Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 6, Have The Nature Of A Servant

Paul stresses the importance of unity among believers. Unity can't be achieved if we have self-seeking attitudes, so he urges us to be like Christ who had the nature of a servant. Christ had the right to come to earth and be served by man, but instead He came with a love and a humility of spirit that compelled Him to serve man.

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind." (Philippians 2:1-2) He says, "Have you found encouragement in your relationship with Christ? Encourage others. Are you comforted by the love of Christ? Love others. Are you indwelt by the same Spirit as your brothers and sisters in Christ? Of course you are, so treat them as members of your family. Have you experienced tenderness and compassion from Christ? Show tenderness and compassion to those around you. Don't allow anything to divide you. Don't argue over minor points of doctrine. You are saved by the same gospel. You are the children of God. Put your differences aside and be a loving family."

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit." (Philippians 2:3a) There is a difference between normal ambition and selfish ambition. It's not a sin to further our education or to perform honest hard work in order to provide a better living for ourselves and our families. Paul is talking about the kind of ambition that makes us jealous and covetous. It's the type of ambition that causes us to think, "I'm better-looking and funnier than Mary Jo. I deserve to be more popular than she is. I'm going to try to make everyone at church like me more than they like her." It's the type of ambition that makes us enviously say to ourselves, "I'm smarter than Rick. Why should he have a nicer house and newer car than I do? I'm going to do everything I can to get more than he has, even if I have to backstab him at work." Is this how we would treat one of our biological siblings that we love? I have a biological brother and sister, and I'm happy when things go well for them. I'm not jealous of them. I love them and want the best for them. Paul is saying we should feel the same for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When our fellow Christian gets a promotion at work, we should rejoice with him, not compare our income with his. When our fellow Christian is considered the most popular Sunday school teacher at church, we ought to thank God for giving us such a gifted teacher, not be envious. If some of our fellow Christians have happier marriages or better behaved children than we do, we shouldn't feel resentful and jealous, but we should rejoice that they aren't enduring struggles at home.

"Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3b-4) Self-centered people aren't happy people. Sometimes we wrongly assume that "looking out for number one" is the only way to get what we want and be satisfied with life. But just the opposite is true. Loving others and caring about their welfare will make us more satisfied with life. God created us with a need for relationships with our fellow man, and we can't have happy relationships with others if we are interested only in ourselves. We won't be healthy mentally or emotionally if we don't maintain good relationships with other people. I would venture to say we will even be healthier physically if we engage with others in godly and loving ways.

Was Christ happy? I think He was. I think when He was serving others and interacting with them in loving ways He was very happy. He loved us enough to die for us so we could be in His presence forever. He wouldn't have given all He had to make this possible if it didn't please Him to interact with us. So Paul urges us to be like Him. "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:5-7) If Christ didn't consider Himself too good to serve human beings, then certainly we can't consider ourselves too good to serve our fellow man.

"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death---even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:8) Because Christ came to earth as a man, as a man He submitted Himself to the will of God. He agreed to do His part in God's plan of salvation. He was willing to give anything it took to save us. If Christ was willing to give Himself in this way, can we not give our love and our time and our encouragement to those around us?

"Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11) God the Father rewarded the willing sacrifice of God the Son. When the clock winds down on this old fallen world, and each person who has ever lived has to stand before God, even those who have rejected Christ will have to bow their knees to Him and admit that He is Lord.

God will also reward our sacrifices. "God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them." (Hebrews 6:10) We show our love for God by loving our fellow man. If we say we love someone, but are unwilling to sacrifice anything for them, we are deceiving ourselves. Love that isn't sacrificial isn't love at all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 5, Conduct Yourselves In A Worthy Manner

I don't know whether Paul had any inkling of Nero's growing hatred for Christians or of the intense persecution that was going to come against Christians in the Roman Empire, but he has already experienced persecution from his own people. He knows that wherever the gospel goes, opposition to the gospel will arise. He tells the believers of Philippi to stand firm no matter what comes, and to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you." (Philippians 1:27-28a) The word we find translated as "conduct" is the Greek "politeuomai", which means "to behave as a citizen". Paul is saying, "No matter what circumstances you find yourselves in, behave like citizens of Christ's kingdom."

In telling his readers not to be frightened, he's not speaking of the natural concern anyone would feel when faced with persecution. He uses the Greek word "pturo", a word that can mean "to be terrified, to cower, to stampede in fright". Remember how the disciples fled the Garden of Gethsemane in terror when Jesus was arrested? This is type of fear Paul is telling his readers they won't give in to if they stand firm in the power of the Holy Spirit and if they maintain unity with one another. Remember how Peter was so frightened on the night of Jesus' trial that he denied he knew Him? This is type of fear Paul is saying they need not experience. The terror of the disciples was a terror they experienced before the death and resurrection of Christ, and before Christ ascended to heaven, and before the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers. We don't have to face our fears alone. We have the Holy Spirit living within us and we are to rely on Him for the power to stand firm.

Next Paul says that standing firm in the faith, no matter how fierce the opposition, is a sign to the enemies of the gospel. "This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved---and that by God." (Philippians 1:28b) Enemies of the gospel are like terrorists. Terrorists may manage to kill or maim people, but they can't kill or maim all of the people that they hate, and so their primary motive is to provoke fear in as many people as possible. After all, they aren't called "terrorists" for nothing. The Lord Jesus tells us that there is only One for whom we should feel fear---a holy and reverential fear---and that is God, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) The inability of the enemies of the gospel to strike abject terror in the hearts of the Christians is a sign to them that they have no real power over the people of God. It's a sign to them (though they may not acknowledge or accept it) that they are headed for eternal damnation, for they do not possess the power that God's people possess. The enemies of the gospel do not know or fear the one true God, and therefore they are in danger of facing judgment from the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

Suffering is unavoidable in this fallen world. If we belong to Christ, suffering for the gospel is also unavoidable, for, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) Not everyone will face the type of persecution Paul faced, but I guarantee you that there will be people who don't like us simply because we are Christians. Some of the persecution we face will be passive, such as being left out of things. Some will be more obvious, such as being made fun of or passed over for promotions. In our nation we are already seeing the tide turning against the Christian faith and I fear it's only going to get worse. We don't know how fierce the opposition against the gospel is going to become, but anyone who follows Christ is going to be confronted with some type of persecution. "For it has been granted you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have." (Philippians 1:29-30)

Paul was willing to suffer for Christ because Christ had suffered for him. That same attitude should be in us because the same Spirit is in us that was in Paul. Though I'm sure Paul would rather have avoided the beatings and imprisonments he suffered, he understood that suffering for Christ brought him closer to Christ. This doesn't mean we are to seek out suffering, but that if our faith brings suffering upon us we are to endure it staunchly through the power of the Holy Spirit, ever growing closer to the One who suffered for us. Suffering for our faith shows us who we really are; if persecution doesn't draw us closer to Christ then our hearts aren't where they need to be. But if, as Paul says, in our persecution we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, we know we are living in close fellowship with our Lord.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 4, To Live Is Christ; To Die Is Gain

The letter to the Philippians is considered Paul's most joyful letter. He concluded yesterday by saying that he rejoices that the name of Christ is being preached. He picks up again today by speaking of his joy, for he is determined that whether he lives or dies, Christ is all that matters.

"Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance." (Philippians 1:18b-19) At first glance it would appear that Paul expects to be set free, but I don't believe that's what he's saying. He hopes to be set free, naturally. But in the context of the remainder of our passage today, it doesn't seem that Paul had any idea whether or not he would be set free or whether or not he would die for the faith. In my opinion, what Paul feared most wasn't death. What he feared most was failing to do everything he possibly could for Christ. The deliverance he sought was not release from prison although he would have made the most of his freedom by continuing to travel to regions where the gospel had never been taught. The deliverance he desired was not from death, although he would have used all the years of a long life to lead others to the Lord. His fear is that he may fail to fully carry out his calling for the Lord, and that to him is a fate worse than death.

"I eagerly hope and expect that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." (Philippians 1:20) It's easy to see why Paul may have spent sleepless nights worrying he might give in to fear. Fear was a tactic he used against the church before his conversion. He persuaded some to renounce the name of Christ by threatening them with beatings, imprisonment, and death. (Those who refused to give in to fear and renounce Christ experienced---with Paul's approval---beatings, imprisonment, and death.) I think it's only natural he would be concerned about being so overwhelmed by fear that he might stop speaking in the name of Christ in order to save his own life. We know he's already endured a great deal for Christ and it has not stopped him from preaching the gospel. We know he will never disown Christ, but he understands the weakness of the flesh and the human instinct for self-preservation. Fear of death, especially a torturous death, is capable of making anyone go silent. He knows that due to fear the Apostle Peter denied three times that he knew Christ. He knows that he himself caused Christians to claim they didn't know Christ. This is why I think that the prayer Paul most wants the Philippians to pray for him is the prayer he asked the Ephesians to pray for him, "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (Ephesians 6:19-20)

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) This is something everyone who is in Christ can say. Our lives should be centered on Christ; therefore to live is Christ. To die is gain because we will leave this world to be with Him forever. When we think of it like this, we realize that everything is Christ. This life is Christ. Death is Christ. Eternity is Christ. Nothing ever has or ever will matter more than Christ.

"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:22-24) Although his words make it sound as if the choice is up to him, Paul is not expressing any suicidal thoughts. He's not saying he'd like to take his life so he can leave this world to be with Christ. I think he's saying that if it were up to him, he'd be happy to have the Lord call him home right now.

We've all had days when we wished the Lord would just call us on out, haven't we? We can understand why Paul says that to be with Christ is "better by far" than remaining in this fallen world. But Paul is going to live on for a time because he still has things the Lord wants him to do on the earth. You and I are still alive and kicking this morning because the Lord still has things for us to do on earth. Of course we'd be happier in the presence of our Lord, but for the benefit of our fellow man we must remain here for a time to be a light to them. Paul understands this is why he is still living, so he says, "But it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:24) The churches Paul founded are still young. They still need his wisdom and encouragement.

"Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." (Philippians 1:25-26) History is not very clear on the details of Paul's death. We can see that when he wrote this letter he still hoped to be set free to resume his missionary travels, but early church tradition tells us that he was beheaded on orders of Emperor Nero, probably somewhere between 64 AD and the end of Nero's reign in 68 AD. Nero's persecution of Christians really began to break out following the great fire of 64 AD, a fire which he is believed to have instigated and blamed on the Christians, much in the same way that the Nazis are believed to have burned the Reichstag and blamed it on the Communists. If Paul is writing the letter to the Philippians in around 62 AD, as many scholars believe, then he has somewhere between two to six years left to live.

In verse 26 above Paul concludes our section today by saying that the Philippians will boast in Christ Jesus on account of him. They will praise the Lord for the courage and strength He's given Paul during all his adversities. They're going to thank the Lord for sending Paul to them in the first place to preach the gospel, and for helping Paul to stay in touch with them so their own strength and courage could grow. If Paul is set free they are going to rejoice. If Paul gives his life for the faith they're still going to rejoice that he stood strong til the end.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 3, Rejoicing About The Ministries Of Others

Yesterday Paul assured the believers of Philippi that what seems like bad luck for him has actually helped the gospel message to spread in Rome. Since he is not a dangerous prisoner, he's merely under house arrest, which means there is always at least one guard posted but it also means he is allowed to received visitors. Luke told us in the book of Acts that Paul preached the gospel in the house for two years to everyone who was willing to come hear it. I wouldn't doubt that hundreds of people came to believe on Christ after hearing about Him in Paul's house.

Today Paul tells his readers that because he boldly speaks in the name of Christ while a prisoner, other believers have been emboldened to preach the name of Christ. "And because of my chains, most of my brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear." (Philippians 1:14) They are encouraged by Paul's behavior, for most of them are still walking around freely, and I suppose they think to themselves, "If Paul can conduct a great ministry for the Lord even though he's a prisoner, surely I have no excuse as a free person not to be working for the Lord."

Not everyone preaching the gospel in Rome is doing it out of pure motives, as Paul has observed. The same is true in our day. Not everyone who is affiliated with the church is there because they love Christ. There are other types of needs (other than spiritual) that people are seeking to meet by connecting themselves with the church or with any other religious or social organization. Paul doesn't let it bother him. Instead he chooses to look at the bright side. "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18a)

There were some who saw Paul's imprisonment as an opportunity to become more popular than he was. He wasn't concerned with his own popularity but with Christ's. There were some who were such eloquent speakers that they could charge admission to hear their sermons. Paul always preached the gospel free of charge, believing rightly that every human being deserves the opportunity to hear about Christ. Although he's observed unscrupulous men using the gospel message to serve their own interests, he isn't angry about it. Instead he rejoices, because the message they are preaching is the same message he's preaching, and their motives don't matter because the power of the message doesn't come from their motives but from the Holy Spirit.

I daresay that many a person has been saved under the preaching of a man whose heart wasn't right with God. The person providing the message may have had wrong motives, but the people who heard the message believed it and accepted Christ as their Savior. Many years ago I was greatly comforted by a message taught by a well-known television evangelist who has since had some unsavory details of his personal life come out and who has given up the ministry. The verse this man preached on was exactly the verse I needed for what was happening in my life. The Holy Spirit took that verse and promised me that my situation was going to turn around in ways I couldn't even imagine. The verse was, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten." (Joel 2:25a) The Lord kept that promise! I went through three of the toughest years I'd ever been through but the Lord has given me nine happier years since. He's repaid me three times over for the years the locusts had eaten! I don't know if the preacher's heart was right with God when he preached that message or not. But I know the Lord spoke to me through the Scripture that was quoted in the message. The same thing was happening in Rome, so Paul says he rejoices. No matter what the motive, other men were preaching about Christ, and people were being saved and helped.

As long as people aren't perverting the gospel of Christ, we don't have to concern ourselves with their motives. God knows whether they're preaching for the wrong reasons and He'll deal with that in the right time and in the right way. We also don't need to compare our work for the Lord with the work others are doing for the Lord. This isn't a popularity contest. We each have a calling of the Lord on our lives and we owe it to Him and to our fellow man to carry out our calling to the best of our abilities. Comparing ourselves with others isn't going to improve on our ministries; it's only going to make us selfish and envious. Do you recall when the Lord warned Peter that he would give his life for the gospel and Peter wanted to know what was going to happen to John? The Lord said to him, "What is that to you? As for you, follow Me." (John 21:22b) Our job is to follow Christ. Our job is not to search out the false teachers and preachers. Our job is not to try to be better servants of the gospel than our neighbors. It's not our business how the Lord is going to use our brothers and sisters in Christ to advance the gospel, so He says to us, "What is that to you? Follow Me."

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 2, In Chains For Christ

We learned earlier in the writings of Paul that instead of deploring his circumstances, he had learned to rejoice in them. He said that because God's grace was sufficient for him, he would take delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, and in difficulties. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) So today we find him showing gratitude for the privilege of being in chains for preaching the gospel of Christ.

In our study yesterday he told the believers of Philippi that he prayed joyfully for them every time he thought of them. He picks up there by saying, "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:7-8) He says, "I wish I could be with you. But whether I am with you, or whether I am a prisoner in Rome, you are always in my heart and always in my prayers. God is a witness to this."

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ---to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11) This is a beautiful prayer we can pray for anyone. It's an especially good prayer to pray for your children.

"Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel." (Philippians 1:12) The believers of Philippi feel badly for Paul. They'd give anything if he hadn't been arrested and if he weren't a prisoner in Rome. But he wants to put their minds at ease. What to them seems like a bad turn of events is actually part of God's plan for helping the gospel message to reach people in Rome.

"As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ." (Philippians 1:13) Everyone who knew of Paul knew why he was in Rome. They knew he was awaiting trial before Emperor Nero where he would put on his defense---a defense which would actually be a sermon that declares Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Naturally those who interacted with him while he was a prisoner were curious ahead of the trial about what the gospel was, how it led to his current situation, and why it was said that the men who were preaching the gospel were turning the world upside down. (Acts 17:6)

I believe we can safely assume that at least some of those who guarded Paul converted to Christ. The family members of these guards likely converted to Christ. People in the community came to hear Paul preach the gospel and I am certain some of them converted to Christ. Paul was not considered a dangerous prisoner and he was allowed far more privileges than those with criminal records and a propensity for violence, so it would appear that visitation was not restricted in any way. He didn't even have to live in a prison but in a private house, as Luke told us in Acts 28:30-31,"For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ---with all boldness and without hindrance!"

I wonder if we wouldn't feel a lot better about our circumstances if we followed Paul's example. What if, when we're going through hard times, we asked ourselves, "How can these circumstances be used to advance the gospel of Christ?"

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Philippians. Day 1, God Will Complete His Good Work In Us

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the believers of Philippi in about 62 AD while he was a prisoner in Rome awaiting trial. He has already waited two years for his trial, having arrived in Rome in 60 AD. When he writes to the Philippians he doesn't yet know that he will never be a free man again, for he will speak of waiting to see how things are going to go for him. He doesn't know that he will lose his life during the reign of Emperor Nero to whom he appealed (which was his right as a Roman citizen) when he was arrested in Jerusalem. He expected a fair trial in Nero's court, but while he awaits his day in court a rabid hatred for Christians is beginning to simmer in Nero's heart. This mad emperor will soon become the Adolf Hitler of his day, being as much of an enemy to the Christians as Hitler was to the Jews.

Although Paul's circumstances are troubling, his letter to the Philippians is filled with joy. It's my favorite of all of Paul's letters. If I were in his shoes, I'd probably be concerned only with my own circumstances. I'd be feeling pretty down and out and I'd be looking for encouragement. But instead Paul spends his time encouraging and praying for his fellow believers. Maybe that's why he was able to endure his circumstances with such courage: he spent more time thinking about others than he did thinking about himself.

As we've already learned, Paul normally dictated his letters instead of putting pen to paper himself, and I think his friend Timothy was probably the one he dictated this letter to, for he mentions him in his salutation. "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:1-2) Have you ever thought of yourself as one of God's holy people? That's exactly who you are! You have been clothed with the holiness of Christ and if Paul were writing a letter to you today he'd say, "Greetings to you, God's holy person in Christ Jesus." You will never struggle with feelings of worthlessness if you keep in mind who God says you are in Christ. You are holy, chosen, precious, and loved.

Paul is going to tell his readers that he's praying for them. We love knowing people are praying for us, don't we? It comforts us to know others are lifting our names up to the Lord. There are times when we're so worried or grief-stricken that we can't pray for ourselves, and it's a relief to know that others are doing for us what we can't do for ourselves. Paul assures the church members of Philippi that they are constantly in his prayers. "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:3-6)

God's good work in us began on the day we accepted Christ Jesus as Lord. He continues to work on us every day, conforming us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) God doesn't start projects and not finish them. He's never going to walk off and leave us half-done. He's not going to grow bored or tired or impatient. Until the day Christ comes, and we see Him as He is and we become like Him (1 John 3:2), God is busy doing a work of continual improvement in us. This work will be complete when our bodies, like our souls, have been transformed and we receive a body like Christ's.

The children's choir at my church often sings a little song called "He's Still Working On Me". For some reason that song was stuck in my head all day yesterday and I kept singing it over and over while I did my housework. The chorus goes: "He's still working on me, to make me what I need to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars, the sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars. How loving and patient He must be, 'cause He's still working on me."

We are far more important to the Lord than anything else He made. He's not going to stop working on us until we are complete and perfect. He's not going to say, "I've had enough! This one isn't ever going to come out right." Like a potter, He's going to work and rework us like clay. A day is coming when He will stand back and views us with satisfaction in the same way a craftsman views with satisfaction a job well done.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Letter Of James, Brother Of Jesus. Day 21, Praying In Faith

We conclude the book of James today with some comforting words about the prayer of faith.

"Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray." (James 5:13a) Trouble is probably what sends us to our knees the most, and this fallen world is full of trouble. The Lord Jesus never promised us easy lives, but instead He said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33b) Jesus gives it to us straight. As long as we live on this earth we're going to experience troubled times. But we have a refuge in Him. We have a hiding place. We can go to the Lord and say the same thing David said, "Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in You I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of Your wings until the disaster has passed." (Psalm 57:1b)

"Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise." (James 16:13b) I admit to you that some days I'll ask the Lord's help for something, and after He works my situation out I'll realize many hours later that I forgot to give Him thanks. One of the most beautiful ways we can give thanks and honor to the name of our Lord is to sing songs of praise to Him. You don't have to be a gifted singer. I'm certainly not, but I love singing along with praise music on the radio. The Lord honors what's in our hearts and He doesn't care whether we have a great voice or not. In fact, I think every song of praise sung from the heart is equally beautiful to Him. I don't know whether David had a beautiful voice, but he loved to sing the praises of the Lord, and he composed many songs for Him in both good times and bad times. So I'd like to add this to what James has said: "Is anyone sad? Let them sing songs of praise." There are going to be days when we don't feel like singing, but we should sing anyway, because it has a way of lifting our spirits. It reminds us of who our God is and what our God has done and what our God is going to do.

"Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:14-16) We practice anointing in my church. My sister was recently anointed at church after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis. The pastor takes olive oil (which represents the Holy Spirit) and with his finger makes the shape of the cross on the sick person's forehead. Then all the ministers, deacons, elders, family members of the sick, friends, and anyone else in the church who wants to participate gathers in a circle around the sick person to intercede for them with the Lord.

Some Bible scholars like to say that James's advice was good only for the apostolic age when signs and wonders abounded in the early church. But I disagree, as do many others who have far more education and experience in the Scriptures than I have. James doesn't say that the gift of healing comes from an apostle who possesses the gift of healing; he very clearly credits the Lord with the healing. Is he guaranteeing us that everyone we pray for in faith will be healed? That's a loaded question, because he links healing with being forgiven and being "raised up", so in some cases he may mean that person's eventual and eternal healing, or he may be referring to salvation, or he may be thinking of the resurrection when we will have immortal bodies like the Lord's. Nevertheless, I've seen people healed by the Lord after obeying the words of James in verses 14-16. Quite a few of them were people whose doctors had given them no hope. Others have been healed of what should have been lifelong chronic illnesses. I can't explain these healings except to give all the credit to the Lord, as James does.

One thing we can be sure of is that if we want to see our prayers answered, we have to pray in the faith that God is able to answer our prayers. James has already discussed that subject earlier in his letter by telling us not to doubt when we pray. (James 1:6-8) For proof that James is correct, we can take a look at what happened when Jesus tried to minister to the people of His hometown. Almost everyone there rejected the idea that He was the Messiah. They had no faith in Him, even though He'd been performing astonishing miracles in other towns. Because of their unbelief, the Bible tells us, "And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:58) It's not that Jesus didn't want to do miracles there, but their lack of faith prevented them from receiving blessings from Him. I don't exactly understand how faith opens up a pathway for blessings, and I'm unclear on how a lack of faith blocks the flow of blessings, but maybe this is why: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) God rewards faith, not unbelief. Faith takes effort, and it takes courage, and it takes patience. It doesn't take any effort, courage, or patience to be faithless. We can see why God would be moved to reward us for maintaining faith in a world that tries our faith every day.

Lest we compare ourselves to the saints and prophets of old and say, "Well of course people like that received rewards for their faith! Somebody like me can't expect to receive answers to big prayers," James tells us, "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops." (James 5:17-18) Elijah was an ordinary man who believed in an extraordinary God. He wasn't perfect anymore than you or I are perfect. God didn't answer Elijah because Elijah was perfect. God answered Elijah because Elijah had faith.

We tend to think God doesn't perform amazing miracles anymore like He did in the Bible days. But if we aren't seeing huge miracles in our own day, maybe that's because we don't have the faith to believe in them. The disciples once asked Jesus why they had failed at performing a miracle in His name. "He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20-21) Are there some mountains in your life that need moving? Pray to the Lord in faith. And if you find yourself believing and doubting at the same time, say to the Lord what a desperate father once said to Him: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24b) Will the Lord honor the prayer of the one who asks for more faith in Him? You can count on it!

James is going to conclude his letter in an abrupt fashion. He's not going to use closing remarks like the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter. It's possible that the lines where he says goodbye to his readers somehow became separated from the rest of this letter, but I have my doubts about that. I think he ends his letter the way he does on purpose, and in a few minutes I'm going to tell you why. "My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)

He wrote his letter to the believers in order to do the very thing he tells us to do in verses 19-20: to bring back those who have wandered from the truth. He wrote his letter to correct erroneous behavior and to counteract wrong doctrine. I think he concludes without any closing remarks because our work for the Lord and for our fellow man is to be ongoing. We are to continually be examining our hearts and lives to see whether we are honoring the Lord, and we are to always be looking for ways to minister to our fellow man, and we are to be growing in faith and in our relationship with the Lord every day. So James doesn't say goodbye and, by not saying goodbye, I think he's saying something like this, "Now go and get on with it. Stay on track. Help others stay on track. Keep the faith."