Like us on Facebook | Contact Us
Grace Logo


Seeking to equip people to live as Christian disciples wherever God has placed them.

I Corinthians – “God’s Radical Choice”

Chapter 1:1-17 – “Has Christ Been Divided”

Corinth was a pivotal ministry for the apostle Paul.  It was a major seaport and was a key link between Greece and Asia Minor.  Paul encountered both Jews and Gentiles in Corinth but, because of the rejection of the Jews, Paul focused more on the Gentiles.  It was also here that he met two of his most loyal supporters, the husband and wife team of Aquila and Priscilla.  The Corinthian Church grew rapidly but also encountered a number of problems that threatened its future (Acts 18:1-18).  God appeared to Paul in a vision during his time there and encouraged him.

I. The Background of the Corinthian Mission

Corinth was a wealthy and prosperous seaport and a major commercial center.  Homer in The Iliad refers to it as “rich Corinth.”  The city revolted against Roman rule in the year 148 BC and was leveled by the Romans. However, Julius Caesar rebuilt it in the year 46 BC because of its strategic importance.

Because it served as a cultural bridge between Greek and Roman culture, on one side, and Asia Minor on the other, it gained a reputation that was not always positive.  The culture of Corinth was noted for its cynicism.  This dated back to the major Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic (412-323 BC).  Although the term “cynic” had a different meaning then than what it later acquired.  Diogenes had taught that moral freedom was found in liberation from desire.  For him bodily appetites were a matter of indifference.  For Diogenes this meant one was free to refrain from indulging anything that had to do with physical life.  Later his teaching was distorted by the idea that if bodily appetites were of no importance they could be freely indulged.   This view unfortunately had a major impact on the church in Corinth.

‘The attitude of many Corinthians in the time of the apostle Paul was summed up in the phrase, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (I Cor. 15:32).  A famous tomb inscription read, “I was not, I am not, I care not.”  To “Corinthianize” meant to commit fornication.  Also the phrase “a Corinthian girl” meant a woman of loose morals.  Aphrodite was the patron goddess of the city.  This also led to the fact that prostitution was a flourishing business.  By Paul’s time it was not so much a religious cult as it was an economic strong point in a city where sailors came and went frequently.  This view also had a major impact on the Corinthian Church.

II. The Mission to Corinth

Given the above it can be seen that Paul faced significant challenges in establishing a church in Corinth.  Paul probably visited the city in the period 52-53 AD.  This was actually Paul’s second letter to the church (I Cor. 5:9).  It was probably written from Ephesus in response to the report that Paul heard from Chloe’s people (I Cor. 1:5).  That report had to be disturbing. Paul had already named sexual immorality as a major problem in the church.  In addition to  this there were factions and divisions in the church.  One of the responses to the sexual misconduct in the church was a growing legalism with its attendant judgmental attitude.                Paul had his work cut out for him.

Paul is going to be more than a little critical of what is taking place here.  To prepare for this he opens with a very positive greeting.  He greets the Corinthians as those “who are sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints.”  This makes the strong point that sanctification, “holiness,” is no less a gift than salvation.  Yet Paul is about to challenge the Corinthians to live up to the calling they have in Christ as a result of being sanctified by him.

He assures them of God’s grace and commends them for their testimony to Christ.  He tells them that Christ will continue to strengthen them so that in him they will be presented as “blameless” when Christ comes again.  As he will make clear this is their heritage in Jesus Christ.  This does not depend on their faithfulness or, more properly their lack of it, but rather on God who is faithful.  Paul’s strategy clearly is to commend them before he begins to criticize.  This is an approach that is well worth following not only in church but in all walks of life.

Paul next indicates that he has received a disturbing report from “Chloe’s people.”  There are quarrels and factions in the church.  The picture we have here is that the church met in people’s homes.  No home was big enough for the whole congregation so they were divided up into smaller groups.  This groups however took on an identity of their own.  Each appealed in different ways to a particular preacher or missionary.  Some claimed to belong to Paul, others to Apollos and still others to Peter (Cephas).  Finally, there was a group that belonged directly to Christ.  This is an early example of denominational divisions. 

Paul asks the basic question, “Has Christ been divided?”  He goes on to say that no one was baptized in his name.  Still less was anyone baptized in the name of any other church leader.  There is only one name in which a Christian can be baptized and that of course is the name of Jesus Christ.  Baptism then should be a point of unity since there is only “one baptism” (Eph. 4:5).  Yet it seems that people were boasting about the one who officiated.  This leads Paul into an essential digression about those whom he baptized.  However, he comes back quickly to what has to be his essential point.  Christ did not send him primarily to baptize.  His mission was to proclaim the gospel.  He was not to do this with “eloquent wisdom.”  Corinth still boated of its philosophical heritage going back to Diogenes the Cynic.  Paul had recently come from Athens where he had engaged in debates with the Greek philosophers.  Paul knew these philosophers and was able to quote them (Acts 17:28).  Paul well knew the context of Corinth as well.  However, his goal was not to engage in some kind of philosophical discourse (although he would refer to philosophy when it suited his argument, II Cor. 4:18).

Paul’s goal was to set before the Corinthians the pattern of life that was found in Christ.  In order to do that he would have to go back to his basic message of salvation in Christ.  For Paul this meant an emphasis on the cross.

We will deal with this in our next study.

Questions for Us –

  1. What do you think it means to be called to be saints?
  2. What do you think is the reason for divisions and factions in the church?
  3. Why is “the power of the cross” (v. 17) such an important theme for Paul?

Next Study – I Corinthians 1:18-31

“God’s Foolishness”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 7-8 – “Set Me as a Seal Upon Your Heart”

The final two chapters are an unmatched celebration of love.  As we see this outpouring of joy and commitment we need to be reminded that God is love and nothing can ever separate us from his love revealed in Jesus Christ (I John 4:16; Rom. 8:38-39)   

I. “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me” – 7:1-13

We have an outpouring of images here.  The entire body of the lover is being celebrated.  The erotic imagery is all too clear.  What are we to make of this?

One way to look at it is to see the physical aspects of the lover as symbolic of her overall nature and character.  What the Beloved is saying is that he loves everything about his lover.  She of course is more than a physical example.  The Beloved desires her in every way possible.  It is not just her physical charms.  It is her companionship that he is ultimately praising.

Their love is acted out on several ways.  They go together into the fields (v. 11), in the villages, to the vineyards (v. 12).  There is a reference to mandrakes which were thought to increase fertility (Gen. 30:14-21).

The point here is that the couple are sharing all of life.  The fields can symbolize work (planting, harvesting).  The villages are the places where they live, where homes are located.  Then they go into the vineyards, symbolic of the joy of life (Ps. 104:15).

The beloved then is not simply viewing his lover as someone to be admired or, for that matter, to be enjoyed sexually (vv. 7-9; Proverbs 5:18-19).  What we have here is a picture that goes back to the beginning of creation.  The woman is a helper, indeed a partner.  This was God’s original intention in creating Eve (Gen. 2:18).

We can now ask, what is the spiritual application of this text?  What is being praised here are all the physical features of the lover.  Each one is valuable.  All are important.

The New Testament parallel to that is Paul’s description of the different parts of the human body as an illustration of the different gifts of believers who are the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-31).  Paul mentions the foot, the hand, the ear and the eye.  Each has its role to play.  Yet the parts are all very distinct.  A hand and an eye look completely different.  Yet the body could not function without both of them playing their critical role. 

Paul goes on to say that God gives greater honor to the inferior members.  If one member suffers all suffer.  If one member is honored “all rejoice together with it.”  So it is with the body of the lover.  Each part is celebrated often in glowing terms.

The application here is that every single member of the church is important.   No one is expendable.  No single individual is more or less important than the others. Every part of Christ’s body has a beauty attached to it.  Every single aspect of the body should be celebrated.

II. “Many Waters Cannot Quench Love” – 8:1-1

We come now to the final celebration of love. This chapter begins with what is a glowing celebration of the beloved.  This is a total picture of intimacy, a complete sharing of two selves.  We may initially pause at the brother/sister imagery between the two lovers.   The best way to understand this is to see it as a desire on the part of the lover (the woman) to want to have spent her whole life with the beloved, to have known him as part of her mother’s house (v. 2).  This whole passage is full of intense imagery, spiced wine, the juice of pomegranates.  The point is that love is not to be taken lightly.  The refrain is repeated, “do not stir or awaken love until it is ready!”

The book ends with a praise to love and its power.  Love is strong as death.  Its passion is fierce as the grave.  It flashes like a raging fire.  Many waters cannot quench it.  No amount of wealth could be given in exchange for it.

There is a reference here to “a little sister.” This goes back to the phrase about not awakening love prematurely.  The little sister is to be safeguarded until she is grown and ready.   The lover then speaks of herself.  She will bring peace to Solomon.  She herself is the vineyard, more valuable than the thousands of Solomon and the hundreds of his servants.

We are back in the gardens, symbolic as we have seen of the original Garden of Eden.  She calls out to her beloved once again “upon the mountain of spices.”  This is the love that is strong as death.

           This book, like the entire Old Testament, points forward to two realities we encounter in the New Testament.  Both refer to the love of God.  God loves the world and sends us Christ not to condemn us but to save us (John 3:16-17).  The love of Christ however is far stronger than death.  His resurrection shows that death is defeated (I Cor. 15: 54-57).  The second reality is that God is love (I John 4:8-9).  This give us boundless hope and confidence.

In a sinful world love can be difficult.  There can be hurt, pain, even separation.  However, God’s love in Christ overpowers everything (Romans 8:38-39).

Praise the Lord!

Questions for Us –

  1. Why is it important to realize that every part of the loved one is beautiful?
  2. Have you learned anything new about love from studying this book?
  3. How does Christ’s love enable us to live joyful and confident lives?

Next Study – I Corinthians chapter 1 – “The Foolishness of the Cross”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday, February 23, 2019

“Casting Out the Unclean Spirits”

Mark 6:1-6a

Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth.  However he is hardly welcomed.  The fact that people probably remembered him from childhood and knew his family led to their basic dismissal of him.  The parallel account in Luke 4:16-30 is even more disturbing.  Here the townspeople are ready to throw Jesus off a cliff!

We would think the citizens of Nazareth would be proud of Jesus.  They could certainly have treated him as a favorite son.  Why is their reaction so negative?

Jesus makes the comment that “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own house.”  That may well be but prophets do return to their home environment even if they do so without receiving honor.  A clear example is Moses who returns to Egypt and in fact is rejected by his own people.  Isaiah returns to Jerusalem.  Paul returns to Tarsus (Acts 9:11).

It is also important in this context to remember that Jesus’ own family initially didn’t believe in him.  In fact they tried to restrain him because people thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).  So why was this?

One issue could be that the family and neighbors were so familiar with Jesus’ background that they thought they knew all about him.  His ministry however challenged that idea.  To this day this is why some people reject Jesus.  They think they know all about him when they don’t.  If he doesn’t conform to their image they dismiss him.

There is also the point that not only do they know Jesus at least superficially, but Jesus knows them.  This could be more than a little disturbing.  Jesus grew up as the ultimate perfect child.  However as such he didn’t challenge his family and his neighbors.  His teaching now is challenging.  They are not ready for it.  Their familiarity with him leads them to resent the message he presents them.  They were comfortable with a superficial knowledge of Jesus.  They are not prepared for the mature Jesus who is nothing less than the Son of God.

Merciful and gracious God keep me from thinking that I already know enough about you.  Keep challenging me.  May I see you as you truly are.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen,

Grace Presbyterian Church - Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 5-6 – “Faint with Love”

These next two chapters present images of love.  We learn several things here.  Love requires flexibility.  It includes longing and risk.  Love brings us into a new world.  All of these experiences are found in the believer’s relationship to Christ.

 I. “Listen, my beloved is knocking” – 5:1-16

We have here a series of images that seem dream- like.  They pick up descriptions we encountered earlier in chapter 3.  These images now however are more intense.  The opening seems straight-forward.  The bridegroom has a garden.  The image of a garden should alert us to a major image in scripture.  The first lovers in the Bible of course are Adam and Eve (although they are not necessarily the only human beings on earth, cf. Gen. 4:14-17).  They too had a garden which they lost when they succumbed to the temptation of the serpent.

We next have a dream.  The bride hears her beloved knocking.   He calls her to open the door for him.  She is reluctant.  She has undressed for bed.  Yet her inmost being yearns for him.  She opens the door but he is not there.  She then goes looking for him (as we saw in chapter 3).  She calls but he does not answer.  She can’t find him.  Once again she encounters the nightly sentinels.  They beat her and wound her.  The take away her cloak, her mantel.  Not only wounded, she is faint with love.

What is this telling us?  We are left with the idea that love is a struggle.  Couples do not fully communicate.  They lose touch with one another.  Lovers may be missing but this is not the same as being abandoned.  There are many reasons why a lover may be absent.

We also see here that love can be risky.  The beloved woman is set upon by the sentinels and beaten.  There are risks, even dangers in love.  The chorus asks the woman,

“What is your beloved more than another beloved?”  In other words, what makes him so special and is he worth the longing and indeed the wounds?

The woman’s answer is emphatic.  Her beloved is unmatched.  She describes him in glowing terms.  He is “altogether desirable” (v. 16).  She is willing to risk everything to be with him.

This then is a picture of love.  We are to note that even the most dedicated couples will have times when they seem lost from each other.   Love is risky.  People can feel beaten, even wounded.  Yet genuine love rises above all these challenges.  In Paul’s words, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 13:7).

This then works as an analogy on the spiritual level.  If we substitute faith for love we see the application.  The believer longs for Christ.  Yet Christ can call us at unexpected moments.  We need to be ready.  There are times (as we saw earlier) that Christ can seem distant.  We cry out in prayer and seemingly receive no answer.  Yet true faith continues.  It holds on.  Why?  Because there is nothing that can be compared to Christ.  Christ is the ultimate example of one who is “altogether desirable.”

II. “Where Has Your Beloved Gone?” – 6:1-13

This now is the key question, where is the beloved?  We now have several Biblical images.  As noted above the reference to the garden is key.  The description of a perfect garden with “beds of spices” clearly conjures up the lost Garden of Eden.  In Eden it was not only that Adam and Eve rebelled against God.  Their relationship was broken as Adam insisted on blaming Eve (Gen. 3:12).  In this new garden relationships are restored.

It turns out that the bridegroom has not abandoned his beloved.  He has gone to his garden to prepare it for her.  She is to join him there.  Another image here is that of the shepherd.  The beloved “pastures his flocks among the lilies” (6:2).

The bridegroom now describes his bride as “my perfect one.”  In this section the ideas of love and spiritual commitment overlap.  The return to the garden is finally a picture of salvation.  The New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is a re-birth of Eden.  The shepherd of course has many references including David the shepherd-king and of course Jesus who is the “good shepherd” (John 10:11).

The struggles of chapter 5 are all resolved in chapter. 6.  The lovers are reunited.  The bridegroom did not simply disappear.  He was preparing his garden to make it ready for the beloved.  She describes it as a “nut orchard,” “the blossoms in the valley” (6:11).  The bride speaks of being alongside her prince in a chariot before she was aware that she was being set apart for him.

We can see multiple images of Christ here.  Christ is the ultimate Bridegroom.  We need to be prepared for him.  He comes suddenly at night (Matt. 25:1-13).  As we noted he is the good shepherd.  Yet above everything else Jesus is the supreme lover (John 13:1).  Nothing can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:38-39).

Questions for Us –

  1. Why are there obstacles to love?
  2. What are some of the reasons that a lover, or symbolically Christ, can seem distant?
  3. What do you think of the image of returning to a restored Garden of Eden (5:1; 6:2)?

Final Study – Song of Solomon Chapters 7-8

“Set Me as a Seal Upon Your Heart”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Song of Solomon -“God’s Gift of Love”

Song of Solomon -“God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 3:6-4:16 – “The Great Wedding”

These passages deal with the wedding of Solomon.  The text functions on several levels.  First and foremost, it is a celebration of love and marriage.  There are two voices, the crowd (“daughters of Jerusalem”) and Solomon himself.  On another level this is symbolically Christ coming for his bride, the church.

  1. “The Coming of the King” 3:6-11

This section begins with an observation and a question.  The crowd (or essentially the chorus) sees someone coming up from the wilderness “like a column of smoke.” The figure is perfumed with myrrh and frankincense.  He comes with the mighty men of Israel armed with swords.

 He is an imposing figure complete with his crown and valuable jewels. This is his wedding day.  It is also “the day of the gladness of his heart.”  The marriage of a king throughout history has always been a special event.  That is certainly the case here.  The king comes to possess his bride, his beloved.  This is a scene of pageantry and royalty.  The “daughters of Zion” look on approvingly.

On an initial level this is a picture of the splendor and joy of marriage.  The king does not define the nature of marriage (as was the case in other nations).  The reality of marriage already exists.  It has been created and defined by God.  Its underlying motivation is that it is not good for someone to be alone (Gen. 2:18).  This is the principle which gives universal application to this text.  Not everyone is married.  Yet the theme that no one should be alone applies to us all.

The picture here of the wedding takes in far more than just the bride and the groom.    Everyone is involved. The larger symbol here is of community.  No one should be left alone.  We need to be in relationships whether those relationships are marital or that of family and friends. 

We cannot pass over the very human reality that is taking place here.  However, the church has seen much more than the marriage of Solomon in this context.  We can see in this passage multiple references not only to Christ but also to God the Father.  Consider the following:

  1. The king comes from the wilderness.  God forms his covenant with Israel in the wilderness (Hosea 11:1).
  2. Jesus at his birth receives gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).  All three are mentioned here.
  3. The king comes like a “column of smoke.”  God emerges out of smoke on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:18).
  4. Jesus will come as King of Kings.  Instead of “mighty men” he will be followed by the armies of heaven (Rev. 19:11-14).

So what is the point of all this?  This is to remind us of the promises of Christ that are all around us.  Based on this passage every time we attend a wedding we should be thinking of the return of Christ.  The marital symbolism of Christ’s second coming recurs throughout scripture (Matt. 25:1-12; II Cor. 11:2; Rev. 21:2)

II. The Beauty of the Bride – 4:1-16

We now have an extensive description of the bride.  The imagery is more than a little overwhelming.  The speaker is clearly Solomon, the groom.  He praises his bride’s eyes, hair, teeth, lips, cheeks, neck, and breasts.  She is altogether beautiful.  There is not a flaw in her.  She is perfumed with spices.  She is a “well of living water.”

This description operates on two levels.  First of all, this is the perspective of total and complete human love.  When two people are in love they love every aspect of each other.  The physical descriptions here symbolize the character traits and personalities of the lovers.  They truly love everything about each other.  They don’t see the flaws.

Obviously over the course of time these flaws and failings will become more evident. Yet if their love is true that won’t change the relationship.  A critical aspect of an ongoing relationship is forgiveness.  In the words of the apostle Paul, we are to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32).

This now brings us to the second level of interpretation.  Using the imagery of the New Testament Christ is the Bridegroom and the church is the Bride.  The Bridegroom loves every aspect of the Bride.  This is how Christ loves us.  He doesn’t love us in some general way.  He loves every single thing about us.  In this sense he loves us beyond what any human lover could love.

This text speaks of the Bride being flawless (v. 7).  However, we know that we are far from flawless.  We have many failings.  Here though is the most amazing part.  Christ in his love for us makes us flawless.  In his death on the cross he takes away all our failings, all our imperfections, all our sins.  It is then not only that he, like a human lover, doesn’t see our flaws.  In reality he removes the flaws so then the church emerges as a heavenly bride free from spot or stain.  This then becomes a sustained metaphor for how much Christ not only loves us but sacrifices for us.  Paul will use this same imagery in Eph. 5:21-33.

We can never fully comprehend the depths of Christ’s love for us.

Questions for Us –

  1. Why is it so important that no one should be left alone (Gen. 2:18)?
  2. What does this passage teach us about the nature of love?
  3. How does our being the Bride of Christ encourage us?

Next Study – Song of Solomon Chapters 5-6

“Faint with Love”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Saturday, February 2, 2019

Saturday, February 2, 2019

“I Know Who You Are!”

Ephesians 6:10-17

This text is a vivid picture of spiritual warfare.  This conflict between ultimate good and evil is as old at the Garden of Eden.  Paul here is calling us to be ready and prepared.  There is joy and peace in Christ.  There is abundant love and mercy.  However there is also danger and conflict.  This conflict precedes the creation of our present world.  Jesus states that the devil has been active “from the beginning” (John 8:44).

Paul’s description of this conflict is rich in symbolism.  The first point he notes for us is that our conflict is not finally with “flesh and blood.”  Our focus then must not be on human beings, individuals or groups.  There are of course people who are evil, who indeed choose to be evil.  As we have seen, there are people who love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19).

Yet that cannot be our central focus. Christ is the savior of all people.  He gave his life for the whole world (I Tim. 4:10; I John 2:2).  He died for Herod and Pilate as well as for Peter and Paul.  That however does not apply to the devil and the “cosmic powers of this present darkness.”

We are not to fixate on evil.  Nor are we to fear it.  We are however called to confront it in the name of Jesus Christ.  Our weapons are spiritual not physical (II Cor. 10:3-6).  These weapons include truth (Satan is an ultimate deceiver), the gospel of peace (the peace we have with God through the justification we have by faith, Rom. 5:1-2). Paul then lifts up the shield of faith which quenches “all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  Finally there is the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit “which is the word of God.”  Yes Satan can quote (or misquote) the scriptures but the word of God finally exposes and defeats him.

We should not try and hide from the reality of evil.  On the other hand we cannot be reckless or foolhardy.  We need always to recognize that our conflict is essentially spiritual.  We need to lay hold of the weapons of faith which the Lord has given us.  Finally we need to “pray in the Spirit at all times (v. 18).

Our ultimate assurance is that evil cannot finally win.  On the contrary, Jesus has won the victory (I Cor. 15:57).  In him we cannot be defeated.

Gracious and loving God may I stand firm whenever I encounter the reality of evil.  Keep me safe and strong through faith in you and trust in your word.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Song of Solomon – “God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 3:1-5 – “The Missing Lover”

This section leads up to the celebration of the marriage of Solomon.  It is in these exchanges that we see the reality of human love at its most intense.  Once we have considered the human dimension we can then consider the idea that this whole text is pointing us toward a symbolic picture of the love of God for his people.

I. “I Sought Him But Found Him Not”- 3:1-3

We have here a picture of frustrated love.  The woman awakens at night to find her lover missing.  As a betrothed couple they may already have been living together.  This would not be uncommon.  An engagement was binding and needed a divorce to be broken up (Matt. 1:18-19).  The lover discovers in the middle of the night that her betrothed is missing.  Her calls to him go unanswered. Apparently frantic, she not only gets up but goes out into the streets seeking to find him.  Needless to say, this would be inappropriate if not also dangerous for an unaccompanied woman.

She seeks for him but can’t find him.  She is then found by the sentinels, the police in effect.  She scarcely leaves them after telling them she is seeking for her beloved.  At that moment he finds her.  She holds him desperately.  They then return to her mother’s home.  We have the repeated line not to awaken love until it is ready (v. 5; 2:7). No reason is given why the beloved is absent or where he had been.  Why hadn’t he told his lover that he was going to be away?  We are not given answers to these questions.

We can note the following points:

  • Absences can occur even between the most dedicated lovers.  There are many possible reasons for this but none are discussed her.
  • The beloved desires her lover to the point where she will make herself vulnerable and seek for him in the city streets at night.
  • The lover appears and the two are reconciled.
  • The power of love is noted again.

There are several themes here.  The first is that love at its deepest is not perfect.  We have a desperate note that the woman calls for her lover but he does not answer.  Is it because he doesn’t choose to, which seems unlikely?   It is perhaps more the case that he is unable to for some reason.  The second point here is that the woman is not content to wait until he returns.  She arises and goes out into the city to find him.  As noted an unaccompanied woman going out into the streets in the middle if the night is placing herself in potential danger.  Yet from her standpoint that is immaterial.  She is desperate to find her lover.  When she finds him she holds him and will not let him go.

This in many ways is an ideal picture of human love.  The ideal however does not always run smoothly.  We saw that in chapter one with the opposition of the brothers.  We see it here in the absence of the lover. These are human lovers.  They are not perfect.  Yet their dedication is intense.  Love remains an incredibly powerful force.

We can now look at the symbolic nature of this love.

Symbolically the lover is the believer and Christ is the beloved, the betrothed.  There are moments in the believer’s life where Christ (or God) seems absent or at least not responsive.  The psalmist cries out, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1).  The setting of the scene at night connotes darkness.  It is in the middle if the night that we can confront what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”

The lover (believer) here cries out in the night for the beloved (God).  Yet she receives no answer.  She then goes in search of the beloved in the city streets at night. This symbolizes the hunger the believer has for the Savior.  Yet these are immaterial in the context of the need of the lover to find the beloved.  But even here the search proves fruitless (“I sought him but found him not” v. 2).  This testifies to the reality so often expressed by the psalmist that God seems to “stand far off” in times of trouble.  This is seen to the fullest extent in Jesus’ quoting Ps. 22 from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, Ps. 22:1).

The lover asks the sentinels if they have seen her lover but apparently they have not.

All of a sudden she finds her beloved.  The suggestion clearly is that he appears to her.  He in effect is revealing himself to her.   She holds him and will not let him go.  This section can be summarized in the following points:

II. The Reunion

  • The soul (the believer) has an inherent and undeniable desire for God (Ps. 42:1).  The question here is not of God providing a specific answer to a stated need (health, prosperity, success, wellbeing).  The desire for the beloved (God) is grounded in the very nature of the lover (the soul).
  • God does not always answer when we call.  We do not always experience his presence.  This creates a crisis.  We can find ourselves in the darkest night, cut off and alone.
  • The lover is distressed but not in despair.   She goes out into the city at night determined to find her beloved.  The risks and dangers of the city streets are not an obstacle.  If God seems absent or unresponsive we need to pray all the more as Jesus does in Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-42).
  • Others may not assist us in our search (the sentinels).
  • Yet all of a sudden the beloved appears.  God will not delay in answering us indefinitely.  He appears.  The lover does not question where he has been.  She grabs hold of him and will not let him go.  Loving God is an end in itself.  We have only to hold him tightly.  He alone is our true love.  He alone can provide us with all our needs (Matt. 6:33).
  • Love creates its own power.  It is the love of Christ alone that propels us into his kingdom (II Cor. 5:14-15; John 3:16-17).

Questions for Us –

  1.  Have you experienced times in your life when God did not seem present, when your prayers were apparently not being heard?  How did you deal with those times?
  2. What are some of the way that we search for God when we don’t feel we have a response from him?
  3. What for us would be an example of holding fast to God and not letting him go?

Next Study – Song of Solomon Chapters 3:6-4:16

“The Great Wedding”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Song of Solomon “God’s Gift of Love”

Song of Solomon “God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 1 and 2 – “For Your Love is Better Than Wine”

      This book has been overly neglected by the church and that has been to the detriment of God’s people.  What we have here is a love poem between a beautiful young girl and a shepherd-king (Solomon’s father, David, was both a shepherd and a king).  That imagery carries over to Jesus Christ who was the shepherd-king who sought us and loved us (John 10:11; 13:1).  To best understand this book we need to approach it for what it is, a love poem.

  1. Is This Really in the Bible?

We need first to consider a number of things about the context and nature of the book:

  • The book is attributed to Solomon and is part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Bible which includes Psalms. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Solomon is not necessarily the author but the subject of the poem at least in the references to the king.
  • Some have considered the work to be a drama.  Yet while there is abundant dialogue there is really no action nor scenes as in a drama.
  • All of this appears to be a celebration OF Solomon’s wedding (3:11, there is no reference to his multiple wives).
  • The book then is a statement on the nature of love.  This is expressed in very physical terms  which reflect the genuine love of the lovers.   
  • In spite of the fact that there appears to be two male figures, the shepherd and the king, they really appear to be the same person.  As noted above this would seem to fit David more than Solomon.  Yet the idea that Israel’s king is also a shepherd would carry over from the example of David
  • The book contains explicit erotic imagery.  The point is made that sexual love finds its true expression in marriage.  Yet in leading up to marriage there are multiple expressions and descriptions of sexuality.
  • Both Israel and the church have seen this work as an allegory describing God’s love for his people.  To support this there are examples in scripture of God’s love for Israel being expressed symbolically in sexual terms (Ezekiel 16:1-14).
  • Yet this book is not explicitly allegorical as are other parts of the scripture (Ps. 74:12-19; Isa. 27:1; Daniel 7; Revelation 12).
  • The danger in a purely allegorical reading is that the book’s inspired expression of human marital love becomes diminished.

The failure of the church to take this book as a guide and expression of human love has negatively impacted this book both as a statement of physical and spiritual love.

II. The Beginning of the Poem

  • Western Christianity has paid a high price for Augustine’s view that sex is inherently sinful.  Augustine saw sex at best as a necessary evil for procreation.  Such an interpretation basically undermines the Song of Solomon as scripture.  Sex then becomes a taboo topic with a whole host of negative implications.
  • The poem begins with the lover, the female partner, extolling the nature of her love for her betrothed.  The imagery from the outset is intense.  She begins by describing her lover’s kisses as “better than wine.”  She is preparing herself for the king’s bed chamber.  Wine is repeated as a rich image throughout this passage (vv. 1,4, 4:10).
  • The woman is described as “black and beautiful.  This is the first of several obstacles that are noted (racism is nothing new).  Moses had married a black woman for which he was criticized by his brother and sister (Num. 12:1).  The woman then refers to the objections of her brothers yet no reason is given for their anger.  Yet too often conflicts in families don’t have a clear rationale.
  • She longs to join her shepherd lover.
  • The beloved then speaks of the great beauty of his lover.  There is a dialogue back and forth between the two of them emphasizing the greatness of their love.  The imagery here appeals to taste, sight and smell (“The beams of our house are cedar”).
  • The beloved identifies herself as a “rose of Sharon.”  To this the lover adds additional plant as well as fruit imagery.  She is like an apple tree.  She is brought to his banqueting table.  His intention toward her is love. .Passages such as these were interpreted as God’s seeking out sinners to make them his bride. 
  • The lover then is called to come away with the beloved.  Love is described as the emergence of spring after winter.  There is a reference to seeing the face of the beloved in the cleft of a rock (2:14).  This is an echo of Moses’ request to see God in the cleft of a rock (Ex. 33:17-23).
  • What is this all about?  Several things can be summarized here:
  • The power of love.  Love is all consuming.  In the allegorical interpretation this is a way of saying the God’s love for us is overwhelming.  One can never take love lightly (2:7).
  • Love is supremely physical.  There is a danger in overly spiritualizing the nature of love, even God’s love or our love for him.  Jesus is completely a physical human being (John 1:14).  The crucifixion is physical.  The resurrection especially so.  A spiritual resurrection offers us no comfort (I Cor. 15:12-19).
  • Sex and love are not shameful.  They are to be celebrated (Proverbs 5:18-19; Eph. 5:21-33).

Questions for Us –

  1.  Have you ever read or studied the Song of Solomon before?  Why do you think it has been neglected in much of church life?
  2. Why is there a suggestion of opposition to the lover from the very beginning (1:6)?
  3. What are the lessons about love, both human and divine, in these first two chapters?

Next Study – Song of Solomon Chapters 3-4

“The Missing Lover”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

“What Did You See?”

Psalm 72:12-19

As we noted yesterday this prayer of David for his son, Solomon, is really fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the final Son of David.  In that fulfilment we can never forget the emphasis placed on the poor, the needy, and “those who have no helper.”  Jesus signals out the poor for special emphasis (Matt. 5:3; 11; Mark 10:21; Luke 4:18; 6:20).  This includes the larger issue of justice.  If we are to serve the true “Son of David” we must be prepared to commit ourselves to the ministry of both caring for and defending the poor (v. 4).

In a limited sense David’s prayer will be answered.  Solomon will receive gold from Sheba.  There will be prosperity for a time.  However as Paul would later point out the power of sin is too great (Romans 7).   Who among us is not susceptible?  Too often it is those, like Solomon, who appear to be especially gifted that fall into serious sin.

David’s prayer here concludes with hope for the nations.  David asks that his son’s name endure forever.  He goes on to pray that all nations will be blessed in him.  This was the promise that God made to Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  As Matthew notes the title of “son of Abraham” also applies to Jesus (Matt. 1:1).

The supreme focus of Jesus’ ministry is on “all nations.”  Jesus is the savior of the world (I John 4:14).  Jesus commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

This week we will be observing Epiphany.  This is when we focus on the wise men who come to worship the baby Jesus.  As those who come “from the east” (Matt. 2:1) they represent the nations in the overall Christmas story.

We live in a world which tends to look down on the whole idea of evangelism and missions, of trying to “convert” people.  Acknowledging the abuses of evangelism we can nevertheless not avoid Christ’s directive.  It doesn’t take much to see that our world desperately needs a savior.  No leader of any nation qualifies. 

With humility and compassion we need to share the message of salvation found only in Jesus Christ.

Most gracious and faithful God give me opportunities to share the truth about Jesus Christ wherever I am.  I ask this in Jesus’ name Amen.

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

In this section Paul is reflecting on the opposition that he faces in proclaiming the gospel.  This same kind of opposition is being faced by the Philippians.  Paul then is offering them encouragement.  The purpose of his life and ministry is that “Christ will be exalted.”  Nothing more, nothing less.

Chapter 1:15-30 – “Christ will be Exalted”


  1. “Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry” – 1:15-18a

Paul faces conflict in virtually every phase of his life and ministry.  Here he is talking about other Christian missionaries who proclaim Christ out of “selfish ambition.” Corruption came into the church early on.  There is a twofold problem in this situation.  The first is that some people are proclaiming the gospel out of false motives, out of envy and rivalry.  The accusation of their “selfish ambition” may reflect an attitude that wanted exorbitant payment or special privileges for communicating the message of salvation.

Paul’s response seems puzzling.  He takes an open ended attitude saying at least these selfish people are in fact proclaiming Christ.  They have the message right even if their lives aren’t consistent with what they preach and teach.  One still would think that such messengers would be more detrimental to the gospel than helpful, “practice what you preach.”  Yet Paul has such confidence in the overwhelming power of the gospel that it will still have an impact in spite of the character of those who proclaim it.

The second problem is more personal.  These other missionaries are apparently attacking Paul himself.  They are intending to increase his suffering in his imprisonment.  Taking the general view that Paul here is under house arrest in Rome he then is limited in where he can go and he can only interact with those who come to see him (Acts 28:30).

Paul is the author of no less than thirteen books of the New Testament.  He is the major figure of the apostolic era.  Yet he was often criticized not only for what he said but how he said it (II Cor. 10:10).  Even other Christians were wary of him (Acts 21:17-26).  Beyond that, Paul’s powerful message of salvation by grace alone (Eph. 2:8-9) has always had a mixed reaction among Christians who invariably gravitate toward some form of law despite what Paul has said (Rom. 3:20).

It would be very understandable if Paul became discouraged.  Yet that is not the case at all.  Paul rejoices in the fact that Christ is “proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true.” Paul’s confidence is boundless because it is centered in Christ alone.  It is not based on himself, his personal circumstances or the attitudes and actions of those around him.

II. Living is Christ and Dying is Gain – 1:18b-26

Paul goes back and forth in his thoughts at this point.  He maintains his attitude of rejoicing which is a key theme of this whole letter (Phil. 4:4).  Initially he expresses confidence that he will be delivered.  He bases this partly on the prayers of the Philippians but also on the work of God’s Spirit.  Paul still had some confidence in Roman justice.  He was not leading an insurrection against the emperor.  He had done nothing wrong.  He therefore could count on being acquitted.

In any event Paul here reflects on the possibility of his death.  In doing so he makes the great affirmation, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (v. 21).  Paul then goes on to say that death is actually preferable to continuing in this life.  Death, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later say, is the gateway to life.  Death leads to being with Christ.  He says that is far better than anything in this life.  However, he then turns to the fact that his earthly ministry needs to continue for the benefit of the Philippians and his other churches.  He wants to support them in their “progress and joy in faith.”

Paul’s thoughts then come full circle.  He expresses his confidence that he will come to see them again.  There will be a favorable outcome to his appearance before the emperor.  Paul poses the same question to all of us.  Do our lives reflect the gospel of Christ, a gospel that for Paul is sheer joy?

He reminds them that the gospel is a matter of faith.  They are to stand firm in this faith which in other places he has so often identified with freedom (Gal. 5:1).  Without this freedom there is no gospel.  By the same token the “freedom of the Christian” (a favorite phrase of Martin Luther) should reflect the reality of the gospel (good news).

Paul now goes on to describe the very stark reality that there are those who oppose the gospel.  This is far more than other Christians acting out of “selfish ambition.”  We are not sure who these opponents were.  They may have been followers of the cult of the emperor or those who worshipped other spirits such as that which Paul and Silas encountered when they first came to Philippi (Acts 16:16-24).

Whatever the opposition Paul is convinced that it will not prevail.  These opponents are quite frankly facing destruction.  This is not a call for Christians to defend themselves.  God is in charge and he alone is the one who will do away with the opponents.  God alone is the source of the Philippians’ salvation and safety.

III. Standing Firm

Paul’s final words here deal with suffering.  Paul makes the straightforward statement that God has graciously granted us the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well.  Paul then refers to the common struggle in testifying to the gospel that he shares with the Philippians.

Paul here is not saying that all suffering is suffering for Christ.  Suffering embraces many dimensions.  Why was Epaphroditus suffering from illness (Phil. 2:27)?  Paul himself endured suffering over his pride (II Cor. 12:1-10).

The suffering Paul is referring to is the opposition to the gospel (Acts 5:41).    Testifying to the gospel requires more than simply telling the gospel story.  It means standing up and following Jesus in his defense of the rejected and the despised, bringing good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:16-21).  It is in living out the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ that we encounter true joy.

Questions for Us –

  1. Does Paul’s comments on those who proclaim Christ out of “selfish ambition” apply to present day scandals in the church?  Following Paul’s example how should we react?
  2. How can we interpret Paul’s statement that living is Christ and dying is gain?  Would you agree with that statement?   Why?
  3. Have you ever had to suffer for your faith in Christ?

Next Study – Phil. 2:1-23 – “Jesus’ Model”


Grace Presbyterian Church - The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

The Letter to the Philippians – “Pressing Toward the Goal”

Paul here is writing to a church that he established by God’s grace and one for which he had a special fondness (Acts 16:1-40).  Paul is writing from prison probably from Rome (Acts 28:16,30-31) and he is then facing the possibility of execution at the hands of Nero.  The Philippians are concerned about him.  They also would be concerned for themselves.  The fact that they had the privilege of Roman citizenship would normally have given them security.  Yet Paul was a Roman citizen.  If he could be executed for his faith in Christ so could they.  The whole situation appears to be an anxious one.  However, Paul in the midst of this is joyful and he wants to encourage the Philippians to be joyful too.

Chapter 1:1-14 – “Greater Boldness and Without Fear”


  1. Paul’s Prayer – 1:1-11

This letter is from Paul and Timothy.  Timothy himself was an early convert who accompanied Paul on his ministry to Philippi along with Luke and Silas.  We can presume that Timothy was staying with Paul during his house arrest in Rome.  (Acts 28:30).   Paul presumably has heard from Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:19-30) of the Philippians’ concerns about him and invariably their own vulnerability if Nero proceeds to hunt down Christians and kill them (which of course he does).

Paul wants to do more than encourage the Philippians (who also have internal conflicts).  He wants them to share his joy.  How can Paul be joyful under arrest in Rome awaiting possible execution?  Paul has several reasons for his joy.

The first is that he wants to remind the Philippians that they are saints.  He has a similar greeting to his other churches (I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1).  They are saints solely through the grace of God. They have been made saints in Christ by Christ and for Christ.  It is not an accomplishment on their part.  Karl Barth called grace God’s “Nevertheless.”  In spite of who and what we are, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Paul then adds that he not only thanks God for them but prays for them “with joy.”  They have shared with Paul in his ministry from the beginning when he first brought the gospel to them.  Paul uses the word “koinea” here which is often translated “community”.  However, Paul’s view of “koinea” is the idea of not only getting together for fellowship but is also the idea of sharing in a common goal.  This is a unity born of a shared goal and purpose.

Paul then states that his joy in based on a confident hope.  The God who began a good work in them will bring it to completion on the “day of Jesus Christ.”  This is an incredible statement of assurance.  Our salvation, our relationship to God is not our work.  It is God’s work.  God has called us to himself in Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4).  We are not passive in this call.  However, the call does not depend on us.  The God who works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11) is the one who is bringing us to the full goal of life in Christ.  The day of Jesus Christ is nothing less than the victory of Jesus Christ.

Focus on Christ has changed the whole tenor of Paul’s situation.  He is not looking on his present status as a prisoner in Roman captivity.  Instead he is talking about the victory of Jesus Christ.  Paul certainly is no ordinary prisoner.

Paul rejoices in the fact that the Philippians hold him in their heart.  This is not a formal relationship.  It is deeply personal and also emotional.  Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is that their love may overflow more and more.  Paul sets before them no law, no set of rules or code of conduct.  He presents them as he does all his churches with the focus on love.  This is not love as a vague concept.  It is a love that in the Spirit overflows with knowledge and full insight.  The goal of this love is to enable the Philippians to “determine what is best.”

We should not read over this statement too quickly.  This “knowledge and full insight” is no small thing.  We will see later in this letter that there were those in this church as in many others who wanted to return to the Law, to the original controversy of the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1).  Love demands risks.  Faith also requires risks.  As we apply Christ’s love to the many difficult and complex issues of life we have to have the confidence that we already have a “harvest of righteousness.”  This comes from Jesus, not from us.  This harvest comes through him.  This is why faith and prayer are so important.  What is supremely important is the opening statement of grace (1:2).  Grace, God’s undeserved mercy, defines everything else.

Finally, the goal of our actions is not for our benefit, not even for the benefit of the church.  The goal quite simply is the “glory and praise of God.”  This goal then guides our knowledge and insight.   We don’t always have a clear understanding of how we are applying God’s love to particular situations.  We are sustained by Paul’s statement of confidence.  The work has already begun in us.  It will be completed as part of the final victory of Jesus Christ.  God has begun it.  God will complete it.  God will not fail.

  1. The Freedom of Imprisonment – 1:12-14

Paul now adds that his imprisonment, instead of being an obstacle, has in fact turned out to help spread the gospel!  Paul’s accusers had intended the exact opposite.  They wanted to eliminate Paul and silence his message.  However, the opposite was the result.

To say that Paul’s case was known by the “whole imperial guard” is an astonishing statement especially if we’re speaking of Rome with its thousands of troops.  This may be a generalization although Paul usually isn’t given to overstatement.  Certainly the idea of a Roman citizen being imprisoned over a message about the death of what in Rome’s eyes was an obscure carpenter would have received attention.  The Roman historian Tacitus refers to Christianity as “a most mischievous superstition.”  Clearly the message was spreading.

Since this is Paul’s basic goal he does not lament the fact of his imprisonment.  What is even more striking is that the Christians of Rome were in fact more confident to spread the gospel (This however would not last.  When Paul’s situation became more desperate he was abandoned by the other Christians, II Tim. 4:16).

For the moment he is encouraging the Philippians (and us) with his hopeful attitude.  This attitude is not based on his circumstances as serious as they appear to be.  It is based instead on the promise of the One who already began a good work in them.  Because of this they should be prepared to speak God’s Word “with greater boldness and without fear.”  That should be true of us as well.

Questions for Us –

  1. Why is it so important that we all share together in the work of the gospel?
  2. How can we develop greater knowledge and insight in showing Christ’s love?
  3. What are some of the ways we can maintain confidence in the midst of trouble and adversity?

Next Study – Phil. 1:15-30 – “Christ will be Exalted”



Grace Presbyterian Church - Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

  1. Context
    1. Jews and Samaritans – “Jews do not share things with Samaritans” – John 8:48- “Samaritan” = “Demon”
    2. Single men and women did not interact socially by themselves – 4:27
    3. Both Jesus and the woman want water


  1. Jesus is the Mesiah/the Savior – 4:26, 42
    1. Jesus begins speaking about things that are important to the woman – 4:10
    2. Jesus uses symbolism for life in the Spirit – John 3:8
    3. The woman brings up her own religious views – 4:12
    4. Jesus introduces the water of “eternal life” – 4:14
    5. The woman only partially understands at best – 4:15 – 20 – “Has Jesus failed as a communicator?”
    6. The woman’s background – true but also irrelevant – 4:15-19
    7. Jesus does not condemn or call the woman to repentance– John 8:11
    8. Jesus reveals himself – 4:24-26
    9. The disciples are “astonished” but quiet – 4:27


  • The woman as evangelist – 4:29
    1. Jesus ‘ food is to do the will of the Father – 4:34
    2. “the fields are ripe for harvesting” – 4:35
    3. Many Samaritans believed in him – 4:39
    4. “the Savior of the world” – 4:42

Questions for Reflection –Who first told you about Jesus Christ?

  1. What lessons can we take from Jesus’ example of evangelism in this passage?
  2. What keeps us from sharing the gospel with people we encounter?
  3. How does Grace Church equip you to share your faith?


Next Study – Reaching Out to the “Other” – Matt. 25:31-46

Grace Presbyterian Church - Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

Reaching Out to the “Other”- Bible Study – Matt. 25:31-46

  1. Context
    1. Apocalyptic Parable (“Wow! What is that?”) – symbolic depiction of the end time to challenge things in the present – Matt. 13:47-50; 24;  Ezekiel 1; Daniel 7-8; Revelation 4-22
    2. Jesus’ parables in Matthew are both a warning and a summons to action usually with a very specific focus
      1. For the community of faith – Matt. 13:10-17
      2. The Parable of the Sower – Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23
      3. The Weeds and the Wheat – Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43
      4. The Mustard Seed – Matt. 13:31-32
      5. The Yeast – Matt. 13:33
      6. The lost sheep – Matt. 18:10-14
      7. The end of the age – Matt. 13:47-50


  1. A Picture of the Last Judgment
  1. Jesus as the Son of Man – the final judge – Daniel 7:13-14; John 5:25-29
  2. The nations (the world) – 25:32
  3. Sheep and goats – 25:25:32
  4. Those who are blessed – Isa. 58:6-9
    1. “you gave me food” – 25:35
    2. “you gave me something to drink”
    3. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”
    4. “I was naked and you gave me clothing” – 25:36
    5. “I was sick and you took care of me”
    6. “I was in prison and you visited me”
  5. The question of the righteous – “When. . . ?” – 25:37-39
    1. “the least of these” – 25:40
    2. “brother or sister” – 25:40; 5:21-24; 18:35
    3. “little ones” – Matt. 10:42; 18:10-14; 19:13-14; cf. 5:1-12
  6. “you did it to me” – 25:40
  7. “you did not do it to me” – 25:41-45
  8. eternal life vs. eternal punishment – 25:46

Questions for Reflection –

  1. How have we as a congregation extended care to the “other?”
  2. In what ways are we blind to or ignore the needs of others?
  3. What needs could we add to Jesus’ parable?
  4. What can we do to increase our awareness of those in need?


Next Study – Healthy Church Life – Matt. 15:1-9

Grace Presbyterian Church - Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

Authentic Evangelism – Bible Study – John 4:1-42

I. Context

  1. Jews and Samaritans – “Jews do not share things with Samaritans” – John 8:48- “Samaritan” = “Demon”
  2. Single men and women did not interact socially by themselves – 4:27
  3. Both Jesus and the woman want water

II. Jesus is the Mesiah/the Savior – 4:26, 42

  1. Jesus begins speaking about things that are important to the woman – 4:10
  2. Jesus uses symbolism for life in the Spirit – John 3:8
  3. The woman brings up her own religious views – 4:12
  4. Jesus introduces the water of “eternal life” – 4:14
  5. The woman only partially understands at best – 4:15 – 20 – “Has Jesus failed as a communicator?”
  6. The woman’s background – true but also irrelevant – 4:15-19
  7. Jesus does not condemn or call the woman to repentance– John 8:11
  8. Jesus reveals himself – 4:24-26
  9. The disciples are “astonished” but quiet – 4:27

III. The woman as evangelist – 4:29

  1. Jesus ‘ food is to do the will of the Father – 4:34
  2. “the fields are ripe for harvesting” – 4:35
  3. Many Samaritans believed in him – 4:39
  4. “the Savior of the world” – 4:42

Questions for Reflection –

  1. Who first told you about Jesus Christ?
  2. What lessons can we take from Jesus’ example of evangelism in this passage?
  3. What keeps us from sharing the gospel with people we encounter?
  4. How does Grace Church equip you to share your faith?


Next Study – Reaching Out to the “Other” – Matt. 25:31-46


Grace Presbyterian Church - Lamentations Chapters 4-5 “Renew our Days”

Lamentations Chapters 4-5 “Renew our Days”

Welcome to our on-line Bible study for 2018

The Book of Lamentations

Chapters 4-5 – “Renew Our Days”

The Book of Lamentations ends with two statements that appear to be from different authors.  Chapter 4 is a vivid and distressing picture of the final collapse of Jerusalem.  The writer records the events that happened and gives them a context.  Jerusalem faced such devastation because they turned away from the Lord and went their own way.  The suffered the consequences of their own actions.  This however was not an arbitrary fate.  It was a judgment of God, a judgment more terrible than that of Sodom.  Sodom hadn’t known the Lord but Jerusalem had.  They were God’s chosen people. Therefore, their punishment was greater (I Peter 4:17).  Yet in all this their own actions contributed to their downfall.  Chapter 5 is a prayer of confession on the part of the remaining people.  All is not lost.  The people cry out to the Lord who alone can renew them.  However, the point is stressed that the people can in no way presume upon God’s goodness.  That goodness is affirmed elsewhere by the surviving prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 515).

  1. “The Sacred Stones Lie Scattered” – chapter 4

This chapter recounts the devastation visited upon Jerusalem by the Babylonians (or as they are also called, the Chaldeans).  This chapter continues the lament theme of the earlier chapters.  This writer however attempts to give a spiritual explanation for the devastation.  The author begins with a distressing description of Jerusalem.  He focuses on two basic groups.  The first are the children who, not only have been left to starve, but have also been cannibalized by their own mothers (4:10)!  The second are the prophets and priests.  While there were faithful prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, there were too many who were happy just to tell people what they wanted to hear.  These are the ones who cried, “Peace, peace” when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14).  We can only conclude that these prophets and priests had turned to the false gods of the nations surrounding Israel.  Their sins include shedding the blood of the righteous.  This could refer to the persecution of the true prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah (according to Jewish tradition Isaiah was sawn in two).  It could also refer to child sacrifice which was practiced by the fertility cults of the ancient world which too many of the kings of Israel and Judah had also followed (II Kings 16:1-4).

The writer compares the fate of Jerusalem with that of Sodom.  Sodom had really been treated more mercifully.  Fire had come down from heaven and consumed them in a single moment (Gen. 19:24).  Sodom however had not known the Lord the way Israel had.  Their destruction was more merciful than that of Jerusalem.  Yet the writer would maintain that in both cases the people brought the destruction on themselves.  God had agreed to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if Abraham could find ten just people in the city.  He couldn’t (Gen. 18:16-33).  At the time of the civil war America’s greatest Presbyterian theologian, Charles Hodge, saw the war as God’s judgment on slavery but he also said the war was the result of the choices made by the nation.

The writer, possibly the prophet Jeremiah, attempted an escape once Jerusalem had fallen.  However, they were recaptured with terrible consequences.  The king’s sons were killed right in front of him.  He was blinded and taken to Babylon (4:19-20; ii Kings 25:1-7).

II. “Restore us to Yourself, O Lord” (5:21) – chapter 5 – A Prayer

The final chapter is a prayer of confession.  This writer (who may or may not have been the same author of chapter 4) lists both the sins and the consequences sustained by Jerusalem.  However, he does so in the context of a prayer of confession.  He points out several devastating facts:

  1. The city of Jerusalem is now in the hands of “strangers.” The inheritance of the people that was based on God’s promise to Abraham is now gone (Gen. 17:1-8). – 5:1
  1. Those left in the city are poor and desperate. They have to pay for water and the wood they use for cooking. – 5:4; II Kings 25:12
  1. The people had sought help from Egypt and Assyria but both had abandoned them. – 5:6; Isa. 36:6
  1. The conquest of Jerusalem had included the familiar atrocities of starvation, rape and torture– 5:9-13
  1. The writer summarizes their plight in the famous words, “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning” (5:15).

Is this then the final word?  Does Israel and Jerusalem have any hope?  In the context of this prayer they can only, in the words of the apostle Paul, be “hoping against hope” (Rom. 4:18).  The writer can only lament, “woe to us, for we have sinned” (5:16).

Yet the author’s faith in the Lord continues.  He affirms, “But you, O Lord, reign forever” (5:19).  He acknowledges that God has the final say.  The fate of Judah and Jerusalem will not be decided by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Egyptians, Assyrians or anyone else.  They are in God’s hands.

The writer cries out to the Lord, “Why have you forgotten us completely (5:20).  This however is followed by the prayer, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored.  Jerusalem’s hope is not in themselves but only in the Lord.  He adds, “renew our days as of old,” and then concludes with a final lament, “unless you have utterly rejected us” (5:21-22).  The people have no defense, no excuse, much less do they have any claim on God.  They are dependent on God’s grace and mercy alone.  They have nothing to offer.

What can we learn from all this?  The first lesson is the gravity of sin.  None of us takes our sin, certainly not our own sin, with the seriousness it demands.  There are times when we face suffering that is not based on anything we have done or not done (the example of Job).  Lamentations however is a chronicle of suffering which people have brought upon themselves.  Since we have all sinned we are all liable to “the wages of sin” which is death (Rom. 6:23).

The hope of Jerusalem lies outside this book.  The apostle Paul raises the rhetorical question, “has God rejected his people?”  His firm answer is “By no means!” (Rom. 11:1).  As the captives of Jerusalem are facing slavery and exile Jeremiah gives them this promise which has often been repeated but can never be taken for granted: “For surely I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Questions for Us –

  1. In what sense do we judge ourselves by our own actions?  Does it help to view God’s judgment as God simply letting us go our own way (Rom. 1:24-32)?
  2. .How does suffering strengthen our faith?  How can it threaten our faith?
  3. Why is it that God has to restore us before we can be restored to him (5:21)?


Next Study – Philippians chapter 1 – “Christ is Proclaimed in Every Way”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Lamentations Chapters 1-3 “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

Lamentations Chapters 1-3 “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

The Book of Lamentations

Chapters 1-3 – “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

The Book of Lamentations initially focuses on the disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 587 BC (II Kings 25:8-12).  It was later attributed to the prophet Jeremiah who lived through the destruction. Yet the book, brief as it is, goes beyond the historical events it cites and deals with the larger questions of guilt, suffering and pain in general. Each of the first three chapters has a different narrator. Here is one possible interpretation. The first is a spokesperson for the people of Jerusalem at the time of the destruction. The second is the recording of an observer who witnesses the effects of the destruction.  The third is the voice of a person confronting tragedy and misery in life for no apparent reason.  Together we will see these chapters, as well as the book as a whole, dealing with the painful questions that human being shave struggled with throughout history.

  1. “The Lord has made her suffer” – chapter 1

The first chapter is a perspective of one of the inhabitants of Jerusalem following the devastation of the city. The writer cries out about the fate of the city. She is alone, abandoned and helpless. Even her friends and lovers have turned on her. This could refer to her political alliances or even to the religious cults which became so prominent in Judah and Jerusalem.

The writer acknowledges that this is God’s judgment on Jerusalem (1:5, 12-15, 17-18). Yet rather than complain, the author acknowledges his fault. God has not been unfair or unduly harsh. The writer admits that he has been rebellious (vv. 18, 20).  The Lord is in the right in bringing judgment (18). The author admits that “Jerusalem sinned grievously” (v. 8). There is also a possible allusion here to the fertility cults that had become so pronounced under Solomon, Rehoboam, Jehoram, Ahaz and Manasseh. The writer speaks of Judah’s nakedness being exposed (vv. 8-9).

There is no basis for complaint here. Jerusalem deserved her fate. Yet her suffering was very real. Fire has devastated the city (v. 13). Her soldiers have been defeated (v. 15). The children have become desolate (v. 16).  Jerusalem has become a “filthy thing” in the sight of her neighbors (v. 17).  Her false gods can offer no help (v. 19).  The only hope the writer can hold out is that those who have oppressed Judah and Jerusalem will themselves eventually be judge by God (vv. 21-22).

II. “My eyes are spent with weeping” (2:11) – A second lament

In the second chapter we have another perspective. This may well describe the viewpoint of the prophet Jeremiah who looks at the devastation of Jerusalem. This is not someone who, like the first writer, admits to having rebelled against God. This reaction describes the response of an apparently faithful witness.

What this writer details is the full impact of God’s wrath on his disobedient and idolatrous people. In ominous tones the author states “The Lord has destroyed without mercy” (v. 2), “he has burned like a flaming fire” (v. 3).  The effects are devastating.  God the creator and sustainer now takes on the role of the destroyer (vv. 5-9).

Jeremiah has been described as the “weeping prophet.” That is particularly evident here.  The prophet cries out, “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns” (v. 11).  It is at this point that the prophet takes up the cause of Judah. He wishes he could provide comfort. There is none to be had however.  The people have been misled by false prophets (v. 14). Jerusalem’s enemies exult over her.  The prophet admits that “The Lord has done what he purposed, he has carried out his threat” (v. 17).

The only hope the prophet can offer is for Jerusalem to cry out to the Lord. Her suffering has become unbearable. The prophet himself then calls out to the Lord.  He says, “Look O Lord, and consider (v. 20).  The horrors are incalculable.  Women have eaten their own offspring (v. 20; II Kings 6:28-29).  Priest and prophet have been killed in the sanctuary of the temple (v. 20).  Young and old are lying dead in the street.  They have been slaughtered without mercy.  No one has escaped (vv. 21-22).

Is this the end of Jerusalem?

III. Chapter 3 – “Great is your faithfulness”

We hear now from a third voice. This is someone who has experienced the “rod of God’s wrath” (v. 1).  This writer admits no particular sin (as the first writer did).  Nonetheless this writer has been enveloped with bitterness and tribulation (v. 5).  His prayers have gone unanswered (v. 8).  The author goes on to say that he has been torn to pieces.  God has filled him with bitterness, with no peace.  In a completely desperate statement the writer states “I have forgotten what happiness is” (v. 17).  This is followed by the next statement, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord (v. 18).

This third author doesn’t bring up the specific situation of Jerusalem. The misery described here is deeply personal.  Yet nothing is said about any failing on the writer’s part.  The net effect of this third reflection is to set the pain of Jerusalem into the larger context of human suffering and misery. Is this then the final goal of human life, agony, pain and despair?  If that is the case, why even go on living?  We are given here a picture of tragedy and desolation.  This is nothing less than the common plight of humanity in its sin and rejection of God and his Word (Rom. 1:18-32).

This is a picture that is unrelentingly negative.  There can be no effort to minimize it or gloss it over.  However, it is emphatically not the final picture.

The writer then states, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (v. 21).  What follows is a twofold statement unsurpassed in all of scripture.  The first statement affirms the fact that, while judgment is real, while sorrow seems inevitable in human life, God’s last word is always steadfast love and mercy.  Indeed, God’s mercy is new every morning (vv. 22-23).  God’s rejection is not permanent (v. 31-33).  Can hell then be eternal?

The second statement returns now to the situation of the “prisoners of the land,” in other words, the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  The judgment on Jerusalem came from the Lord.  Yet this is the same Lord whose compassion and mercy know no end.  The writer now identifies with those in Jerusalem.  Those who have experienced the rejection of God, whose prayers are not heard (vv. 43-44), are still to call on the Lord, even “from the depths of the pit” (v. 55).

God will not be silent forever.  He will not reject forever (v. 31).  God will both hear and heal.  God’s word even in the midst of turmoil and agony is “Do not fear” (v. 57).  God will take up our cause.  He will rescue us from our enemies.  They will be judged.  God had ordained judgement on Judah.  He allowed the Babylonians to conquer them.  However, the brutality of the Babylonians will not go unpunished.  God takes up our cause (v. 58).  God’s faithfulness cannot be negated by our faithlessness: “great is your faithfulness” (Rom. 3:3-4).  Suffering is real but nothing can take away the hope that we have in God’s peace promised through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-5).

Questions for Us –

  1. Why do you think God punishes sin?  Does this contradict he statement that “God is love” (I John 4:8)?
  2. Is there any value in suffering?
  3. What assurance can we take from the fact that God’s anger is not eternal and that his steadfast love endures forever?

Next Study – Lamentations chapters 4-5– “Renew Our Days”

Grace Presbyterian Church - Hosea Chapters 12-14 “I Will Love Them Freely

Hosea Chapters 12-14 “I Will Love Them Freely

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” – Jer. 51:5

Chapters 12-14 – “I Will Love Them Freely”

We come now to the climax of the prophecy of Hosea.  The list of failures of the northern kingdom which embraces Samaria and Ephraim is overwhelming. They have no excuse, no defense. This section parallels Paul’s indictment of Jew and Gentile in Romans 1:18-3:31. Yet after the condemnation there is an abrupt shift.  God’s mercy overwhelms any demands of the law (Hosea 6:6; Rom. 11:32).  God loves Israel freely and restores them.  In effect the whore becomes a virgin (Matt. 19:26).  This is the complete scandal and everlasting promise and hope of the gospel.

  1. “I Will Destroy You, O Israel” (13:9) – chapters 12-13

This is now the final judgement on faithless Israel.  God uses the example of Jacob who of course was the namesake for Israel.  From the womb Jacob was treacherous.  He cheated his brother out of his birthright (Gen. 25:29-34).  God is saying here that this set up a pattern of disobedience.  Yet Jacob strove with the angel of God and prevailed (Gen. 32:22-32).  He is finally reconciled with his brother whom he cheated (Gen. 33:1-17).

What God is saying here is that it is never too late to repent and to return to the Lord.  Israel has a last chance but will they take it?  Injustice still continues with the use of “false balances” (12:7).  The tragic reality is that they keep on sinning (13:2).  Israel commits a double idolatry.  On one side there is the continuing worship of the false god Baal (13:1).  There is also the worship of the two calves which first began in Egypt and was re-introduced by Jeroboam to keep people from going to Jerusalem to worship in the temple there (I Kings 12:25-33).  The golden calf represented the Egyptian cow-goddess Hathor.  This of course had first appeared in the wilderness (Ex. 32).  The expression that people are kissing calves represents the sexuality involved in the worship of these fertility gods (Num. 25:1-5).

God seeks to remind Israel that he and he alone has been their God since he called them out of Egypt.  There is no other savior (13:4).  God fed them in the wilderness.  However, after they were satisfied they forgot him.

What is this like in the living parable of Hosea and Gomer?  The inference of all this would be that Hosea, having paid her prostitute’s fee, now finds that Gomer, beyond being a whore, has become a priestess of a false god.  Her favors are now part of the worship of this false god.  The payment for her services are the offerings made to the false god.  The degeneration is so widespread that the daughters of Israel are now participating in this (4:14).

To let this sink in we have to picture Hosea, the prophet of the Lord, forced to watch his wife presenting herself as the priestess of an idol.  She invites him to join her but even he will have to pay her fee, a fee that will go into the idol’s temple.    We can imagine Hosea turning away in disgust only to be confronted with another Israelite woman approaching him and saying, “Lie with me” (Gen. 39:7).

Hosea would turn away with the conviction that no hell could be hot enough for these people.  This is where God is.  God says to them, “I will destroy you, O Israel; who can help you?”  Israel had asked for a king.  No king can save them now.  God turns them over to hell (Sheol).  God summons Death and Hell,

“O Death, where are your plagues?

O Sheol, where is your destruction?” (13:14)

This then is the end of Israel.  Gomer and the other prostitutes, along with the false prophets, should all be burnt at the stake and cast into hell.  No one could ever say that God is unjust for carrying out this judgement.  There is no more terrible statement than God saying “Compassion is hidden from my eyes” (13:14).

Can we recognize ourselves here?  If we can’t we’re not paying attention.  How many idols do we bow before, especially the one called “greed?”  (Eph. 5:5).  How much injustice are we willing to tolerate?  How many times have we promised to be more faithful and we aren’t?  Paul quotes Ps. 14:3, “There is no one who does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).

This then is the end of the story of a corrupt and defiant people.

But wait, it’s not the end.  How can that be?

2. “I Will Heal Their Disloyalty” – Chapter 14

This chapter begins with another call for Israel to return to the Lord.  They should confess their sin and guilt.  They need to realize that Assyria will not save them.  They must put away their idols.  They are told that in God “the orphan finds mercy” (14:3).

But this is not new.  These things have been said before and Israel has not changed.  But then God speaks.  There is no way to paraphrase the shocking message,

“I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them.  I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon. . . They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon” (14:4-7).

But how can this be?  Israel has been so faithless.  Yet God says that their fruit, their righteousness, comes from him. This is what Paul means when he says that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift (Rom. 3:23-24).  God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all (Rom. 11:32).  In the words of New Testament scholar, Leon Morris,

“And God’s final purpose is that he may have mercy on them all.  That purpose is not condemnation or the like.  It is always mercy” The Epistle to the Romans

This is the true gospel which cannot be compromised. It is the gospel that called Augustine out of the Roman Empire, that called Martin Luther to nail his ninety-five theses, that inspired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa. This is the gospel which changes the world.

We do not have a final picture of Hosea and Gomer. Based on the conclusion of the book we can imagine it. Hosea finds Gomer again. He loves her. She returns to him. She becomes his virgin bride.

But you say that is impossible. Yes of course it is. To conclude this study, turn to Matthew 19:26.  Read it.  Now read it again.

“Those who are wise understand these things” (14:9).

Questions for us –

1. How does the Book of Hosea expand our understanding of the gospel?

2. What can we learn from the warnings of this book?

3. What can we learn from this book’s final chapter?

Next Study – Lamentations chapters 1-3 – “The Steadfast Love of the Lord” – Jan. 3, 2018



Grace Presbyterian Church - Hosea Chapters 9-11 “Called Out of Egypt”

Hosea Chapters 9-11 “Called Out of Egypt”

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapters 9-11 – “Called Out of Egypt”

The list of Israel’s corruption is a devastating one.  As Israel prospered she became more and more degenerate.  The people have prostituted themselves to false gods.  God is stating that “The days of punishment have come” (9:7).  There is no hope for Israel or for their offspring.  They have refused to listen to God so God, in response, has turned away from them.  Their fate is to become exiles in Assyria. Yet with all their failings God refuses to give them up.  They are in effect going back into slavery in Egypt.  Yet God will continue to call them out of Egypt.  This is our hope.  God is not a mortal.  His not like us.  He will not come in wrath (11:9).

  1. “A Thing of Shame (9:10) – chapter 9-10

The list of Israel’s sins continues.  This is no time for rejoicing (9:1).  To the contrary, it is a time of mourning, in fact, a time of deep distress.  Again and again we are told that Israel has played the whore.  Reference is made to one of the degenerate practices that is also alluded to in the Book of Ruth (chapter three).  The cycle of life was crucial for all ancient people and it was closely tied in with the harvest.  If the harvest failed, the people faced starvation.  On the other hand, a good harvest was an occasion for celebration.  These celebrations would take place “on the threshing floors.”  What would happen is that the men would not only eat and drink but apparently they would also invite prostitutes to “wash their feet” which was a euphemism for having sex (II Sam. 11:8).  This is why Boaz wanted to make sure that Ruth left the threshing room floor under the cover of darkness (Ruth 3:14).

God here is saying that Israel’s prosperity, her celebrations on the threshing room floor, will not save her.  The warning here is that “The days of punishment have come” (9:7).  Israel had apparently fallen into the trap of thinking that economic prosperity was a sign of God’s favor.  That may be the case but it can hardly be assumed.  In fact, possessing wealth in the New Testament is more often an occasion for turning away from God (Luke 12:13-21).

Israel has reached the point where they are not only disobedient, they have become hostile to God (9:7).  God’s indictment continues.  Israel has “deeply corrupted themselves” (9:9).  This goes back to their idolatrous practices even in the wilderness (Numbers 25).  The day of judgement has come.  The people have not listened to God (9:17).  In fact, the more Israel has prospered the more they have fallen into idolatry.  God continues, “They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants” (10:4).  One of the consequences of the breakdown of their faith is that “litigation springs up like poisonous weeds.”  Their fate is sealed.  They will be taken captive to Assyria (10:6).  Yet God still calls out to them.  In addition to a harvest of crops they need to sow for themselves “righteousness and steadfast love.”  It is “time to seek the Lord” (10:12).

Yet the warning is not heeded.  They have “plowed wickedness” and “reaped injustice.”  Israel is caught in “great wickedness.”  God’s last word is “At dawn the king of Israel shall be utterly cut off” (10:15).  All hope is now gone.

What can we learn from this?  Two of the greatest temptations we face are sex and material wealth.  It would be a mistake to paint sex and money as inherently sinful which the church unfortunately has done at times.  The Bible has graphic passages celebrating sexuality (Prov. 5:15-19; Ezekiel 16:6-14).  The whole of the Song of Solomon is an erotic poem.  In the same way wealth and prosperity can be signs of God’s abundant goodness.  Yet God’s blessings can never be taken for granted (Deut. 8:10-11).  Too often the church has not maintained a balance on these issues.  We need to cultivate a spirit of gratitude to God for all his gifts and always remember that the goodness we receive from him is intended to draw us closer to him.

Israel at this point is a graphic warning about losing the balance altogether.  Is this then the end?  It certainly sounds that way.

II. “How Can I Give You Up?” – chapter 11

It is at this point that the key theme of the Book of Hosea reemerges.  We are confronted again with God’s scandalous grace.  God remains the one who requires mercy and not sacrifice (6:6).  He is also the one that demonstrates this mercy.  God reaffirms his love for Israel.  The phrase, “Out of Egypt I called my son” is applied to Christ in the Gospel of Matthew (2:15).

God reaffirms the fact that from the beginning Israel was disobedient.  They kept sacrificing to idols.  Nonetheless God led them “with cords of human kindness, with bands of love” (11:4).  Israel’s faithlessness in the face of God’s love sealed their fate.  They will, in effect, return to the slavery of Egypt when Assyria conquers them.  This is what they deserve.  God’s judgement is fair and right.

But, then, God questions himself: “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel” (11:8). God’s compassion, his mercy, overrides everything else (Rom. 11:32).  God will not finally destroy his people.  He will not carry out his “fierce anger” (11:9).  God is not like mortals.  He will not come in wrath (11:9).  The judgement will fall.  Israel will go into exile.  However, that is not the end.  God will return them to their homes (11:11).

We end with an encouraging note about Judah who still walks with God.  However, as events will demonstrate, Judah will follow the same path and go into exile later under the Babylonians.  Yet the reality as we will see is that God will act the part of Hosea and redeem his rebellious and faithless wife.  Is this fair?  Not at all.  However, as God reminds us, he is not like us.  That fact should make us supremely confident.

Questions for Us –

  1. What do these chapters teach us about God’s judgement?
  1. What are the dangers we face in our spiritual lives? How do the false gods of sex and wealth impact us?  What about litigation in our world?
  1. How objectionable is God’s statement of his compassion? What lessons can we learn from God’s “steadfast love?”

Next Study – “I Will Love Them Freely” – chapters 12-14

Grace Presbyterian Church - Hosea Chapters 6-8 “God’s Desire”

Hosea Chapters 6-8 “God’s Desire”

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapters 6-8 – “God’s Desire”


This chapter begins with a hopeful statement. Israel is talking about returning to the Lord.  They review the pattern of God’s deliverance on the third day. This of course foretells the Resurrection. However, God is not satisfied with Israel going through the motions. He desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice” (6:6).  Yet Israel continues to turn away from God.  They trust in political alliances.  These will not save them.  It is all too easy to fall away from God (7:14)

  1. Israel’s Love Like a Morning Cloud (6:4) – chapter 6

Israel is confident that the Lord will restore them.  God will heal them in spite of their faithlessness.  There is a continuing pattern in scripture of God’s deliverance on the third day.  We see multiple examples of this.  This is what gives Israel their hope and confidence.  Examples of the “third day” include

  1. Abraham and Isaac – Gen. 22:4
  2. Moses at Mount Sinai – Ex. 19:14-17
  3. God and Samuel – I Sam. 3:7-8
  4. Solomon and the two prostitutes – I Kings 3:16-18
  5. Isaiah and King Hezekiah – II Kings 20:1-6
  6. Ester and the King – Esther 5:1-2
  7. Rebuilding the Temple – Ezra 6:15; John 3:19
  8. Jesus Christ – Matt. 16:21

Israel holds on to God’s promise of deliverance on the “third day.”  Yet this has become an empty hope.  Their lives don’t match the faith they profess.  In one of the most famous statements in the Bible, God says that he desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (v. 6).  Jesus quotes this verse twice in the New Testament (Matt. 9:11; 12:7).  It is important to note the context of those quotes.  In both cases Jesus is speaking against the Pharisees.  They have turned the Law of God into an inflexible rule.  Their focus is in the wrong place.  They no doubt resented this quote from Hosea which they certainly knew.  They would have countered that they were not like the “whoredom” that was taking place in Israel.  They were upright and faithful, not like the people of Hosea’s time.  Jesus’ point however is, that both the Pharisees and the Israel, Ephraim and indeed Judah of Hosea’s time, were going through the motions of worship.  They were faithful to the letter of the Lord but they had lost the Spirit and the freedom it promises (II Cor. 3).

2.Spreading Corruption – Chapters 7-8

Sin is never an isolated problem.  It is an infection.  It spreads.  It is contagious.  Israel and Ephraim have both become corrupted by Samaria (Israel’s capital, I Kings 16:21-24) and this in turn will spread to Judah (8:14).  We need to remember that all this is taking place in the reign of Jeroboam the second (1:1; 14:23-27).   We don’t have many details of his reign.  Most of what we have comes from the Books of Hosea and Amos.  Suffice to say that Jeroboam II did “what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”   He reigned forty-one years.  God was merciful to Jeroboam in spite of the evil he did.    Israel was in a desperate situation.  God provided help and strength in spite of the rampant idolatry.

However, Israel and Ephraim remained ungrateful.  Their attitude was that God would protect and support them no matter what.  God’s indictment is that their wickedness actually made the king glad (7:3).  They were all adulterers, both physically and spiritually.  The prophet Amos gives us some more details of the corruption which included exploiting the poor as well as sexual immorality (Amos 2:6-8).    Even though God protected them he did not recognize their corrupt king (8:4).  At the enthronement of the king the officials were so drunk they became sick (7:5).

Jeroboam the first had reintroduced the worship of the golden calf into Israel.  Only in his case he made two calves (I Kings 12:25-33).  This idolatry persisted into the time of Jeroboam II (8:5-6).  For all their talk of returning to God they in reality were returning to what they had practiced in Egypt (8:13).  The situation has become so desperate that the people are speaking lies against God (7:14).  What were these lies?  They were the false promises that God would deliver them in spite of their continuing prostitution.  They sought alliances with other nations like Assyria.  They didn’t realize that this would lead eventually to their being conquered by that nation (8:9-10).

The northern kingdom was being judged just as Hosea had judged Gomer (2:9-13).  They ignored the warning of God that they were sowing the wind and reaping a whirlwind (8:7).  They would return to Egypt in a double sense.  First, they were returning to the idolatry of worshiping the golden calf which they had known in Egypt.  Second, they would again go into exile and slavery.

They continued to offer sacrifices to the true God.  However, God would not accept them (8:13).  The same fate will befall Judah who literally will have Jerusalem and the temple burnt to the ground (8:14; II Kings 25:8-21).

We may well ask, what of the picture we saw of Hosea and Gomer in the first three chapters?  Hosea judged Gomer but then went to what we would regard as an impossible extreme by literally buying her back.  How can this terrible indictment of rampant injustice, immorality and idolatry ever be purged?

Any way we look at the situation there is no possible hope for Israel and Judah.  None.  But with God, “all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Questions for Discussion –

  1. Why do you think the theme of “the third day” is so important in scripture?


  1. What are some of the ways that we take God for granted?


  1. What hope can we take from god’s statement that he desires steadfast love (mercy) rather than sacrifice?


Next Study – “Called Out of Egypt” – chapters 9-11

Grace Presbyterian Church - Hosea Chapters 4-5 “God’s Lament”

Hosea Chapters 4-5 “God’s Lament”

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapters 4-5 – “God’s Lament”

God has an indictment against Israel. God condemns the fertility cults that were widely practiced in Israel. However, what does this mean for us living in the twenty first century? It means a great deal because the sources of that idolatry are still very much with us. These include faithlessness, disloyalty, greed, bloodshed, drunkenness, sexual immorality and pride. The most serious problem is that Israel has forgotten the word of the Lord (Hosea 4:6). Therefore, there is no knowledge of God.

  1. The Indictment Against Israel – chapter 4

We now get a full picture of the situation in Israel that prompted God to give Hosea his shocking command.  God’s ordering Hosea to marry a prostitute was a symbolic way of showing how God was being frustrated by the faithlessness of Israel.  Yet in spite of all that God continued to love Israel.

Here now God lays out the crisis in Israel in clear terms. The list of their offenses is sobering and indeed disturbing:

  1. No faithfulness or loyalty
  2. No knowledge of God
  3. Swearing
  4. Lying
  5. Murder
  6. Stealing
  7. Adultery
  8. Greed

This is to say that Israel has made a mockery of God’s law. The people have broken the commandments not occasionally but on a regular basis. How has this happened?

The problem begins with the leadership. The priests and the prophets have turned away from the Lord (vs. 4-6). These leaders have become greedy.  They have in fact corrupted the people. They will not be able to enjoy their food or their wine. They have in fact indulged wine and have fallen into the trap of worshipping the idols of the land. Moses explicitly warned them about this (Deut. 6:14-15).

The problem with the fertility cults of the ancient world was not only the direct worshipping of false gods like Baal and Astarte.  It was also the way the way those gods were worshipped.  Since they were allegedly gods of fertility their worship included not only sex with temple prostitutes but open sex in general.  The belief was that sexual practices among humans (and even humans with animals (Lev. 18:23; 20:15-15; Deut. 27:21)) helped the crops to grow.  Their growth in turn helped to sustain life.  This was central to the worship of these false gods.  Hence the general terms of “whore” and “whoredom” are used repeatedly to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness (vv. 11-15).  The sacrifices on the tops of the mountains and under the shade of the trees involved sexual practices (v. 14).  The shade of the tree was more conducive to the “sexual orgies” (v. 18)!

One of God’s concerns is that the degenerate activities of Israel would infect the southern kingdom, Judah (v. 15).  The point of this chapter is that once God has been forsaken everything and anything becomes possible.  The apostle Paul says the same thing (Rom. 1:18-32).

  1. God’s Judgement – chapter 5

God follows the indictment now with the pronouncement of judgement on faithless Israel.  God refers to Israel as “Ephraim.” Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph (Gen. 48:50-52).  His descendants became a major tribe in Israel.  Joshua was part of that tribe.  Eventually Ephraim merged with Israel once there was a separation between the northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.  In the judgement here Ephraim is included along with Israel.  Judah also will not be exempt.

God has had enough.  The bottom line is that Israel has a “spirit of whoredom.”   God’s ultimate judgment, again in the words of the apostle Paul, is that God gives them up (Rom. 1:24-32).  They will seek for God and not find him (v. 6).  The “new moon” which was associated with the cycle of life and the fertility cults will “devour them.”

God is about to pour out his wrath on them “like water.” The essential; fault they have is pride (v. 5) and vanity (v. 11).  They will seek outside help by going to Assyria but this will accomplish nothing (Assyria actually will eventually conquer Israel).  God will in effect attack them like a lion (v. 14).  Yet in their distress they will beg for God’s favor (v. 15).

How does all this relate to us?  We need to recognize that we are all vulnerable to the influence of idolatry.  It begins with pride and then continues into faithlessness and finally a breakdown of the knowledge of God.

The pop singer Katy Perry stated in an interview that she began as a gospel singer (she wanted to be the next Amy Grant).  Her parents were both ministers.  However, she wanted to be certain to achieve fame.  So, in her words, she sold her soul to the devil.  Was she kidding?

This was Israel.  By turning to the idols Israel (along with Ephraim and Judah) sold themselves into the powers of darkness.  C.S. Lewis has said that the only thing worse than over-emphasizing the power of evil is to under-emphasize it.

Nonetheless God’s judgment is never the end.  It is not the end here.

Questions for Discussion –

  1. Where do we see idols in our world? How can we recognize them?
  2. Why do you think Israel, in God’s words, played the whore when they had God’s law to guide them?
  3. What would be examples of God giving us up as a form of judgement?

Next Study – “God’s Desire” – chapters 6-8

Grace Presbyterian Church - Hosea Chapters 2-3 “The Scope of God’s Love”

Hosea Chapters 2-3 “The Scope of God’s Love”

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapters 2-3 – “The Scope of God’s Love”

The book of Hosea confronts us not only with the mysterious nature of God but even more so with his loving and saving purpose.  Hosea has married Gomer and had three children by her. However, she continues to play the role of a whore even after they are married.  She returns to her “lovers.” Gomer represents the continuing faithlessness of Israel.  Yet God’s “therefore” (2:14) reveals the fact that God continues to love her and will be her husband.  God is even willing to pay her prostitute’s fee.  God shatters our conceptions of faith and goodness.

  1. The Return of the Whore – 2:1-13

The fact that Hosea has married Gomer doesn’t change her basic nature.  One of the biggest mistakes a person can make is to marry someone with the expectation that they will change them once they become their spouse.  The scene opens with Hosea speaking with his three children.  He pleads with them to speak to their mother to “put away her whoring.” What has happened here? We need to read a bit between the lines.

It appears that Gomer is unhappy. Hosea is not providing her with her wants and desires.  It’s doubtful that being a prophet in Israel was a well- paying job. Gomer apparently wants to enhance her economic status by going back to her former “lovers” (read “clients”). Gomer is therefore simultaneously playing the role of wife, mother and prostitute.

God then, speaking through Hosea, confronts Gomer with her unfaithfulness.  He will block her return to her former lovers. She will be judged.  However, Gomer will not be deterred. She then says that she will return to her first husband because it was better for her then than now (2:7). This clearly implies that Gomer had a previous husband. Her situation seems then to have been that she was married earlier but either left her husband or was divorced and turned to prostitution to support herself. She is rescued by Hosea from this degrading life.  Hosea. as we have seen, marries her and has three children by her. However, she becomes impatient with Hosea. She longs for the bread, wool and drink that her lovers had given her. She attempts to return to them but Hosea is able to block her (“She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; and she shall seek them but shall not find them,” 2:7). Failing this, she tries to return to her first husband.  Yet she does not realize how much Hosea has done for her. He uncovers her shame in the sight of her lovers and proceeds to punish her for her misdeeds (2:8-13).

All of this is symbolic of God’s relationship with Israel. Israel had been enslaved in Egypt. Yet in Egypt she had discovered her first love in the idols and false gods of the Egyptians. God delivered Israel out of Egypt. She became his bride in the wilderness. Yet she was not faithful. While she was supposedly God’s wife she went after other gods. She did this in the wilderness beginning (but not ending) with the golden calf (Ezekiel 16). God punished her but ultimately he forgave her. He brought her back. He gave her the promise land in which to live, a “land flowing with milk and honey.” However, she still was not satisfied.  She continued to go after other gods.  God in his foolishness played the jilted husband and kept pleading with her to come back to him (I Cor. 1:21). The husband-wife imagery is especially notable given the fact that the worship of gods like Baal and Astarte included fertility rites with promiscuous sex and human sacrifice, including even the sacrifice of children.

II. God’s “Therefore” – 2:14-3:5

Given all that God has said about his relationship with Israel which mirrors Hosea’s relationship with his faithless wife, the “Therefore” of 2:14 should signal the fact that Israel is now completely abandoned by God.  She should be completely cut off.  There are passages where God speaks of his “fierce anger” against Israel lasting forever (Jer. 15:14).  However, as we have seen throughout the prophets of the Old Testament and especially here with Hosea, God’s “Therefore” leads to the opposite of what we would expect.

God will speak tenderly to Israel. He will bring her back to Himself. He will replace judgment such as he inflicted on Israel in the Valley of Achor (Joshua 7:20-26) with a “door of hope.” Rather than divorcing Israel which would be the logical response to all her infidelity, God reasserts his marriage pledge:

“And I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” 2:19. God will reaffirm his promises to Israel as Hosea reaffirms his children (Rom. 9:25-26).

Paul speaks of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7). Do we know what Paul means by “redemption?”  Redemption comes from the word “redeem” which means to buy something back, to restore it to its original state. God is buying us back as his creation, as his lover, through the cross of Jesus Christ.  We are being restored to him as we are also being made into a new creation.  He is making Christ who had no sin to be sin us for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:17-21).

How can God explain this to us? One answer is Hosea chapter three. Gomer has gone back to her life of prostitution just as Israel bakes “raisin cakes” for the ancient goddess known as Inanna, Ishtar or Astarte. The raisin cakes’ purpose is not simply to provide a sweet desert. They are part of the debauched ritual of fertility.

To put it bluntly, this is disgusting.

Hosea should walk out on Gomer and never see her again (in our view). Yet for the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus’ socializing with tax collectors and prostitutes was equally disgusting (Luke 5:29-32).

Hosea goes and pays the prostitute’s fee for his own wife (3:2). She is to refrain from any sexual activity just as Israel will be without a king or a place to worship in the time of the exile under the Assyrians. And then “the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God” (3:5). Since human sacrifice was the ultimate form of worship in these idolatrous cults, God will give us his greatest sacrifice, his Son.

We are the prostitutes. This is God’s payment to redeem us.

How can we comprehend such a God? (Rom. 11:33).


Questions for Us –

  1. Do you think Hosea is foolish to continually pursue Gomer? Do you think God is foolish to keep pursing us?
  2. Do you see why Paul called Jesus’ sacrifice for us “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor. 1:23)?
  3. If you were a friend of Hosea’s how would you counsel him?

Next Study – “God Lament” – Hosea chapters 4-5

Grace Presbyterian Church - God’s Scandalous Grace Hosea Chapter 1

God’s Scandalous Grace Hosea Chapter 1

The Book of Hosea: God’s Scandalous Grace

“Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel.” _ Jer. 51:5

Chapter 1 – “God’s Impossible Command”

Hosea is both a challenging and rewarding book.  Jesus and Paul both quote it in the New Testament (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Rom. 9:25-26).  Hosea gives us a picture of God’s love that is both shocking and exhilarating.  Hosea is central to our understanding of the gospel in its fullest form.  To attempt to understand the book we need to look at its historical context.   If we think we know God Hosea challenges us.  There is much more to the reality of God then our minds can truly comprehend.  This is not a simple book but it is a book which will transform us.

  1. The Context of Hosea

Hosea was an eighth century B.C. prophet in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II.  Jeroboam ruled Israel for forty-one years (786-746 BC).    We don’t have many details of his lengthy reign.  However, suffice it to say that he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord (II Kings 14:23-24).  We know that in this period Jeroboam’s namesake, Jeroboam I, had broken off from the rest of Israel following the death of Solomon. Jeroboam had rebelled against Solomon (I Kings 11:26).  God gives Jeroboam ten tribes of Israel to rule (I Kings 11:29-35).  The two tribes that separate from him are those of Judah and Benjamin.  Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, rules over them.  They settle in the southern part of Israel which includes Jerusalem.   The reason why so much of the former kingdom is taken away from Solomon and his descendants is because of the widespread idolatry which Solomon introduced into Israel later in his life (II Kings 11:1-8).

Jeroboam didn’t want his followers to go and worship God in Jerusalem because he was afraid that under the influence of Rehoboam they might turn against him.  To prevent this from happening Jeroboam established, not one, but two golden calves for his followers to worship.  This set Israel on a path of idolatry that would include the crimes of Ahab and Jezebel (I Kings 18-19).  Yet in spite of Israel’s faithfulness God will not give them up (II Kings 13:23; 14:26-27).  By the same token, God will not ignore the idolatry of Israel or Judah.

During the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel there are several kings in Judah, some faithful, some not.  The first king was Uzziah (II Kings 15:1-7; II Chronicles 26).  Uzziah’s reign was a lengthy one, lasting fifty-two years.  He was essentially faithful to the Lord.  Yet because of his success he became proud (II Chron. 26:16).  He also allowed idolatry to continue (II Kings 15:4).  In punishment God struck him with leprosy (II Chron. 26:19-23).  He was succeeded by his son Jotham who reigned sixteen years.  He followed the Lord.  Still, the idolatrous shrines continued.  He was followed by his son Ahaz who fell deeper into the idolatry begun by Solomon even to the point of sacrificing children (II Kings 16:1-4).  This trend was reversed by his son Hezekiah.  Hezekiah initiated a number of major reforms (II Kings 18:1-8). This included breaking the bronze serpent that Moses had held up in the wilderness which at this time had become an idol! (II Kings 18:4; John 3:14-15).  Yet Hezekiah, like Uzziah, succumbed to pride and foolishly showed all the wealth of Israel to envoys from Babylon.  Babylon would later invade Judah and destroy Jerusalem and the temple (II Kings 20:12-19).  Hearing of this prophecy from Isaiah, Hezekiah’s response was a callous, “Who cares?  It won’t happen in my lifetime (II Kings 20:19).

II. Hosea’s marriage (1:1-11)

God tells Hosea to go and marry a whore (1:2) (Go back and read that sentence again).  Incredibly we do not read of Hosea’s protesting against such a command.  He obeys God and marries a prostitute, Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. He then proceeds to have three children buy her, all with symbolic names.  They are

  1. Jezreel which means “God sows” (1:4-5). This is a punishment on the house of Jehu who was an appointed king. Jehu led a brutal massacre of the people of Jezreel (II Kings 10:1-11).  After wiping out much of the idolatry in Israel Jehu tragically turned away from the Lord (II Kings 10:31).
  2. Lo-ruhamah which means “not pitied.” While God is still supporting Judah (at this time) he is preparing to judge Israel (1:6-7).
  3. Lo-ammi which means “I am not yours.” (1:9)

However, there is God’s “yet.”  The chapter ends with God’s promise to restore both the people of Israel and Judah.  Paul quotes this passage later (Rom. 9:25-26).

God is using the example of Hosea to show what he has had to endure by his love for Israel which is continually unfaithful, going after other gods.  Yet in the midst of judgment God continues to announce his mercy (1:10-11).  This is God’s scandalous grace.

It is important to note that God frequently works through so-called “fallen women.”  These include Tamar (Gen. 38:1-30; Matt. 1:3), Rahab (Joshua 2:1-24; Matt. 1:5), Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:1-27; Matt. 1:6), the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), the prostitute in Luke 7:36-50) and Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-2).

Through Hosea God is making the dramatic statement that Israel is essentially a spiritual prostitute.  This however is only the first scene of the scandal that unfolds in the Book of Hosea.


Questions for Us –

  1. What does God’s command to Hosea tell us about his mercy and love?
  2. In what ways are we spiritual prostitutes?
  3. What hope can we take from this story?

Next Study – Hosea chapter 2 – “The Scope of God’s Love”

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle of James Chapter 5 “The Price of Patience”

The Epistle of James Chapter 5 “The Price of Patience”

The Epistle of James

Chapter 5 – “The Price of Patience”

James ends his epistle with both a warning and an exhortation.  He warns those who have become rich through exploitation.  The three greatest temptations that human beings face are wealth, power and sex.  One of our greatest needs is patience (St. Augustine had the famous prayer, “Lord give me patience and give it to me right now!).  Finally, James calls us to prayer reminding us that prayer sustained those who have gone before us and it continues to sustain us with its power.

  1. “Come now, you rich people . . . .” – 5:1-6

The Bible is not very positive about wealth.  For every passage that speaks of wealth as a blessing (Gen. 24:34-35; Job 42:12; Mal. 3:10; John 12:1-3) there are twice as many that warn about the corrupting influence of riches (Deut. 8:10-14; I Kings 10:23; 11:6; Prov. 11:28; 28:22; Eccl. 5:10; Matt. 6:19-21; Mark 4:19; 10:23; Luke 6:24; 12:15; Rev. 17:3-5).  Paul calls greed “idolatry” (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5).  He then gives a clear summons to those “who in the present age are rich” (I Tm. 6:17-19),

It can certainly be noted that James is not simply speaking of those who are rich economically.  He is denouncing a system of oppression and exploitation.  He is describing a situation in which laborers are defrauded and in an extreme sense murdered.   We can read these passages and easily justify ourselves by saying that we are not exploiting anyone much less murdering them!  Yet one of our greatest errors is to read the Bible as though it only speaks of individuals.  To the contrary the Bible speaks of systems, of “rulers and authorities” (Eph. 1:20-21).

Our whole economic system is based on greed.  We think nothing of walking into a super market and finding food literally from all over the world.  The same applies to clothing stores and shopping malls.  There is a long and well documented history of exploitation of workers which allows us to enjoy our materialistic way of life.  We have a system that has indeed defrauded laborers.  Yet the system itself masks that exploitation where it occurs.  When we buy even a t-shirt made in Thailand or wherever we don’t have to see the workers who labored perhaps in difficult circumstances to manufacture our shirt or whatever.  The fact that exploitation takes place thousands of miles away from us doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to see that workers are being paid a fair wage.  The sober fact of Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is that it may well have been the case that the Rich Man didn’t even notice Lazarus until it was too late (Luke 16:19-31).

  1. “Be patient therefore” – 5:7-12

We live in a world of instant gratification.  We don’t want to wait for anything.  We honk at people who stop when the light turns yellow.  Yet James reminds us that patience is part of the discipline of faith.  This underlines his whole thesis that “faith without works is dead” (2:26).  We need to live with the expectation that Christ’s coming is always near.  We don’t know when he will come so we need to be ready.  The churches under James’ supervision were obviously far from perfect.  He has to admonish the believers not to “grumble against one another.”

For James patience goes along with suffering.  We need to be patient in adversity, in the “trials” which he says produces endurance (1:2-4).  He makes the same point here.  We will never develop endurance in the faith unless we have been patient in suffering.  This is not the lesson we want to learn.  We want all the joy and confidence of believing in Christ.  Yet there is no Christ without the cross.  We cannot follow him unless we are prepared to take up our cross also (Matt. 10:38).

James reminds us of those like Job who endured suffering.  He alludes to the “prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  Among these are Moses (Num. 11:10-15), Elijah (I Kings 19:3-21), Jeremiah (Jer. 12:1-13) and Jesus himself (Matt. 27:11-14).  The final sustaining note in this discussion is the fact that “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

What does James mean by not swearing?  This goes back to his earlier comment about claiming more than we can assume.  James has an overall concern about the tongue, about how we speak to each other.  When we make plans purely on our own (4:13-17) or we make promises appealing to God or anything else we finally are falling into pride.  This all comes back to our own self-confidence (or what James would call “selfish-ambition”).  Jesus says the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33-37).   Echoing Jesus, James says we should simply say “yes’ or “no.”  Nothing is up to us.  It all depends on the Lord.

  • The Prayer of Faith – 5:13-20

James ends his epistle with an emphasis on prayer.  What he really is saying is that we should pray in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  If we are suffering, we should pray. If we are cheerful we should sing songs of praise which are also prayers.  James here includes the admonition that those who are sick should call on the elders to pray over them anointing them with oil.  He says the prayer of faith will save the sick.  Does this mean healing?  Not necessarily.  Salvation has a broader sense.  Saving the sick can also mean saving from despair or hopelessness.  When James speaks of the prayer of faith using the example of Elijah who “was a human being just like us,” he is not talking about degrees of faith but rather simple trust, the basic nature of faith itself.  The point being stressed here is that God answers prayer.  God does not necessarily answer all our prayers the way we want.  In fact, he often doesn’t (Job’s prayers are really never answered).  Yet we are to have this confidence that God does answer prayer and we should pray in good times and bad.  As Paul says, “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).

Finally, James picks up another theme from Paul.  When someone falls in the faith they are to be brought back and restored not condemned (Gal. 6:1-5).  We are to confess our sins to one another.  This also means we need to be open about our own failings.  James s says that the one who restores the one who has wandered away will save the sinner’s soul and cover a multitude of sins.  Whose sins?  Presumably both the one who wandered and the other who restored the fallen believer.  What is restoration?  It is simply to confess our sins and be reconciled to Christ and to one another (I John 1:9).

The ultimate value of prayer is that it keeps us focused on Christ and not on ourselves or others.  We are finally to draw near to God knowing that he will draw us unto himself (4:8).  Amen!

Questions for Us –

  1. We are the richest people in the history of the world. How do we apply James’ warning about wealth to ourselves?
  2. What are some of the ways we can build up our patience especially in times of suffering?
  3. How can we discipline ourselves to pray in all circumstances?


Next Study – Hosea chapters 1-2 – “The Scandal of God’s Grace” – Sept. 20, 2017

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle of James Chapter 4 “Warlike Cravings”

The Epistle of James Chapter 4 “Warlike Cravings”

Welcome to our on-line Bible study for 2017

The Epistle of James

Chapter 4 – “Warlike Cravings”
James is dealing with a congregation in turmoil. Passages like these bear out the truth that the early church was not some kind of idyllic community. James is confronting “conflicts and disputes” in the church. The Christian has to make a choice to submit wholeheartedly to God. Only then can the devil be resisted. We need to humble ourselves and seek the “more grace” which God promises.

I. “you ask wrongly” – 4:1-10
James is telling us that we should have no illusions about ourselves. We want things which come from the “cravings that are at war within you.” Once again there is a parallel with the apostle Paul who spoke of an ongoing conflict between the “flesh” (our sinful nature) and the “spirit” (our new nature in Christ). In graphic terms Paul states, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).
James puts this in shocking terms: “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.” Is he serious? This is another example of what we call hyperbole, literally overstatement, to make a point. Jesus doesn’t want us tearing out our eye (Matt. 5:29). The point is being made that there are serious issues here. What are the cravings which are at war within us? And what does James mean by our asking wrongly, to spend what we have on our own pleasures (v. 3). Finally, how do we resist the “friendship with the world which is enmity with God?”
To answer these questions, several things have to be kept in mind. First, God is not opposed to pleasure. God did not create the world so that we would have nothing to do with the good things it offers. God made wine to gladden the human heart and food to sustain us (Ps. 104:14-15). He gives us the beauties of nature (Ps. 74:16-17). This includes physical beauty (Ezek. 16:6-14) along with love, sex and marriage (Song of Solomon). God does not withhold any good thing from us (Ps. 84:11). Second, as far back as the New Testament there were those who in a hyper form of spirituality taught that the body and even creation itself, were evil. Paul will not tolerate these “deceitful spirits” and states plainly that “everything created by God is good. And nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving” (I Tim. 4:1-5). So James is not talking about a Christianity that is defined by all the things it rejects and finds unacceptable. That outlook leads to a highly negative view
of Christian faith which unfortunately has its roots in the Christian Pharisees and
“super-apostles” Paul had to confront (Acts 15:1-5; II Cor. 11:5; Col. 2:20-23). Such
things contradict James’ view of “the law of liberty” (2:25).

So what is James talking about?
James is confronting his readers with a critical point. The truth is that we all have
sinful cravings within us. To pretend otherwise is to fall into self -deception or in
James’ expression, being “double-minded” (v. 8). We say one thing and do
another. We pretend that we are something we are not. We deny the reality of the
remnants of sin still within us. Two dangers present themselves here.
The first, in a misuse of our Christian liberty which simply follows the self-indulgence
of the world (the boast of the Corinthians that “all things are lawful,” including
prostitution (I Cor. 6). It is interesting that in several examples in the New Testament
the opposite of freedom is not really slavery. It is self-indulgence. On one hand we
profess belief in Christ. However, on the other we follow the pattern of the world
which resists Christ. This is the essence of being double-minded. Yet the pattern of
the world promises (falsely) to satisfy the cravings that are at war within us. This is a
deadly strategy which Satan uses to defeat us. James exhorts us in the name of our
faith in Christ to resist the devil (v. 7).
The second danger is spiritual pride. If we are proud, if we are over confident, we
are unprepared to face the reality that many times even our prayers are misguided.
Israel prayed to God for a king and God gave them one. However, Samuel the
prophet reminded Israel that in asking for a king they were rejecting God (I Samuel
8). In praying simply for things that build up our pride or excuse our self-indulgence,
even our professed belief in God is seriously flawed. Once again we are caught in
the trap of being double minded. Both sides of the “double” undermine our faith and
life in Christ. Spiritual pride and self-indulgence are really two sides of the same

II. Speaking Evil – 4:11-17
James maintains his focus on the use (or misuse) of the tongue. He warns against
speaking evil against one another. What does he mean by this? For him to speak
evil means to judge. We are all judged by the law. None of us are able to keep it.
Too often the law can be used as a big stick to beat people over the head. The law
is not nearly as important as the lawgiver who alone can judge. This is God. We
may ask, why did God give the law if no one is able to keep it? Paul’s answer is that
the law gives us the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20). We have no right to judge
one another. The Pope was roundly criticized when he was asked about same-sex
marriage and his answer was, “Who am I to judge?” Yet his answer was simply
quoting James 4:12.

Does this mean that the church has no standards? No, but the standard we have is
the love of Christ. When we fall in our walk of following Christ, when we fail we need
to remember Paul’s advice to restore each other “in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1).
This is how Jesus dealt with Peter. We are all vulnerable. There can be no
superiority in the household of faith.
James concludes this chapter warning against a temptation to boast. When we
make our own plans without depending on the Lord we are, in effect, boasting.
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. We are dependent on the Lord. Even
the Greek poets could say that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts
17:28). There is an old rabbinic saying that if you want to make God laugh tell him
your plans for the future. Many times we are boasting without realizing it.
James ends with the simple statement that if we know the right thing to do and we
fail to do it then we fall into sin. This is similar to Paul’s statement about faith
working through love (Gal. 5:6). It is not hard to recognize the need for compassion.
What often is hard is doing something about it. James continually reminds us that
we need to be doers of the word, not just hearers (1:22). Mercy triumphs over
judgement (2:13).

Questions for Us –
1. What are examples for us of “cravings” that are at war within us?
2. What does it mean to be a friend of the world and an enemy of God?
How can religion make us an enemy of God?
3. What are some of the ways that we can be boastful without realizing it?

Next study – James chapter 5 – “The Price of Patience”

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle of James Chapter 3 – Tongue of Fire

The Epistle of James Chapter 3 – Tongue of Fire

James in this chapter confronts a problem that we often overlook.  This is the problem of our tongues, our speech.  We tend to focus on more overt sins, murder, stealing, and adultery.  Yet James warns us that the tongue is “a fire.”  Indeed, it is set on fire by hell itself (v. 6).  As opposed to this, James calls us to the wisdom from above, a wisdom that is marked by gentleness.


  1. “For All of Us Make Many Mistakes”– 3:1-12


James begins with a serious warning about teachers.  What he says would certainly be applicable to anyone exercising authority in the church, deacons, elders, Sunday School teachers, youth workers, etc.  He makes what almost seems like an off handed comment that we all make many mistakes (not just a few).  There are many mistakes he could list.  We misinterpret things.  We are forgetful.  We don’t always pay attention.  We ignore people in need.  These are all “mistakes.”


James however is focusing in on something that is beyond the realm of a simple mistake.  In unflinching terms, he describes the problems we all have with our tongues, with how we speak especially how we speak about other people.  He begins by noting that the tongue is a “small member.”  Yet it is capable of “great exploits” like a bit guiding a horse or a rudder directing a ship.


James then goes on with a devastating list of what the tongue can do and indeed often does.  He calls it a “fire” ignited by hell itself.  It is a “world of iniquity.”   It “stains the whole body.”  It is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  It is incapable of being tamed.  Is he kidding?


James however is not kidding. He is deadly serious. One of the most untruthful sayings we learned in childhood is the refrain, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.”  This, as we know now, is false.  Words can wound.  They can be more painful than any physical injury.


He adds that the tongue cannot be tamed (v. 8).  It is in effect a deadly weapon that we can all use very easily and very quickly.  Scripture is hardly silent on this subject.  What James describes here includes cursing (Ps. 10:7), slander (Prov. 16:27), gossip (“A gossip’s whispers are tasty morsels swallowed right down.” Prov. 18:8 Revised English Bible) and boasting (Ps. 12:3-4).  To emphasize how serious this issue is Jesus tells us that we will have to give an account “for every careless word” we utter (Matt. 12:36).


James points out the obvious contradiction in the fact that “blessing and cursing” can come out of the same mouth.  We praise God with our tongues but then we can in effect curse other people, all of whom are made in the image of God (v. 9).  James uses several examples from nature.  A fig tree cannot produce olives nor can a grapevine give figs.  Water can’t be both fresh and salt.  What he is saying is that how we use our tongue, how we speak, reveals who we really are.


This is one of the great unacknowledged failings of Christians.  We can easily listen to gossip and all too easily also spread it.  We can mask this by pretending to ourselves that we’re just sharing a “prayer concern” or passing along some “news.”  It doesn’t take much to begin a sentence with “Have you heard . . . .?”


James is not saying that we shouldn’t speak the truth or testify to things of which we have direct knowledge.  However, we are reminded that we need to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  We need to remember that our tongues can be expressions of hate rather than love.


  1. Wisdom From Above – 3:13-18


James has no illusions about the failings in Christian communities.  Twice in this brief passage he mentions the danger of “selfish ambition” (vv. 14, 16).  To this he also includes “bitter envy,” being “boastful” and “false to the truth.”  In effect we are presented with two forms of wisdom, so called.  The wisdom of the world is essentially little more than the craftiness which Satan demonstrated in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1).  In the world many times “selfish ambition” is the pathway to success.  This is the wisdom of the world which in God’s eyes is “foolishness” (I Cor.1:20).


James contrast this with “the wisdom from above” which he describes first of all as being pure.  What does he mean by “pure?”  For James this contrasts with what he described earlier as being “double-minded” (1:8).  To be pure in this sense is to have a single focus.  This is what Jesus calls being “pure in heart” (Matt. 5:8).  It is being unstained, unmixed with other things, like “pure cane sugar.”


James goes on to speak of being peaceable, gentle, willing to yield and full of mercy.  The opposite of this is showing partiality and hypocrisy.  This brings us back to the issue of the tongue. Those who engage in gossip are neither gentle nor merciful.  To the extent that they condemn others whom they regard as inferior to themselves, they are showing both  partiality, and an absence of mercy.  Such people finally are hypocrites.  They practice a selective morality which excuses their own behavior and condemns that of others.  This is the term that Jesus uses to describe the religious leaders of his own time, especially the Pharisees (Matt. 23:13).


The three things that non-Christians find most objectionable about us Christians are the issues that James raises here.  The first is gossip, the abuse of the tongue which quickly leads to character assassination.  The second is partiality where we make distinctions among people.  We easily condemn those who are different from us.  The third is hypocrisy which is evident to everyone but ourselves.


James, rather than opposing Paul actually shares much in common with him.  As Paul condemned the legalists of his own time for their “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), James warns of those who are unkind, judgmental and hypocritical.  We need to take these criticisms seriously.



Questions for Discussion –


  1. Why is our tongue so hard to manage?  How often do we say things we regret?  How can we avoid the “fire” of our speech?


  1. Have you been wounded by what someone has said to you or about you? How did you handle those situations?



  1. What can we do to help us avoid “selfish ambition,” “partiality” and “hypocrisy?”



Next Class May 17 (no meeting on Wednesday, May 3) – James chapter 4 – “Warlike Cravings”

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle of James Chapter 2 “Faith Brought to Completion”

The Epistle of James Chapter 2 “Faith Brought to Completion”

The Epistle of James


Chapter 2 – “Faith Brought to Completion”


James in this section gets down to very practical issues in faith and life.  He emphasizes the fact that the sin of showing partiality is the complete opposite of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39).  James emphasizes the difference between faith as assent and faith as genuine trust in the Lord.  In reality he shows the same view of the law and faith as the apostle Paul.


  1. “Acts of Favoritism” – 2:1-13


The church is not immune to the false standards of the world.  We are easily impressed by wealth and prestige.  Obviously the same problem occurred in the early church.  James points out that we can pay special attention to someone who is well dressed and appears to be rich.  At the same time, we can look down on someone who appears homeless or poor.  God, however, favors the poor.  We can never forget that.  Proverbs tells us, “Whoever is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full” (Prov. 19:17).


Showing partiality is a sin. Everyone is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).  This is the clear basis for the teaching that all are created equal.  This applies not only to social standing but to race, nationality, education or even religion.  This is not simply a matter of ethics.  It is a question of our spiritual nature, of our relationship to God.


James makes a point about the law that is also found in the apostle Paul. If we try to follow the Law of Moses we have to realize that to fail in one aspect of it is to fail in all of it: “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10).  Following the law is everything or nothing.  Paul and James agree that no one can live according to the law.  We can’t pick and choose among the commandments.


Paul speaks of freedom (Gal. 5:1). James refers to the “law of liberty.”  The essence of this law (or “norm”) is mercy.  The only ones to whom this mercy is not extended are those who have not shown mercy.  In Jesus’ framework this would be the religious leaders (Matthew 23).  Paul speaks of the fact that, in the final analysis, God will be merciful to all (Rom. 11:32).  In one of the strongest statements in scripture James says that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”  This is why the gospel embraces prostitutes, extortionists, Samaritans and adulterers but condemns the self-righteous.


It is a sad commentary that often Christians are seen as being unmerciful since the demonstration of mercy is so central to the gospel itself.  Faced with the frequent criticism of religious leaders Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I require mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7).


  1. Faith Without Works – 2:14-26


This is the section of James’ epistle that has caused an apparent controversy with the apostle Paul.  On the face of it James seems to contradict Paul.  Paul said that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1-5).  James says the exact opposite (2:23-24).  For this reason, Martin Luther called the Book of James “an epistle of straw.”  However, in spite of the apparent contradiction we have to ask, are Paul and James talking about the same thing?


In reality they are not.  Paul is speaking of faith as an essential trust in God.  He offers Abraham as an example because Abraham proceeds to follow God.  This, however, is the result of his faith not the cause of it.  James says something very similar when he indicates that Abraham showed his faith by obeying God in offering up his son.


Faith needs to show itself.  When Paul in his strongest defense of justification by faith apart from works adds that those who openly engage in the “works of the flesh” will not inherit the kingdom of God, he is indicating, like James, that faith must be visible (Gal. 5:16-21).  Early in Paul’s career his teaching was being distorted to justify self-indulgence (I Cor. 6:12-20).  For Paul faith was a complete trust and confidence in God’s promises.  It had nothing to do with human effort or merit.  Yet once having been justified by faith one’s life needed to show the reality of that trust in God (Eph. 5:1-20).


James actually is correcting two misconceptions of faith.  One is the view that faith is nothing more than a wish, a general hope.  To say to a poor person, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill” without offering any real help is nothing more than an idle saying.  Real faith propels someone to action.  Paul would not dispute that.  The other mistake is to identify faith with mere assent.  In that case faith is nothing more than a tacit acknowledgement without any commitment.  James uses the example of the demons who believe and shudder.  I can say objectively that Jesus is Lord and Savior without expressing any real trust or confidence in him.  The essence of James’ argument is his saying, “I by my works will show you my faith.”  This is to say that faith is central.  What James means by faith is a committed trust, not just an empty belief that doesn’t come to terms with a life that lives out that faith.


To put a final touch on his argument James uses the example of Rahab the prostitute from the Book of Joshua.   She knows that the Lord is with the Israelites.  She and her people have heard about the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptians.  She believes that God is with the Israelites.  This however is more than an assent to a given set of facts.  Rahab takes the spies in.  She hides them and then lies about them to the king’s soldiers.  Two key points must be noted here.  Her obedience to God requires her to break the ninth commandment (“You shall not bear false witness”).  Second, she is a living example of what Paul calls faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).


Questions for Discussion –

  1. Why is it so hard for us to be impartial?  Why are we so impressed with people’s outward appearances?
  1. What does it mean to say that “mercy triumphs over judgment?” Does this mean that everything is acceptable (cf. I Cor. 6:12)?
  1. How can we demonstrate our faith? Why does faith need to be demonstrated?

Next Class – James chapter 3 – “Tongue of Fire”

wed. bible study James chapter 2

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle of James – Chapter 1 – “Lacking in Nothing”

The Epistle of James – Chapter 1 – “Lacking in Nothing”


This letter deals with very practical questions about Christian life and practice.  James at first glance seems to challenge Paul’s idea that we are saved by faith alone (James 2:24).  Yet in the context of the discussion, James is really saying, with Paul, that “the only thing that counts is faith acting through love” (Gal. 5:6).  We are not exactly sure who the author is but tradition has ascribed the letter to Jesus’ brother, James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18).

Faith Being Tested – 1:1-16

James is writing to churches that are facing trials.  These trials could take many forms.  They could include persecution, internal conflict or physical problems which could include everything from sickness to natural disasters.  James’ advice in such situations is not what we would expect.  He says that such difficulties should bring us “nothing but joy.”  Is he kidding?

James definitely means what he says.  Testing builds up our endurance.  The practical effect of this is that, rather than ask God to remove the temptation, we should pray for the endurance which ii is supposed to teach us.  In testing God always provides a way out (I Cor. 10:13).  That doesn’t mean the testing will go away.

James next brings up a provocative idea.  We are invited to ask for wisdom (something that is essential to knowing God, Prov. 8).  But we are to ask in faith.  Already we can see that James, like Paul, places a priority on faith.  We are not to doubt.  This cannot mean a categorical absence of doubt since doubt and faith invariably go together (Mark 9:24).  James is using doubt here in the sense of a general uncertainty.  He speaks of being double-minded.  This is a person without true conviction who wavers back and forth, essentially a person without commitment.

James goes on to address the issue of wealth.  The rich will wither away in the midst of their busy lives.  For James, the rich should boast in being brought low.  It’s important to remember that in the context of the present world most Americans would be considered rich.  There’s no point in envying the rich since, as James says, they will “disappear like the flower in the field.”

James then ends this section with a discussion of temptation.  We may well ask, what’s the difference between trials, which we are to count as “nothing but joy” and temptation which is an enticement to evil?  The clearest way to understand the difference is the temptation of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness which is the place of temptation (Matt. 4:1).  However, the Holy Spirit doesn’t tempt Jesus.  Satan does.  Yet God may allow us to be tempted as a way of testing our faith.  We see a similar example in Job.  God allows Job to be both tested and tempted.  Yet it is Satan that is doing the real evil.  What James is really saying here is that we cannot blame God for our temptations.  We most often tempt ourselves.  As James says we are tempted by our own desires. Temptation itself is not sin.  Yet if we allow ourselves to be lured and enticed then the temptation finally results in sin.

Doers of the Word, Not Just Hearers  – 1:17-27

James proceeds now to list several basic characteristics of the Christian Life.  The first is to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God.  God does not give with a hidden agenda (How many times do we get calls saying that we’ve won a “free” gift?).  God gives freely and openly.  The greatest thing he has given us is new life in his Son.  Why then should we choose to live according to the old and fading patterns of the world?  James gets very practical.  He calls us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  Imagine how many conflicts we could avoid if we followed that pattern!  If we believe in Christ we have God’s Word implanted in our lives.  Every day we have to concentrate more and more on that Word.

James then adds that it is not enough to listen to the Word.  We need to be doers of that Word.  As we encounter God’s Word in reading, study or worship we can freely nod our heads.  We agree with that Word.  We recognize its truth.  However, if we don’t live out that truth then we deceive ourselves.

There is a long-standing tradition that goes back at least as far as Martin Luther in the sixteenth century which tends to see James in opposition to Paul.  However the more we study them both the more we see that is not the case.  James here speaks of the “perfect law.”  He does not mean by this the Law of Moses.  No, he is referring to the “law of liberty.”  This lines up with Paul’s view of freedom (Gal. 5:1).  The true law of liberty cannot be reduced to a legalistic code.  This law of liberty needs to be lived out in open and effective ways, even with some risks.  James seems to be saying that we have to dwell on God’s Word to experience this “law of liberty.”  Too often we simply forget what we have seen in God’s Word.  James uses the example of looking in a mirror and then turning away forgetting what the image showed us.

James now gets very personal.  If we are to be true followers of Christ then one of the first things we need to do is to hold our tongues in check.  James will have more to say about this.  Gossip and slander have done more harm to the Christian Church than almost any other sin.  He concludes this section telling us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled” consists of caring for widows and orphans and keeping ourselves “unstained by the world.”  The world remains a constant source of distraction, false goals and, indeed, temptation.  Trials build up our faith but giving into temptation can damage our faith.  We need to find the balance.

Questions for Us

  1.    Why is it so hard for us to find joy in the midst of trials?
  2.    How can we better discipline our tongues?  Why are we so often more ready to speak than to listen?
  3.    What are some examples of being doers of the Word instead of just hearers?

Next Study – James Chapter 2 – “Faith Brought to Completion


Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? Chapter 6 – “Bear One Another’s Burdens”

The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? Chapter 6 – “Bear One Another’s Burdens”

The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel?

Chapter 6 – “Bear One Another’s Burdens”

Paul has no illusions about the challenge of living the Christian life. Anyone can fall. Christians need to support each other, not condemn one another. Each of us has our own role to play in Christ’s service. There is no rank or hierarchy in the church. Paul reminds the Galatians of the battle with the flesh that he mentioned in the previous chapter (5:16-17). Insisting on observing the law however does not demonstrate spirituality. In fact, it only serves the pride of the flesh (Col. 2:16-23).

I. “A Spirit of Gentleness” – 6:1-10

Paul acknowledges that there can be failures and breakdowns in the Christian community. This is the practical application of his insistence that Christians have to follow the law of love rather than the written law. A focus on the law leads to condemnation and rejection when someone is “detected in a transgression” (The Scarlet Letter for example). Paul maintains that we who are led by the Spirit “should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” However, this has not often been the case because the Galatian heresy of depending on the law is so widespread. Too often Christians caught in a failing (certainly as defined by the law of Moses) are subject to removal from whatever office they have and even rejection by the Christian community.

This is the opposite of what Paul advocates. Such a person is to be restored “in a spirit of gentleness.” There is a vast difference between being removed and being restored. Paul would not object to a restoration that would include discipline, counselling or other appropriate responses. Yet all this has to be done by the community bearing the burden of the person and responding in an attitude of gentleness. Too often individual Christians and the church in general response with harshness and condemnation. What may even be worse is to cover up the indiscretion or to pretend it didn’t happen. This hardly fulfills “the law of Christ.” Jesus did not hesitate to criticize even the disciples but he always restored them (Matt. 17:17). Jesus placed a high priority on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-22).

Paul reminds his readers that anyone of them may be tempted. We should not be quick to judge. Jesus puts it bluntly when he says let the one who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7). Years ago President Clinton’s lying about a sexual encounter led to his being impeached. He was roundly criticized. Yet some twenty years later it has been noted that virtually everyone involved in a leadership role in his impeachment has been found to have been guilty of some form of sexual immorality. These types of situations lead to the world seeing Christians as hypocrites.
Paul Is not about to excuse sin or indulgence. There is the other extreme that tolerates and accepts everything. God is merciful. “All things are lawful” (I Cor. 6:12). Paul has already warned about the danger of using freedom as an excuse for self-indulgence (5:13). God cannot be mocked. To take the attitude that I can do whatever I want because I’m free in Christ is in effect to mock God. If we indulge our flesh we will bear the consequences of corruption. However, if we focus on the Spirit (not the law) we will receive the benefit of eternal life. We are saved by faith. We need to live in faith. True, all of us are vulnerable. We all need support in Paul’s “spirit of gentleness.” At the same time, we are accountable and responsible. We can never take God’s goodness and mercy for granted.

Paul concludes this section with a call for action. We are to work for the good of all, especially for those of the family of faith. Our acts of mercy, love and justice need to focus on all people. Of course Christians should support each other. However, we cannot be limited to those in our own circle. We need to “work for the good of all.” We must be prepared to respond to anyone who are in need.

II. Final Thoughts – 6:11-18

Paul mentions the problem with his eyesight in referring to the “large letters” in his writing. In his final comments Paul reiterates his point that following the law, beginning with circumcision, is not a sign of spirituality, much less Christian faithfulness. In fact, it is the opposite. It is a sign of the flesh, our lower self-centered, sinful nature. Paul may be alluding to the fact that Christian Jews were being persecuted in synagogues when he speaks about avoiding persecution. However, this may apply to Gentile believers since it would be presumed that Jewish Christians would already have been circumcised.

Paul makes his point again that any display of following the law of Moses quickly leads to boasting (Luke18:11). This is the irony of the law. Rather than curtailing the power of sin or the flesh, it actually leads to greater sin (Rom. 7:7-25). The law in any form leads either to despair over our failure to keep it or to spiritual pride if we can convince ourselves that we are really following it. For Paul circumcision or keeping the law is not the main issue. None of those can be a commandment or requirement. For Paul the new creation in Christ is everything (II Cor. 5:17).

What Paul has done in this epistle and in his other writings is to turn the conventional view of religion on its head. Coming to God is not a matter of human effort or intention. Still less is it based on following any sort of law or religious observances. It is all a matter of God’s gift of new life given in Jesus Christ. The gospel breaks down all barriers. It is not a matter of belonging to any particular group or organization, religious or otherwise. The gospel is for all. There is no distinction, no separation. The fact that God has provided salvation for all solely by the grace (gift) received in Jesus Christ challenges us to proclaim the message. God is merciful to all (Rom. 11:32) but that mercy cannot be separated from the faith we have in Christ. Faith is broader than what we think. Christ is greater than we can imagine. In him a new creation has begun. Paul calls us to live into this new creation. We don’t create it but we can certainly witness to it and invite everyone to share it.

The tragedy of the Galatians and one that has been repeated throughout the ages is that God’s gift can be turned into a list of demands and requirements. When that happens freedom disappears. The loss of that all-encompassing freedom also leads to the loss of the fruit of the Spirit. The all-embracing message of the gospel is reduced to a narrow set of restrictions. For Paul that truly is a different gospel which in fact is no gospel at all. Paul prays for peace and mercy for the Israel of God. This is the transformed and renewed Israel that Paul describes in Romans 9-11, an Israel that embraces not only Jew and Gentile but indeed everyone,

“For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:10).

Questions for Us –

1. Why do you think it is so important to restore those who have fallen “in a spirit of gentleness?”

2. Why do we often find it easy to compare ourselves to others? Why is pride so deadly?

3. Why does Paul identify religious requirements like circumcision with the “flesh” over against the Spirit?

Next Study – James Chapter 1 – “Lacking in Nothing

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? Chapter 5 – “Firm in Freedom”

The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? Chapter 5 – “Firm in Freedom”

The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel?

Chapter 5 – “Firm in Freedom”

Paul is elaborating on his concern for the Galatians. The essence of the gospel is freedom.  Any attempt to bring in the Law, or any part of the Law, is a denial of the gospel itself.  The idea that the Law will keep people from sinning is simply not true (II Kings 21:15; Rom. 7:7-25).  The Christian life is a matter of “faith working through love” (Galatians 5: 6).  The love that comes from Christ and is a gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be used to justify self-indulgence.

  1. “Called to Freedom” – Galatians 5:1-15

Paul cannot be more emphatic.  If the Law of Moses or any part of it is presented as being essential for salvation, then “Christ will be of no benefit.”  It would appear that the position of the Pharisee Christians might have modified a bit since the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).  There the emphasis seems to have been on a requirement for Gentile, as well as Jewish, Christians to keep the whole Law (Acts 15:5).  It appears that what the Galatians had been told was that they didn’t necessarily have to keep the whole Law.  They did, however, have to observe the requirement of circumcision.  This was the defining mark of the people of God going all the way back to Abraham as we have seen.  The Pharisees could insist that his was an everlasting sign (Gen. 17:13).  This however was an example of their completely literal approach to the Law.  Paul would insist that Christ is our circumcision. Even the Law itself spoke of circumcision being a matter of the heart. The Law was not now (nor had it ever been) the sole authority for the people of God.  God, for example, spoke through the prophets (Jer. 1:4).

For Paul there is no middle ground.  Salvation is all of grace through faith in Christ or it is nothing.  Paul would not object to circumcision as a choice.  However, it could never be made a command.  Paul is clear that the “only thing that counts is faith working through love”.  Love will do no harm to the neighbor (Rom. 13:10).  For Paul the Law is both fulfilled in Christ and set aside by him (Col. 2:13-14).  This is the double meaning of Paul’s statement that Christ is the end (goal) of the Law (Rom. 10:4).  For Paul if we are under the Law the offense of the cross has been removed.  What is striking about Christ’s death is that the Law has been both fulfilled and set aside.  According to Paul, to insist on any part of the Law as a requirement means nothing less than cutting yourself off from Christ.  Paul goes so far to say that those emphasizing circumcision should castrate themselves!  This is the equivalent of an expression we would never use in church.

This teaching has been difficult for Christians throughout history (John 6:60).  The Pharisee position has been replicated by Christians picking up a particular aspect or even inference of the Law and making it the identifying mark of what it means to be a Christian.  This list includes pacifism, slavery (for or against), alcohol, women in ministry, spiritual gifts, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and sex in general.  All of these are valid concerns.  However, when any of them become divorced from the freedom we have in Christ they become a punishing and inflexible law.  Faith active in love drops out.

When we return to the law we inevitably become judgmental.  We fall into the trap of what Paul calls biting and devouring each other.  This violates our call to freedom.  It negates the love we need to have for each other.

  1. The Flesh and the Spirit Galatians 5:16-26

Paul knows that his critics will insist that his strong emphasis on freedom will lead to indulgence and even immorality (this indeed had happened in the church in Corinth).   Paul is certainly aware of this danger.  He knows that there is a constant warfare going on in all of us between our “flesh” (our sinful nature) and the Holy Spirit which is in us by virtue of our faith in Christ.  He admits that the desires of the flesh are still with us as long as we are in this earthly form.  Paul’s major point is that any attempt to bring in the Law will not aid us in this conflict.  In fact, the Law only makes our sinful nature worse (Rom. 7).

Paul, however, believes that we can and indeed must depend on the power of God’s Spirit within us.  The Spirit gives us the strength to resist the demands of the flesh.  Paul adds that for the Christian we do not need the Law to tell us what sin is.  He says the works of the flesh are obvious.  Simply put, they are expressions of total self-indulgence. His list, which he admits is not exhaustive, includes sexual indulgence, pursuing false gods (these often went together in the ancient world), conflicts based on pride or jealousy, drunkenness, carousing “and things like these”.  He gives the solemn warning that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  Such behavior, certainly as a style of life, is completely alien to the life we have in Christ.

Paul will emphasize that we are free from the power of sin.  We are in a struggle and we should not be discouraged when we fall.  However, in Christ our desire should be to demonstrate his love. What strengthens us is the “fruit of the Spirit.”  This is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “fruits.”  It is not plural.  This is all one fruit.  It has these characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self- control.  These traits not only offset the works of the flesh.  They expose the false Christianity of Paul’s opponents who end up in condemnation, guilt and self-righteousness

Paul reminds us that Christ in his death freed us from the power of “the flesh with its passions and desires.”  We will struggle with the desires of our sinful nature.  However, we don’t have to give in to those desires.  Paul’s final word is a warning about being conceited.  The minute we make progress in the Christian life, the instant we turn away from a temptation, we experience an element of spiritual pride.  This leads us to an attitude where we compare ourselves to others, either favorably or unfavorably.  We can envy other Christians whom we can think are doing better than we are or, at least, seem to be receiving greater recognition.  We need always to be guided by the Spirit to keep us from falling into these kinds of traps.

Paul next will address the issue of what do we do when we fail in our life as Christians.

Questions for Discussion –

  1. What are some of the ways that we are tempted to give up our freedom in Christ?
  1. How do we know when we exercising freedom or only being self-indulgent?
  1. Are you experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Why or why not?

Next Study – Chapter 6 – “Bear One Another’s Burdens

Grace Presbyterian Church - The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? – Chapter 4 – “No Longer Slaves!”

The Epistle to the Galatians: What is the Gospel? – Chapter 4 – “No Longer Slaves!”

Paul seems baffled by the attitude of the Galatians.  It seems to him that they are almost afraid to live out the freedom they have in Christ.  Paul equates their background in paganism, worshipping the “elemental spirits of the world” to a dependence on the Law.  The Galatians are heirs of God in Christ not slaves.  Yet they are living as though they want to surrender their freedom and return to some forms of the Law.  This issue has been a major problem for Christians throughout the ages.

  1. “How Can You Turn Back?” – 4:1-20

Paul is having trouble making sense of the Galatians.  He uses the example of children who are heirs of a special inheritance.  When children are under age their status can be similar to that of a salve.  They are not allowed to act on their own.  They don’t have freedom.  They have to serve their master which in the case of children are their parents. In the case of a slave they remain in their dependent status their whole life.  This however is not the case with the heirs.  They grow into freedom and become their own guardians.

This are several things here that Paul’s opponents, the Pharisee Christians (Acts 15:1-11) or, as he calls them in II Corinthians, the “super-apostles” (II Cor. 11:5) would have had difficulty accepting.  First, Paul warns the Galatians about their previous worship of “elemental spirits.”  These could well have been the false gods of the Greco-Roman world (Acts 14:8-18).  Yet Paul clearly states that the Law of Moses fits into this category.  Paul’s opponents would, no doubt, have asked him how he could identify pagan gods with the true God of Moses.

Paul obviously is not identifying the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with Zeus or any other false gods.  However he is saying that the relationship one has to both of these can be the same.  To depend on either of these is to deny the freedom we have in Christ.  It is to opt for the position of a slave rather than that of an heir, a minor instead of an adult.  In Christ Paul says we have been adopted into God’s family.  Why would we want to exchange the status of an heir for that of a slave?  When Christ came “in the fullness of time,” everything changed.  This was as true of the Gentiles as it was of the Jews.  The Jews clearly have the advantage of having had the Old Testament (Rom. 3:1-4).  Yet if they reject Christ the end up having a zeal that is not enlightened (Rom. 10:2).  Paul’s opponents would maintain that they were not rejecting Christ.  Quite to the contrary, they were claiming Christ as the Messiah, the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel.  Paul would contend, however, that by insisting on following the Law, they were not really following Christ.  

This is a striking claim.  Paul in effect seems to be saying that to insist on following the Law once Christ has come, is no different than following an idol.  He doesn’t elaborate on the special days, months and seasons he mentions.  Presumably these would have been the special days required in the Law (Passover, Day of Atonement, etc.).  There would be nothing wrong presumably with observing special days and seasons (Christmas, Easter, etc.).  The problem comes in if these become mandatory.  They cannot be made into requirements.  Apparently this was the case in some of the Galatian churches.  This is why Paul goes so far as to make the extreme statement that his work with them may have been wasted (v. 11).

Paul then addresses them very personally.  He speaks of the fact that he first came to them “because of a physical infirmity.”  Some commentators think Paul suffered from an eye aliment.  He states that they would have torn their eyes for him (v. 15).  Later he speaks of the “large letters,” with which he writes (6:11).  Paul speaks of the Galatians as his “little children” (v. 19).  He is perplexed by them.  They have been given this freedom in Christ but now are turning back to the Law.  Paul sees this as a denial of the gospel.

  1. Children of the Promise – 4:21-31

Paul comes up with an illustration that would have at the very least surprised his opponents.  He has already invoked the example of Abraham whom he pointed out had lived four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law (3:17).  He refers to the two children of Abraham.  His first child, Ishmael was the son of the servant girl, Hagar.  However the child of promise was Isaac whose mother was Abraham’s wife, Sarah.  Paul goes on to say that the two women are an allegory representing two covenants.  Hagar represents Mount Sinai and the giving of the law.  She also represents the present unbelieving Jerusalem.  However Sarah represents the Jerusalem above (v. 26).  She represents the freedom which Isaiah speaks of in the quote Paul includes (v. 27; Isa. 54:1).  Paul’s opponents would have thought that he had his example backwards.  For them, certainly Sarah would have represented Mount Sinai, faithful Israel and the giving of the law.  Hagar and Ishmael would have nothing to do with their view of the law.

For Paul however the issue is not the law.  It is the freedom we have in Christ.  Anything that tries to remove that freedom is a “different gospel,” whether it is the worship of “elemental spirits” or the Law of Moses.  For Paul then Hagar represents any and all attempts to come to God through works, human efforts or religious practices.  All of these things finally bind and limit us.  Over against that, he sets the example of Isaac as a child of promise.  For Paul the promise is an inheritance which by its very nature cannot be earned, achieved or merited.  A promise with strings attached is not a real promise in his mind.

When Paul says “we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman (4:31).  The critical point here is that any attempt to devalue the freedom we have in Christ is a betrayal of the gospel.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount clarifies the fact that the Law is only provisional.  The life in the Spirit is much more.  However that life cannot be regulated or defined by any set of rules.  Paul’s concern here is not only with the Law but with any attempt to limit the freedom in Christ.  As the great New Testament scholar of the last century, F.F. Bruce, put it:

“To try and keep the desires of the flesh in check by submitting to a strict discipline of rules and regulations is only an alternative way of bondage.”

This year we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther, like Augustine before him, reformed the church with this teaching but yet to this day many churches and individual Christians have not fully accepted Paul’s teaching here.  Legalism in any form, whether it has to do with circumcision, divorce, homosexuality or whatever, finally denies the gospel according to Paul.  The objection arises, if we have no concrete rules of conduct for Christians then won’t people indulge themselves and live lives that are not only undisciplined but sinful.  Don’t we need some kind of code of Christian conduct?

Paul will answer those questions in chapter 5.

Questions for Us –

  1. What do you think is the Galatians’ attraction to the Law?  Are they afraid of the freedom Paul describes?  Are we?
  2. What is the difference between a child-like faith and being childish?
  3. What do you think is the relationship of freedom to forgiveness?

Next Study – “Firm in Freedom” – chapter 5