What comes to your mind when I say “The 23rd Psalm?” Perhaps you know that it is the most famous of all the Psalms, or even the most well-known chapter of the Bible. You might think, “Ahhh, the Shepherd Psalm.” Maybe you remember its author, David, and that he was a shepherd boy. Or, perhaps you know that Psalm 23 is identified as a Messianic Psalm, picturing Jesus as the Good Shepherd. These thoughts are all reasonable when considering Psalm 23. But here are my thoughts when the words “The 23rd Psalm” are said to me.
I remember a little 4-year-old girl attending the Church of God Illinois State Conference Bible School in Oregon, Illinois in the summer of 1956. During our lessons that week, the children in attendance were challenged to memorize Psalm 23. The little girl thought she could memorize it just as well as her older brother, and she was determined to do so. At the end of the week, each child was asked if he/she wanted to go in front of the gathered students, and recite this beautiful Psalm. The little girl was shy, but went up in front, by her teacher, and proudly recited the Psalm. There were a few missed words, but she finished well, and was applauded for her efforts. She was so proud to receive a ribbon with a “Shepherd and sheep” seal upon it, as an acknowledgement of her accomplishment. She kept that ribbon for years!
As I (the little girl, as you probably guessed) grew older, I would occasionally recite the psalm to myself. Years later as an adult, I realized I couldn’t recite it anymore. I was disappointed in myself. I made an effort to re-memorize the Psalm, and now it is a part of me.
If you are sad, recite the 23rd Psalm. Are you stressed, weary, needing direction? Quote Psalm 23. Is everything swirling about you, are the burdens weighing too heavily on your shoulders, is hope fast disappearing before you? Say the 23rd Psalm to yourself. It offers comfort, strength, and encouragement every time.
As you say the words, picture yourself as a sheep, lovingly cared for by Jesus, our Good Shepherd. He leads you to green pastures for grazing, quiet waters for a refreshing drink, and guides you THROUGH dangerous territory, “the valley of the shadow of death.” He draws you close with his staff, and he rubs oil in any wounds you might have. What reassurance and love the Shepherd gives his sheep.
As Jesus states in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
The 23rd Psalm’s words are a treasure to all who read or recite them, providing immeasurable solace in the midst of life’s challenges and troubles.
The opening sentence actually sums it up. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Questions for Reflection
When you hear the words, “The 23rd Psalm”, what comes to your mind?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “There are no words?” Perhaps you used it in response to receiving a wonderful gift, when you couldn’t find the appropriate words to express your appreciation. Conversely, maybe something tragic has happened, your heart is broken, and “there are no words” to express the magnitude of your grief.
In verses 1-6 of Psalm 19, God reveals Himself in the glorious heavens and celestial bodies. God’s greatness is proclaimed without a single sound—“NO WORDS.” The amazing beauty of the skies—unique cloud formations, streaming sun escaping the clouds, indescribable sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking rainbows—boldly declare the majesty of God each day. Searching for God? Go outside and look up. “There are no words.”
BUT, if you NEED words to find God, the second part of Psalm 19 is your answer. In Psalm 19, God reveals Himself first in nature, (verses 1-6) and then in the Scriptures. Verses 7-11 give us a perfect progression of what God’s Word, HIS WORDS, can do in our lives.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” (7a) God’s Word gives us everything necessary for salvation. His law, his commandments, revealed God’s holiness and our sin. Paul wrote in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
“The testimony of the law is sure, (steadfast, trustworthy), making wise the simple.” (7b) We can put our trust in God’s testimony—it will hold us up. The “simple” are those open-minded to instruction. James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously, and without reproach, and it will be given him.”
“The statutes (precepts) of the law are right, rejoicing the heart.” (8a) God’s Word is just and righteous. As we understand more and grow in wisdom of God through His Word, it brings joy and gratitude. Consider Hezekiah, king of Judah, who honored God by repairing the house of the Lord and called the people to consecrate themselves and gather to worship. Greater understanding produced tremendous joy in the people. II Chronicles 30: 21, 23 says, “The sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests were praising the Lord day after day with loud instruments to the Lord. Then the whole assembly decided to celebrate the feast another seven days, so they celebrated the seven days with joy.”
“The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (8b) Purity of God’s Word gives us new vision for this life and the one to come. Matt. 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And consider Ephesians 5:8, “for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.”
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” (9a) Why is the Word of God called “the fear of the Lord?” When God reveals His will, it is awesome! God’s will is fearsome because of our sin, and when we are confronted with it, we realize how unrighteous we are.
Consider Josiah, the boy who became king of Judah when he was eight years old. Though II Kings tells us he did right in the sight of the Lord, when he was 26, a high priest found a book of the law in the house of the Lord and a scribe read it in the presence of the King. “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.” II Kings 22:11.
Josiah realized that his people were not following God’s laws, and idol worship had crept into the land. Josiah instituted reforms that destroyed the idols. “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, and all his might, in conformity to all the Law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.” II Kings 23:25
“The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. (9b) We can depend on God’s judgments. They are true, trustworthy, and righteous, as Josiah discovered, as we can discover in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Our future is secure, eternal life, because the judgments of the Lord are true.
Have you FOUND God as you meditate on His Word? Have you FOUND God as you gaze at the heavens? He is in plain view, accessible, desiring to be part of our lives, each and every day. No AUDIBLE WORDS are needed. But if you would like to respond to His glorious presence in the skies and in His Word, speak out loud the last verse of Psalm 19, as your humble prayer.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
Questions for Reflection and Application
What part of God’s creation moves you to say, “There are no words?”
Think about Josiah. The Bible tells us he did right in the sight of the Lord at a very young age, and yet at age 26, he realized how much he and his people needed to improve. Does Josiah’s story help you realize how much we need to keep growing and learning from the Lord? (It helps me realize it.)
When I was young, we often sang this song during our Sunday School opening.
“Jesus is my Savior I shall not be moved In His love and favor I shall not be moved Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters Lord I shall not be moved.
I shall not be I shall not be moved I shall not be I shall not be moved Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters Lord I shall not be moved” (John T. Benson, Mrs. James A. Pate, Words -1950 New Spring)
When I was researching the song, I found this verse which lines up better with the writer’s words in Psalm 1.
“Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved.
Anchored in Jehovah, I shall not be moved.
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters Lord I shall not be moved.” (Alfred Henry Ackley, Lyndell Leatherman; Words, Public Domain)
What a wonderful visual and reminder to stand firm in God.
Psalm 1 is a contrast between a Godly man and a wicked man. The Godly man isn’t walking, standing, or sitting with the wicked. Instead, he is delighting and meditating in God’s law, God’s Word. The presence of God’s Word in his life is like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.
Have you ever seen such a tree? It is usually bending toward the water, and often you can see the large, exposed roots. It gets constant nourishment, constant life-giving water because of its proximity to the water. The tree is fruitful, the leaves don’t wither. This is the picture of a man rooted in the Lord and immersed continually in His Word.
The last three verses of the Psalm picture a completely different person, a wicked person.
Have you ever seen chaff blowing in the wind? Chaff is the dry, scaly protective casing of seeds or other plant material. In Hector, Minnesota where we lived for many years, there was (and still is) a celebration called Corn Chaff Days. It was an appropriate name, because corn chaff often blew from the large grain elevators all over the streets and sidewalks of this little farming community. It scattered everywhere, and eventually disappeared with the strong winds, lost forever. Just like the wicked man.
Two scenes in God’s creation
Strong, firmly rooted tree by the waters
Blowing, dusty chaff, cast off and receiving no nourishment
Two men presented
Godly man who does not STAND in the paths of sinners
Wicked man who does not STAND in the judgment
The choice is ours.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15a,d
What contrasts in nature remind you of the Godly man and the wicked man?
What can you do in your own life to root yourself deeper in God’s Word?
The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom. Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader. And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words!
James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)
The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth. The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider. The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size.
James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue.
“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.” (verse 4)
A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process. But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small.
Small bits control/direct—large horses
Small rudders control/direct—large ships
Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)
Tell us how you really feel, James! Oh, he did!
Our tongues can get us into so much trouble! Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started. It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished.
Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.”
Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer. Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life. NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)
What a humbling reprimand!
James finishes this serious warning with another word picture. “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.
James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father. Worldly versus Heavenly.
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)
Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve. Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?” Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.
These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue. As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.” If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.”
What constitutes the wisdom from above? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (verse 17)
When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others.
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)
Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3
As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)
We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach. But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts.
The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”
So what is the solution? Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
This is why I love the book of James. Simple and direct—easily understood.
A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here.
A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
I hope this story moves you as it moved me. And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17.
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Faith without works is dead. They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions. Our faith should be reflected in the life we live. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17
James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab. “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)
We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering. “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.
“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho. This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites. Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.
James concludes his thoughts with verse 26. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Without the breath of life, we are dead. Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
We begin a new book of the Bible today—James. James is one of my favorite Bible books. I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN. More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.
James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews. He is blunt and forthright in his writing.
The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus. Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.
In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.
“He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21
The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5
However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed. He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.
The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches. He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.” This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution. They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood.
Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.” Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out. (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.) Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.” James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials. It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
This is the joy we should have when trials confront us. And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom. (verse 4)
James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching. I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers.
If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it. One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (verses 5-8)
Blunt and to the point! No commentary by me needed!
Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12
“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom. A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world. Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers. (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.) Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”
James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.
“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver. His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day. God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes. How blessed we are. And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”
James continues with his direct approach in verse 19. He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!) Obviously!
Quick, Slow, Slow. In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation. Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice. “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred.”
Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it! The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration.
“Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
“Receive the word”
“Proveyourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”
Don’t hold back, James!
Here comes the explanation/story. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.” (verses 23-25)
A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God.
However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life. Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4. Where do you start?
James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Simple love in action. The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual. We can’t just read it and not follow through. James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1
When children finish high school, and they go off to college or to live on their own for the first time, those frenzied final weeks before leaving are usually a flurry of activities. To-do lists are checked off and then added to, last minute shopping trips become a daily occurrence, and packing everything needed seems an impossible task. Finally, the day arrives, and the slightly panicked parents are often confronted with this stark realization: did I prepare them sufficiently for the challenges they will face in life? And so ensues final reminders, gentle warnings, and many sentences starting with “Don’t forget,” or “Remember.” The parents want the best experience for their children at college and in life.
The writer of Hebrews also desires the best outcome for his dear readers, his spiritual children, as he finishes his letter. Of course, that best outcome is eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Thus, Hebrews 13 concludes with straightforward instruction to reach this prize.
Consider the direct instructions found in verses 1-7, and the reasons WHY these instructions are important.
“Keep on loving each other as brothers”
“Do not neglect hospitality to strangers—(WHY?)—”for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are badly treated—(WHY?) – since you yourselves also are in the body.”
“Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; – (WHY?) – for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.”
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; – (WHY?) – for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever abandon you.”
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; – (WHY?) – considering the result of their way of life, imitate their faith.”
Verse 17 goes hand in hand with verse 7. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, – (WHY?) – because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”
Hebrews 13:8 can be a stand-alone statement and beloved promise, easy to memorize (and it should be) and underlined in your Bible.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
What an assurance to us that Jesus has not changed and will not change—he is our Savior and coming King. Perhaps the writer felt a plain statement of our basic hope was warranted after his beginning list of directives.
Building on that simple reassurance, verse 9 warns the early Christians and us today, not to “be carried away by varied and strange teachings,” just as parents might advise their departing children—stay true to your foundation, the principles of your upbringing. It is firm, it is solid, it will keep you grounded.
Now, remember our reading from Hebrews 10 a few days ago.
“But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,waiting from that time onward until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:12-14)
Continuing in Hebrews 13, verses 15-16 should be OUR response for this sacrifice.
“Through Him then, let’s continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips praising His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Our Salvation Gift from God:
Jesus—ONE SACRIFICE for all time
CONTINUAL SACRIFICE of
As the end of verse 16 says, “for with such SACRIFICES God is pleased.”
The writer concludes with a benediction or ending prayer in verses 20 and 21 that sums up his thoughts in this chapter.
“Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This prayer serves as the perfect final reminder for young adults off to college, and for each one of us.
The 2020 Summer Olympics, (held one year later in Tokyo, Japan due to the Pandemic) were recently completed. This major international multi-sport event is held every four years.
As we consider Hebrews 12, the setting of a great sports stadium can be imagined. Verse 1 talks about the great cloud of witnesses. The ancient Greek word for cloud in this verse was a figure of speech for a large group. These superheroes listed in chapter 11 and down through the ages are witnesses TO US of faith and endurance. Just as a high school gymnasium has mounted pictures of past all-state athletes with a listing of their sports accomplishments to inspire the current sports players, so we can picture our Faith Superheroes encircling us and cheering us on.
Verse 1 continues, instructing us to throw off every hindrance “and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Here we see the sports analogy clearly stated—run the race set before us. A runner wouldn’t compete in bulky clothes that carry extra weight and slow his time. We too need to lay aside conflicting interests that take us away from our “run with God.” We also must be wary of “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Habits or actions that become so addictive, we don’t give them a second thought, can trap us like a spider web. How many times do we pick up our phone instead of praying or offering God praise?
Instead, verse 2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.” What a beautiful description of Jesus we don’t often contemplate. Jesus, our ultimate superhero, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Every runner pictures his/her victory, and so we keep our eyes on Jesus, our coming king, bringing the prize of the kingdom with him. Jesus saw the “joy” to come as he suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross. Our faith race has twists and turns, challenges and difficulties, but when we picture the end result, as Jesus did, we will “not grow weary and lose heart.” (verse 3)
Going back to the 2020 Summer Olympics, according to Wikipedia, “the Games featured 339 events in 33 different sports, encompassing a total of 50 disciplines.” A discipline in the Olympics is a branch of a sport consisting of one or more events. For example, skiing is a sport, while cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, and Nordic combined are disciplines.
And discipline is also the necessary foundation for any sport and athlete. An athlete must consistently practice the fundamentals of his/her sport to improve and build their skill in it.
The “discipline of the Lord” mentioned repeatedly in verses 5-11 coincides with this thought, in that it is not necessarily punishment, but rather repeated preparation and endurance for our walk/race of faith. God’s motivation for this is His love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.” (verse 10b)
Verses 12 and 13 build on this thought, urging our Christian conditioning, just as an injured athlete is reconditioned to compete again through a specific rehabilitation program.
Then, verse 14 urges us to “pursue peace with all men.” Again, referencing the Olympics, we know one of its primary goals is to promote peace through fair play and friendship in its competitions. This Olympic goal of peace is actually another discipline of the Christian walk/race. The Hebrews writer warns us against bitterness, and he uses Esau as a prime example. (verses 16-17)
Finally, verses 18-29 contrast the time of Moses on Mt Sinai, with the coming kingdom of God. Read verses 22-24 aloud with all the expression and emotion you can muster.
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”
Verses 25-27 give a final warning in this chapter, and we end with this concluding motivation.
“Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
Gratitude, service, reverence, awe. These “disciplines” will keep you in the Christian race, ever striving for that eternal prize at the finish line.
In my job as a school librarian, I often get asked where the superhero books are located. Spiderman and and Ironman are favorites of my kindergarten and first grade students. These characters possess superpowers that amaze their readers.
Since Covid-19 unfortunately appeared in our world, signs started sprouting up in front of hospitals or health-care centers, stating “Superheroes Work Here.” It was a way to honor and recognize the life-saving daily work of our health-care providers fighting this unwelcome virus. These individuals labored long hours, days, weeks, months through challenging and heartbreaking circumstances.
In both examples, superheroes use their powers to help make the world a better place. In Hebrews 11, superheroes used GOD’S POWER to face the world’s challenges, all the while anticipating the “world to come” that God had promised them.
Hebrews 11 is known as the Faith chapter of the Bible, and when you read it, you quickly understand why. It begins with a beautiful definition or statement of what faith is—“the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Let those words sink in. Meditate on them in conjunction with your life circumstances and trials. This singular verse brings so much reassurance and comfort.
Verses two and three continue with an explanation and introduction to verses 4-40, the Faith “Hall of Fame” of the Bible. Read these verses carefully, slowly, reverently.
“For by it the people of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the world has been created by the word of God so that what is seen has not been made out of things that are visible.”
“By faith”, “by faith”, “by faith”—these two words are repeated over and over throughout the chapter to introduce God’s superheroes and to justify their inclusion in this passage with an explanation of what they did “by faith.” Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. Their stories are inspiring, uplifting, encouraging, HEROIC—because their faith, unfaltering in God and His promises, was the foundation of their lives.
These superheroes, “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mocking and flogging, and further, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented (people of whom theworld was not worthy), wandering in deserts, on mountains, and sheltering in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:33-38
As verse 38 said, the world was not worthy of them!
Going back to Hebrews 10:32-34, the writer reminds his readers of their sufferings after coming to faith. “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through insults and distress, and partly by becoming companions with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession.” It all ties together—the Old Testament heroes, the New Testament heroes, and faithful believers down through the ages.
The writer’s counsel is this: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.” Hebrews 10: 35-37 NASB
The superheroes of Hebrews 11, the Faith chapter, “gained approval through their faith, (but) did not receive what was promised.” (verse 39) They are resting in their graves, waiting for their reward. We are waiting, too.
That same reward can be ours. Have you accepted and follow God’s plan of salvation, so you can receive this reward God has waiting for you, a reward for your faith? I pray you have–I pray you will.
“Because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:40
Have you ever known someone who needs kidney dialysis to live? Your kidneys act as very efficient filters for ridding the body of waste and toxic substances, and they return vitamins and other vital substances to the bloodstream. You need dialysis if your kidneys no longer remove enough waste and fluid from your blood to keep you healthy. Dialysis is usually required if your kidney function is down to 10-15 percent.
Hemodialysis is a procedure where a dialysis machine and a special filter called an artificial kidney are used to clean your blood. For most patients, dialysis is needed three times a week for approximately four hours each session. Most importantly, a dialysis patient needs hemodialysis for the rest of his/her life unless a kidney transplant is received. A dialysis patient continues to live, but not what we would call a “quality” life.
The example of kidney dialysis reminds me of verse 11 of our Hebrews passage today, chapter 10. “And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The Hebraic priests daily performed their duties, offering up animal sacrifices on an altar for the various sins of the people. But the cycle never ended because God’s people then, like us today, continued to sin. Sin needed to be removed by their offered sacrifices just as kidney dialysis removes waste from a patient’s body.
In truth, the sacrifices were simply a reminder of the people’s sin. This is explained in verse one of this chapter. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Heb. 10:1 NIV
But Hebrews 10:12-14 NASB continues: “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has PERFECTED for all time those who are sanctified.”
Praise to our Almighty, loving and gracious God. And to His Son, Jesus, our Saviour, the sacrificial Lamb who died for each one of us, once and for all. Verse 14 says Jesus’ death on the cross made we, who have accepted that sacrifice and entered into a relationship with him, perfect! Perfect! Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we appear pure and without sin to God.
“Now where there is forgiveness of these things, an offering for sin is no longer required.” Heb. 10:18 NASB. When we sin, we ask forgiveness of God, and through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are forgiven. There is NO NEED for daily offering of animal sacrifices by priests.
What then should be our response to this marvelous covenant (verse 16) God has given us?
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25 NIV
Draw near, fully assured of our purity before God
Hold fast to our hope in God
Stimulate one another in love and good deeds
Assemble together regularly
Encourage one another
Remember our introduction about kidney dialysis. When a dialysis patient receives the gift of a kidney transplant, from a donor, the regular three times a week dialysis ends. New life begins for the kidney recipient, a life of freedom to enjoy their loved ones, to travel, to appreciate each day. A kidney recipient is no longer tied down to the once necessary dialysis regimen.
Regular dialysis of the Hebrew people’s sins was no longer necessary with the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. He was their donor; he is OUR DONOR!
Today, when we accept that gift through repentance and baptism, a cleansed and new life is “transplanted” within us. Praise God for the freedom we have in Christ.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:2 NASB
Paula Kirkpatrick lives in Minnesota with her husband, and is a wife, mom, grandma, school librarian, and most of all, a child of God.