands fall under the general command to love your neighbour as yourself, or more specifically, not to cause your Jewish Christian neighbour (c.f. Romans 14, 1 Cor. 8) to stumble.   Nowadays very few of us live near Messianic Jews and, with the understanding we and they have of the relationship between the Law and our relationship with Christ, they would probably not be stumbled by non-Jewish believer’s eating rare meat at least in Ireland.

Scot’s says about this and other difficult passages in the Bible that no matter who you are, you do pick and choose (or adopt and adapt) when it comes to interpreting them.  Of course this particularly applies to the Old Testament but it is also true about the New Testament.  No where is this more clear than in relation to the current controversies in evangelical circles about women teachers.  It was refreshing for me to read someone finally addressing comprehensively the infamous “silencing” passages of Paul in 1 Cor. 14: 34-35 and particularly 1 Tim. 2:11-15.

In reality I can’t help but think that Scot’s main reason for writing the book was to address this issue.  He addresses it in the context of rethinking how we read the bible but it is the main subject of the book.  He dedicates the book to someone he thinks was not given the opportunities to minister that she should have gotten and he spends over a third of the book directly addressing the issue of the role of women in the Bible and Church.

Of course I liked his arguments in favour of allowing women to teach adult men.  They made a lot of sense.  Also the mind of Christ, that I like to think I share, witnesses within me that of course qualified anointed women, like qualified anointed men, should be permitted to teach adult men.  The admonitions of Paul, like those of James, applied to the particular circumstances in which they were written.  That was then and this is now.

For me probably the best passage in the book was where Scot quotes F.F. Bruce.  Here are excerpts from the text on pages 206 – 207:

"Professor F. F. Bruce, perhaps the most widely known evangelical scholar of the previous generation and a specialist on Paul, had invited our family to his home.... During a break... I asked Professor Bruce a question that I had stored up for him (and I repeat our conversation from memory):  "Professor Bruce, what do you think of women's ordination?"
"I don't think the New Testament talks about ordination," he replied.
"What about the silencing passages of Paul on women?" I asked.
"I think Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew we were turning his letters into torah."
Wow! I thought. That's a good point to think about.  Thereupon I asked a question that he answered in such a way that it reshaped my thinking:  "What do you think then about women in church ministries?"
Professor Bruce's answer was as Pauline as Paul was:  "I'm for whatever God's Spirit grants women gifts to do."
So am I. Let the blue parakeets sing!"

Having the mind of the Spirit is the crucial thing for individuals and churches always.  The Bible was never meant to be a book of rules.  It is God’s story written for those who have the mind of Christ.  Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God – and really there is little point in reading the Scriptures for you.  It will only tie you up in knots, or if you are like I was before I was born again, bore you to tears.  But if you are born again, it is a joy to hear the Spirit speak His love story and satisfy our mind together as we read, hear it preached and discover and love God more through the Bible.

I want every women called of God to preach and teach as He leads them.  For there is no difference, in Christ there is neither male nor female, we are all one in Christ Jesus.  And I think I have the mind of Christ in this matter (as Paul might say).

The company Jesus keeps

The Great Banquet

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 15-2

Passage

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus replied:

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.

The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’

Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out.  Please excuse me.’

Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

The servant came back and reported this to his master.  Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’  Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.  I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:15-24

Context

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

The Main Point

Jesus' friendsThe parable is introduced in the context of someone making a statement about the kingdom of God.  So we can take it that the original audience and readers would have understood the parable to be about that.  Then it is not unreasonable to assume that the “certain man” Jesus introduces is God who has prepared a feast for His people.  The point first century readers would have picked up is that those he first invited – the Jews – refused to come to what he had prepared and so he invited the Gentiles, the spiritually (and materially) poor, crippled, blind and lame who are outside the house to come instead.

The context in which Jesus spoke brings home the point for his audience at the time of his telling of this parable.  Jesus is at the house of a rich Pharisee (v1) who, no doubt, would have invited his – equally rich – friends to dinner on many occasions.  This time, for whatever reason, he has invited Jesus along with them – there is no mention of any of His disciples or followers being invited.  It is not clear how the man with dropsy got in, perhaps he was one of the Pharisee’s old servants, but the attitude of the Pharisee and his friends before and after the man is healed does not impress Jesus (v2-6).  Neither does the guests approach to the table (v.7 – 11).  Jesus then challenges the Pharisee to not just invite his relatives and rich neighbours to meals like this one but also the poor, crippled, lame and blind (v12-14).

Jesus then explains in this context that God has invited some people to a feast.  Jesus gets the Pharisee, and his guests, to imagine what it would be like if, after all the preparations, all his friends began to make excuses not to come – some of them quite lame.  Jesus knows what God will do, He will invite others to come in their place.  Actually He will go out and make them come in.  And they won’t be healthy and rich like the Pharisee’s friends, they will be poor, crippled, lame and blind like the man with the dropsy.  With all that context, the message must have come home loud and clear to the Pharisee and his guests:  you may have invited Jesus to your house but unless you understand His heart towards the poor and outsiders you are in danger of taking His far more important invitation to the Kingdom of God too lightly and missing out.

Application

We often use the phrase “I invited Jesus into my heart”.  However this parable makes it clear that if you have invited Jesus in to the house of your soul you can expect Him to bring a lot of others with Him.  He kept some strange company of outcasts, poor, lame and crippled.  He is not impressed by how clean, tidy and well-ordered your house may be, or how well off you are, he will still bring them with Him.  We need to be open to the company that Jesus keeps.

As I have been reading and re-reading this post I can’t help but think it doesn’t do justice to the importance of the canon as we have received it.  I can’t see anything specifically wrong with it but I am concerned that it could be picked up as somehow denigrating or making little of the bible.  Anyone who knows me and who reads my other posts will know that I consider the Scripture/ canon/ bible as being of great importance.  Please feel free to comment.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 in Context

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 14:2

Summary

The statement by Paul that “all Scripture is inspired by God” has been a significant pillar in popular evangelical doctrine to emphasise the importance of the canon – the bible as we know it.  However what was meant by the word “Scripture” in Paul’s time and what mainline evangelical Christianity means by it now are very different.  Not even the OT was the same as the references to Jannes & Jambre in 3:8 make clear.

This lack of certainty about what exactly is meant by “all Scriptures” is not limited to the fact that Paul and Timothy’s versions were so significantly different from what we recognise as the canon today.  There are significant differences in translations of the canon and even the underlying Greek texts.  It is also clear that there are many schisms in Evangelical Christianity that have arisen because of different interpretations of the texts that most people agree are in the canon (e.g. the Baptism in the Spirit to name just one obvious example).

The conclusion that this study comes to is that God never intended the canon or whatever we interpret by the words “All Scriptures” to be used as the ultimate basis for our faith.  That basis is Jesus Christ in us and a living relationship with Him.  However once that is clearly understood the canon does have a significant role to play.  It is the main source of the anointed words that Paul so encourages Timothy to preach.

Therefore preaching is very significant, perhaps more than we realise.  It is the preached word that creates faith in the person hearing and that is the main means God uses to save people (Romans 10:4-18, 1 Cor. 1:21-25).  We need to pay more attention….

Step 1: What did it mean to the original readers?

Context Summary

2 Timothy is written from Paul to his “dear son” Timothy towards the end of Paul’s life.  Despite his innocence Paul is in prison chained like a criminal.  He has many enemies and many of his disciples have left him, most not for good reasons.  Despite this he is encouraged and looking forward to the reward that he now feels sure is awaiting him.  He writes to Timothy to encourage him with the encouragement that he feels and to remind him of the principles of how to stay encouraged in the face of similar adversities.  Things are not going to get any easier but there are things Timothy can do:

  • Keep focussed on Jesus, strengthen himself in Him, remember Him
  • Remember the gospel
  • Remind himself of how Paul lived
  • Stay preaching the word

In other words: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures..” (3:14-15).

Who is Timothy?

Timothy was a “son in the faith” to Paul, his true disciple and someone with oversight over churches in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3).  He was Paul’s disciple and, along with Titus and possibly others, was Paul’s next generation, his legacy, of preachers and apostles.

What Scripture is and what to do with it

In this context Paul reminds Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (v. 16,17).  Since this is the nature of Scripture, Timothy is then strongly encouraged to preach the Word i.e. use the Scriptures in the way they were meant to be used, for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  All of this is summed up by Paul in his exhortation and command to Timothy to preach the Word (see also 1 Timothy 4:13).  It seems Timothy had a gift which, given the context of 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6, was probably preaching.  The time will come, Paul warns Timothy, when men will not put up with sound doctrine.

The definition of Scripture

But what did the term “All Scripture” mean to Timothy?  And what does Paul mean by “sound doctrine”?  As Paul says to Timothy he had known these holy Scriptures since his infancy, i.e. before any of the New Testament was written.  So all Scripture in this context is probably the Old Testament as the Jews of Timothy’s time knew it.  That that was not the same as the OT that we have in our canon is indicated by Paul’s references to two characters that are not mentioned by name in our OT i.e. Jannes and Jambres (3:8).

But there is also something related in Paul’s emphasis upon his own teachings to Timothy – what you have heard from me  – sound teaching (1:13) and his reference to sound doctrine in 4:3 – that would have meant that Timothy would have been as likely to give Paul’s utterances and writings as much importance as the Scriptures he had read.  See also verses 2:2, 7, 15; 3:10, 14.  In 1 Timothy the emphasis on sound doctrine as taught by Paul is even stronger.  If Timothy had also heard Peter’s opinion of Paul’s writings (as he expressed in 2 Peter 3:15) then he would have understood the relative importance of Paul’s teachings vis-à-vis the Scriptures he had been brought up on, i.e. that both were Scripture and both were therefore as useful as each other in the way described in 3:15.

This was towards the end of Paul’s life, i.e. about 67 AD[1] and some of the other NT books and letters had been written by this time.  Perhaps Timothy could recognise which of these were inspired, i.e. canon, and which were not but this is speculation.

Step 2: What are the differences between the original readers and us?

Not many of us personally know people that are significant leaders in the church and that are in prison for their faith.  But otherwise much of the same situations apply.  If it was the last days in Paul’s time (at least the writer to the Hebrews thought so – see Hebrews 1:2) then it certainly is for us.

The particular role of Paul as a writer of one of significant components of the canon  is not one that we have a counterpart to today.

We also know the NT canon, a lot of which was not written when Timothy got this letter.  So we have a bit more certainty perhaps than Timothy about the importance of the letters he got from Paul or which he had read himself.  But that is very much a “perhaps” – Timothy had a “gift of God” probably similar to what we have.  The Holy Spirit is well able to teach him and us and guide us all into all truth once we have received that same gift.

Step 3: What are the theological principles in the text?

  1. All Scripture is inspired by God
  2. As a result, all Scripture is useful for
    1. teaching
    2. rebuking
    3. correcting
    4. training in righteousness
  3. The result of using Scripture in this way is make a man of God thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Step 4: How do these principles fit in with the rest of the bible?

These principles are backed up by Peter in 2 Peter 3:15.  The word of truth and the Scriptures themselves are nothing but a set of statements that can be used in many ways if the person reading them is not filled with the Spirit and taught by God.  Ultimately Jesus is the Truth and the Word of God and unless you are being taught by His Holy Spirit in a real experiential way you will eventually be confused and unsure of what to believe.  No amount of reading of the bible or study will bring you to God, only faith in the preached word does that (see 1 Cor. 1:18-31).

Step 5:  How should we live out these theological principles?

Most Christians have not been exhorted by a godly Apostle to preach the word or use the Scriptures in the way Timothy was though there are those who have received that gift from Jesus.

But the biggest applications for my personal walk that I get from these verses is as follows:

  1.  Listen to godly, gifted preachers, who are preaching the Word of God in the way God intended.  Be prepared to be taught, rebuked, corrected and trained by this preached Word.
  2. The Scriptures are not the same thing as the Word of God.  It takes the action of the Holy Spirit working His gift through a godly man to make Scriptures useful.
  3. Both Paul and Timothy’s versions of the Scriptures were different from ours as has been the case for many Christians even after the canon was decided.  Different translations and underlying texts can make significant differences even today.  We should not get too tied up by the fact that Scripture cannot be precisely pinned down to the last Greek letter. The Holy Spirit does not want us to make a fetish out of the words on the page. As Paul says elsewhere:  “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

[1] Zondervan NIV Study Bible

A cure for the love of money!

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 13-3

I Timothy 6:10a

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. (NIV)

Grasping the Text in their town

Roman slave mosaicIf we take the verse in context the original readers would have seen this verse as a follow on to the earlier verses about being content with food and clothing (vv. 6-8).  These verses themselves relate to earlier verses (vv. 1-2) about slaves showing respect and serving their masters well despite the fact that they are slaves.  Far from a cry for slaves to pursue their freedom, Paul says that they should be content.  He also says in vv. 3-5 that anyone teaching otherwise is motivated by thinking that godliness is a means to financial gain.  This is the link verse to the remainder of what the chapter teaches about the love of money.  It is probable that the idea had got out that if you can be free you can make money and that money will bring about happiness.  Paul wants to knock that idea on the head.

The differences between their situation and ours

Slavery, per se, has been outlawed in nearly every country though variations of it exist all over the world.  Otherwise things aren’t much different as far as this passage is concerned.

The theological principles in the passage

love of moneyProbably the main principle, for me anyway, is elaborated in verse 7:  “We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.”  This makes the following three verses clear – being eager for money, loving it, can cause you to wander from the faith.  The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil that stem from a wrong perspective on life, giving importance to those things that are not since we won’t be bringing any of it with us.

Does this fit in with the teachings of the rest of the bible?

This principle is central to many of Jesus’ teaching and to the whole ethic of the NT.  Jesus attitude to money during His earthly ministry might at times be considered cavalier by those who give money more importance than He ever did.  In Matt. 6:19 – 34 Jesus teaches us to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.  He also says that no one can serve both God and money.  He also says not to worry about tomorrow or indeed anything to do with what we eat, drink or wear (the same things that Paul says we ought to be content with having – we shouldn’t be looking for more than these).  In Matthew 17:24-27 it is obvious that He and His disciples are penniless and cannot pay the temple tax.  However, Jesus isn’t bothered, He doesn’t even go looking for the money Himself but sends Peter to get it from a fish!  In Matt. 19: 16 – 26 Jesus warns that it is very hard for someone who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And so it goes on.

How should we apply this principle today?

Even though there aren’t any slaves that we know of today in Ireland anyway, many people feel like slaves either because they are in demanding low paid employment or because they are in debt.  The natural inclination of most people is not to be content in these situations, to want to find a way out.  But if it was true that those who were slaves in Paul’s time ought to be content with food and clothing (v.8) then it is also true for us now.

One of the biggest issues that I, and probably others, have is that we are not content with just food and clothing.  We feel we have a need for a whole plethora of other things:

  • Education9598540-cartoon-home-appliance-icon
  • Health care
  • Justice & security
  • Elaborate dwelling places with all sorts of facilities such as:
    • Hot showers
    • Electric ovens
    • Central heating
    • Flushable toilets
    • Comfortable furniture and beds
    • TV
    • Computers
    • etc.
  • Motor vehicles
  • Mobile phones
  • Holidays
  • Recreational trips
  • Eating out
  • etc.

But according to the bible we don’t actually need any of these things, just food and clothing (which presumably includes shelter) and with those we should be content.

Some chance!

september-9-11-attacks-anniversary-ground-zero-world-trade-center-pentagon-flight-93-second-airplane-wtc_39997_600x450But the reality is that all these things are very precarious.  The world economic system is continuously on a knife edge.  Economic disaster is never far away from any of us.  Wars can break out in the most unlikely places in unimaginable ways (9/11), there is no lasting security on this earth.  I, and perhaps you, live in the illusion that we will always have more than we need, I take it for granted and can’t imagine what it would be like not to have these “basics”.  But there is nothing basic about this list of things nor is there any certainty that any of us will have them.  The only thing we can be certain about is that our heavenly Father will give us what we truly need:  food & shelter.

The answer then is to start being truly thankful for everything else for as long as we have it all.

Which mightn’t be for long.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Tim. 6:17)

Be ThankfulThank you Jesus!

Different View Points

The role of the Holy Spirit

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 12-1

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)

A learned intellectual interprets John 3:16

A man with 2 Ph.Ds specialising in NT studies who has not believed and encountered God in the Spirit would have a cognitive understanding of the passage.  He might discuss it in this way:

“The passage says that “God” loved the world so much that he gave his “son” for it.  According to this passage by John the mechanism for living for eternity is to believe in “the son”, i.e. the man Jesus.  I would say that it is true that anyone who has the Christian faith can be deluded into thinking they will live forever and that that is not a bad thing.  For most people, having the hope that they will live forever should keep them happy through difficult times.  It is noticeable that the Christian gospel has a great effect in poor countries where the consolations of this life are far less and the hope for an eternal life of happiness most required.

Jesus was a man, an extraordinary man, but simply believing in him could not make someone live forever and, obviously, doesn’t since all people die.  Though I can see how people who do believe in him must be consoled in difficulty, I cannot see how doing so could possibly make people live forever.

Anyway the idea that God, if he exists in the form described in the NT, would have a son is foolishness and the whole idea expressed in this passage is also foolishness if interpreted in a literal sense.  But the message in this passage is one of the best means there is for pacifying and comforting people in trouble with no other hope, as so many are in this world,.”

A mature believer interprets John 3:16

This is how a mature believer (like me) might interpret it:

“When I met God on the back of a bus travelling from Mullingar to Galway on May 7th 1980, one of the first things He did was convict me of the truth of all the Scriptures including this one.  I believe that God is and that He is good.  I believe He has a Son, Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, whom He sent to earth, who came of His own volition and who died a horrible death so that my sins might be taken out of the way and so I can have eternal life.

The life to come is not an extension of the time frame of this present body I am in but a new life in a new eternal body which is maintained by the Spirit of God Himself.

I continue to believe and act accordingly since I have the Spirit of God in me leading me into all truth.

I continually remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and continue to believe and receive eternal life, the deposit of which starts in this life with the Holy Spirit within me.  I don’t just have a cognitive understanding of this passage but a fully engaged, continuing life experience with the author of it.”

A 9 year old child interprets John 3:16 having just given her life to Jesus

“Daddy, Jesus died for me!”

Communication

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 10-2

Scripture is not the only means of knowing what God is saying

From a Christian perspective, meaning and interpretation are ultimately grounded in all God’s communicative action in creation, in the Scriptures, and pre-eminently in Christ.  For those who know God, just having the bible on its own is not enough.  We also desire to know Him intimately in the Spirit.

The great thing about having the Scriptures is that, used correctly, they are not as subjective as our personal experience of Christ can be.  Reading and understanding what the Scriptures say about God is a great way of checking our personal experience, of validating the genuineness of our faith.

If you then add to that a right understanding of, and connection with, His creation you have a threefold strand which cannot easily be broken (Eccles. 4:12).  The ultimate and best expression of God’s creation is in mankind.  In particular the bonds and modes of behaviour that we call good and which to some extent are in all mankind, communicate to us what God is like.  For example the right relationship of a parent with a child and husband with wife and vice versa help us to understand what God is like and how He loves us.

The ultimate right connection for any believer with God’s creation is to be part of a community with others who know Him in the Spirit and where His Word is preached by godly men and women, i.e. His Church.  In the Church is combined the best of God’s creation, godly exposition and presentation of the Scriptures and the image of Christ who is its Head and of whom the Church is His Body.  Local expressions on this earth of His Church can be quite a mixture of the earthly and the divine and don’t always live up to this exalted view of the Church.  But, hey, what do you expect on this earth.  In Heaven She will be revealed in a different light.

Poor Communication

Duval & Hays have this very helpful thing to say about the importance of communication when reading the Scripture:

“The issue of communication … lies at the heart of one’s decision about how to interpret a text. If you, the reader, see the text as a communication between the author and yourself, then you should search for the meaning that the author intended. If, however, you as the reader do not care to communicate with the author, then you are free to follow reader response and interpret the text without asking what the author meant. In some cases, however, there may be negative consequences for such a reading.”

Word Study – “Sick”

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-5

14           Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

(James 5:14)

Sick-leaveThe Greek word for sick in this context is transliterated: Astheneo

Strong’s number: 770

It is used 33 times in the NT:

  • Sick (19 times): Matthew 10:8, 25:36, 39; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 4:46, 5:3, 7, 11:1-3, 6; Acts 9:37, 19:12, 20:35; Phil. 2:26-27; 2 Timothy 4:20; James 5:14
  • Weak (14 times): Romans 4:19, 8:3, 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 8:11-12; 2 Cor. 11:21, 29, 12:10, 13:3-4,9;

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word could as easily be translated “weak” as “sick”.  In English these two words are quite related but our understanding of the microbes that cause sickness make us more inclined to separate the meanings than would have been the case for people in James’ time.  If we use “weak” instead of “sick” in James 5:14 we have:

“Is anyone among you weak? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”

When we take the overall context of James 5:13 -16 we can see there is a connection between being weak, or sick, and sin – the effect of the elders anointing is not just to make the person well physically but also spiritually – his sins will be forgiven.  In verse 16 the key to healing is that you confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.  In verse 15 the word translated “sick” is actually a very different word which is only used one other time, in Hebrews, and there it is translated “weary”.  So if you feel weary confess your sins to each other and pray for each other and you will be healed.

Nowadays we are inclined to view disease and sickness differently from James.  For us there is only a tenuous connection, if any, between our personal actions and sin.  Sickness is caused usually by viruses or bacteria which seem separated from our moral actions.  As a Christian in the 21st Century the connection is less personal, more related to the general fallen condition of the world than anything that we personally may have done.  But if you think in terms of sickness being weakness and put yourself in the context of a 1st Century Christian who knows nothing about viruses and bacteria then you might see the connection between personal sin and weakness or sickness more easily.

Things can come around though.  The bible’s wisdom does not seem so archaic in this regard if you are into holistic medicine.  Lifestyle and a tendency to sickness go together.  If your lifestyle is one of abusing the body through excessive alcohol or smoking or immorality then it is easy to see how those sins can affect your health also.

In this passage though the emphasis is not on the sin causing the illness.  The Lord is gracious and he heals first and, then, forgives your sins also.  He doesn’t place the emphasis on the sin but rather on the healing of the sickness or weakness.

Which is just like Him, isn’t it?

I have a dear friend and I’ve benefited from his wisdom, prayers and friendship for nearly 25 years now.  He suffers from a life threatening condition that could send him home at any time – he has already lived well beyond the expected life span of people with it.

Living-On-The-EdgeI called over to him  yesterday.  We have this arrangement where I give him a call and if he is there and well enough (did I mention that the condition leaves him constantly tired?) I pop in for a chat.  Or rather I come to spend time in the presence of someone living on the edge of heaven.

It is remarkable how much blessing can come from being with someone like my friend in such a short time.  He seems to be always hearing from God.  Even though my last visit hadn’t been for over 9 months, and he didn’t know I was coming until a few minutes before I arrived, God had been speaking things to him the day before that were what I needed to hear.  During our conversation he also spoke other things that encouraged me.  And of course he listened more than he spoke.

Some day, any day now, he will walk from the edge of heaven straight into the middle of it and there will be no gap between the two.  And in one sense not much will have changed, he will just  be that little bit closer to the One he loves than he is now.

Word Study – Trials

Grasping God’s Word – Assignment 9-4

2              Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

3              knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

4              And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:2-4 (NAS), compare Romans 5:3-5)

The Greek word for trials in this context is transliterated: Peirasmos

Strong’s number: 3986

It is used 21 times in the New Testament:

  • Temptation (12 times): Matthew 6:13, 26:41; Mark 14:38; Luke 4:13, 8:13, 11:4, 22:40, 22:46; 1 Cor. 10:13 (twice); 1 Tim. 6:9; 2 Peter 2:9.
  • Trials (4 times): Luke 22:28; Acts 20:19; James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6.
  • Trial (3 times): Gal. 4:14; Hebrews 3:8; James 1:12.
  • Testing (twice): 1 Peter 4:12; Rev. 3:10.

From the contexts in other passages it would appear that this word is definitely more closely translated “temptation” than “trials”.  If we use temptation instead of trials in James 1:2 we have:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various temptations”

We know that we are to pray that we do not enter temptation (Matt. 26:41) and we are to ask our heavenly Father not to lead us into temptation (the Lord’s prayer – Matt. 6:13).  However if temptation still comes then we should consider it a joy to encounter it, knowing that our Father has not allowed us to be tempted above what we are able for (1 Cor. 10:13).  We also know that it will produce endurance and a perfect result if we continue to be faithful to God through the temptation (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5).

The nature of temptation is, of course, to be very enticing, seductive, tempting even.  What tempts me would not tempt someone else and what tempts someone else would not tempt me.  But whatever it is that tempts you, there is great reward in staying faithful through the period of temptation, of not giving into it.  Sometimes I feel ashamed at what tempts me, especially in the light of God’s mercies to me, the many blessings I enjoy because I do not yield and the disastrous consequences for those closest to me if I did.  Probably everyone is tempted by something that could, if yielded to, be very destructive – probably one of the seven deadly sins as they are called: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.

There are other temptations that are more subtle and rather than destroy our lives all at once, they wear them down slowly when yielded to.  These include any temptation to not put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first (Matt. 6:33).  For example we can be tempted to think that spending dedicated time with God in private one to one relationship is less important than doing something else, e.g. spending time with family, work or just watching TV. Or we can be tempted to put other family activities before family worship, bible study and prayer.  This kind of temptation can be hard to consistently resist.

However the principle in all these cases is the same:

  • Resist temptation,
  • endure in resisting it (some temptations go on all your life)
  • look forward to the results of resisting temptation:
    • proven character,
    • the love of God poured out in your heart (Romans 5:5).

As the Lord said to Abraham: “I am your exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1).  Being close to Jesus is the greatest reward for staying faithful under (what can feel like) overwhelming, very attractive temptation.

Is a constant and closer relationship with Jesus the “perfect result” of enduring under trials that James is referring to?

Word Study OT – Meditate

Word Study – The word translated “Meditate” in Josh 1:8

Grasping God’s Word Assignment 9-3

Not this kind of meditation!

Not this kind of meditation!

  1. Strong’s number: 1897.
  2. The Hebrew Word transliterated “Hagah” is used 24 times in the OT.
  3. The New American Standard (NAS) translates it as:
    • declare (1 time): Psalm 35:28
    • devise (2 times):  Psalm 38:12,  Proverbs 24:2
    • devising (1 time): Psalm 2:1
    • growls (1 time): Isaiah 31:4
    • make a sound (1 time): Psalm 115:7
    • meditate (5 times): Joshua 1:8, Psalm 63:6, Psalm 77:12, Psalm 143:5, Isaiah 33:18
    • meditates (1 time): Psalm 1:2
    • moan (3 times): Isaiah 16:7,  Isaiah 38:14, Jeremiah 48:31
    • moan sadly (1 time): Isaiah 59:11
    • mutter (2 times): Job 27:4, Isaiah 8:19
    • mutters (1 time): Isaiah 59:3
    • ponders (1 time): Proverbs 15:28
    • utter (2 times): Psalm 71:24, Proverbs 8:7
    • uttering (1 time): Isaiah 59:13
    • utters (1 time): Psalm 37:30
  4. Context – one instance in Joshua but the 23 others are confined to the wisdom books – mainly Psalms – and the prophets – mainly Isaiah.  Used about people in connection with God and good plans, people in connection with evil and evil plans, a lion over its prey.  Doves can do it and idols cannot.
  5. Semantic range of the Hebrew word transliterated hagah: I think this word is used to describe any deep connection between a thinking being (including animals) and the object upon which the word is used.  It sometimes includes considerable emotion (moan).  It is used in both a positive and negative sense – people can “hagah” and use it to work evil (3 times) or good or to be taken up with evil or good.  It also carries expression with it in 14 instances out of the 24 – declare, growls, make a sound, moan (sadly), mutter(s), utter(s)(ing).  The word “Meditate” doesn’t capture the expressive nuances of the Hebrew word “Hagah”.
  6. In Joshua 1:8 I prefer the words “deeply connect” to “meditate”:

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall deeply connect with it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Note also the connection with speaking it out in the earlier part of the verse.  This suggests another way of saying “hagah” in this context, i.e. “allow it to well up and out”:

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall allow it to well up and out of you day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Maybe we can put both of the meanings together (with some danger of overcooking the word):

“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall deeply connect with it and allow it to well up and out of you day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

Not just meditation but expression arising from it as well.

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