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Need a break from the daily grind? Need extra encouragement to carve out daily moments with Jesus? Need to hit the pause button and embrace tranquility? What is a good way to invest quiet moments in Scripture, thought, and prayer to help you center your mind and heart on the Source of peace?
What message is the title of the book meant to convey?
Ruth Schwenk: There’s a lot in life that pulls at the soul, making us feel restless, anxious, and distracted. The psalmist says, “My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1). I hope the title of the book makes a woman feel like this is an invitation to find rest, real rest, for their soul. It’s an invitation to experience more of God’s love, grace, and truth, which is what our soul desperately needs most.
How and why are women today stressed to the max and how is that stress different from the stress previous generations of women experienced?
Ruth Schwenk: I think there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect, or at least perform at a high level in everything we do: work, motherhood, marriage, volunteering, spiritually, etc. Not only do women put pressure on themselves to do it all, we live in the social media culture that shows us how everyone else is doing it all too. Now that we can see what everyone else is doing there’s an added pressure to do even more. The reality is that we aren’t meant to do it all. We each have our own unique calling and gifts.
How does a devotional book like this contribute to a Christian’s spiritual growth?
Ruth Schwenk: We can all really struggle to see how God’s Word applies to our everyday life. Settle My Soul takes everyday struggles and sheds light on how we should respond to them biblically. It’s one way for us to continue to “root our lives in Christ” (Colossians 2:6-7), which in turn, strengthens our faith and faithfulness.
Select a devotion from the book and explain why you singled it out.
Ruth Schwenk: The devotion “Faith for This Place” is a great reminder for all of us. We ALL struggle with fear at different times and in different seasons of our lives. The challenge, then, is to remember that God is faithful every step of the way. We don’t have to fear what the future holds because God holds the future.
Faith for This Place
“I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-31
Life is full of joy, but it’s also unpredictable and scary. We are in good company when we read the Bible-we find so many stories of God’s people learning to trust Him and moving out in faith, even when fear is lurking close by. And we’re encouraged that God has to keep reminding his people not to be afraid.
This is what I love about the Lord’s reminder in Deuteronomy 1:29-31 to the Israelites before entering the land of promise. They too were afraid. They too were wondering, What if God doesn’t come through? They too wrestled with trusting in God’s goodness and faithfulness for the future, though they had seen it with their “very eyes” in the past (v.30).
So just as he reminded the Israelites then, he reminds us now-I am going before you. I will fight for you. You’ve seen me do it before; I’ll do it again. Moses reminded them that the Lord had been good and faithful, carrying them like a father carries his son, all the way until they reached “this place” (v.31).
Fear lives in the “next place”. Fear lives in next week or next year. It lives down the road, when our kids are out of the house or when we grow old. It robs us of today. Causes us to be forgetful. Yet God wants us to remember that he has been faithful to provide all we need to get us to “this place.” And if he has gotten us to this place, we can be sure he will get us to the next place, where he is present and sufficient.
What is making you fearful today? Are you resting in the place God has you, or are you anxious about where he is leading you? Fight fear today with the faith that God’s presence and power are with you. May his peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and mind from needless worry-because you know your God is near. And you know he is good.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Ruth Schwenk: One of my very favorite Bible verses is John 3:30, “He must become greater, I must become less.” This verse is one that I have held close since I was a new Christian at the age of 16. At that time, I was struggling to follow Jesus completely and it was the reminder I needed that this life isn’t all about me. Over the years, it continues to apply to my life. In all situations, I can hand the reigns over to him. The greater I make him in my life, the more confidently I can face anything. He’s in control, I’m not.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Ruth Schwenk: I love Bible Gateway. It seems like an old friend I’ve turned to time and time again when searching and studying Scripture.
Settle My Soul is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio:Ruth Schwenk is the founder of The Better Mom, and along with her husband, Patrick, the creator of For the Family. She is a pastor’s wife, mom of four energetic kids, a lover of coffee, and dreamer of big dreams. She loves leading, speaking, and blogging. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Ruth is the coauthor of Hoodwinked and Pressing Pause. The Schwenks are the coauthors of For Better or for Kids. Ruth, Patrick, and their children live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
A few days ago I stood at the base of the Egyptian pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, as I have before. And again, it took real mental concentration to comprehend the meaning of this place. When Moses grew up in Egypt the pyramids were already 1,000 years old. I stretched out my hand to touch the stones, wondering whether Moses did the same.
We can talk about “living the Bible” because the writers of Scripture did themselves live it. We have truth from God, not as an abstract philosophy, but as revelations that came from God through people trying to live well.
We sometimes talk about “the land of the Bible” forgetting that the Promised Land into which the 12 tribes of Israel moved under Joshua’s leadership is only part of “the land of the Bible.” The great drama of God Almighty with the human race takes place across a vast landscape—from Egypt in the West, through the narrow strip of land that became Israel, and out to the East in Mesopotamia which was the setting of one empire after another.
For the centuries the Hebrews inhabited the land of promise, establishing Israel, there were always tensions with Egypt. God had given his people a land poised between two superpowers: Egypt in the West and the successive empires of the East. Not a comfortable place to live.
About 2,000 years after Abraham fled to Egypt to escape famine, a man named Joseph and his wife Mary took their newborn son to Egypt in order to escape an evil king named Herod who wanted to find and kill their son. Jesus and his parents found refuge there, until an angel told Joseph that Herod had died, and it was safe to return home.
At other times Jews fled to Egypt as a place of refuge where they set up colonies. By the time of the New Testament a vibrant Jewish population was settled in Alexandria, for instance.
Last week I was teaching Christian church leaders in Alexandria. Christians are a minority in Egypt today, but they live their faith with the knowledge that God has been at work in Egypt for thousands of years. The gospel of Jesus Christ asserts that God is reclaiming the whole world for his purposes. God told Abraham that, through his tribe, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. So the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in every corner of Africa and Asia and the Americas and every other part of the world.
Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only one exists today: the pyramids of Giza. The largest of them rises almost 500 feet above ground, constructed from over two million stones, each weighing tons. For almost 4,000 years, it was the tallest structure in the world.
They are tombs. Built for an elite few like Pharaohs, the pyramids of Egypt may have been built to provide the carefully preserved corpse inside a supernatural passageway into the afterlife. Deep inside, their chambers held chariots and weapons and gold and even bread. Most of the tombs of these kings were plundered over the ages.
These dramatic places make me think about the contrast with eternal hope in Jesus Christ. His body was laid in a borrowed tomb. And on the third day the tomb was evacuated. It wasn’t grave robbers who emptied Jesus’ tomb, but the resurrection power of God. A pyramid in Egypt was designed as a kind of resurrection machine for just one person. In the gospel of Jesus Christ there is hope for any and all who believe—and it doesn’t matter how much you spend on your grave.
Last week I walked into the King Tut section of the Egyptian museum and stood inches away from the iconic gold mask of the young king. The engraving and painting and jewels and the solid gold itself are breathtaking. But then I looked at a young man standing next to me who was peering at this same piece of history. I thought how the mask of King Tut is just cold, dead metal, but this man standing next to me was living flesh, made in the image of God.
Egypt reminds us of our ancient history as the human race, and of our universal longings. We know life in this world is brief, and that each of us contributes just to a blip in the long history of the world. In Jesus we have not a Pharaoh, but a mighty King who has authority over heaven and earth. It doesn’t take moving two million boulders to have a relationship with the Creator, just the faith of a child.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and
How often do you read a devotional or a Bible verse, and it later proves providential? Or maybe you hear a sermon or have a seemingly random conversation with someone, and in a week or two, something that was said speaks to a decision you’re trying to make?
One of Christianity’s giants, George Müller, wrote that we should not only take circumstances into account but consider them providential. “We can make our plans,” says Proverbs 16:9 (NLT), “but the LORD determines our steps.”
That truth is usually most apparent in Step 3 of my process for discerning God’s will, where I “Watch for Circumstances” as I wait on God for his answers in my decisions.
The Bible is definitive about Christ’s supremacy over all things: “All things were created through him and for him. . . . And in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:16–17 NKJV). His sovereignty means that every circumstance in our lives either derives from him or is allowed by him. Nothing is a coincidence. It all sifts through his hands before it reaches us. And he uses these beyond-our-control events in often-surprising ways to show us his way. Our part is to be open to Providence in all its forms, holding the unfolding plan lightly as we watch and pray.
Sacred Pace: Step 3 Watch for Circumstances - YouTube
That patience is so critical at this stage of a sacred pace. We must be careful not to speed ahead of God. I try to remember these principles so that I can stay in step with him:
Let the plan play out. By their nature, circumstances require that we keep an open hand. We have to let them roll out, with God orchestrating their rhythm, just as a conductor speeds up or slows down the tempo for emphasis in a concert piece. The Lord may alter or change our circumstances at any time in order to keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes he uses them to guide us or to confirm his answer, and sometimes he uses them to prepare our hearts to hear his answer. Regardless, moving at God’s pace means we don’t have to over analyze the events that come our way. God directs our paths in part by arranging circumstances to reveal and confirm what he wants us to do—and when.“To everything there is a season,” says the writer of Ecclesiastes, “a time for every purpose under heaven” (3:1 NKJV). The Lord will make the next step plainly known, at just the right time, as long as we’re intent on learning his plan. What a relief this is! To understand that God does all the heavy lifting when we’re faced with tough decisions takes the pressure off! We can leave both the clock and the calendar up to him, assured that he’s faithfully at work to reveal his will.
Be slow to deem something “a sign.” When you think the Holy Spirit has definitively “spoken” through a circumstance, ask him to confirm it or to close the door on it—and then wait and see. See if what seems to be from him “gains legs” over time. If it does, add it to the storehouse of potential data points. If not, forget it and be on the lookout for what God is doing in another direction. With time, the data points that matter will “add up”—they’ll tip in a particular direction—giving you a clearer sense of God’s will for you.
Be grateful for every kind of answer. Our efforts to listen to God either confirm the pointers he has indicated, send us in a new direction we never considered, or help us realize that we’re headed in the wrong direction and need to “recalculate.” “It is God making [us] wise,” says Tim Keller.This is an important point. Because of God’s sovereign care for us, we can recognize any shift of events as coming from his hand, including the ones that initially feel disappointing. Rather than perceiving setbacks as delays to your destination and no’s as his disapproval, genuine seekers of his will can understand them all to be his protection and guidance.For example, an old boss of mine didn’t want me developing any new business. It was very frustrating to me at the time. But in time, his refusal and my boredom in that position were things that the Lord used to persuade me to finally risk starting my own company.There’s no denying it: others’ decisions and choices do sometimes affect us; disappointments do come our way. Yet those seeming setbacks in my life have often proven to be God’s blessings in disguise, helping me more clearly see the circumstances that matter just as surely as the good surprises do.In pain and prosperity, the Spirit is directing our steps. Thank him for closing doors for you. Those closed doors are moving you that much closer to the one he already has standing wide open. And, best of all, you’re right on schedule, on pace toward his will!
Psalm 37:23 (NIV) is a wonderful, encouraging reminder while we wait: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” I can’t ever say what God has planned for me miles down the road, much less tomorrow. But today, I can focus on delighting in him and his will, knowing that the One who controls my circumstances is also the One who sees my future, and knows best, and loves me more than I love myself.
When he does grant me his answer, it’ll be one wrapped in his peace, faithfully moving me in his direction, toward his desires and purpose for me.
That’s one of the most common axioms we are handed in the midst of intense grief. Well intentioned, sure. Everyone needs to be encouraged, and what better way than by letting someone know they must be strong enough to face whatever circumstance lies before them because the Divine has deemed them able. But for all its well-meaning consolation, it’s about as scriptural as “God helps those who help themselves,” and “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Which is to say, it’s not. You can make the argument for these sentiments using the Bible, but you have to be a trained contortionist to make everything bend the right way.
The support for “God won’t give you more than you can handle” comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul writes, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (emphasis added). Notice that the verse is about temptation. It’s not about being overwhelmed by life. This verse wasn’t intended to be a comfort to someone reeling from the loss of a child. Paul wasn’t meaning for someone to rely on their own strength while fighting cancer. God didn’t take away your job so you could see how strong you are.
Far too often, interpretations of Scripture that make sense when life is generally comfortable are taken as true. But if the interpretation only works in the suburbs, where our lawns are trimmed and our pretenses are secured like vinyl siding, then it’s probably safe to assume that the interpretation doesn’t work. Apply the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle to other situations, and it’s blatantly obvious that this idea only works in relatively benign situations.
To a survivor of Auschwitz say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
To a young girl sold into prostitution say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
To a Christian in Iraq whose world has been destroyed by ISIS say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
To a mother who lost her daughter to a Palestinian bomber say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
To a father from the poverty-stricken countryside of Cambodia who was injured while hunting for food and can no longer work and provide for his family say, “God won’t give you more than you handle.”
Seems cold, even heartless, no? A tone-deaf response imploring good ole American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theology to situations involving people understandably overwhelmed by a brutal world. It doesn’t offer help but merely provides the speaker an opportunity to not get involved—to distance themselves from any responsibility. There’s no need to help because they should be able to handle it. And to the one suffering, this phrase says, Please don’t ask for help because you should be able to handle whatever it is you’re going through, because God in his divine omniscience gave it to you.
One can’t help but wonder if the phrase isn’t more for the person who offers it as misguided comfort. Seeing others suffer shakes our confidence in human durability and embarrasses us. A kind of survivor’s guilt washes over us as we thank the Lord for our well-being when confronted with another’s adversity. We feel that we should help them, while at the same time we feel guilty because of our packed schedules. Overwhelmed by the suffering in front of us, we distance ourselves from it in order to relieve our discomfort.
Coming into contact with the ill and broken reminds us of our own helplessness and susceptibility to suffering. We could lose our jobs. Our spouse could cheat on us. The hope we have for our kids’ future could be erased by heroin. And we wonder, If that happens, can I handle it? So we spout the phrase to those who are actually walking through life’s valleys, hoping that if they can handle it, we might be able to handle it too.
Truth is, none of us can really handle life. There’s too much joy, too much sorrow, too much beauty, too much pain. Life—with its baby giggles, courageous cancer survivors, immense poverty, brutal trafficking of young girls, and redemptive stories of justice—is paralyzingly large. Those who say they can manage real life aren’t paying attention to the fathomless ocean of human emotion.
Implying that we can handle whatever storm threatens our house is not biblical. If anything, it is the exact opposite. Look at what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (emphasis mine).
Paul—the one who was shipwrecked for the sake of the gospel, whose faith was so strong that people were healed when they touched rags he used to wipe his brow, who converted guards while in jail, who brazenly stood before rulers and confessed Jesus as Lord—said he despaired of life. He didn’t just have a bad day. You don’t despair of life after the flu or getting cut off in traffic or when your kids talk back to you. No, this pillar of faith thought life was too much. The pain was too great. He wanted to give up. He considered abandoning everything because it no longer seemed worth the struggle. He probably felt like a failure.
But later in the same letter, Paul would write, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It is when we are at our frailest that Christ’s power can rest on us (see verse 9). In other words, when we can no longer keep going. When we’re fed up. When we’re empty. Confused. Exhausted. In over our heads. When life is too much to handle. In those moments, the strength of Christ’s resurrection will be seen in us. This is gospel news. This is good news.
But it is also bad news. The unfortunate thing about resurrection is that it can only be experienced after death. Until we die, we think we can do something to bring life to our weary bodies. But we need the God of death and resurrection to come into our broken lives, dead dreams, and hopeless situations. That’s what Good Friday and Easter are about. Jesus enters our death so that, with him, we might be given new life. If we want to experience this resurrection, then we must stop trying to perform CPR on our lives. As C. S. Lewis said at the very end of his classic book Mere Christianity, “Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.”
Death teaches this cruel fact: I can’t handle everything. Neither can you.
But that’s okay. Because that’s where God will meet us.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” This is one of the most common and least helpful reassurances floating around Christian circles. It is anything but biblical. The truth is that God does allow a lot more than we can handle. But why?
Nate Pyle has walked through tragedy in his own life—professional uncertainty, the intense impact of mental illness, and the struggle to build a family because of a lost pregnancy, infertility, and adoption. As a pastor, Nate has cried with countless people experiencing deep and overwhelming pain. They want answers but perhaps even more, they want someone to sit with them as they lament.
Cliché Christianity tells us not to ask questions in hard times. Yet transformation awaits us in the dark night of the soul. In More Than You Can Handle, Nate asks with you: “God, where are you in this pain? Why don’t you step in and act?” Because when we courageously bring all of who we are to all of who God is—and stop pretending we can “handle” life—we encounter the God of Redemption. The good news isn’t that we can handle everything, but rather that God promises to be with us at the very moments we can’t handle anything.
Skillfully weaving together his own story, the stories of others, and a powerful look at the life of Jesus, Nate delivers a fresh and timely response to the pain we each experience. As Nate reminds us, the only thing more overwhelming than the pain of life is the love of a God who carries that pain with us.
Nate Pyle is husband to Sarah, is dad to Luke, Evelyn, and Wesley, and serves as pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana. Nate is the author of Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood and blogs regularly at natepyle.com. His work has been featured at sojourners.com, The Huffington Post, Christ and Pop Culture, and various other publications. Connect with Nate on Facebook or Twitter and Instagram at @natepyle79.
According to the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (one of the many study references available to you when you become a member of Bible Gateway Plus), the story is set during the era when the Persians ruled over Judah, in the reign (486—465 BC) of King Xerxes (Hebrew “Ahasuerus”):
The Jews became subjects of the Persian Empire when Cyrus the Great, king of Media and Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BC. (Babylon had taken over Judah in 605 BC, and many Jews were deported to Babylon as captives from 605 to 586 BC.) Even though Cyrus had issued a decree allowing the Jewish captives to return to their homeland, many had chosen to remain in Babylon. After living there for almost half a century, they had become well settled and prosperous. The thought of returning to the ruined and isolated land of Judah had little appeal to them. Some of these Jews made their way even farther east, to the new seat of power in the Eastern world: Susa, the capital of Persia. There they again found that ambitious and capable individuals could attain positions of affluence and influence, as the case of Nehemiah, cupbearer for King Artaxerxes I, demonstrates. Esther’s story is set in this community of Persian Jews — far from their homeland, yet true to their heritage.
When discussing Esther’s literary context, we cannot fail to take note of its conspicuously “secular” character. Not only is Esther the only biblical book that contains no reference to God; it also contains no prayers, sacrifices, or any other religious observances. To say that this absence is unusual would be an understatement: almost all ancient Near Eastern literature is permeated with religious language. The lack of religious references in the book of Esther is highly remarkable — and almost certainly intentional. Perhaps there is some deliberate irony intended, for God seems to lurk everywhere in the background of this book, in the unlikely coincidences and remarkable deliverances that make the story so entertaining.
One of the most famous heroines of the Bible, Esther is the perfect example of a regular person who finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly in a position to do great good—or to refrain from acting, and let terrible evil play out. When she confronts the Persian king to plead on behalf of her people, she is risking her life. When Esther points this out to her uncle Mordecai, he responds with an inspiring challenge: “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:10-14).
So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them, the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time, that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants. Esther 9:26-28
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“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time.” After all Jonah had done (and failed to do), God still offered him a second chance to be a leader of great influence. What does a “second time” mean?
The first time is lost. What might Jonah’s life have been like if he’d obeyed the first time? We will never know. You will never know what impact you will forfeit or the consequences that will come from your disobedience.
You need grace. Jonah is the prodigal son of the Old Testament. Both men received mercy and grace instead of justice. Be thankful for the grace God gives you if you receive a second chance.
God has a purpose for your life. God’s purposes are stronger than our failures. He didn’t allow Jonah’s initial failure
to be the end of the story.
You have an opportunity to make a better choice. Jonah obeyed God the second time. Saying “Yes, Lord” can change your life and leadership. While it’s always better to make the right choice the first time, God is gracious. As he did with Jonah, he may offer another opportunity to make the right choice. When you get a second chance, make it count!
You can be different. Because Jonah took God’s second chance, 120,000 people heard God’s message, repented, and were saved. You have no idea how many people you can help if you seek God’s forgiveness, obey his calling, and take the second chance he offers you to lead with excellence.
Today’s post is adapted from Dr. Karen H. Jobes’ Letters to the Church, available in MasterLectures, a new video-streaming platform that offers unlimited access to thousands of videos on the Bible and theology.
The Book of James is a short letter full of practical insights into Christian living.
James was a prominent leader of the early church. He uses his letter to expound on the true nature of faith and teach about the behavior and perspectives believers should embody.
His letter is packed with powerful lines and memorable imagery. It embodies many of the essential teachings and beliefs of early Christianity.
Let’s take a look at ten of the key themes in this short New Testament book.
1. God is the source of all wisdom
The Greek word for wisdom (sophia) occurs four times in the letter of James (1:5; 3:13, 15, 17). Wisdom is not a topic or theme of the book of James, but it is an assumed value essential for Christian living and under which all the various topics of the book are subsumed. James applied Jewish wisdom as it was developed and controlled by the teachings of Jesus to other practical topics for the wise Christian believer to take to heart in his or her life.
James also considers the teachings of Jesus, which took the understanding of the law to a new level, and brings this rich tradition to the issues he felt were pressing at that moment, and which retain their significance for life as a Christian today.
2. Testing and trials
Our lives are full of trials. James understands the true goal of trials to be perseverance. And perseverance works toward spiritual maturity and wholeness, which James implies are worthy goals for Christians. He says that eternal life (“the crown which is life”) is the reward of those who persevere under trial.
Professor Robert Wall says:
“[James] is a book written for readers whose faith in God is threatened by a daily struggle with hardship. This ‘testing of faith’ is provoked by a variety of external and historical circumstances or ‘trials.’ Yet more importantly, every test occasions a theological crisis, when the believer is more easily deceived or confused about who God is and how God acts.”
The one who successfully perseveres under testing is the one who does not let their own evil desire drag them into the downward spiral of sin and death (1:13–15). Those desires for evil are contrary to every good and perfect gift, which comes from the Father who gives life through the word of truth (1:16–17).
James invites his readers to live wisely by choosing life rather than death.
3. Wealth and oppression
Socioeconomic disparity, both in society and in the church, seems to have been a major concern in James’s mind as he wrote this letter.
He introduces the topic by leveling the differences between the “humble” and the rich when viewed from the perspective of spiritual realities (1:9–11).
The humble believer—even though they may be dismissed by society—has received every privilege from God, who gives without consideration of one’s material resources.
Rich believers have been humbled, because no amount of wealth could buy what they have received from God in Christ; therefore, their resources are worthless in view of the gospel and can be no source of pride within the Christian community.
4. Material things will not last
The poor, without material resources, have also received the riches of God’s grace in Christ.
Furthermore, the rich and poor are alike in another way—both will pass away.
Whatever protection the rich think their wealth will afford against the ups and downs of life, allowing them to live in relative luxury, is fleeting and temporary—their lives are like wildflowers that have a short time of glory and then wither and pass away.
In other words, in light of spiritual realities, financial resources or the lack of them are irrelevant to one’s standing with God and one’s inevitable future. For this reason, they should not be a defining issue in the social dynamic of the Christian church.
5. The unjust rich
James does, however, issue a prophetic denouncement of those rich who have accumulated their wealth by the oppression and exploitation of others (5:1–6).
The harsh pronouncement of their coming misery suggests that even self-professing Christians who have so unjustly earned their wealth at the expense of others have missed the point of the gospel and will suffer judgment not different from the unbelieving rich.
By putting the accumulation of money above love for others, such people are the “adulterous people” (4:4) who stand in enmity against God because of their friendship with the world. The very wealth on which such people rely will be the witness against them.
6. Everything belongs to God
All of James’s discussion of wealth is intended to put the Christian’s resources, no matter how little or how much, under God’s sovereignty.
To plan to do business and make money apart from recognition of God’s control over one’s life speaks of an evil arrogance that is incompatible with spiritual maturity (4:13–16).
In our times of enormous corporate scandal and financial scams from which certain people have gained extreme wealth, issues of rich and poor continue to entangle the church. James expects those with resources to do more than have pity on others who live in poverty and to do something to provide for their food and shelter (2:14–16). Christians of poor nations indict the North American church for its lack of concern about clean water and adequate food in the poverty-stricken nations. The enticement of wealth is still a great danger to Christians today.
While favoritism may seem like a small infraction, James points out that showing favoritism, especially in the Christian community, is breaking the royal law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This command is second only to loving God wholeheartedly.
Recognizing that the “royal law” sums up all of the commandments that govern relationships between people, James points out, “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:9–10).
Just as adultery and murder violate love for neighbor, so does favoritism. And then, as now, an inordinate valuing of those who possess material riches drove favoritism.
Rich people, whether understood as fellow believers or unbelieving visitors, should especially not be shown favoritism in the gatherings of the Christian community (2:1–13). Their show of wealth in the way they dress is not reason to receive more honorable treatment in the community. Similarly, the poor person should not be dishonored or treated as lesser because of the way they dress.
All believers and visitors should be welcomed alike, without regard for wealth. Anything else violates the great command of love for one’s neighbor.
8. Godly speech
One of the New Testament’s foremost ethical concerns is how people, especially God’s people, use words. Speech is the primary way in which we interact with others, and it shapes our relationships day by day throughout our lives. James is particularly concerned with godly speech and lays out some principles:
Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (1:19).
The religion of those who do not have control over their mouths is worthless (1:26).
Teachers are held especially accountable for what they say, and for that reason James cautions that not many among his readers should presume to teach (3:1–2).
Although the tongue is a small part of the human body, it is the part that steers the course of the whole of one’s life (3:3–5
A Christian must not presume to praise the Lord while cursing others (3:9–12). Godly speech is consistently wholesome.
Those who speak slanderously to accuse someone of violating God’s law is breaking the law themselves (4:11–12).
Christians should not swear, that is, take oaths, by created things. A simple yes or no should be as binding as any oath, for keeping one’s word is one’s integrity (5:12).
Then, as now, Christians lie, break promises, spread gossip, violate confidences, and use their words to promote themselves and put down others. James wants his readers to understand that what a person says is an expression of what that person is.
9. Faith and good deeds
A faith that can look on others in need of food and shelter and pronounce a blessing without doing something to help provide their physical needs is not the kind of faith that saves (2:14–17).
A faith that consists of mental assent to doctrinal statements but has no outward expression in life is not the kind of faith that saves (2:18–19).
James gives two telling examples of faith that was expressed in action: Abraham and Rahab.
The kind of faith that Abraham had (which was reckoned as saving faith) was the kind of faith that motivated his action to obey God even against all human reason (2:21–24).
And Rahab’s faith motivated her to put her own life at risk as she harbored and protected the spies who were God’s people (2:26).
James chose two examples of deeds expressing faith that have nothing to do with the law of Moses. Abraham lived centuries before Moses brought the law of the covenant to the people. And Rahab was a Gentile who had most likely not even heard of the law at the time she acted.
These examples indicate that James is not directly engaging Paul, who spoke of the impotence of observing the law of Moses for salvation.
In fact, James may have chosen these examples to avoid being read against Paul’s teaching of salvation by faith alone. James would agree that it is faith in Christ that saves; Paul would agree that such faith in Christ must result in behavior that expresses the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13–26).
10. The Law
James does not directly refer to the law of Moses. He refers to the law in other ways:
He speaks of “the perfect law that gives freedom” (1:24; 2:12).
In 2:8 he refers to “the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This is one of the two commands that Jesus said summed up all the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).The faith that saves is a faith that motivates deeds of love for neighbor, such as providing for the physical needs of the poor (2:14–17), looking after orphans and widows (1:27), taming the tongue from hurting others (3:1–12; 4:11), desisting from fights and quarrels (4:1–3), and turning others back to the truth (5:19–20).
James’s vision for Christian morality and ethics moves beyond a legalism that demands compliance with individual commandments, applying Jesus’ teaching that all of the commandments can be summed up in love for neighbor and love for God.
As Jewish people came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah and realized that it was his death and resurrection that saved them from their sins, a natural question would be what “laws” they might still need to observe.
James, following Jesus’ teaching, completely transposes the ethical basis of Christian faith from any form of legalism to the more demanding law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
Saint Patrick is not an officially canonized saint by the Catholic church, his birth name was Maewyn Succat (or Sucat), and he wasn’t originally from Ireland.
He was born at the end of the 4th century in what is now Dumbarton, Scotland (northwest of Glasgow). By his own admission, he ignored Christianity until he was kidnapped when he was 16 years old and taken with thousands of others as a slave to Ireland where he prayed in bondage and servitude for six years. He escaped, returned home, and—motivated by his deep Christian faith—returned as a missionary to Ireland in his mid-40s, successfully converting many pagans in his journeys throughout the country.
According to Jacob J. Prahlow in his paper, The Scriptures of Saint Patrick, while the medieval 5th century of Saint Patrick’s day saw “a lack of single-volume complete Bibles,” there existed “two different Latin Bible translations, the Vetus Latina and Jerome’s Vulgate, which were often mixed in medieval manuscripts. Amid this context, Patrick demonstrates a remarkably dynamic scriptural consciousness, through which he relies on the biblical text as the source of his structure, arguments, and as the foundation (coordinated with revelatory experiences of God) of his theology. Vital to this process are the Gospels, Pauline Epistles, and Psalter, though Patrick employed and had access to many of the writings in the Christian canon.”
Following are examples of Patrick’s dependence on the Bible (click the links to read the Scriptures in both English and Latin on Bible Gateway), excerpted from his Confesio:
So it is that I should mightily fear, with terror and trembling, this judgment on the day when no one shall be able to steal away or hide, but each and all shall render account for even our smallest sins before the judgment seat of Christ the Lord.
Thus I give untiring thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation, so that today I may confidently offer my soul as a living sacrifice for Christ my Lord; who am I, Lord? or, rather, what is my calling? that you appeared to me in so great a divine quality, so that today among the barbarians I might constantly exalt and magnify your name in whatever place I should be, and not only in good fortune, but even in affliction? So that whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I should accept it equally, and give thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him, implicitly and forever, and who will encourage me so that, ignorant, and in the last days, I may dare to undertake so devout and so wonderful a work; so that I might imitate one of those whom, once, long ago, the Lord already pre-ordained to be heralds of his gospel to witness to all peoples to the ends of the earth. So are we seeing, and so it is fulfilled; behold, we are witnesses because the gospel has been preached as far as the places beyond which no man lives.