Nov. 23. Christians Are Different and Special

I Pet. 2:4-17

Individual Christians were referred to as living stones in a spiritual house (the church). Peter wrote of Jesus, a stone that had been rejected by the Jews as a living chief cornerstone in that house. He stated that those who refuse to obey the word of God stumble on the same stone.

Like the Hebrews writer had earlier written about the relationship of Christ as a High Priest who was offered once for the sins of the people, Peter stated that Christians are a royal priesthood. They have become a special people called by God’s mercy from “darkness into His marvelous light.” Under the Jewish law, only priests could speak to God for the people. The Christian dispensation allows individuals to pray to God for themselves through Christ, the High Priest.

Peter wrote in his letter of how different and special Christians are. Even though these believers were scattered and living among Gentile unbelievers, he stressed the importance of their behavior. Their Christ-like examples of good works among unbelievers would bring glory to God in the eyes of those unbelievers.

Among the characteristics of God’s people is their attitude toward civil government. Jesus had taught His hearers to, “Render therefore to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Peter taught that same principle when he admonished to, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” If a law of government does not contradict God’s law, man is compelled by God to comply with that law, even if we think that 55 mph is too slow on the open highway—to disobey is to disobey God.

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Nov. 22. Christians Purchased with Christ’s Blood

I Pet. 1:17-2:3

Christians are valuable. They are not purchased with precious metals like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. God had planned from the beginning to send Christ to die for the sins of the world. Peter said that He was revealed “in these last times.” (The Christian Dispensation)

Those who believe in God and Christ and are obedient to the commands of the gospel are born again to a spiritual family. With this new birth comes the responsibility to not only love God, but also to love one’s spiritual family. This brotherly love was especially essential as the church suffered persecution. Everything pertaining to the flesh is temporary, but the word of God that brings about the spiritual life lasts forever.

Peter instructed his spiritually born-again readers to return to the innocence they had when they were first born into the physical world. Infants are not consumed with hatred, evil speaking and other vices associated with a sinful life. As spiritually newborn babies, Christians should have a fervent hunger for the pure word of God which is their spiritual food.

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Nov. 21. Perseverance in Persecution Rewarded

I Pet. 1:3-16

Peter admonished his readers to realize that even though they were in a state of persecution, this suffering was only temporary and that their faith was more precious than gold. Gold will eventually be destroyed, but faith can endure forever.

Christians possess the salvation of which the inspired prophets of old wrote. Those prophets could not fully comprehend the times of their fulfillment even after diligent searching.

The apostle had pointed out to his readers the great blessings they had in Christ. It was their responsibility even in the face of persecution to determine within themselves that they would press forward in obedience, not turning back to their old lives.

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Nov. 20. Peter’s First Letter

I Pet. 1:1, 2

Simon was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee by trade and was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew. Christ changed his name to Peter or Cephas, a small stone or rock. He became a disciple very near the beginning of the ministry of Christ. His leadership abilities made him very prominent among the apostles. During various events, he would be the first of the group to speak. At times his words and actions were rash and later came back to haunt him just as those of other mortals. However, it was he who first preached the gospel to the Jews on Pentecost and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius.

The first letter by Peter was written from Babylon around A.D. 65. There was much persecution of the church during that period of history. It is recorded that Nero even burned Christians as human torches in his garden. Peter, along with other writers of that time wrote his letter to encourage Christians to remain faithful to Christ even in the face of those cruel and intense sufferings.

Peter began his epistle by identifying himself and asserting his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ to address those who would read his letter. He referred to those addressed as pilgrims (probably included Jews and Gentiles) scattered in areas in the country that is now known as Turkey.

Christians are elected through their obedience to the commands of the gospel to become partakers of the grace, peace, mercy and salvation in heaven that come through the resurrection of Christ.

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Nov. 19. Closing Remarks Encourage Prayer

Jas. 5:13-20

James concluded his letter with an admonition to his readers to pray during various periods of stress (mental and physical) and to sing praises during times of joy. Prayers of thanksgiving are also important to God.

Those who were sick were to call for the elders to anoint them with oil and pray in faith that God would heal them. One must remember that prayers of faith must also be according to God’s will. During the early years of the church, certain individuals had special healing powers given by God. Today, God’s children also have the avenue of prayer and are “anointed with the oil” of modern medical technology.

James instructed his readers to pray not only for physical healing, but also to pray for spiritual healing in the forgiveness of sins. He commanded them to confess their sins and to pray for one another. It was not to be only a one-way confession from one Christian to another, but a reciprocal exchange of confessions and prayers.

According to James, a truly penitent Christian can expect immediate forgiveness of his sins through prayer. He urged those Christians to work toward turning back anyone who had strayed from the truth of the gospel. Having restored such a person to Christ would save his soul from spiritual death and result in the forgiveness of all of his sins and additionally prevent the sins of those who would have been influenced to follow him in his errors.

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Nov. 18. Patience Encouraged; Swearing Condemned

Jas. 5:7-12

The writer returned to the main theme of his letter and encouraged the Jewish Christians to be patient. As a farmer patiently waits for the harvest, they were urged to patiently wait for the Lord’s return. They were to exercise their patience like Job without grumbling about their hardships. No one wants to listen to a complainer, especially God. He destroyed thousands of Jews in the wilderness because of their murmuring.

James emphasized the importance of not using God’s name in a profane and vain (frivolous, irreverent) manner. The first three commandments of the Law of Moses dealt with the proper honor and respect for God and His name.

Many who would not dare to use the words God or Jesus in an expletive as in ”cussing” casually use common derivations of His name in their everyday conversations. Some examples of these words include “Gee, Gosh, Gad, Egad, Lord Have Mercy, Golly, Good Gracious, Good Grief, My Goodness, Goodness Knows, Thank Goodness” and many others. One of the worst on TV and in everyday conversation is, “Oh, my God.” “Heavens, Good Heavens, For Heaven’s Sake” are words used to call the heavens to witness a statement as truth. Another term that is often used in a frivolous way is, “If the good Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise, I will…”

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Nov. 17. Warnings Against Fraudulent Riches

Jas. 5:1-6

In turning his attention to the rich, James denounced them for their love of riches and for the methods by which they had amassed their fortunes. These were unbelievers and probably some unfaithful Christians who had oppressed Christians. Instead of using their wealth to aid the poor, they had actually robbed them in various ways.

James informed the rich of the miseries that would come upon them when they faced God in the judgment. Their expensive garments would be consumed by moths and their precious metals would be corroded because of a lack of use. Their possessions and evil lives would witness against them in the judgment. They were guilty of covetousness, oppression, extravagance and persecution.

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Nov. 16. Admonitions for Righteousness and Humility

Jas. 4:1-17

While stating the qualities of peace found in God’s wisdom, James asked his readers to examine why they were at war among themselves and even within their own souls. He answered his own question by stating that their lusts for pleasures had kept them from a right relationship with God. Some had neglected to pray while others had prayed for the wrong reasons.

Christians are taught to rely upon God for their needs. Their prayers must be for their needs—not pleasures and are to be according to His will. God will not grant improper requests.

James called these Christians adulteresses because of their unfaithfulness in their marriage to Christ. He condemned these spiritual adulteresses for their relationship with the world as a wife who has a relationship with a man who is not her husband. Christians who become friends of the world become enemies of God for He is a jealous God.

Humility is a great characteristic in the eyes of God. James pointed out to his readers that, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Those who would be humble must submit themselves to God by drawing near to Him, cleansing their hands (lives) and purifying their hearts. They must turn from and resist the devil and all that is evil. In their humility, God will lift them up.

Continuing the topic of the improper use of the tongue, James pointed out the need for Christians to refrain from speaking evil or slandering one another. If an evil report is false, it injures an innocent person and causes outsiders to unfairly criticize the church. If it is true, discussing the matter in the community will also bring reproach against the church. Matters of sin within the church must be conducted privately and not through the “court of public opinion.”

James warned his readers about being judgmental. Judging our brother shows a failure to love our brother (neighbor) as ourselves. One can recognize the fruits of good and evil, but judgment belongs to God, the only one true and righteous Lawgiver.

Failure to include God in one’s plans for the future is a serious error in spiritual judgment. James condemned those who would presume to carefully plan their lives with an “I WILL” attitude as if they would live forever. King Solomon warned, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

James stated that no one knows what will happen tomorrow. He described life as a vapor or fog that appears briefly and then dissipates into the atmosphere. Instead of feeling self-sufficient, leaving God out of our lives and arrogantly boasting of what we WILL DO, we should say, “If the LORD WILLS, we shall live and do this or that.” If one does not expressly say, “If the Lord wills,” it should be understood that he has that attitude within his heart.

As Christians, those to whom James was writing knew the Scriptures and the importance of relying upon God in their lives. He informed them that to fail to act properly upon their knowledge was as sinful as it is to disobey a direct command.

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Nov. 15. Wise and Foolish Use of the Tongue

Jas. 3:1-18

James returned from encouraging works of faith to additional warnings about the use of the tongue. He had stated earlier the importance of bridling it. Even though teaching/preaching are important works of faith, not everyone has the proper preparation or control of his tongue to please God in this capacity. One should not speak what he does not know because he may lead others into destruction with himself.

All Christians sometimes stumble and must take care not to fall. An obvious mark of Christian maturity is how one uses his tongue.

The tongue is a small member, but like small horses’ bits and ships’ rudders, it controls one’s body. It is also described as a fire, a world of iniquity and an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. There are many occasions when a tiny spark has caused widespread destruction as its fire raged through forests and homes. Likewise, false teaching will send untold millions of souls into eternal destruction.

Wild animals can be tamed, but not the tongue. It can only be controlled.

Another widespread misuse of the tongue occurs when Christians praise and worship God, but with that same tongue curse their fellow man. James pointed out that it is not natural for both fresh and bitter water to come from the same well or for trees and vines to bear foreign fruits. Man should employ the tongue for its natural use of praising God.

James continued his thoughts toward teachers by contrasting the wisdom of God and man. Even if man has knowledge, he cannot teach without the proper wisdom. This wisdom comes from God and excludes envy, selfish ambition, boasting and lying. These evil attributes come from the wisdom of man.

One’s life of words and works denotes the source of his wisdom. Christians must demonstrate this wisdom from above to be effective teachers. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”

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Nov. 14. Faith Without Works Equals Dead Faith

Jas. 2:14-26

Logic was used to explain that faith without works (words without action) is useless. Empty words do not show faith—faith is made known by the kinds of acts that a person performs. The writer pointed out that even the demons believe in the one God and tremble, but that is not sufficient to please Him. He cited two Old Testament characters, Abraham and Rahab as examples of some who showed their faith by their works of obedience.

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

There are those who insist that there is a contradiction between the teachings of Paul and James regarding faith. Paul, in his letter to the Romans stated that “man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law”, but in that context, he was referring to deeds of the Law of Moses. James, however, was writing about works of obedience to the gospel of Christ—different laws and different dispensations.

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Nov. 13. Warnings Against Discrimination

Jas. 2:1-13

Christians in the early church were sometimes guilty of showing partiality between the rich and the poor. Jesus died for all people and He taught against discrimination during His earthly ministry. James gave plain directions regarding the attitude of Christians toward those who were poor. He reasoned that the poor were more likely to be obedient to the teachings of Christ, whereas, the rich were often oppressors of Christians.

When one treats the poor as inferior to himself and to the rich, he is sinning by not showing a love of his neighbor as himself. Other than man’s love of God, Jesus had proclaimed this as the greatest commandment. James pointed out that committing only one sin causes one to be a sinner. Without an attitude of repentance; walking in God’s light and the forgiving blood of Christ, one sin can separate a person from God as much as total rebellion and disregard for all of His commandments.

James taught that only persons who had shown mercy would receive mercy at the judgment. However, in order for that mercy shown to be profitable, it must be accompanied by merciful deeds.

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Nov. 12. Enduring Temptations; Righteous Living

Jas. 1:9-27

Persecuted Christians undergo many changes in their lives. If they lose their possessions, they should be thankful that they still have the promise of salvation. Should sudden riches come upon them, they must remain humble and focused upon God. Riches as well as life itself are only temporary and can go away as charred grass under the blazing sun.

James pointed out that those who endure temptations will receive a crown of life. Lest anyone should forget that temptations come from Satan, the readers were reminded that God cannot be tempted nor does He tempt anyone. Everything good comes from God.

It is not a sin to be tempted. One sees, desires and is enticed. Sin occurs only when he yields to that temptation. Each person is responsible for his own actions and should avoid circumstances that would draw him into temptations.

When a person is subjected to persecutions and temptations, it is very easy to allow anger to interfere with rational judgment. Since God made Christians new creatures through His truth, James commanded his readers to remember to let His word direct their lives. It is important to realize that merely having the word is insufficient. One must put God’s word, the perfect (complete) law of liberty into action through obedience to it.

Circumstances in life sometimes cause a person to lose control of his tongue and speak harshly. James pointed out that a Christian who does not control his words deceives himself and has a useless religion. He described pure religion as one that lives a spotless life and sees to the needs of others, especially those who are unable to care for themselves.

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Nov. 11. James Writes Letter to Jewish Christians

Jas. 1:1-8

James was a common name for men during the life of Christ and in the early years of the church’s existence. Two of the twelve apostles of Jesus were James, son of Zebedee and James, son of Alphaeus. He had a fleshly half-brother also named James.

Since the writer of the Epistle of James does not specifically identify himself, there is much speculation as to which James is the author of this letter. Most evidence indicates that James, the brother of Jesus wrote this general epistle from Jerusalem to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (Jewish Christians) in about A.D. 63 or possibly even earlier.

The purpose of James’ epistle was to encourage and admonish those Jewish Christians to remain patient and faithful to Christ under difficult conditions. This epistle has been referred to as the Christian book of proverbs.

James began his letter to the persecuted Christians with an admonition that is contrary to human nature. Just as metallic ores must undergo intense heat during the smelting process, Christians should be thankful when they are tried by the heat of persecutions. By enduring these stresses, they become stronger and more patient to live godly lives.

As one undergoes the trials of temptation, he needs wisdom and strength from God. James urged his readers to pray to God to supply the things needed to sustain their spiritual life. Effective prayer must be offered up in faith and not through wavering doubts like unstable waves of the sea.

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Nov. 10. Parting Thoughts from the Hebrews Writer

Heb. 13:1-25

The Hebrews writer ended his letter with some short exhortations leading toward bearing fruits of faith. “Let brotherly love continue.” Paul had admonished the Romans a command even of the old law to love their neighbors as themselves.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers…” Hospitality is an important fruit of a child of God. Kindness of Christians to one another builds faith, soothes sadness and hurt feelings, encourages the weak and gives hope to the downtrodden. Many people have become Christians because of the kindness and hospitality of a loving Christian relative, friend or neighbor.

“Remember the prisoners…” Christians are to reach out to all classes of prisoners, especially those who are in prison because of their faith. As the church is one body, all members feel the pain of a brother being mistreated.

“Marriage is honorable…” God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden and Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding feast. Man must not defile the dignity of marriage through improper and unlawful affections. Those who are guilty of disobeying His rules of purity will be punished.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness…” God has promised His children that they will receive the necessities of life. They should not complain or question Him when they do not get everything that they want when they want it, but they should be content with such things that they have. As Paul wrote later to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”

“Remember those who rule over you…” Some of the early church leaders had been dead for only a brief period of time when the Hebrews letter was written. The writer urged his readers to follow their examples of teaching, praying, obedience and faith. By remembering those leaders and those who were still living, they could avoid being led astray by false teachers who were teaching strange doctrines.

Christians have the responsibility of following and obeying the leaders of their congregations. Those leaders also have the responsibility of leading the church according to the truth of the gospel. Neither can be fully successful without the full cooperation of the other.

Prayer is an important part of the Christian’s life. The author urged the Hebrews to pray for him and those with him as they endeavored to keep the faith and labored in the ministry. He then offered a prayer that they would be complete and that their labor would be pleasing in God’s sight.

With a brief salutation and benediction, the Hebrews letter was complete.

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Nov. 9. Christian Life a Marathon—Not a Sprint

Heb. 12:1-29

Many times, the Christian life has been referred to as a race. After having presented many examples of faithful persons during the Old Testament era, the letter writer pointed out that those who had lived before are now on the sidelines cheering Christians on in their race.

Runners wear light shoes and clothing and remove all unnecessary weights that would slow them down. Christians are to remove the weights of distraction, hindrance and sin and keep their eyes on Jesus, their perfect example waiting at the finish line. The Christian race is nothing compared to the shame and hostility that Jesus suffered on the cross.

In the Christian’s race, it is not a short sprint but a lifetime marathon requiring endurance. In an ordinary race, there is only one winner and the prize for that winner may be a medal. The Christian race has as many winners as finishers. Its prize is eternal life in heaven for all who cross the finish line.

As the Hebrews writer continued, he pointed out that they had not suffered to the extent of Christ and some other Christians. He explained how the sufferings of Christians are, in fact strengthening chastisements from God. Just as fire refines gold and makes it more valuable, overcoming hardships makes a Christian stronger. His heart becomes more pure and humble. If one does not suffer as a Christian, it may mean that he is not truly a child of God.

The Hebrews could understand the reasons for chastisement by their earthly fathers. For this reason, the writer pointed out how much more valuable, even though unpleasant, God’s discipline is in one’s life.

God’s children should accept suffering in faith and in the joy that they are worthy to suffer as Christians. The writer urged the Hebrews to stay strong and encourage those who were weakened and discouraged by their persecutions. One who gives up in discouragement will be lost and others will be discouraged because of him.

The author reminded the Hebrews of another reason for them to be joyful. They had passed from Mount Sinai to the mountain of Zion where the new law with its comfort and encouragement had been given to them to replace the old law of terror and alarm. As had been pointed out earlier, there was no forgiveness in the old law that was given at Mount Sinai, whereas, the new law that originated on Mount Zion (Jerusalem) provided complete forgiveness of sins.

With the coming of a greater law, there was a coming of greater responsibility. God is merciful BUT He is also just. If those who disobeyed Moses’ law were punished, God will be even more strict with those who disobey the law of His Son. “For our God is a consuming fire.”

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