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Fourth Quarter 2014 (October–December)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF JAMES
Week 4: October 18–24
COMMENTARY ON BEING AND DOING
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Day 1: Saturday, October 18, 2014: Introduction
“Yet, even with all that, we may not really be ready to commit ourselves fully into His hands, an action that would be revealed by our works.” (Standard Edition Page 30)
“Know: (1) Recognize that the root of temptation comes from his or her own lusts and desires. (2) Discern that God’s ways are better than his or her own natural ways. (3) Admit that, of ourselves, it is impossible to resist temptation, but with God, all things are possible.
Feel: Experience the power in overcoming temptation that God makes available through His Holy Spirit and His Word, the Bible.
Do: Choose to abandon “the old man of sin” and become a new person in Christ.” (Teachers Edition Page 48)
As has been more common of late, the quarterly that is handed out to the rank-and-file membership says things quite differently than the expanded edition made available to teachers.
I've shown an example above. The Standard Edition points out that a born-again person is gong to experience change, change that person can actually perceive. (There is a gotcha here I'll explain in a moment.)
By contrast, the Teachers Edition makes clear that this week's lesson really is intended to be all about gaining victory over temptation.
So, the Standard Edition proceeds from a position of strength, but the Teachers Edition proceeds from a position of weakness.
Keep this contrast in mind as you study the lesson and this commentary. It makes a huge difference in your life whether you respond to the strength of the indwelling Christ or react to your own weaknesses.
What is the gotcha I mentioned above? The standard operating procedure in all law-based belief systems is to look at your own behavior to see how it stacks up against the Ten Commandments. This leads to one of two equally bad responses. On the one hand, some become arrogant, thinking they have it made. On the other, some become depressed, thinking they'll never measure up. Both responses result in stronger behaviorism, which leads to more arrogance or depression. This is a vicious, downward spiral, threatening not only the individual but everyone that person knows.
It is this behaviorism that makes it impossible to trust ourselves to Jesus. We know inherently that we do not measure up, and we know inherently that no amount of trying can get us there. Therefore, there simply is too much risk to put ourselves into the hands of a perfect God. What else can he do but grind us to powder!
However, the response of faith takes ALL behavior out of the equation. I respond to Jesus' provision of forgiveness and respond to his offer of eternal life. This two-part response results in salvation, when the Spirit takes up residence within. Now, everything in my life is a response to the indwelling Spirit. The changes that result will be astounding, and every victory will be followed by mimicking the twenty-four elders as I fall on my face (sometimes literally) to praise Jesus. The Law simply cannot speak into this example. It has no provenance.
Day 2: Sunday, October 19, 2014: Knowing Your Enemy
“How does the self-image of each of these two men compare with the reality? What do their two different reactions to Jesus’ words say about them?” (Standard Edition Page 31)
There is no difference in attitude between the rich young ruler and Peter. Both exhibited the arrogance I mentioned in the Introduction. The difference is in the timing of their reactions: The rich young ruler's was immediate; Peter's took a few hours.
Any idea that we are capable of behaving or have behaved as God wants is merely self-deception. Again, this is the danger of behaviorism. No wonder Satan spends so much time getting us to try harder and do better.
The quarterly points this out accurately.
The issue here is that both men did exactly what James warns against. Whatever time they spent in front of the mirror was wasted. Notice Verse 21: “...in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (NASB). This harks back to John 1. Jesus is the word. Only he is able to save our souls. But we cannot have him implanted when we arrogantly insist that our efforts are sufficient for anything he desires.
I agree with the lesson's author.
Sunday's lesson paints the battle quite accurately. Are we going to trust our own efforts, or allow Jesus to save us? Truly, we are our own worst enemies.
Day 3: Monday, October 20, 2014: Being a Doer
“It is almost as if the more we focus on doing, the worse we become; whereas, when we are being led by the Spirit, it yields a totally different outcome — the fruit of love and obedience.” (Teachers Edition Page 32)
Love: Amen! Obedience: Not so much.
The problem in Adventist belief is that doing always equates to keeping the Law. What is the last statement in Galatians 5:23? “Against such things there is no law.” As soon as you put law into the picture you are left with the deeds of the flesh. It must be this way.
Why? It is simply because the law is for our flesh when we're lost. Contrast this to salvation. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24 NASB). Since the flesh has been crucified with Christ, then law no longer applies.
Again the contrast: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NASB). If you insist on being under law, then, by definition, sin shall be master over you.
If you walk in the Spirit, then love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control flow out of you as naturally as breathing. This fruit is so far above a mere “thou shalt not” as to make law-keeping ridiculous. You never need to ask yourself, “Have I coveted today?” Instead, you are in constant communication with the Spirit and make statements like, “Lord, show me how to love my kids today.” Or, “Thank-you for the joy and peace that flooded my soul right at the moment I found out I have cancer.”
Neither of these statements deny the difficulties of raising children and dealing with cancer. Instead, they demonstrate that our minds are being renewed so that our first thought in any situation is drawn to what we already have in Jesus rather than the present situation, good or bad.
I can imagine the next question: Does that Peifer guy think obedience is not important.
It depends on what you mean by obedience. If, as Adventism teaches, obedience means keeping the Ten Commandments, then I categorically reject the premise. I could care less about obedience. No one in the history of the world has kept the Law, except Jesus, and he kept it by living in perfect dependence upon the Father. In addition, Jesus had zero built-in propensity to sin. In short, as the second Adam, Jesus (born spiritually alive) was not at all like me (born spiritually dead), and I praise God for that.
If, as the Bible teaches, obedience means fixing my eyes on Jesus, the author and completer of my faith, so that everything I do is a reflection of his ongoing work in and through me, then I cry, “Hallelujah!” This is my life. This is my purpose. This is my identity. Again, no law can speak to this reality. Quite literally, I am being transformed before my very eyes into the person Jesus wants me to be.
Day 4: Tuesday, October 21, 2014: The Law of Freedom
“Even Paul affirms that 'not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified' (Rom. 2:13, NKJV).” (Standard Edition Page 33)
Things were going relatively well, and then Tuesday's lesson...
This quotation from Romans 2 is a favorite hammer used by legalists to pound people into submission. Please, please, please allow Paul to speak for himself instead of cherry-picking a couple of phrases and then reading into the text (eisegesis) to prove your point.
This tiny statement is part of a very long argument that runs from Romans 1 through Romans 3. I beg you to put down both the quarterly and this commentary and read these three chapters. The argument demonstrates that no one, NO ONE, keeps the law. In fact, the law's sole purpose is to shut our mouths, because Law simply points out sin.
Is Paul's conclusion that we all need to try harder? To keep the law better?
Emphatically, no! Rather, there is a complete contrast.
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.
Romans 3:21-31 (NASB)
Further, I won't even comment on picking Romans 8:2 and 4 out of that passage to justify law-keeping.
Finally, what irony that the author appeals to 2 Corinthians 3 to answer the question “what makes the difference between the law as an instrument of death or as something that shows the way to freedom and life?” (Standard Edition Page 33)
The entire point of 2 Corinthians 3 is that anyone who attempts to use Law in the way suggested here cannot see Jesus because of the veil which Law becomes under the New Covenant. “But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:15, 16 NASB).
It seems fairly clear to me that James is not proposing a return the the Mosaic Covenant. The only law that brings freedom is the Law of Love.
The Big 10 is not the law of love. The Mosaic Covenant was given to Israel, and only to Israel, as the means God used to create a people through whom Jesus, the Messiah, would come. It was loving on God's part. It was horribly abused by Israel. The only thing the Ten Commandments can do for Gentiles is to prove what we already know in our hearts – we desperately need Jesus. Thank God for that, but don't try to use it for anything else.
The Mosaic Covent was not part of the promise to Abraham. That promise fed through the tribe of Judah, not Levi. Jesus is from Judah. Jesus is our High Priest, and where there is a change in the priesthood there must be a change in Law. (See Hebrews 7:11ff.)
What law is written on our hearts? What is this law that brings freedom? Jesus declared it. First, he said to believe in him. Second, he said to love as we have been loved. (See 1 John 3:23, John 6:29, John 13:34, 35.)
Tuesday's lesson ends with this thought question: “Think about what it would be like, having the natures we do, to try to keep the law well enough to be saved by it. How would this make the law a means of bondage? How has Jesus freed us from that bondage while, at the same time, commanding us to keep the law?”
Jesus does not free us from the bondage of Law and command us to keep the Law! That is double-talk, pure and simple.
Jesus freed us from the bondage of Law by dying the death we deserved to defeat sin once and for all. His resurrection proved his complete victory over death. Pentecost, which each of us experiences at the moment of salvation, gave us the Holy Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing our salvation (our eternal life), both now and in the future. In this New Covenant, the Ten Commandments do not apply!
1. Tuesday's lesson is full of out-of-context Bible passages.
2. Tuesday's lesson appeals to Bible passages that, if read in context, completely deny the points it tries to make.
3. This is a disservice to James' letter and to the readers.
Day 5: Wednesday, October 22, 2014: Useful or Useless
“'The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.'—Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 470. Of course, as she goes on to explain, 'to live such a life, to exert such an influence, costs at every step effort, self-sacrifice, discipline.'—Page 470. It does not come naturally or automatically. If our religion consists only in affirmations of belief and listening to sermons, it is largely useless.” (Standard Edition Page 34) [Emphasis added.]
This is fear-based behaviorism at its worst. As John Lynch wrote in his book On My Worst Day (Page 49), “In an environment of law, every motive is suspect.”
This attitude is the result of zero faith in Jesus. We think that God cannot be trusted, so we're left on our own to screw up our courage and try to to exert influence by “effort, self-sacrifice, discipline.”
What do we think Jesus is doing inside us via the Holy Spirit? According to Adventist theology, the Spirit's job is to help us keep the Law. According to the Bible, the Spirit's job is to reveal Jesus to us – every word, every action, every victory. The Spirit uses this truth to transform us by the renewing of our minds. (See John 15:26-16:15 and many other passages in the New Testament.)
The only effort, self-sacrifice and discipline we exert is to stop looking at ourselves in order to look at Jesus and rest. No doubt, this is hard work (see Hebrews 4:11, realizing that disobedience was previously defined in 3:19 as unbelief, not bad behavior), but it is very different work than Mrs. White was talking about. We do not exert in order to do good things. We do good things only in so far as we are trusting Jesus to work in and through us by the Spirit.
If you think that immersing yourself in Christ will leave you sitting around the house watching TV and eating candy, then you don't know Jesus. He has wired each of us specifically to be key members of his body on earth, the church (see Romans 12:3-8 and elsewhere). Within these giftings will be motivation to serve others, to reach out to those who need help.
Here is a non-SDA example of what happens when people get all excited about “helping the less fortunate” apart from the motivation of the Spirit. A church youth group in a relatively upscale, mostly White suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth area decided that they needed to “help” people in a decidedly down-scale, mostly Black suburb. They loaded up their SUVs, dressed in their most fashionable casual clothes, and drove to the area. They sang a few songs, glad-handed a few people, wished them well in Jesus, and then returned home after this 2-3 hour adventure. They were so pleased with themselves. Not so the folks they “helped”. Some of what was reported on the local TV news exhibited many bleeps due to language. The visit served only to reinforce the stereotypes on both sides. It was a waste of time. Worse, it hardened hearts to the real Jesus.
On the other hand, I know people who have been led by the Spirit into meaningful relationships, redemptive relationships, with people who just months or even weeks before would have never even shown up on radar. In these situations, both parties learned more about each other, about the pain of racism, the nature of poverty, the crushing reality of disease. Even better, both parties found that Jesus truly is the only answer to the human condition.
Notice that in this latter description “being led by the Spirit” is not seen as effort at all, even though the people involved may have worked themselves to near exhaustion. This is what love does, pure and simple. This is what legalism can never do.
Day 6: Thursday, October 23, 2014: Unlike the World
“So also with the spiritual life: 'the closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature.'—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 64.
Let’s not have Ellen G. White say here what she isn’t saying. She isn’t saying that the closer we get to Jesus the faultier we actually become. She continues: “The more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image.'—Steps to Christ, p. 65.” (Standard Edition Page 35)
Contrary to the Ellen White passages quoted above, Jesus most certainly does not lead us to describe ourselves as “sinners saved by grace.” We are not constantly confronted with our need, our failure, our unworthiness. That is Satan's work. He is the accuser.
Let's use the 2 Peter passage referred to in the lesson to answer the questions asked at the beginning of this lesson – “What does it mean to keep oneself 'unspotted from the world'? James 1:27, NKJV. How could that even be possible?” (Standard Edition Page 35)
First, we learn in Verse 3 that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” This is good news! If we are born again, we already possess everything we need for a godly life.
Verse 4: “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Through “these” refers to “everything we need for a godly life” in Verse 3. Through these incredible gifts we also are given great and precious promises. Why? So that we actually get to participate in the divine nature.
Notice that escaping the world's corruption is described as something that already happened.
Continue reading through Verses 5-8. Some pretty wonderful things result from our effort. Again, is this the effort to please Jesus? Absolutely not! It is the effort to keep our eyes off of ourselves.
Verse 9 should give hope to anyone struggling with the Christian life. “But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”
If you and I don't see Christian maturity being evidenced in our lives, the reason is not that we've worked or obeyed too little. No. The reason is that we've forgotten that our relationship with Jesus starts with forgiveness, that, in fact, children of God are forgiven people.
This is why Law can cause only depression and loss. It never reminds us that we are forgiven. It suggests that we can get forgiveness, but then we realize that the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. (See Hebrews 10:1-14.)
Only Jesus offers true forgiveness. Only Jesus took away sin.
If you keep this fact foremost in your thinking, then you will have no trouble keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus. You will know that the farthest you can fall is the realization that you are a forgiven person. You will never again be condemned.
In fact, you already have escaped the world's corruption. Your life is nothing more than discovering how to live in the victory that is yours in Christ.
Indeed, you are nothing like the world. What victory! What hope! What a foundation from which to launch perfectly timed, Spirit-led acts of service!
Day 7: Friday, October 24, 2014 – Further Study
The usual appeals to Ellen White for proof that this week's lesson passes muster. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 36)
You never will experience victory in the Christian life by looking at the Law for motivation. The best you can attain, the highest you can reach, is eternal damnation.
Stop beating your head against the wall. Let Jesus' victory become your victory.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, acknowledge your adoption as a beloved son or daughter of God. Then, God will use you to reach out to others so they can experience the same adoption.
You cannot look too long at Jesus! By contrast, take your eyes from him for the merest of moments, and you will know the wrath of Satan as he tries to tear you away from the One who will never let you go.
If you fix your eyes on Jesus you will find yourself walking from victory to victory. Even your failures will be turned to victories as he bathes you in more of his love and grace. His forgiveness is an ever present reality. His grace, none other than the Holy Spirit, is your ever present strength. You are a co-heir with Jesus.
Oh, Lord God, thank you for rescuing us from sin and death. Thank you for giving us eternal life now, even as we continue to battle the flesh. And thank you that your salvation will one day be complete when even our physical bodies will be recreated. Your gifts are beyond comprehension. You alone are our hope and victory and life!