Day 359: 2 John, 3 John, and Jude; The Final Epistles

Each of the last three Epistles that we read today has a bit of a different theme.  The two epistles that are credited to John are written by the same person that wrote the first epistle of John, and then there is Jude.  Some think that Jude, who claims to be the brother of James, who would have been the half brother of Jesus and perhaps the same James that wrote the book of James.  It is also possible that Jude was Judas, who is mentioned in Luke 6:16 as one of the disciples of Jesus who was the “son of James.”  This is not Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, but the lesser known Judas who was also a disciple of Jesus.

2 John:

The main theme of 2 John revolves around relationships with one another. John, drawing from Jesus teachings in the Gospel of John, talks about loving one another and loving God.  He points out that this isn’t a new commandment that is being given, but simply an extension of what they already know and believe.  John records Jesus’ talking about love in John 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  What is love?  Loving God is walking according to His commandments for our lives.  What is God’s commandment for our lives?  Remember… Shema!!  We are called to love God and love our neighbor!  This is really what it all boils down to, this is what Jesus teaches, and as believers this is what we are called to.

To go along with this, John talks about being aware of false teachers.  I think it is interesting that he says that those that come to them without “this teaching” which has to do with loving by following God, should be rejected by them.  Could it really be that easy?  Could it be that we have a Church have maybe made the whole message of God, the incarnation of Christ, and all of our theology and doctrine into a much more complicated message than it needs to be?  Could it be that, as John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John writes at another point, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  All of this is revolving around the same thing, the love of God for us and our love for Him!

3 John:

John’s third letter was written in much the same manner as his second letter.  Keeping in mind that John’s writings are always revolving around the same themes.  Here he is talking about how the faith community should be accepting outsiders.  In these days it was likely that there were many people that were coming in and out of the communities as they traveled around.  It was also likely that there were some that would have tried to take advantage of that in many different ways.  If these folks are anything like I am, or perhaps we are today, we tend to be wary of those who come as new folks in our communities.  Often times we tend to act nice but ask questions that are “tests” to make sure they will fit in with us.  John says that we should be accepting of those that come into our communities especially for those that are travelers.  In what we do and how we treat them, the name of Jesus will be spread for the better or the worse.  Of course there will be those that are bad, evil, wrong-doers and they could damage the community, yet if we are showing love to them and love to each other they will either have nothing bad to say about us, or be won over by the love of Christ.  Friends, we should aspire to this at all times.

Jude:

Finally, we come to the book of Jude.  In many ways, the book of Jude is a review of what we have already read in 2 Peter chapter 2.  Many people believe that the second chapter of second Peter was actually an adaptation of the letter that Jude wrote.  I suppose it could be the other way around, but based on the writing style, it seems as those Jude was rushed while Peter elaborates on what Jude said.  As we transition into the last book of the Bible, and begin to see a greater perspective of the “false teachers” in the world and the greater battle between God and evil, the words of Jude ring loud and clear.  There are many people in the world that are lost in lives of sin, giving themselves over to the desires of the flesh.  Sadly, there are many who would even be considered leaders in that, guiding others into a life of sin.  As was mentioned in 2 Peter, we need to be careful not only of those people, but of those from within the Church that preach a Gospel other than of Jesus Christ crucified.

Jude writes to conclude his letter, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.22 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (arguably this is the greatest doxology in the Bible).



Day 355: James 1-5; Authentic Faith

There isn’t a lot that is really known about the writer of the book of James or the approximate time of its writing.  Some people hold to the idea that James was written by the half-brother of Jesus who didn’t believe in Jesus at first but was later converted and worked in the Church during the first century.  However, this is not known for sure and neither is the time frame in which it was written.  Honestly, it could have been written anywhere in the second half of the first century.

This epistle has not always been very well received.  Unlike most of the epistle writings that we have encountered thus far, James is one of the more practical writings, talking the authentic living out of our faith in Christ Jesus.  Martin Luther called this epistle the “epistle of straw” because he thought that it went against all of Paul’s teachings on justification by grace through faith alone.  On the surface, I could totally understand why he may have thought this.  Any discussion about how to live as Christians, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what we can do and can’t do walks the line of a “works-based righteousness” model of salvation.  Dealing with this thought about salvation has often been a struggle in the Christian Church, having to put down a number of heresies surrounding it.

However, if we take a few moments to read deeper into James (and if you’re feeling like James is all about works-based righteousness, I would encourage you to read it through again) we see that James isn’t at all talking about earning salvation through works, but rather the appropriate way of living which sees the marriage of faith and works together.  In fact, James’ audience is likely dealing with these issues at the time of his writing.  One of the many struggles that the church encountered in the first century, really up until the conversion of Constantine, was those Christians who said that they had faith, but didn’t show it by how they lived.  One of the main reasons that this was a struggle was because those that showed that they were Christians outwardly, through the way that they lived and through their interactions with others were often subject to persecution, arrest, torture and even death because of their faith.  This is the very reason that the writer of James starts out his letter with encouragement in the face of persecution.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing… Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

From my perspective, the rest of this letter is really about the exposition of these two major claims in the opening of His letter.  James’ major thrust here is that our faith needs to be shown in our actions, lived out in our lives everyday.  He says this through a whole bunch of different methods, all of which have to do with lifestyle and response to the call of God.  We need to be doers of the Word of God, not just hearers.  People will see our faith in our actions, not simply hear them in our words.

To be honest, this book is something that the contemporary church needs to read again and again; it is a call to missional living.  Especially in North America, believers have learned to live segmented lives in which we are very quick to acknowledge our faith in church, or even with our church friends, but if we are outside of those spheres, no one would ever know that there is anything different about us.  How is it that we expect to spread the love of Christ to people in our lives if we live as though our faith means nothing to us?  This is really what James is getting at.  We need to be careful of what we say, taming our tongues.  We need to not be segregating and dishonoring people, judging them for their racial, social, and/or economic status.  We need to not boast about tomorrow and not live as the world lives.

I know… this all sounds like legalistic Christianity speak… one person saying that if you want to be a Christian you have to do all these things… but honestly that is not it at all.  James never says that you have to do these things to earn salvation.  Nothing he says is at all in contrast with any other part of Scripture.  In fact, he references the Shema (or part of the greatest commandment) in his writing!  We aren’t talking about earning our salvation here, we are talking about the Romans 12 aspect of salvation, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, being renewed by the Holy Spirit, and then living it out day in and day out no matter what the cost.  In this we are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves because as we saw in the book of Hebrews, all of faith comes from seeing what God has done for us and believing.  James simply takes it one step further to tell us that, in view of all this, we need to live our our faith in a way that can be seen by all, for the glory of the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit.



Day 292: Mark 7-9; Transfiguration

Today we read about the ministry that Jesus continues to do as He moves from Galilee to other parts of the region of Canaan as He begins to make His way towards Jerusalem.  There are a lot of familiar narratives that take place in today’s reading, much of which we read in the Gospel of Matthew and will read again in the Gospel of Luke.  There is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark over that of the Gospel of Matthew in that Jesus is interacting with many Gentiles and healing people outside of the Jewish heritage more so than he did in Matthew.  Some people might consider this a discrepancy in the Gospels, but the reality of the matter still has to do with the audience that these writers are writing to.  Matthew’s goal was to show that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, therefore he focused a great deal on the like and ministry of Jesus with the Jews.  Mark’s purpose of writing was to show the events of Jesus’ life as they pertained to all people, therefore he isn’t so concerned with who Jesus is interacting with as much as He is concerned with the content of the interactions.

In light of the repetitive nature of today’s reading, not that repeating things like this is bad, I would really like to take a moments to talk through something that we didn’t have a chance to talk about in the book of Matthew, that is Jesus transfiguration.  We are presented with a narrative that contains within it images that are similar to those of the prophets and even the book of Revelation.  Jesus, while on the mountain with His three closest disciples, is “transfigured” before them.  This word ‘transfigured’ comes from the Greek word μεταμορφόω (pronounced metamorphoō – from which we get the word metamorphosis) and literally means to undergo a change in physical or external form or a spiritual transformation.  For me, this conjures up images of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, something that is rather commonplace turning into something of extraordinary beauty.  Yet the text tells us that this was like nothing they had ever seen before.  Jesus’ clothes were whiter than any garment could be bleached.  John Calvin, in his commentary on the transfiguration says this about what the disciples saw:

“His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend… Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the raise of His infinite brightness… There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.”  -John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; Vol. 1.

Every commentary that I have read talks about the Transfiguration as being a very particular revealing of Jesus divinity in a life in which His humanity is often emphasized.  Sometimes I think we forget this contrast, this paradox of Jesus being both completely human and completely divine at the same time.  Calvin points out here that what the disciples are seeing is a “translated” image of the true glory of Jesus, seen in a way that the mortal disciples would be able to comprehend.  God’s true glory is like a completely foreign language to us, so foreign in fact that we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.  In every vision that we see recorded of God, we get a description of human(ish) features and are so much more real, more glorified than we are, and yet this is still just a translation of the true glory and nature of God, something we will never know truly on this earth.  The Transfiguration is an in-breaking of the heavenly, divine aspect of Jesus into this reality.  Jesus divinity is confirmed by the voice of God here, in the same Words that were used at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My Son whom I Love.  Listen to Him!

Some commentaries on this event talk about the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus in this time.  Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were taken away.  There are suggestions that this happens for the disciples benefit, to prove to them that Jesus is not a reincarnation of either one, but is exalted above both of them.  Another suggestion is that Elijah represented the prophets while Moses represented the Law.  Both of these could be true, or at the very least can help to color our reading of this passage.  However, I think that we would be remiss if we thought that those things were more important than what is happening with Jesus in this time.  We are seeing the true Divine, Son of God in the fullness of His glory, or at least what our human minds can understand.  One other thing is very true about this reading in all three Gospels in which it is recorded, from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, to His eventual death, and never looks back.



Day 186: Proverbs 14-16; Wisdom in Work, Speech, and Planning

While today’s proverbs do indeed cover a wide range of different topics in life, there are three, I think, that come through as being rather prominent.  Perhaps its because I know these verses better than the others, or maybe because they stand out to me at this stage in my life.  Whatever the reason, I think that this is what we’ll be talking about today.

Proverbs 14 is, in many ways, a chapters about being wise in the way that we work.  I think that this is something that we are sorely lacking in today’s culture.  Everything that we hear from culture is about fighting our way to the top doing whatever it takes and stepping on anyone that gets in our way.  While I don’t think that there is anything against advancement in one’s vocation, or even having vocational goals, Solomon is encouraging wisdom in these things.  They way this comes through is via a good work ethic.  Again, this is something sorely lacking in our culture today.  I can recall an abundance of times in some of the jobs that I’ve worked where people just did what they were told to do and made it take as long as possible.  People do this so they don’t have to do as much work and can just get through the day.  This is quite the opposite of what Solomon is suggesting here.

Proverbs 15 talks a great deal about being wise in how we speak.  We live in a culture full of words.  From commercials and advertising to school, work, and family, we are always and forever surrounded by words.  We listen to them, read them, and in many ways are defined by them.  We tend to be quick to speak, hasty to tear down others, and rapidly pass judgment on anyone and everyone.  Yet Solomon is once again encouraging a different worldview when it comes to speaking.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

This reminds me a great deal of the words of James, in chapter 3, when he talks about the taming of the tongue.  He is not coming up with anything new here as we can see. James is drawing on the wisdom found in proverbs and bringing Christ into it as well!  Ultimately, James says, the taming of the tongue is the most difficult and equally the most beneficial thing that a person can do, something that we all have to work on our whole lives.

Proverbs 16 speaks more towards the plans of humans.  We are a culture of planning people aren’t we?  It doesn’t take too long to listen to the radio or watch TV before we hear some sort of an advertisement for retirement or investing and all that comes along with it.  Ultimately though, all of these plans, things about the future that we try to control are in God’s hands.  While I don’t think that Solomon would be opposed to prudent planning and being smart with money and investments for the future, I think that the crux of the issue for him is that all of this is done before the Lord.  Many times I think that we do all that we can to try and protect  ourselves, as if we rule our own little world and can control it with all the things that we do and the plans that we make.  However, Solomon is very clear when he says that in all things we need to make sure that our trust is in the Lord.  Again, James, in chapter 4, picks up this line of thinking, a Scripture that we will end with today.  Remember, as we said yesterday, that all of these things fall clearly under Solomon’s “thesis statement:” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.