Thursday, September 21, 2006

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

[To see the first and second passes at this week's lesson, go here and here.]

[Continuing the Verse-by-verse comments...]

3:18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
(1) Arrogance, which is giving first priority to anyone or anything other than God, naturally results in hatred, envy, conflicts, and disputes, as James will soon discuss. But rightness with God (righteousness) causes peace to flow into the lives of those who put God first. This doesn't mean that our lives will necessarily be peaceful or that everybody will like us. But it does mean that we will be able to look into the face of God and look at our own faces when we gaze into a mirror. We will have peace with God and peace with ourselves when we lay aside the arrogance of idolatry.

(2) On righteousness, look at Matthew 5:6. You might also be interested in this message about the passage.

(3) On being a peacemaker, look at Matthew 5:9. You might also be interested in this message about the passage.

(4) Chris Haslam points out that:
This verse is reminiscent of the association of wisdom, peace and righteousness in the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:9 (Honour the Lord with your just labours, and give him the first of your fruits of righteousness), 17-18 [Here, the common Biblical anthropomorphism of portraying Wisdom as a feminine character is employed.]; 11:30 and of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9: “‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’”).

(5) As will become clear, this verse is a bridge between what has preceded and what will follow, summarizing an old theme and introducing a new one.

4:1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?
(1) One Christian author refers to all human life as a journey of desire. I think that he's right. Made in the image of God, we have a desire for limitless living. But because of our alienation from God--a state of being that the Bible calls sin, we seek to fulfill our desires with things that seem to give us life, but only end in death. These cravings are what lay behind all of our addictions and every sin that we commit. We want the things that only God can provide. But, arrogantly unwilling to submit to God's rule over our lives, we try to fulfill our desires for God and the things of God with other things.

[These posts contains some musing on our "journey of desire," which you might find interesting: here, here, and here.

2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.
(1) The Ninth and Tenth Commandments deal with coveting.

(2) James shows how different sins relate and lead to each other. Here, coveting, a violation of either the Ninth or Tenth Commandments, maybe both, can also lead to a violation of the Fifth Commandment's prohibition of murder.

Martin Luther said, rightly I think, that to violate any of Commandments 2 through 10 was really a violation of the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me." When we violate any of the commandments, we're giving priority to our will and judgment over against the will and judgment of God.

3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
(1) So much of what we ask of God, James says, is simply for our own pleasures. It isn't that God doesn't want us to experience happiness. He does. But many of the pleasures we want are like the buzz experienced by an addict or an alcoholic. It lasts for a little while and then goes away, often painfully so. Then, it takes even more of the stuff to give a buzz.

Ask, James says. But ask for the right things, for the right reasons.

Here's some of the content of a handout I shared on Monday night with a group looking at Mark Dahle's new book on healing. While healing:
A Few Thoughts for First Gathering,
How To Pray for Healing (and what to do if nothing happens)
September 18, 2006

1. Luke 11:5-13
Jesus tells us to ask.

2. John 15:12-17
Jesus promises that the Father will give us anything for which we ask. But there appear to be two preconditions:

a. That we live in love for others in the Church. (John 15:12)

b. That we live in love for God. (John 15:12)

[Do these two conditions remind you of anything? Matthew 22:36-40. We are to love all people. But the new commandment Jesus gave in John 15 is to love those within the covenant community, the Church, and so authentic the life Christ is living within us.]

[Note: Love isn’t defined as an emotion, but as a set of actions. Think: Obedience. cf. James 2:20]

3. First John 5:14
We can be bold in our praying, trusting that God grants prayers offered in Jesus’ Name which reflect His will.

(2) James has already discussed the importance of asking God for things in prayer, specifically for the wisdom to live rightly. (James 1:5)

(3) One more note on pleasure, this from Loader:
It is not wrong to want pleasure. It is not wrong to ask. That is the part of the point of 3:3. The message of the good news assumes we have such desires and that they can be legitimate in themselves. After all, the good news is that there is a way where our desires, God's desires and others' desires - at least what God desires for them - can jell together into a peaceable unity. Christians who deny this and pretend that they are not engaging in a relationship with God partly out of concern for themselves, are playing games.
I hope to present the final pass at this weekend's lesson tomorrow.

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