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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 39: AUGUST 30
JAMES – JUDE
Most of the letters we read today were written by the disciples who were with Jesus during his ministry years, so it’s not surprising to hear some of Jesus’ words repeated in them. Gone are the brash and oftentimes confused young men “of little faith”, and in their place are mighty apostles, strong in word, deed and faith, and teaching others the Way as Jesus taught them.
- A few main themes emerge in these letters. One of them is the unavoidability of suffering. Remember that during the early years, the church was under heavy persecution. Suffering was the order of the day for many believers, either through incarceration, torture, banishment, or death. We will also suffer, if we’re true believers. The world hates us and mocks us (I know, because I used to be one of the haters and mockers), and things will only get worse for us as our numbers diminish and evil expands.
- Suffering is not something anyone willingly does, if they’re sane. Suffering is something to be endured. The letters point out that there are two types of suffering: the type that is earned by error and sin, and the type that comes from being a follower of Jesus. There are also two ways to suffer – the right way and the wrong way. The right way to suffer is as Jesus suffered – totally aware of what was going on and why, but remaining non-combative and silent, knowing it would eventually pass. The wrong way to suffer is probably the way most of us do it (moaning, groaning, complaining, blaming others, etc.) until we remind ourselves of the right way, and then (hopefully) do it.
- As James points out, God doesn’t tempt us or make us suffer; he permits us to be tempted and to suffer. This is done through the wiles of the devil, like it was to Job. God doesn’t do evil; as Jesus stated in the Gospel, God is actually the only one we can legitimately call good; even Jesus refused to be called good. But but God did create evil, just as he created the destroyer. So if you suffer, suffer in silence, knowing you either had the suffering coming as a reward for your error or sin, or you’re being tempted by the devil as a way to prove you. God permits suffering because it has a purpose – to pay an error or sin debt, or to bring you up higher in his Kingdom. In both cases, suffering should not be fought against or cursed, but accepted.
- I know that the unavoidability of suffering is a hard teaching and makes our skin crawl, but it is what it is. You can bet that we’ll be tested on this teaching in the weeks and months to come. The good news is that if the suffering comes from being a follower of Jesus, it’s a cause for rejoicing, like Peter and John rejoiced in Acts. If we suffer for being a follower of Jesus, it means God considers us worthy. There is no higher recommendation.
- Another theme in the letters is a warning against those who have fallen away and are preaching another gospel. As I mentioned in yesterday’s reflection, false prophets are not a 20th or 21st century phenomenon. The early church was just as plagued by them. The letters also warn against imposters – that is, people who pretend to be believers but are not. They impose themselves on the church, but their presence only stirs up trouble. You can easily tell these people because as much as they say they are believers (and they can be very mesmerizing and convincing talkers, like skilled sales people or politicians), their actions speak otherwise. Avoid them and pray for them, but otherwise let them be. They are God’s concern, not ours.
- The doing of faith rather than just the saying of faith is also a big theme in these letters. Talk is cheap. We know Jesus’ parable about the son who said he’d do his father’s will but didn’t do it, and the son who said he wouldn’t do it, but later changed his mind and did it. It was the son who actually did his father’s will, not the son who only said he’d do it, who was justified. A lot of people contacted me to say they would be participating in the Bible read-through, but only a handful have made it this far. People have good intentions, but if they don’t follow through with actions to back up those intentions, their words have no value. THEIR WORDS HAVE NO VALUE. We are not judged by our intentions, but by our actions. We can spout a list of good intentions until the cows come home, but only those things that we make real by our actions are counted as real. The rest is so much fluff.
- John’s letters focus on the primacy of love. He’s not talking here about romantic love, but the love of God that works through God’s children. God is love, so if we are in God and God is in us (as he was in Jesus), God’s love will work through us. This is the very great joy of being born-again
- God working through us is also the only way we’ll be able to love our enemies, because being kind and forbearing to people who purposely hurt us is definitely not something we can do on our own steam. Loving our neighbours and loving our enemies are decisions of the will, which, once made, God then effects by his Spirit working through us. I have been drunk with fine champagne when I was an unbeliever, and I have been drunk with God’s Spirit working through me to love my enemies, and I can tell you with all certainty that being drunk with God’s Holy Spirit is a far greater high. There is none better on Earth. And in Heaven (if we make it there), we’ll live that high all the time.
“‘Twas the night before Revelation…” – if you’ve made it this far in the Bible read-through, you’re close enough to the end of the tunnel that you’re not only seeing the light, it’s illuminating you. You’re bathed in it. Even so, congratulations aren’t in order yet. We still have one more book to get through, and what a doozy of a book it is!
That’s all I’m going to say for now about Revelation. God bless you for your efforts over these past 39 days and nights. Whatever you invest in God’s Word, you’ll get back a million-fold.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH is directly below.