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Introduction to James’ letter (1.1-4)

AccordingtotheScriptures.org :: James, the Brother of Jesus

Who was “James” (1.1)? Three different ‘James’ are to be found in the New Testament. But, despite some critics’ reservations, there seems no adequate reason to doubt that the author of this letter is James, a son of Mary and Joseph, and a younger brother of Jesus. The other two ‘James’ are James, son of Zebedee (Mark 1.19) and James, son of Alphaeus (Mark 3.18). As the main leader of the church in Jerusalem, James remained strongly attached to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Unlike Paul, he was relating very largely to Jewish people without having to face the ethnic and cultural adjustment to Gentiles. But his Greek is nevertheless excellent – so good that some critics have doubted whether the son of a carpenter could have written this letter! But Peter, as a fisherman, also wrote excellent Greek. The knowledge of the Greek language was wide-spread in Israel in the first century.

Luther dismissed this letter as “an epistle of straw” because it does not major on justification by faith, the heart of the Reformation and Luther’s controversy with the papal church. But Paul would have agreed wholeheartedly with James’ emphasis that faith and works go hand in hand together – ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2.26). And as a former Pharisee Paul would have felt at home with James’ teaching which is so closely related to Torah, the Jewish Law.

“A slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.1)

This letter is from James, a slave of... - GOD'S Love For Us ...

This verse could equally well be translated “a slave of Jesus Christ who is God and Lord”. At least it clearly relates Jesus to God the Father and gives him the divine title of ‘Lord’. It also recognizes Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. Of course James had grown up with Jesus, played with him as children and watched him day by day in his everyday life. What a testimony to the glory of Jesus that his younger brother could write of him in such words! My two daughters love their older brother very much, but they would find it very hard to move from love to worship! But the life, teaching and particularly the resurrection of Jesus had convinced even a younger brother.

“Greetings to the twelve tribes which are in diaspora” (1.1)

James James Chapter 1 An epistle written by Jacob to the ...

Sadly, my much admired former Hebrew and Old Testament teacher, Alec Motyer, in his “The Message of James” denies that James is addressing Jewish Christians. With a strong Replacement Theology he asserts that the church is ‘the new Israel’ and the successor to ‘the twelve tribes’. In his Tyndale commentary Moo discusses this idea, but finally rejects it and supports ‘a more literal meaning’. Strangely, Moo observes that by the first century Jews no longer knew which tribe they belonged to (he seems to have forgotten that, for example, the prophetess Anna (Luke 2.36) was “of the tribe of Asher”). He then floats as a possibility that James is addressing Jewish believers who had formerly been in James’ Jerusalem church, but were now scattered abroad (cf. Acts 11.19). So he sees the possibility that James’ epistle was ‘a pastoral letter’. Moo’s conclusions certainly fit the overall character of this epistle and the fact that when it was written the church still held large numbers of Jewish believers. In the twenty first century too we should never forget that the church not only has Jewish roots, but also growing numbers of Jewish Christians.

Perseverance (1.2-4)

The Power of Perseverance | Unbridling Your Brilliance

As with Peter’s readers, so also James is writing to Christians facing “trials of many kinds”. The word ‘trials’ may signify the suffering of persecution or it may denote the everyday difficulties which hit us all. In either case the experience of such trials tests our faith and through them we ‘develop perseverance’ (1.3) and patience. Such patient endurance will surely produce in us the fruit of mature faith which is “complete”. Twice in this verse James uses forms of the Greek ‘telos’ (NIV translates it as ‘finishes’ and ‘mature’)which denotes the ultimate end-time goal which is the great aim of our lives. We eagerly look forward to that fruit of our ‘staying power’, ‘constancy’ and ‘stickability’ (cf. Motyer’s “The Message of Jesus”) which will be ‘complete’ and ‘lacking in nothing’.

We don’t normally think of trials and sufferings as “all joy” (1.2)! But as we consider the wonderful fruit that comes from our faithful endurance and as we look forward to the ultimate glory which our endurance leads to, we may be encouraged and begin to rejoice.

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Spotless and Blameless (2 Peter 3.14-18)

Blameless and Spotless: Is goodness a gift or an achievement?

What kind of people? (3.14)

Already in 3.11 Peter had asked this pressing question. In the light of the coming world destruction and the promise of the new heaven and earth issuing out from the seed of the present world, “what kind of people ought you to be?” (3.11). Now in 3.14 he answers his own question.

In the Jerusalem temple the animals to be sacrificed to God had to be the very best. The halt and the lame could not be sacrificed to the all-holy God. So we have been redeemed through the shed blood of Christ, “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1.19) – the same Greek words as in 2 Peter 3.14, “spotless and blameless”.

As we sacrifice ourselves to bring Christ’s salvation to the world and as we look forward to the new heaven and earth, we too are called to be pure and holy, ‘spotless and blameless’. Such godliness requires disciplined determination – “make every effort”. Wonderfully, this requirement doesn’t fall entirely on our shoulders, but is ‘in him’ or ‘through him’. Unfortunately in the NIV “with him” goes together with being “at peace”, but the Greek text associates it rather with ‘being found spotless and blameless’. So our making every effort is also linked to being “at peace” with God and within ourselves.

In looking forward therefore to the transformation of this present world into the new heaven and earth, let us not forget God’s related call to committed holiness of life!

Beware false Prophets! (3.15-17)

Beware False Prophets – For the Love of His Truth

As in chapter 2, Peter is anxious lest his readers be drawn away from their true faith by false prophets with their unholy lives. The false prophets mocked God’s promise of Jesus’ second coming because of its long delay. But actually this delay demonstrates God’s amazing patience and his constant offer of salvation (3.15). Peter notes that he is not alone in giving such teaching, but Paul too taught the same (3.15/16). We may note Peter’s unity with Paul. It is sadly common in some church circles to assume that they were very much at odds with each other and distinct in their teaching.

We may smile at Peter’s view of Paul’s letters! He finds them “hard to understand”, but admires them as containing “the wisdom that God gave him”. In Paul’s teaching, salvation restores our relationship with God and leads to a consequent growth in moral holiness. But “ignorant and unstable people distort” the teaching of both Peter and Paul, as also “the other Scriptures”. These words assume that Peter and Paul’s letters are also included in Holy Scripture.

In the Christian church today we have grown sadly accustomed to hearing teaching which fails to follow the biblical revelation.  As a result, we can easily dismiss Peter’s strong condemnation of such false teachers as unloving and therefore wrong. But actually Peter is right to point out that such false teaching leads to a loss of true godliness and a lack of God’s peace as we ‘fall from our own steadfastness/security’ (3.17). If we fail to enjoy the glory of our salvation because of such false teaching, we lose so much of the grace of God. Perhaps we need to learn from Peter’s letters and begin to call a spade by its proper name.

Grow! (3.18)

How To Grow Bonsai Trees From Seed | Bonsai Tree Gardener

Have you slipped into the rut of middle age? Or have you failed to come out of the rut as you move into older age? When in his 90s, my richly experienced and deeply spiritual father-in-law commented to me about his church that “I have heard it all before” and then with a slight smile in his deep-set old-man’s eyes he added, “many times”! Have we got stuck and stopped growing in our knowledge of the Lord and his glorious gift of grace and salvation? So Peter ends his letter by urging his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. The revelation of God’s unmerited grace is so rich and deep that we all surely have greater depths to plumb in our knowledge and appreciation of it. Likewise, Peter here gives Jesus his full title as “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”; each word deserves a life-time’s study and meditation – ‘our’, ‘Lord’, ‘Saviour’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Christ’.

Peter concludes with the final prayer “To him be glory both now and into eternity!” The goal of everything and the purpose of our lives is that Jesus Christ should receive the glory that is his due. May our faith, our teaching and our daily lives bring him glory! And we share with Peter in affirming this with a definite “Amen”, let it be so!

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New Heaven and Earth (2 Peter 3.10-13)

Easter Series — Death To Life - The Rock Church

Death -> Life

When a seed is planted, it ‘dies’; but in dying it becomes a new tree. Likewise we believe that when we die, our present bodies perish; but from our present dead body arises a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15.42-44). The same principle applies to the whole of creation, Peter teaches us in these verses. “Everything will be destroyed” (3.11) when the day of God comes with all-consuming fire and “destruction”. But, like a seed and like our own physical death, the destruction of this present world gives birth to “a new heaven and a new earth” (3.13).

With our ecological and environmental concern these verses can cause some alarm. We may fear that the message of this world’s destruction could lead to people losing a sense of urgency for the preservation of our planet. But this should not be the case. We know that our physical bodies will die, but we are still concerned for our physical health. And, as biblical Christians, we believe that this physical world will give birth to God’s glorious new heaven and new earth. The destruction of this world is not the end. Death produces life like forest fire fertilises the ground, enabling specific seeds to sprout and bring new life.

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Righteousness ...

Righteousness

From very early times and still today, our Rabbis have taught that the final Day of the Lord, the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom, will come when Israel repents and lives a life of godly righteousness. Peter also assumes this teaching and urges his readers to “live holy and godly lives” (3.11). Looking forward to God’s glorious provision of the new heaven and earth, we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (3.14). Of course this fits the whole purpose of this letter. Peter is concerned lest believers should be drawn away from their faith and fall back into sin. Already in 1.1 he talks of Jesus’ righteousness and in 1.3 he says that Jesus’ divine power “has given us everything we need for life and godliness”. As we seek to live such godly lives of moral uprightness, we can indeed look forward to “the day of God”. And, because the transition from this present world into God’s perfect future will only come when righteousness prevails, our godly living actually plays a vital part in ‘speeding its coming’ (3.12).

Why “Why” Isn't Enough: A critical analysis of Simon Sinek's ...

Why?

When catastrophes hit us, people often ask searching questions. Why? When the York Minster roof was destroyed by fire and when the tsunami hit Sumatra and Sri Lanka, the same debates raged. Was it the judgment of God? Or was it just a natural disaster which forms part of our fallen world? And some more biblically perceptive people wondered whether God was ‘chastising’ in order to teach and correct. At the time of the tsunami BBC asked leaders from various religions that same question: “Why?” The then Archbishop of Canterbury wisely rejected the question and stressed that as Christians we ask the question: “What?” What can we do to serve and to help the sufferers?

In his teaching Jesus also faces this same question. Pilate had killed various Jews and their blood had been “mixed with their sacrifices” (Luke 13.1). In that context Jesus asked whether “these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans”. He followed this with the same question about “eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them”. Were they specially sinful? Jesus strongly rejects any such idea (“No, I tell you”- Luke 13.3 and 5), but warns them “unless you repent, you too will all perish”.

So Jesus avoids the whole question of why natural disasters happen, but emphasizes that they should move us to repentance and godliness. That is Peter’s emphasis too. Let repentant faith and godly righteousness characterise our lives as we longingly await God’s gracious gift of a new heaven and a new earth!

“What kind of people ought you to be?” (2 Peter 3.11)

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“Wholesome Thinking” (2 Peter 3.1-9)

Epistles - Their Meaning & Purpose in the Bible

The Epistle’s Purpose (3.1-2)

Just as John in his Gospel (John 20.31) and in his first Epistle (1 John 5.13) informs his readers of his purpose in writing, so too Peter in 3.1/2 states why he wrote this second letter. While in John’s Gospel John is aiming at people who are still unsure of faith in Jesus, in his Epistle he is writing to people with a definite faith in Jesus, but he wants them to have a sure confidence that they “have eternal life”. Peter, on the other hand, is anxious lest his readers wander away from their faith because of the suffering, persecution and cultural pressure they are facing. So he wants to undergird their faith with “wholesome thinking” which doesn’t forget “the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets” and God’s command.

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  1. Wholesome thinking

Even as Christians our thinking can so easily be unduly influenced by the ideas of the non-Christian world around us. We may begin to dream of the things other people consider important in life. Our ambitions in life may begin to follow their estimation of what is desirable and ‘cool’. But Peter would have definitely agreed with Paul that we should “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3.1).

And Peter himself had already urged his readers to ‘prepare their minds for action’ by being self-controlled and obedient with their hope firmly based on God’s gift of grace when Jesus finally comes again (1 Peter 1.13/14).

So Many Prophetic Words - Ralph Howe Ministries
  • Prophetic words and the Lord’s command.

Read the Bible! Learn the Bible! Study the Bible! Teach and preach the Bible! Let the Bible determine our hearts, our thinking and our daily living! Without the Bible as the foundation of everything we shall be prone to lose our love for Christ and go astray. In the Bible we have the word of God’s prophets and in the Bible we have “the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles” (3.2).

We may note the intimate link which is implied by the word “your”. In Peter’s thinking as a leading apostle, the apostles are not just some hierarchical entity apart from any close relationship with ordinary Christians. They relate closely as part of the fellowship of the church. All of us together form the body of Christ, so the church needs to reflect this togetherness. The present coronavirus lock-down compels us to re-think our ‘body life’ as we conduct our Christian lives largely apart from the structures of the church. Of course we were being pushed in this direction by the increasing shortage of full-time ordained workers. In the future, after our present lock-down, we look forward to the teaching and pastoring ministry of ‘our’ leaders.

The Lord Jesus Promised to Return for Us

He promised to come again (3.3-9)

In Chapter 2 Peter warned against false prophets and now in Chapter 3 he says that “scoffers will come” (3.3). They will not only mock the very word of God, but also in their lives will “follow their own evil desires”. Again we may note that spiritual faith and practical daily living go hand in hand both positively and negatively.

In the Bible and from the very lips of Jesus himself we have the promise that he will finally come again in glory. The early church assumed that this would happen even in their life-time. But twenty centuries have now passed and we are still waiting. No wonder that still today ‘scoffers’ sometimes ask with a cynical smile, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” (3.4). Sadly, many even of our church leaders have lost faith in his coming.

Although the interpretation of 3.10 is notoriously difficult, the comment in Bauckham’s Word commentary on 2 Peter is surely right, “3.5-10 is by no means concerned solely with the Parousia as cosmic dissolution, but is primarily concerned with the Parousia as judgment of the wicked”. We shall look further at this when we look at 3.10 and 3.13. Peter reminds his readers and us that God’s word is reliable and powerful. By God’s word the universe was created and then with parallel power the world was flooded in the days of Noah (3.5/6). And it is by this same word of God that the final judgment will take place (3.7). So we should trust God’s word and not give up hope of his coming again. One century after another may seem an eternity to us, but for our eternal God “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (3.8). So wait expectantly for his return and for the final conclusion of God’s purposes for this world! Get ready for his coming in glory and power to judge the world!

Why Wait- Black Friday Sales Start Now! – Go Harvey Norman

Why wait?

The Lord seems to be so slow to fulfil his promise. The question inevitably arises, ‘Why does the Lord wait so long?’ This leads us into the very heart of God. In spite of all our sin and failure he continues to love us. He doesn’t want anyone to continue in godless lack of love and faith, condemning themselves to God’s final judgment. The Lord wants us all to “come into repentance” (3.9). The word ‘repentance’ in the Greek signifies an about-turn of the mind whereby we turn from following our own unbelieving desires to the radically different life of following Jesus. Faith and love replace the former unbelief and selfish indifference. So that’s why God waits century after century. He is patiently allowing all people time to come to repentance, faith and commitment to Jesus.

So we pray: Come, Lord Jesus – but meanwhile bring the multitudes to repentance and new life in Christ!

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False teachers and God’s judgment (2 Peter 2.1-22)

False teachers (2.1-3)

Peter has just claimed, “We have the prophetic word” (1.19); as with former prophets, so also we are “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1.21) and ‘speak from God’. Wonderfully true, but be careful! Remember the past – in the history of Israel false prophets were frequently a problem, and now the church is plagued with false teachers (2.1). In 2.1 we sense the horrendous shock that even in God’s people (Greek: laos) such sin could reign.

These false teachers not only bring destructive heresies into the church, but also deny the Lord and his redeeming work (2.1). Using attractive but artificial words (Greek: ‘plastic’),they seek to win many over to become their followers.  So, proper teaching according to God’s Word goes out of fashion and is no longer respected. The crowds will now follow the entertaining, but hollow words which the false teachers make up. In addition, Peter says, they are greedy (2.3; 2.14) for popularity with a mass following.  

Do we also face the same danger within the very church of God today?  How often we hear (even from church leaders) nice little homilies instead of Spirit-inspired teaching of the Word of God! Some will even dare to deny the Bible as God’s authoritative word of revelation. We may also hear so-called ‘prophetic’ teaching which entertains and flatters, but again may lack biblical validity. Such teaching may flatter its hearers, prophesying that revival is coming and will start with them. Desiring to be popular and relate to contemporary culture, it may compromise with the moral sins which prevail in a godless society.

So we face just the same dangers as Peter was observing. May God give us a true spirit of discernment!

Biblical examples of judgment and salvation (2.4-10, 15/16)

Wrong teaching often goes hand in hand with moral compromise and sin. Peter, therefore, now turns his attention to the terrible danger of godless immorality. As the chapter develops, we sense Peter’s burning anger against unbiblical lies and deceit, with the consequent unholy moral failure. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves how far we share this anger at the flaunting of God’s word.                                                                                                                         

  1. Based on the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, there was a long Jewish tradition of angels having fallen into sin and being judged. Peter picks up on this tradition to show that God does not spare even angels when they move away from God’s absolute authority. In judgment they were consigned to “Tartarus” – is ‘Tartarus’ another name for Gehenna or Hell? Or does it refer to Sheol, the place of shadow? We can only guess. However, it will presumably have been clear to Peter’s readers and surely denotes severe judgment. Of course, many angels also remained faithful in obedience to the Lord and still continue as his messengers and servants.
  2. The second example is Noah and the flood. Together with seven others, Noah was wonderfully saved because he was “a preacher of righteousness” (2.5). But the multitudes mocked Noah’s faithful obedience to God’s word and commands. God therefore ‘brought the flood on the ungodly people’ (the English word ‘cataclysm’ comes from the Greek word for ‘flood’!).
  3. This passage cites the salvation of Lot and the fearful judgment of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Just as Noah was described as a preacher of ‘righteousness’, so also Lot is three times said to have been a “righteous man” (2.7, 8) who was deeply distressed by the “filthy lives” of the “lawless” and “unrighteous” people around him. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire is described by the Greek word from which we get the English word ‘catastrophe’. In our more compromised world with its emphasis on God’s enduring love and its failure to teach on God’s wrath against ungodly lack of righteousness, we need to be reminded that ‘catastrophe’ indeed awaits the ungodly and unrighteous.
  4. Peter’s final example goes back to the strange Old Testament story of Balaam and the donkey (Numbers 22.21ff; 2.15/16). Balaam loved the “wages of unrighteousness” (2.15) and “wrongdoing” (2.16), but the donkey rebuked him with a human voice and thus brought Balaam out from evil and judgment. Although this chapter shocks us with its strong and direct emphasis on the fearful judgment which God will surely bring on all false teachers in their godlessness and moral iniquity, we are encouraged by God’s gracious salvation for those who follow him faithfully. In his grace God, if necessary, will even use a donkey to rescue us!

Two Proverbs (2.17-22)

Immature new Christians (2.18) can be enticed away from their faith and salvation by false teachers’ promises of freedom (2.19) and their appeal to “the lustful desires of sinful human nature” (2.18). It is particularly tragic when one considers that such new Christians “are just escaping from those who live in error” (2.18) and perhaps have already ‘escaped the corruption of the world and have known our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2.20).

It is heart-breaking to see a new Christian being led astray. “I tried faith in Jesus”, they may say, ”but it didn’t really satisfy”. As missionaries in Asia, we were particularly saddened when someone said, “I became a Christian, but I have decided to return to Islam. Islam is God’s way.” As Christians we long for the name of Jesus to be glorified, but such statements drag it into the mud.

No wonder Peter declares that it “would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command” (2.21). And it would have been better for the name of the Lord too and for the mission of God’s church. That is the sad context for the two dreadful proverbs at the end of this chapter: “A dog returns to its vomit” and “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2.22).

Let us remain firmly in the true teaching of God’s biblical word and let us ask for God’s discernment biblically as we sit under other people’s teaching! And, as we ourselves share God’s word, let us make certain that we never compromise God’s word of truth!

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Glory to Jesus Christ! (2 Peter 1.16-21)

The Apostle Peter | Marg Mowczko

Peter’s Message (1.16, 18)

Having his impending death strongly in his mind (1.14), Peter’s message looks forward to the Parousia, the final “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In the context of suffering and persecution, his readers should never forget that ultimately Jesus has Dunamis/power and he is going to come again in sovereign glory. Their persecutors may seem to have power now and the Christians may seem hopelessly weak and defenceless, but in such a context it is good to remember Jesus’ power (in the sense of strength and might rather than authority) and his final victorious reign over all.

For Peter, the thought of Jesus’ ultimate glory immediately brings to mind his amazing experience at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17.1-13). When reading Peter’s letters, we should always remember that Peter knew the incarnate Jesus intimately and was present at all the key events in Jesus’ life and ministry. He actually heard the voice from heaven, “from the Majestic Glory” (1.17). No wonder Peter’s mind dwells on the glory to come! In writing about that glory, Peter also assures his readers that they “will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (1.11). What a prospect for them and also for us!

Peter’s hope of future glory lies behind his teaching on the need for strict self-disciplined godliness and ethical purity in preparation for eternal life with the all-holy Lord in glory. In his ministry he longs that his readers should “always be able to remember these things” (1.15). What does he mean by “these things”? In the preceding verses he refers several times to ‘these things’. Entry into the glorious kingdom is closely associated with ‘doing these things’ (1.10/11); in 1.9 people are said to be blind if they ‘don’t have these things’. And immediately after the list of virtues to be added to our faith (1.5-7), possessing ‘these things’ will prevent us from being ‘ineffective and fruitless’ (1.8). ‘These things’ clearly refers to that challenging godliness which must issue out from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is My Beloved Son In Whom I Am Well Pleased – Baptism of ...

God’s Message (1.17)

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”. Peter could never  forget hearing God himself declaring these awesome words as Jesus was transfigured before his very eyes.

  1. “My Son”. Jesus was much more than just an ordinary human person. He related in total oneness with his Father from all eternity. Except when he bore our sin on the cross and utter darkness separated him from his Father, Jesus was inseparably one with God the Father, so Jesus could assert with assurance that “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). He shared the glory of the Father, being the perfect image of the Father.
  2. “Whom I love”. Although Jesus laid aside his glory in coming into this world and becoming one with us, the Father’s perfect love never deserted him. Jesus lived on earth with the absolute confidence that his heavenly Father loved him. And if God himself has set his love on Jesus, how dare we as humans ignore or reject him!

I love my wife, my children and grandchildren. If anyone dared to say or do anything against them, my relationship with that person would have problems! Likewise, Peter longs for his readers (and us!) to love Jesus and live lives which please him.

  • “With him I am well pleased”. Jesus lived out all the qualities listed in 1.5-7 in his life of absolute goodness and holiness. In spite of being fully human like us and perfectly identified with his first century Jewish cultural context, amazingly he remained totally unstained by sin. What a model for us as his followers in our lives and relationships! And what a privilege that we, like Jesus, can give pleasure to our Heavenly Father!
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Scripture’s Message (1.19-21)

“Our authority lies in Scripture as the Word of the Lord and in the church as the Body of the Lord”, declared a Jesuit friend. When challenged as to which had the final authority, he asserted that the Body of Christ and the Word of Christ must surely agree. But on further consideration of the history of the church, he agreed that sometimes the church had fallen into error. Finally, knowing the significance of his words, he made a Reformation-like statement, “If the church and Scripture do not coincide, ultimately Scripture is our final authority and the church must be considered to be in error.” Church tradition, creeds, liturgies and rules must always stand under the correcting authority of Scripture as the word “from God . . . by the Holy Spirit” (1.21).

As we gradually emerge from under the scourge of Covid-19 with the closing down of our churches, we have a God-given opportunity of examining our traditional church patterns in the light of Scripture. Let us not just return again to our old ways! Let us be open to radical rethinking, new life and growth! God’s Word will come to us as a “light shining in a dark place” and like “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1.19). It stands above human interpretation (1.20) and does not issue out of the will of human beings (1.21). It is indeed God’s Word, flowing from God himself by inspiration of his Holy Spirit. Let us determine to study and teach Scripture with greater diligence! And let us be open to examine in every point our personal lives and the practices of our church in the light of God’s written Word!

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It’s up to us now (2 Peter 1.5-11)

Be good! (1.5)

In Peter’s introductory words (1.1-4) he stressed God’s righteousness, grace and peace. Our faith and knowledge of God and Jesus Christ with all his “great and precious promises” come as a gift from him. Grace prevails rather than anything we may try to achieve. But now in 1.5-11 Peter underlines our response to God’s gracious working on our behalf. The connecting “And . . .but” at the beginning of 1.5 (Greek: kai . .  .de) joins our responsibility to God’s preceding work of grace, while at the same time it denotes something of a contrast.

So 1.5 exhorts us to “make every effort to add goodness in your faith”. That means that righteousness and generous kindness are to characterise our lives as God’s people.

Peter invents an amazing word for ‘add’! The key element in the word gives a sense of bringing such goodness close to us, but the verb has no less than three prefixes. The closeness of God’s nature of goodness comes alongside us (Greek para), moves into/unto us (Greek: eis) and is indeed in us (Greek: en). What a challenge to strive with all our energies to “participate in the divine nature” (1.3)! God’s nature is entirely ‘good’, morally pure and holy and we are to be ‘holy as he is holy’ (e.g. Leviticus 11.44/45, 19.2; 1 Peter 1.15/16).

Be better than good! (1.5-7)

Peter makes it clear what we are to strive for in our lives in addition to ‘goodness’- knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly love and finally the climax love. God’s fundamental goodness is the foundation, on which these further characteristics are built.

  1. Knowledge. In today’s use of this word we think only of intellectual understanding, but in biblical usage the word has a bigger meaning. Just as in modern English we say that we know someone, so ‘knowledge’ in the Bible signifies relationship. Of course the brain should also come into play in our relationships (sadly that is not always the case!), but biblical knowledge involves the whole of our being. Indeed it is even used of the most intimate of relationships when a man ‘knows’ his wife. So we add to ‘goodness’ an in-depth knowledge of God and of each other.
  2. Self-control. Self-control implies such concentration on godly goodness that it inevitably excludes all that is second-rate or wrong. It allows no compromise with the common everyday standards of the world around us. Inevitably too self-control requires a determined effort of self-discipline which stands in contrast to our modern desire for easy-going freedom.
  3. Patient endurance. The word used here conveys this double sense of patience and endurance. The recipients of this letter were going through times of persecution and suffering. We too, if we share our faith openly, are likely sometimes to experience rejection which may be hurtful. And all of us will have to struggle with personal suffering through failure, mistreatment, sickness, bereavement or some other problem in life. As followers of Jesus who showed such patient endurance on the cross, we are called to renounce all bitterness and revenge. May we all exhibit true patience and endurance!
  4. Godliness. The same word was used in 1.3 (translated ‘goodness’) together with ‘grace’ as a key characteristic of God himself. Now we are urged to work such righteousness and generous kindness into our lives. Again we are reminded of the awesome words of 1.3 that we are to “participate in the divine nature”. We are called to become like God himself in lives that follow the Lord in holy righteousness and in loving kindness. What a goal for us, both as individual Christians and also corporately as the church of God!
  5. Brotherly love. With almost boring repetition I hear our church leaders rightly telling us that we are to serve the wider community. But we rarely hear the New Testament’s constant demand that we must develop a truly loving fellowship in the church. In these days of lock-down and self-isolation I sense that God is working in us to deepen our relationships not only with our neighbours in society, but also very much within the fellowship of our churches. The reality of our loving fellowship together as Christians will surely be our particular selling-point to draw our neighbours into the love and salvation of the Lord. Let the world see our love together and so be attracted into our fellowship as God’s people and church!
  6. Love. The climax has come! Love – ‘Agape’. This word outshines every other emotion or relationship imaginable. It reveals the fundamental nature of God himself. He not only ‘loves’, but he actually is love. Our words can go no further than to quote 1 John 4.8: “God is love”. Amazingly and wonderfully, ‘participating in the divine nature’ even includes his Agape. I am lost for words and can only be silent before this awesome call.

Whereas those who fail to strive after these qualities have clearly lost sight of God’s cleansing from past sins (1.9), those who are seeking to possess and develop them will be kept from lives that are “barren and fruitless in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1.8).

Therefore (1.10/11)

The repetition of two words from 1.5 links 1.10/11 inseparably with the necessity of adding ‘goodness’ to our faith. We are to be ‘eager’  (NIV “effort” in 1.5) to “make our calling and election sure”; and we shall “receive a rich welcome” (NIV “add” in 1.5 where the verb has an additional prefix and means ‘minister’ or ‘supply’).

Just as the command to add goodness to our faith applies both to us individually and also to us as the people of God corporately, so also our “calling and election” relates both to each one of us individually and also corporately to the people of God. Peter’s Jewish readers will have been very conscious of belonging to Israel as God’s chosen people. As such, they had particular promises from God. Today still Jewish Christians are very aware of our calling with its promises and responsibilities. Individually too all of us as Christians rejoice in our calling and election with equal grace and call to service.

Our passage promises that, if we do indeed add goodness to our faith and thus make our calling sure, we “will never fall”, and entry into Jesus Christ’s “eternal kingdom” will be granted to us. This promise takes the sting out of death and gives us assurance of glory eternally.

This passage has emphasised strongly what we need to do (the word ‘do’ comes twice in 1.10/11), but its final words are in the passive and remind us that it is God who gives and we merely receive by grace. Everything depends on him. We can never become good enough to earn the gracious goodness and saving mercy of our all-holy God. We owe our salvation to God’s wonderful promise that finally entry into his glorious kingdom will be ministered to us by the Lord himself. Let us praise and thank him for this!

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Goodness – beware corruption! (2 Peter 1.1-4)

 

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When reading Peter’s letters we should never forget his shattering experience of denying Jesus three times in quick succession. Of course he really loved the Lord and had given up everything in order to follow him, but fear of suffering still undermined his faith at that time. So Peter well understood the pressures of the world around us and 2 Peter is written to shore up faith and moral righteousness. Like many of us today, his readers were surrounded by such godlessness and immorality as might lead them to deny the Lord and slip into the corrupt standards of the world around them.

Already in these opening verses Peter begins to talk of God’s “righteousness” (1.1) and upright “goodness” (1.3). He then affirms that through these divine characteristics we have received wonderful promises and thus may “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1.4). This Epistle’s strong and uncompromising teaching about moral holiness and God’s judgment on sin may at times shock us in our more tolerant societies, but as Christians we need it.

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The Introduction (1.1-2)

What a fascinating self-introduction! Such a helpful contrast! “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle”. After denying the Lord, Peter was forgiven by the resurrected Jesus and commissioned to ‘feed Jesus’ sheep’. So Peter was deeply conscious of the enormous grace of God in his calling to be sent out as an apostle. But together with his natural temptation to be too self-assured he knew that he was also entirely a slave of Jesus, his master. Slaves have no rights and must follow the commands of their master in total obedience. As Christians, we are all called to go into the world to share the good news of Jesus, so we too share the privilege of being apostles (sent ones). But at the same time we are called to follow Jesus in total obedience, doing his will rather than just our own.

Being a slave of Jesus as well as an apostle reminds Peter not to feel in any way superior to other Christians. So Peter addresses this letter to “those who received (the Aorist tense signifies a once-for-all event in their past) a faith equal to ours” (1.1). This faith was in no way deserved by them, but came to them “in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. No wonder Peter’s next word is “grace” – “grace to you and peace abound (the Greek gives the sense of fullness) in the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord” (1.2). It was quite traditional to start a letter with ‘grace and peace to you’, but surely Peter will have really meant it. We all need God’s amazing grace and his deep peace to fill our lives in relation to God, to ourselves, to our fellow Christians and indeed, as far as lies in us, with all people.

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Godliness (1.3-4)

What has God given us in order to achieve his purposes for us? Through God’s glory and goodness he has called us and given us all the divine power we need in order to fulfil his purposes for us (1.3). And in his grace he has made tremendous promises (1.4) to reassure us in our struggles. We don’t go into life’s battles on our own. We go forward in the sure knowledge that God will certainly keep his promises to us and will give us his all-sufficient strength and power. Grace and peace really do abound! We rejoice in his grace for us and his peace in us as we enter the fray with the forces that try to drag us down.

What then are his purposes? God calls us to struggle for life and godliness” (“for” = Greek pros/towards – what we are moving towards). Of course God’s gift of life, life abundant and life eternal is inseparably associated with the resurrection. We share with Jesus in his return to the fullness of new life. In our day with all the uncertainties and loneliness of lock-down and self-isolation some are wondering about the meaning of life. As Christians we can proclaim with confidence in God that people can find true life with a capital L “through our knowledge of him who called us”.

Peter further elaborates on this theme of godliness in verse 4. God’s aim for us is that we may participate (the Greek koinonoi relates to the idea of fellowship) and join with God’s divine nature in a spiritual fellowship. By the Holy Spirit the all-holy God himself lives in us, and the Spirit forms the very nature of God in our being. Wow! Peter’s message here is so deep and beyond mere human thinking that we need to pause and pray it through before we proceed.

Verse 4 links fellowship in the divine nature with our need to “escape the corruption in the world in evil desire”. We see here Peter’s introduction to the main purpose of his letter. He longs for his readers to stand firm against the temptations of the world and in union/fellowship with God’s very nature to stand firm in the faith and in moral uprightness. Right believing goes hand in hand with moral holiness. Watch out! If we slip away from our faith, we shall inevitably fall back into moral sin with the standards of the world which surrounds us.

 

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Grace and Strength (1 Peter 5.10-14)

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“The God of all Grace” (5.10 and 11)

The emphasis stands out clearly. God is supreme. These final verses of Peter’s letter start off immediately with the God of all grace as the subject. Then “he” and “To him” are likewise emphasised: “He will restore you . . .“ and “To him belongs the power” (5.10/11).  It is vitally important in our Christian faith and teaching that God should always take first place. It is so easy to concentrate so much on ourselves and our needs of grace, salvation and loving care. Let him be preeminent!

God’s constant grace lies at the centre of his attitude to his creation and his people despite all our sin and inadequacies. With his sovereign and almighty authority he could chose whoever he wanted, but amazingly he has chosen us and called us. What grace! What totally unconditional, undeserved love! We shall never be able to comprehend it. We can only receive his grace and praise him for it.

In the original Greek the contrast stands out clearly: our position is “in Christ” and we are progressing “into his eternal glory” (5.10). Likewise the contrast is drawn between the church’s suffering and God’s glorious grace. By God’s grace he has already brought us to a fixed and definite location in Christ. What wonderful security he gives us with Christ lovingly surrounding us! When Elizabeth and I first went as Christian workers to Indonesia, her father wrote to her and reminded her of the assurance that the Lord was all around her as if she were in a room: Jesus, he wrote, was the floor beneath her, the walls around her and the ceiling above her. What security in all the attacks of Satan! What comfort for Peter’s readers in the midst of fierce persecution and surrounded by enemies of the Gospel!

The words “into his eternal glory”, together with the past tense of “called you”, assure us that we have already received his eternal glory, but we still await the culmination of that glory in eternity. Although we have already started out on God’s path of glory, we look forward to basking in the absolute splendour of Almighty God which will surely come to us beyond the grave. And what glory we have and will have! The brilliance of the sun or the beauty of the moon appear pallid before the glorious splendour of God.

Three verbs outline some of the out-workings of God’s grace (5.10). It is noteworthy that Peter has no object to these verbs, signifying that they are valid for all believers rather than just his readers. He will restore, repairing all that is wrong in us and making us beautiful again. He will also establish, making us rock-like and steadfast. And finally he will strengthen, overcoming our weakness.

God’s work of grace on our behalf is guaranteed by the assurance that he has the necessary strength to fulfil his promises. “His is the power/strength for ever and ever” (5.11). The Greek is here better translated as a definite fact rather than a pious wish. And “power” is the word for strength, not for authority. We can utterly rely on God’s working for us because he has adequate strength to accomplish all that he promises. What a Father we have!

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Final greeting (5.12/13)

Peter concludes by giving due credit to Silvanus/Silas as his scribe and summarising the whole letter. He wrote it in order to encourage them in the midst of all their sufferings and to testify again to what is truly the grace of God. Three striking words follow the mention of God’s grace: literally “Stand into/unto it!” NIV helpfully explains the sense of the word “stand” with the translation “Stand fast”. Attacks and temptations to undermine our faith in God’s undeserved love will assail us, but Peter admonishes us to resist anything which tempts us to doubt or even to abandon our faith. Once again the word “into” reminds us that even better things await us. We shall experience the total splendour of God’s grace when Jesus introduces us to the full presence and glory of the Father.

In many Eastern Orthodox churches it is the custom at Easter time literally to fulfil 5.14 by the priest greeting all the congregation with a holy kiss. In other cultures we may not feel the necessity of such literalistic obedience to God’s Word! But at least these words show the warm-hearted love which we should have for our sisters and brothers in Christ.

It is interesting that already two thousand years ago Peter picks out one woman and one man (5.13) – gender equality is not as new as we may think! The New Testament got there first!

Peter carefully uses code in reference to the lady who is sending greetings – “she who is in Babylon”. Presumably danger was stalking her and to mention her name might bring problems. The first century church used ‘Babylon’ as shorthand for Rome. We don’t know who she was, but Peter describes her as ‘called together’ (one word in Greek – ‘fellow-called’). This word intimates a depth of fellowship and relationship. Peter also picks out Mark, calling him “my son”. Many feel that this indicates that Peter had led Mark to Christ and therefore was his spiritual father. It is commonly believed that Mark wrote his gospel in close conjunction with Peter.

So Peter’s first letter ends with the traditional Jewish greeting of ‘Shalom’/peace. To all of you who are following this blog and who are also “in Christ”, may I add my words to Peter’s closing words: “Peace be unto you!”

PEACE BE UNTO YOU — Amazing Love

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Elders (1 Peter 5.1-4)

 

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Elders doing good (1-4)

Chapter 4 ended with the exhortation to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator “in doing good” (4.19). Now Chapter 5 specifies what that entails for older Christians/elders. We note right away that in those days, as in many countries still today, age was highly respected and therefore church leadership lay in the hands of older people. It would be assumed that they would have greater maturity, wisdom and experience. So we may translate verse 1 as ‘elders’ or as ‘older people’. And in 5.5 younger people are told to show respect to those who are older. In our modern era of rapid change and therefore the need also for dynamic vision and adaptability, we are challenged by this passage: is there still a need for older leaders in the church? If so, how should they relate to younger Christians of vision and dynamic?

Following on from the fact that we have fellowship with Jesus in his sufferings (4.13), now Peter rejoices that he has fellowship in ‘the glory which waits to be revealed’. 4.13 and 5.1 use words related to koinonia/fellowship. As Peter is fellow elder/older person with all of us who fit that category, we too can rejoice that we also can confidently await God’s glory which will be revealed in due time. In 5.4 Peter refers again to the coming ‘glory’, assuring us that “when the Chief Shepherd appears, we shall receive the crown of glory that does not fade away”. What fellowship we can enjoy with the Lord and with each other as we look forward to that coming glory! Death has indeed lost its sting – what a relevant message in these days when people are so fearful at the thought of the virus and death! The glory of the Lord awaits us! And as older people, it could easily come quite soon!

It is interesting that as elders they are called to a ministry of ‘overseeing’ (episkopountes: a verbal form from episkopos/bishop). ‘Bishops’ and elders share the same responsibility of overseeing the life and ministry of their local church. We are bound to ask whether the New Testament supports a distinction between ‘bishops’ and ‘elders’. It would seem that the clear difference between bishops and other ministers was not present in the early church. Also, as older Christians and church leaders we constantly need the reminder that we should never allow ourselves to be bogged down by administrative or ceremonial tasks, for our fundamental calling is the oversight of the life and work of local Christians and their ministry. Peter underlines this with the command to “be shepherds of God’s flock” – what an immense privilege, for in this we follow in Jesus’ footsteps as the good shepherd! Under the oversight of Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd” (5.4), elders and older Christians have the responsibility of following Jesus in exercising his work for his sheep. Shepherding involves loving, caring, providing and protecting the flock.temptation.png

“Deliver us from evil”

In this passage Peter notes three dangers which face elders in their ministry: a dead sense of compulsion, a greed for money and an authoritarian assumption of power.

  1. “Not because you must, but willingly as God wants” (5.2). Older Christians will have served for many years and can easily lose their passion and joy. Ministry can become just a duty which we have to perform. But God’s purpose is that we serve willingly, not just out of a sense of duty (5.2).
  2. “Not with a greedy heart, but eagerly” (5.2). Christian leaders often face the situation that so many of their contemporaries and friends have made a success of their careers and now have everything – a beautiful home, large car, luxury holidays and everything money can buy. How easy it is to be jealous and become greedy for money. The Bible constantly warns against an undue desire for money; and church history is littered with the record of leaders who have yielded to the temptation of financial greed.
  3. “Not lording it over those entrusted to you” (5.3). Christian leaders share Jesus’ ministry as shepherds, but not his authority as Lord. And Jesus too exercises his lordship with a spirit of humble service. He is the ‘Suffering Servant’. This is exemplified in Paul’s description of himself as “slave/servant of Jesus Christ”. Clericalism with its hunger for authority rots the heart of a leader, kills relationships and frustrates the spontaneous life and growth of the church.

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What a promise! (5.4)

Older Christians should serve as examples (5.3) for younger Christians who follow in their tracks. Many of us as older Christians can look back to some older Christian whose life and words influenced and encouraged us in our discipleship of Christ. As I write these words, my mind goes back to Basil Gough, the rector of St. Ebbe’s in Oxford back in the 1950s. His godly life and humble service moved me in very practical ways – a careful and prayerful study of Scripture, the use of Sundays as a day dedicated to God, relationships both with other Christians and non-Christians. I think too of David Bentley-Taylor, an older missionary with OMF who also served in Indonesia. His letters gave such practical advice in relation to topics I had mentioned in my letters. And his dynamic, but humble ministry in Java was an inspiration to me.

Question: Which older Christians have been models for you? What have you learned from them?

 

P.S. These days of lock-down provide us with a great opportunity for Bible study. Why not follow Basil Gough’s advice to me and work carefully and prayerfully through Paul’s Letter to the Romans? Very formative! And for lighter reading, you might enjoy my life story “Life’s Tapestry”?

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