The Bible study on the back page of the April 1996 Forerunner magazine is about the Days of Unleavened Bread, and it brings up an interesting point that I have never really thought of. But it is something to think about in light of all seven holy days—the days in which we commemorate God acting on behalf of man; that is doing some work for mankind, or individuals in the church, it lasts one day.
Think about Passover as a festival—that was God dying, and it took one day.
Think about Pentecost—He gave us the Holy Spirit, and some say that He also gave the law on that day, that took one day.
Trumpets we say commemorates or looks forward to the return of Jesus Christ, that takes one day.
The Day of Atonement where Satan is put away, finally, and men are at one with God, that takes one day.
Regarding the Last Great Day, we will stick that onto the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, because it is the Last Great Day of the Feast.
But, the Feast of Tabernacles takes seven days—it stands for one thousand years of men working together with God to create the utopia, both physically and spiritually. And, the Last Great Day commemorates the remainder of mankind coming up out of their graves at the end of that millennium in The Great White Throne Judgment period (which may be 100 years or so) to begin working with God toward conversion and eventually eternal life.
And then, of course, the Days of Unleavened Bread that we are presently in, takes seven days. This typifies our coming out of sin and of this world in order to follow God.
Now, Protestant doctrine to the contrary, this process takes a lifetime—it means men working together in cooperation with God over a lifetime to create the character we need for eternal life. It takes constant vigilance to do this.
We may have spent twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty years learning Satan's way, this world's way, and going our own way. And, it may take an equal amount of time to unlearn it and learn God's way.
This length of time could be very long. And no one said that it would be easy. It is not easy. If it were easy, the church of God would have millions of members instead of just a few thousand scattered around the globe.
No, the godly way of life we have been called to is probably the most difficult life that any people on earth have ever lived. But, on the other hand, over a lifetime, and over the whole of eternity, it will be the most rewarding and fruitful life that a man could ever live.
Now, when I say that our lives are difficult, I am not talking about that our lives are necessarily hard, or poor, or that we are being persecuted all the time. I mean, look at yourself. Look at the lap of luxury in which you live. Do you realize that in the United States and Western Europe, we live better than anyone else in the entire world? And not only now, but for all time?
People in other ages and times did not live well this well. I am not just talking about the conditions, but the life that we live and the amenities that we have. We have fine homes, often more than one car, the average household has 2.5 televisions, any and all clothing right off the rack, and the money to spend on all our desires, just about. We have people lending us money left and right so we can have these things.
We live in relative peace and security. Things pop up now and then, and we do have a bad murder rate, and bad crime rate. But individually, most of us live pretty secure, peaceful lives.
Just think, we can call anywhere in the world instantly. We could have a conference call that includes 30 different locations. We can fly to the four corners of the globe in just a few hours. Just think of all the things that we have. We live easy. But these are just the physical things.
On the spiritual side of things, though, the life of a Christian is no picnic. Once God opens our minds to our true nature, and all of our sins, we feel pretty terrible about ourselves.
We have just come through the Passover where we have been washed clean. But before that, we had to look at all of the dirt to find out what we needed to get out. We had to examine ourselves to see what we needed to clean up, and how far we had come from when we had been called, or from last year.
And then this feeling gets all the worse when we look at the Lamb of God. We see how innocent He was, and how pure He was, and how much He went through for us. And we see that He has set Himself as the standard that we have to reach, what we try to imitate. And that just makes the feelings about our self that much worse. We see how far short we fall of that standard.
We see that God has stooped down into the mud and mire, and scooped up a handful of this clay. And over our lifetimes, with our cooperation, He fashions us into vessels of honor, hopefully. And these vessels of honor are supposed to please Him with the way that we live.
Sometimes He has to pound us down, and beat out the clods because we just do not cooperate enough. Sometimes when our lives are spinning on the Potter's wheel, we get out of kilter—out of balance—and He has to scoop us back up into a lump, and refashion us again.
From this analogy of the Potter and the clay, we can see that our lives are in constant change. And this turmoil is what makes the Christian's life so difficult. We are constantly trying to improve ourselves spiritually. And, God is constantly working with us to that end. He wants us to be those vessels of honor. And He is going to work with us as much as He can to bring us to that point.
We know that the struggle to be like God as much as possible is a strain on us. That is what makes it hard. We bend, and we break sometimes, but we must go about repairing the damage, asking the Potter to forgive us for all the damage that we have caused, both to ourselves, and to others. And then, He goes about putting us back on the wheel, and we start being refashioned and remolded into the way that He wants us to be.
So, we can see that a life of constant improvement is a tough one.
But, it is not impossible. That is the bright side of all this. The bright side is that God says that we can succeed. And if God says that we can succeed, and that we are going to be in His Kingdom, as His Son prayed there in the garden before He was arrested, that we would be one with Him in the Kingdom, then we will be one. We heard that in the Passover service the other night. We have this promise that if we would just stay on the road, and cooperate with God, all that will come to pass. It will come to pass.
Really, that is what these Days of Unleavened Bread are all about—seeing the sin, getting it out, and living a life that will please Him. So, during one week each year, God reminds us of our responsibilities on our Christian pilgrimage, and He gives us hope, confidence, and encouragement that we truly can make it. We can be unleavened!
Today, then, I am going to be speaking about the epistle of James. I do not know if you have considered James in the light of the Days of Unleavened Bread, but once I did it, I was almost knocked off my feet on how well it applies. I think that you will be too.
Hopefully I will explain this well enough so that you will be able to come away with a book that you can refer back to during theses times, and any other time of the year to help you put back on the straight and narrow. And hopefully, James will put the Days of Unleavened Bread into a perspective that you have never thought of before.
And next week, for the last holy day, we will get into how it applies to the end-time. Believe it or not, in this little epistle of James, there is also a good amount of prophecy that applies to situations like ours.
But, before we go into James, we need to review this festival briefly because there is a point that I really want to bring across, because it is important to today's lesson.
We are going to go through all the instructions about the Days of Unleavened Bread that are in the Old Testament. We will not be reading the entire sections of all these instructions, but I will emphasize certain things in these sections.
Exodus 12:15-20 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you. So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.'"
Exodus 12:34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, having their kneading bowls bound up in their clothes on their shoulders.
Exodus 12:37-39 Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought out of Egypt; for it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves.
Exodus 13:3-7 And Moses said to the people: "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. On this day you are going out, in the month Abib. And it shall be, when the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall keep this service in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days. And no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters.
This next section is in the midst of the Old Covenant.
Exodus 23:15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty);
Exodus 34:18 The Feast of Unleavened Bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, in the appointed time of the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.
Leviticus 23:6-8 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread [a bit stronger here]. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.'"
Numbers 28:17 And on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast; unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days.
Deuteronomy 16:1-4 Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. Therefore you shall sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, from the flock and the herd, in the place where the Lord chooses to put His name [He is really talking about the Night to be Observed]. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread with it, that is, the bread of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), that you may remember the day in which you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. And no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the meat which you sacrifice the first day at twilight remain overnight until morning.
Deuteronomy 16:8 Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a sacred assembly to the Lord your God. You shall do no work on it.
This next scripture is the instructions that God gave to Ezekiel about the Millennial Temple. So we see that this goes all the way from the coming out of Egypt, through the New Testament church, through our time, and on into the millennium!
Ezekiel 45:21 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall observe the Passover, [and then it goes to the Days of Unleavened Bread] a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.
Now, I do not know if you were counting all the times that said, "You shall (must) east unleavened bread," or one of its forms, but I did. If my counting is correct it is mentioned twelve times. Do you know how many times it says to take the leaven out? Four.
Now, think of the difference between twelve and four. Think of which may be a little bit more important.
I want to explain that it is more important in the sense that if you are eating "unleavened bread" you do not have time or the capacity, or you should not have the capacity, to eat "leavened bread." If you are doing all the good things then you will not be doing the bad things, that is, putting leavening into your life, so there is no need to take it out, because it will not be there. If you have cleaned yourself up by removing the leaven, then once you have done that your focus should be on eating the unleavened bread. If you are doing that you will not putting the leavening back in. Which is more important to us right now, once we have been cleaned?
Paul gives us a clue as to what our unleavened bread is supposed to be. Here in I Corinthians 5 he had been talking about the immorality that was there in the Corinth church. He says,
I Corinthians 5:6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven [a little sin] leavens the whole lump?
This "little" sin that these two people were committing was not just affecting them, because it was a leavening that was spreading like a disease affecting the whole church.
I Corinthians 5:6-8 . . . Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, [that is the four times that is mentioned in the Old Testament] that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened [You have been cleaned. That is behind us. We have put the leavening out.]. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us [That is how the leavening was taken from us because Christ paid the penalty for our leaven]. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven [which has been thrown away], nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, [why would you want to put it back in?] but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Now we are getting a little fix on what the unleavened bread is. It has something to do with sincerity and truth. You may have already thought of Matthew 4:4 where Satan was confronting Jesus, and he tempted Him with turning the stones into bread, Jesus turned around and quoted a scripture to him, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God."
Now that is our unleavened bread that is full of sincerity and truth. And not only that, we must eat every word. We cannot leave one crumb uneaten.
Let us chase this out throughout the New Testament.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
All right, we have added another part. First there was sincerity and truth, now we add grace and truth. So, we are getting a more fuller picture of it here.
And then the Word is called,
Revelation 19:11 . . . He who sat on him was called Faithful and True. . .
So now we have grace, sincerity, faith, and true.
John 4:24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Here we have added yet another one—spirit.
So, the Word of God is true (which keeps coming up), but it is also pure, full of grace, faithful, and spiritual. And do not forget, sincere.
John 6:32-35 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven [manna was not the bread from heaven], but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. [Here is this word "true" again. It should give us a clue.] For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." ["Hey! If is going to give us life, then we want it!"] And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
So, like we saw in John 1, Christ is the embodiment of God's Word. And as he goes on to say later on in verse 53, we have to eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. As part of that process we must ingest Him. Paul calls it putting on the new man. We have to put on Christ. Everything that He is, we have to strive to become. And, we do that mostly through the Word of God that is sitting here in our laps today. Drink it in! Eat it up!
We also do it in the Passover service, where we eat unleavened bread that symbolizes His flesh, and then we drink a bit of wine that symbolizes His blood, and thereby we become clean. We take into ourselves His nature as it were—that is what the aim is in our life through those symbols. We rededicate ourselves to that purpose.
But really, this is not enough just taking the bread and wine in the Passover service. There is more to it than that. We must study the Bible, the written Word of God, digest it, and live it.
John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
Those things that we eat from this Word of God are going to lead to our eternal life. But it is not just eating, it is doing. It is absolutely vital to our salvation. We must eat this unleavened bread from God that is pure, faithful, spiritual, full of grace, and full of eternal life. "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."
How did this Word of God that Jesus Himself had to learn and grow in, affect Him? What did it make Him want to do? What gave Him the spiritual energy?
In John 4, the woman at the well had gone away, and the disciples had come back from town with some food. When they had left Him, He could hardly stand up from fatigue. He was exhausted lying there next to the well, but when they came back He was just full of energy. He had just had this conversation with this woman at the well, and had preached the gospel to her. What happens?
John 4:31-32 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But He said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."
They did not quite understand yet, being unconverted. They did not understand the need to eat the Word of God.
John 4:33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"
You can see that their level of thinking was on a very carnal plane here. They thought He was talking about physical food.
John 4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.
You see? The Word of God, what Christ learned, compelled Him to do God's will. He was not satisfied with just being clean. He had to go on and do God's will and finish the work that God had given Him to do.
So, Christ did not learn the Bible just so that He could debate the scribes and Pharisees on matters of the law. It was not just something up here in His head, a mental thing for Him that compelled Him. He did not know it just so He could avoid sinning (which He did do). However, He went beyond that and did God's work and God's will. He did not just sit there in His house in Nazareth and simply wait for them to come and take Him away. He spent that three and a half years of His ministry doing good.
Peter comments on that when preaching to the household of Cornelius. They had probably heard of Jesus because they had prayed to God, and He had sent Peter to preach to them, and to baptize them. Peter says,
Acts 10:38 . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
See? He did not just know the Bible; He did not just know God's will; He went ahead and did it too!
In eating the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, it compelled Him to do, not just to be.
James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
You see? Once we start ingesting the unleavened bread, we know the good things that we are to do. It does not just apply if someone's car happens to be broken down in front of your house, or somebody gets ill, or breaks a leg, and you know that you should help them. It includes all that.
But, all these instructions from God's Word are good. What does it say about God's law? Is it not holy? And good? We are talking about the, "Why we should be doing it."
Now, the scribes and Pharisees had a kind of religion where they learned the law, and spent their time mostly avoiding sin, while not really trying to do good. There were some who did good deeds, and Christ mentions that they did good deeds, but they were usually done so as to be seen of men. They did them for the wrong reasons.
Matthew 5:17-20 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, [not just learns] he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means [that is quite absolute] enter the kingdom of heaven.
See? They were very meticulous, the scribes and Pharisees, about keeping the law. They came up with so many little bits of how to keep them—like on the Sabbath-keeping restrictions—so that they would not sin. And Jesus admits here that is a form of righteousness. However, His disciples have to go far beyond all that. That is what this whole Sermon on the Mount is all about.
"But I say to you—it has been done this way in the past, but I say that My disciples are going to do it differently, they are going to have a bit more to do than just keep this letter of the law. They have got to fulfill it in the spirit. They not only have to try to not sin, but they have to try to apply the law that is even more stringent than what they appear to be on their face."
So, He goes through murder. He says, "Do not just not murder, you cannot hate. Do not just not commit adultery, do not even lust or think about it." This is more stringent than the letter of the law.
And then beyond that, they have to go the second mile. They have to love their enemies, and bless them who curse them. They have to do good to those who hate them. All this is hard to do. It is a bit more than the scribes and Pharisees. They hated without a cause.
Christ's disciples are to do their charitable deeds in a way that no one would see them or know about them. They had to forgive seventy times seven, which meant to always forgive. He is not saying that once you get to your 490th time, you can then stop. No, He says to keep on forgiving as long as they keep repenting.
And this goes on and on through this whole ministry of Jesus Christ, and then it was picked up by His apostles, and they gave us more examples of how we are to go beyond just keeping the law so that we do not sin.
James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: [notice how it is broken down] to visit orphans and widows in their trouble [this is first], and [then] to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
You see, the idea is that if you are out sacrificing and doing good, then keeping yourself unspotted from the world will be a bit easier. That is how Jesus lived His life. He did not just not do the wrong things, but He was doing good. And, because He did good, He did not do bad.
He was too busy doing good to do anything bad.
It is just that simple, except we have the pulls of human nature. But, the principle is that if you are doing good, you will not have the time, and your mind will be changing so that you will not want to do the bad.
So, following through with both of these—pure and undefiled before God, and keeping oneself unspotted—will make us acceptable and holy and righteous before God.
One final bit on this—I just want to pound some nails into this coffin here—there is a certain lesson of Jesus that many people do not think about when they read this certain parable. The answer and interpretation is found in the context.
Luke 11:24-26 When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
Obviously the people in the crowd did not get it, because. . .
Luke 11:27-28 And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" But He said [there is something more that you did not get here], "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep [do] it!"
It is not good enough just to have yourself cleaned up. Because if you do not fill it up with that unleavened bread, and do what that unleavened bread is compelling you to do, then the state in which you wind up will be much, much worse than if you had never been cleaned up at all.
So, a Christian must not only remove leaven (sin), but he must also eat unleavened bread—replacing leaven—filling himself with God's Word, and living it—doing it.
Now, with this background, we can go into the book of James.
I am not going to give you a lot of background regarding the epistle of James because most of the commentaries do a reasonable job of explaining all the details. But, I will touch on a few things—one is that we are going to assume that this James is the younger half-brother of Christ. This is important only because we will see in the text that there are similarities to the Sermon on the Mount. And I get the feeling that Jesus was teaching his younger brothers these things while they were growing up. It appears at least that James had it on his mind. Whether James was present during the Sermon on the Mount or not, he knew these things.
And we will also assume that he wrote this book not long before his martyrdom near 62 AD. That is important because it helps explain why he wrote the book.
The first verse says that he writes his book to the twelve tribes that are scattered abroad. This is interesting, but not all that important. But it is interesting that he addresses it to the twelve tribes. Without going into detail today, we will assume that he is writing this to the church of God, and not to physical Israel. There are parts here that carnal Israel could understand, but the teaching is much too spiritual for someone who is not converted.
This may be a great book to start with when they become converted, but I think that this phrase means that it applies to the church of God, because Galatians 6:16 says that the church of God is the Israel of God. Israel is just a generic name for the twelve tribes. They are all the sons of Israel.
If you want to chase this out, when the apostle John sees the first fruits of God in Revelation 7:4-8, how were they divided? As the twelve tribes of Israel. There are 12,000 of each tribe. Also, in Luke 22:30 Jesus says that His disciples will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And, in Revelation 21 the New Jerusalem is coming down, and what is written on the gates? The names of one of the apostles, and one of the tribes on each of the twelve gates. He is talking to the church of God as a whole.
Now, why did James write this book? This gets to be a bit more speculative, because the reasons are really not written down. But, if the book was written from about 60 to 62 AD, think about when did Paul write his epistles of Galatians and Romans?
Galatians was written either late 49 or early 50 AD. This was about 10 to 12 years before James. Romans was written near 55 or 56 AD, and after 5 or 10 years or so, they began to see what was happening in the church.
Peter admits that the things that Paul wrote were hard to understand, and people were misapplying and abusing the teachings of Paul in Galatians and Romans. So James writes his epistle to correct—not Paul, because he agreed fully with him on justification by faith—but he was correcting the abuses of the doctrine of justification by faith.
I think that brings things up to date to the very moment. We have seen in the last 10 years the abuses of the doctrine of justification by faith. Like today, the people in the first century had antinomian elements among them. Remember that antinomian means, "against law." They did not believe in keeping the law.
We have people today who will keep no law, and now they are fighting the federal government. They do not believe in any law, except their own. It could get like that in the church if we did not have the balancing epistle of James.
Paul agreed with James. And James agrees with Paul. But, Paul was presenting one side of the argument that, yes indeed, we are justified by faith, and God imputes Christ's righteousness to us. But, when is that?
It is at our conversion when God calls us out, we have repented of our sins, we have been baptized and have had hands laid upon us, and we are given the Holy Spirit. God justifies us legally.
That is where Paul stops, according to the antinomians. He says nothing about the rest of one's life. They say, "You are saved right at that point," and then go so far to say that, "You can't be unsaved, or lost once that happens."
But James says, "Wait! All you have done is gotten rid of the leavening. I'll show you how to eat unleavened bread."
So, since Paul was probably in prison at the time in Rome (which is why the date is important), who may have been the leading apostle at the time? Maybe it was James. Peter may have been gone to the lost sheep of Israel. I do not know where Peter was. However, James, using his position as pastor of the headquarters church in Jerusalem, writes a "Dear Brethren and Co-worker" letter to the entire church—the twelve tribes of Israel—and he says, "Get it right. You have been misapplying, and abusing the teachings of our brother Paul; and this is the proper understanding of what happens after you have been justified by faith."
This is why his theme is, "faith with works." That is the theme of the entire epistle. This is why Martin Luther hated this book so much. It undermined his doctrine of being saved by grace through faith alone. He did not allow for works.
And I understand why he did that because the Catholic Church is full of works—dead works. All of those unctions, confessions, "Hail Marys", indulgences, and other things like that—those are definitely dead works. And Luther was reacting to that. And so he ended up in the opposite ditch.
I want to add something else here.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
It has happened again. The wheel has turned. Here we are, back again. We have gone through a period of time where the correct understanding of works, law, grace, and faith were understood by an old, white-haired man [Herbert Armstrong], who has now been reviled by others who say that they know better. And what have they done? It is now just grace and faith. Where did the other two go—law and works? They cannot have the full picture. They need to read the book of James.
We need to be reminded of the vital importance of law and works. We will do that for the remainder of today, and next Wednesday (the last day of Unleavened Bread).
James is a very good psychologist. He begins his correction of the church with encouragement.
Is that not great? He had to tell them this because most people do not face their trials with joy. But, he says that you can have joy in all the things that trip you up,
Do you know what this does? Those trials that you go through produce endurance, they produce longsuffering in you, they produce steadfastness. If you go through these things properly, if you apply your trials correctly, it builds you up and makes you able to stand, because you have gone through this one or that one; or you are going through it now. And, you know that you will have the power to go through it, because God says He will give it to you,
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good [even our trials] to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
If He is going to work His purpose out, then we can have joy because He has allowed us to have this trial, and we are going to get through it! And not only get through it, but we are going to be built up! That is encouraging! That is something we can have joy in—that we have tests of faith! It is not fun to go through, it is not fun to look at, but we know that they are going to produce good in us, and make us stronger—they are going to make us endure what comes later.
And James says to not hinder this process.
James 1:4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Do not hinder this process. Do not jump ship! This process is going to be working things in you for your good. So, let patience have its perfect work—complete work—let it come to its full effect in you—do not stop it short because it is for your good.
And the reason? So that you may be perfect and complete—you will be mature and whole, entire—that all parts of your character that God wants to see will be there.
One trial might be for producing love in you. And then you also need gentleness, so you receive a trial to produce gentleness. And maybe you get another trial later on for patience. (I am just going through the fruits of the spirit here.)
You need all these things, and James says, "Don't stop this process! Let them come because it is producing good in you. It is God's purpose in your life, and you need these trials." It does not sound all that good, though, because our human nature does not like to change. But, have joy as you go through it because you are becoming like God.
Do not stop and jump ship, do not leave the church, do not end the process by leaving God. Stick with it. There is joy ahead. We can have joy because they are producing good things.
Somebody might say, "Well, what if I am not strong enough? Where am I going to get the understanding and wisdom to do all this?" James answers that next:
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Is that not encouraging? There is so much packed into this little verse. He says, "God will give you so much more than you can even ask." And, there is even a verse which says all that,
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
That is something, is it not? He will give us these trials so that we can use these things; if we do not have the strength, He will give it to us. He will give us the wisdom, which is putting the Word of God into right practice, taking the knowledge and understanding that we have, and putting it into practice in our lives. He is not only going to give us the knowledge, wisdom, and the understanding, and all those things, He is going to give us more than we ask! And on top of all that, He is not going to say to us, "Why didn't you do that with the stuff that I gave you before?"
James says that He does not reproach us about it. He is willing to give all this to us—more of the spirit, more of His grace, more of His understanding and wisdom—He does not call us down for asking for more. He is very willing to give it. He wants you to have it because He wants you to overcome through these trials. He wants you in His Kingdom.
James is really giving us a boost in this first chapter because he has something to say later on that may depress us or discourage us about how things are going, so he does a good job of encouraging us so that we will be able to accept the correction later in the letter.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved [proved], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
He is saying that if you go through all these trials, and patiently endure them, and become proved, He will give you the crown of life—victory. You will overcome. This is a promise that we can call upon.
But, it is given to those who love Him. Who loves God? It is important in Romans 8:28, and here in James 1:12. These things work together for good. God gives the crown of life to those who love Him; to those who love God. Loving God is very important in this process.
How do we know that we love Him? How can we show that we love Him?
I John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
John 14:15 If you love Me, keep My commandments.
John 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.
II John 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
I think that we can understand that the ones who love God are keeping His commandments. That is so very important to the book of James. Everything—all these practical matters—that come out of James spring from keeping the commandments. You must be keeping the commandments first while doing your good works.
So, here are some of the qualities of character that we need while we are going through our trials, and overcoming our weaknesses, and while we are doing our good deeds.
James 1:19-21 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
What is James saying here?
"First of all, listen very carefully to God's Word."
Was it not about a month ago in the first Sovereignty of God sermon we heard that one of the most urgent commands of Jesus Christ throughout His ministry was, "LISTEN!" How often did He say, "But I say unto you...?" That means, "Listen to what I am saying!"
James repeats his Brother's command, "Be swift to hear—listen, this is important."
I think our body is a perfect illustration of this. How many ears do you have? Two. How many mouths do you have? One. So, you should hear more, and speak less. "Be swift to hear, and slow to speak."
Another illustration is that your tongue is inside your mouth, and it has to get through two barriers, your teeth, and your lips. So, keep your mouth closed. Be swift to hear, and slow to speak.
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, [Teachers speak. Why should you probably not want become a teacher?] knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
So, if I am telling you these things, I had better be doing these things, too, and teaching you the right things, or I will receive judgment. If you do not want to be judged in these matters, do not become a teacher, because it will be stricter for you.
The second thing that James says here is not that we should never speak, but rather to be slow to speak. That means that we should respond carefully to these things.
When you come upon a trial, whether you have a sin, or you are doing good, and you are producing fruit, be careful how you approach life's situations. Be careful of what you say.
When we are going through trials and bad things are happening to us, do not get angry. When you get angry while going through a trial, you are not producing the righteousness of God. Outbursts of wrath, Paul says, are works of the flesh.
So, if you are angry while going through these trials, and if you are talking up a storm while going through these trials—cursing, blaming, and reviling—you have not "heard" or remembered what James said that these things are for our good. God is producing something in us for His purpose.
Be swift to hear—hear this word—and be careful how you respond.
And while you are doing all of this, James mentions putting out your leaven. While you are going through your trials, and overcoming, and doing your good deeds, also lay aside whatever filthiness and wickedness that may still remain. That is why we go through the Passover service every year. We do not stay clean. As much as we try, we do not stay clean. That is part of it all. We recognize our sins, wickedness—that which remains to be expunged. When you fill up a glass, and maybe some spills over the top, that is the spillover here.
Christ has taken away the glass, and cleaned us up. But, the spillover remains because we have allowed it back into our lives. And so, it is that overflow—that superfluity—that we have to get rid of, because we still keep some hidden sins. Repent of those and get rid of them.
And while doing all that, receive God's Word. This keeps coming back in. We have gotten rid of the leaven, now receive the unleavened! Receive the implanted word which is able to save your souls. They must be done together. Remember verse 21, removing the leaven, and then eating unleavened bread. It is very important to do both.
James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
What James says here is that once we are clean, and are receiving God's Word—being implanted—within us, then we must do it. We must put it into practice. We must act upon it.
If we just hear it, and we agree to it, then we are really just deceiving ourselves. It is not good enough. We are just simply justifying ourselves before God if we are just hearing and not doing. Because, in the hearing are the instructions to do something. And if you are not obeying God, you are not keeping His commandments. And if you are not keeping His commandments, you are not loving God. And if you are not loving God, He will not give you the crown of life.
It is a specious argument to think that you could be cleaned, and hear the Word of God, and then not do it. It cannot work. It will not fulfill righteousness in us.
Another thing he says here is that when we put something into practice, once we hear it and do it, then it becomes part of our character. See? Someone who just hears but does not do it is like the man who looks in the mirror, and then goes away, not remembering (not wanting to remember) what he looked like.
But, once you "look" into the law of liberty—you read, and hear the word, then you do it—then that word is implanted in you. It becomes part of your character. It becomes what you are. And then you are acceptable in God's sight.
"He is blessed in what he does." God blesses those whom He loves, and those who love Him.
The argument comes down to the famous section that so many misunderstand regarding Paul and James.
James 2:14-26 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
First of all, remember that Jesus said in John 10:35 that scripture cannot be broken. So, what we have here is that there is no contradiction between Paul and James. Otherwise Scripture would be broken, and we could not trust any of it. We could throw it away. It would not do us any good. But, as shown, God's Word—the unleavened bread—is truthful and pure. There is no contradiction.
The easiest way to understand the difference between James and Paul is to think of Paul's teachings as applying to a person upon his calling, his conversion, and his baptism—when God justifies us legally. God says that you have shown faith in His Son's sacrifice, you have repented of your sins, you have gone through the rite of baptism—He justifies us. He sees what we mean, what we think, He sees our faith, and He justifies us. He imputes Christ's righteousness to us.
We really are not righteous at that point, but he cleans us up, and says that He will put Christ's righteousness on us, and He covers for us all. And then we are admissible before God's throne.
James' teaching applies after all this. Once we have gone through the legal processes of being justified by faith, with God's pronouncement of Christ's righteousness on us, then James says that we are justified through works.
That must be explained. They use the word "justified" in two different senses. They are not exactly the same.
Paul uses it in the legal sense—God's legal decision to make you righteous by His own very act. James uses "justified" in its evidential way—meaning experience, how it shows itself, how faith manifests itself, how it is seen by others—your fruits. It is not just a legal thing, but something that you do to show that that legal thing has been done for you.
A person who has faith, and has been justified in the legal sense, will show it by doing good works.
The translators have done us no favors. They have simply translated it as justified. If you put these other words in their place, I think you will get the gist very well.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Let us put some different words in there that mean the same thing, but shows better what James meant.
"Was not Abraham our father shown to be upright by works when he offered Isaac on the altar?"
James 2:24-25 You see then that a man is [shown to be upright] justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also [shown to be upright] justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
You see, God had already done the justifying, but they did these actions, and therefore shown to be upright.
How about another illustration?
I am holding in my hand a walnut. And you know that inside this little nut is a tree. The seed is in the shell. When you are baptized, you are like this walnut. God sees a son in you. He sees faith inside of you. And He says, "This person can be my son. He has repented. And so, I will justify him by placing My Son's blood on him. He will be my son one day."
When we look at this from the outside, we do not see a tree in there. We know there is a seed. We are a little bit higher being than a walnut. We know that there is a tree in there, but we cannot see it. We cannot see into the shell. But we know it is in there. So, if we want a walnut tree, what do we do? We plant it in the ground. When will we know that there is a walnut tree in this seed? When it sprouts. We see the sapling begin to grow.
This is the same that James is saying.
You are the seed, and God saw a tree in you. And so He planted you in His church. When was it that you and I were able to see that we were actually doing what God wanted us to do? When did we see that God actually justified us?
When we started growing! When we started sprouting out of the ground. And when did we really see that we were doing something that God wants us to do? When we produced fruit—more little walnuts! We produce fruit.
God sees way back there in a little "walnut" that it had faith. And so He says that He is going to justify that little "walnut," because he is going to be a tree one day. But, nobody else sees that tree in there until it springs up, and bears fruit.
Faith without works is dead.
God sees the works in you that you are going to produce by your faith. And so, He justifies you so that when you are planted in the church, and following God's way of life, you use your faith and produce works. And so you are shown to be upright.
That is what James is saying. God saw the faith in you when you were a "walnut," and now people can see that God saw the faith in you when you spring out and do good works. Works have nothing to do with your justification by God. They have everything to do with showing God and others that God was right.
Now, the example that James uses regarding Abraham takes place in Genesis 22 when Isaac was to be sacrificed. The one that Paul uses is from Genesis 15 when Abraham was converted. Abraham showed his conversion when God said to him that He would make of him a great nation, and you are going to have a son. And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. That was when Abraham was a "walnut."
But in Genesis 22, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham showed that he was a mature walnut tree producing fruit.
It is similar with Rahab, but not quite so clear because there is not such a disparity in the chapters. There are 7 chapters between Genesis 15, and 22, a span of about 50 years or so. (Abraham was about 75 or 80 when Genesis 15 occurred, and the sacrifice of Isaac may have been when he was as old as 33, therefore Abraham may have been 133 then.)
But you see the span of time that it took for the walnut to produce fruit. That is what James is talking about.
God saw you as that little walnut. He saw the tree in the walnut. He knew that it would produce a lovely walnut tree with fruit.
So, understand the difference between Paul and James. Paul is talking about the walnut, and James is talking about the maturing tree with fruit.
Let us just wrap this up in Ephesians 2. You will see the whole process here. Remember earlier I said that Paul and James agreed perfectly. We will see here that Paul does agree with James.
Ephesians 2:4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) [the walnut], and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [planted us in the church, we are now brothers and sisters of our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ], that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Receive Biblical truth in your inbox—spam-free! This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 140,000 subscribers are already receiving.