The Friends of the Nazarene On-line Magazine

Volume 3 - MARCH 2001 (52 pages)

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: Nazarene Saints Publishing© is a Bible research group for a better Scriptural understanding. We are dedicated to the preservation and publishing of Christian writings which aid Friends of the Nazarene© to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” (John 14:15; 15:14; 3 John 14; Revelation 14:4) The Friends of the Nazarene© are a spiritual community of sincere Christians. We are apologists dedicated to the defense of the truth that “God is One” and not three. The Bible is our creed. We view this “God-breathed” Book as inspired alone, while the thoughts of men about it are not. We wish to show respect for our multitude of Christian brethren. (1 Peter 3:15) All articles are written by Mark Heber Miller unless otherwise stated. Every month calls go out for articles to be contributed from many sources. Anyone is free to submit articles or statements under “Faith Perspectives.”

Contributors:

Mark Heber Miller - - Senior Editor – Hemet, California

Ralph Slaney - - Senior Spanish editor - Almeria, Spain

Andy Weeks – - Webmaster – Chicago, Illinoise

Sergei Kremenitsky - - Russian translator - Kiev, Ukraine

James Noble - – Long Beach, California

Timo Koorns tra - – Dutch translation - Belgium

James McCarthy Sr. - – French translation - USA.

Luis Padilla - - Spanish Editor – Whittier, Calif

IN THIS ISSUE

ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

==== END “ANNOUNCEMENTS” ====

FAITH PERSPECTIVES

“If we want truth,
every person ought to be free to speak what they think without fear.”
[Erasmus (1520 AD)]

[A forum for the free and open expression of beliefs without fear.
We welcome brief thoughts and articles on any appropriate subject
addressed in a kind and respectful manner.]

words of encouragement -

Dear Mark and Jimmy, you are such kind brothers, and so informative.
I'm looking forward each day to see what you will say. - [Joy]

>>>>>

I am wishing you the best, thanks for your work.

Scott

>>>>>

Hi Mark

[I am] delighted to hear things are going a little better for you now and that you've had a little rest - quite honestly, it's amazing that you haven't keeled over before now, the amount of thinking and writing/encouraging you do is astronomical. … I've enjoyed (and am enjoying) the material on your site, and the Christians of both different and similar backgrounds it has introduced me to - the material is rich and challenging, and alas, I don't have nearly enough time as a new mother, wife and working full time, to devote to it - but I'm working on improving that aspect of my life. … Thanks again for all the education and encouragement on the site - there really is a lovely feeling of a community of genuine Christians building, but I feel also that it's a safe place to give open expression to one's conscience and belief, even if it doesn't always tally 100% with someone else's understanding at that time - we can accommodate each other in a spirit of love, trust and mutual respect. You must find it very gratifying to see your hard work coming to fruition, and deservedly so.

Warm Christian love and best wishes as ever
your sister
Eva

>>>>>

==== END “FAITH PERSPECTIVES” ====

‘KEEP DOING THIS’

The Annual Observance of the Lord’s Supper

Keep Doing What?

When someone whose authority we deeply respect tells us, “Keeping doing this,” we may take it as a strong suggestion or command. The words “keep doing this” are positive injunctions to continue a work, action, attitude, or even an observance of something important.

Our Lord himself gave over 60 commandments [one-tenth the size of the Law of Moses]. He often said, “keep doing this.” However, one case in particular now focuses our attention.

On the Hebrew date of Nisan 14 [mid-March to mid-April] when the Jewish Passover was observed, the Nazarene partook along with his apostles in that annual commemoration of Yehowah’s rescue of the Israelites from the tenth plague on Egypt around the beginning of the 15th Century BC. Jesus had kept such an observance from year to year since he was a child and so on this occasion it was about his 34th presence at the Passover. It was not regarding this Passover that Jesus said, “Keep doing this.” But, rather it was something that followed that evening supper of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, wine, and herbs.

The scholarly physician and historian Luke reports the occasion at Luke 22:19, “Then Jesus took bread and after he gave thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying: ‘This is my body given in your behalf. You continue to do this in my memorial.’" [NCMM] Or, as another version puts it, “keep doing this in remembrance of me.” [NWT; compare also Rotherhams] The Greek verb suggests a continuing action that is to be repeated. Subsequent Christian history confirms this was the apostle’s understanding. [1 Corinthians 11:23ff]

So the apostles were to continue a practice or observance in memory of the death of Jesus Christ. No where in Scripture is there any command or description of an observance or celebration of Christ’s birth or resurrection. These were later added by the Roman Catholic Church and are now represented in Christmas and Easter - both derived from pagan festivals.

But, “keep doing” what? Paul calls it “the Lord’s Supper” and gives his own revealed description in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I received from the Lord that which I also passed along to you: that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was to be handed over, took a loaf and after giving thanks he broke it and said: ‘This is my body over you. Continue doing this in my remembrance.’ And just the same with the Cup, after having [the Passover] supper, saying, ‘This is the Cup of the New Covenant in my blood. Continue doing this, as often as you ever may drink it, in my remembrance.’ For as often as you may ever be eating the Loaf and be drinking the Cup you continue to announce the death of the Lord until he should arrive.” [NCMM]

So, over thirty years later - judging from Paul’s writings - the early disciples did “keep doing this” as an annual memorial of the death of Christ. Though there is no record of such an observance in the Acts of the Apostles we may assume, based on Paul’s instructions, that the small Christian churches did gather to memorialize the death of Jesus. And, this they would continue to do through the Gospel Age until the Return of Christ. Since he has not yet come in his visible parousia [presence/visit] it is in obedience to Jesus our Lord that we “keep doing this” as an announcement or commemoration of his death.

Though it is no where specifically stated that this was an annual observance there are two factors which strongly suggest it was, indeed, an anniversary. The apostles as Jewish men were well aware that the main Jewish festivals were observed annually on God-appointed dates - the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Booths, and Pentecost, as well as other observances added by the Jews. Without any additional words on Jesus’ part it seems likely that they would understood they were to now replace the Passover with the Lord’s Supper. And also, they would do this in the evening at the beginning of the day Nisan 14.

Secondly, the historical record of the Christian Church throughout two centuries indicates this practiced continued. The nickname “Fourteeners” was given to these Christians who observed the Lord’s Supper on Nizan 14. Since Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar falls on each day of the week in a 19-year cycle this “memorial” could occur - as does the Passover - on any date of the nearest full-moon to the spring equinox [March 21/22]. This year that occurs on Sunday April 8 at sundown.

 

Memorial - Not a Family Observance

Unlike the Passover, the Lord’s Supper was not a family meal. The Israelites were commanded to gather as family groups to observe the Passover: Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month [later called Nisan] shall be to you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household be too little for a lamb, then he and his neighbor next to his house shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to what everyone can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.” [Exodus 12:1-4 WEB] Later this was somewhat limited to about twelve family members.

In contrast, the Lord’s Supper is not an observance by individuals or family groups, but rather by congregations. Paul gives such instructions to the Corinthians who were observing the Lord’s Supper unworthily: “Therefore, when you assemble together to the very same place, it is not appropriate for you to eat the Lord’s Supper. For some persons take their own supper beforehand. So, one person is really hungry, while another has had too much to drink. Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or, do you despise the assembly of the God, and shame those who have nothing? What should I tell you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I cannot praise you. … And so, my brothers, when you do assembly together [to partake of the Lord’s Supper] wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let them eat at home.” [1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33, 34 NCMM] Compare also 1 Corinthians 11:17, 18 where Paul is discussing a congregational meeting.

It is possible, giving the size of the city of Corinth, that Christians did not meet in private homes but in a larger facility that could serve as a church. So, those individual Saints in that city did not celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the individual homes as separate families, but rather at one common meeting place. Why?

 

The Eucharist and Church Unity

Though the focus and emphasis of the Lord’s Supper - also called the Eucharist from the prayer of blessing Jesus offered - is on the death of Christ, there is something else symbolized by this congregational meeting - unity. Paul has already discussed the Memorial in the context of unity earlier in First Corinthians. Note this in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, “The Cup of the blessing that we are blessing, is it not the blood of the Christ? The Loaf which we are breaking, is it not a sharing of the body of the Christ? Because [there is] one Loaf, we many are one Body, for all of us are partaking from the one Loaf.” [NCMM] By all local Saints meeting together in one place as a congregation, in partaking of the emblems at the Lord’s Supper, they demonstrate their common unity and like-mindedness.

During the more than 1,500 years of the Passover celebration, Jewish men were commanded to come to Jerusalem to observe certain festivals. And, this on the pain of death if they deliberately failed in so doing. This required some Jews to travel great distances. It is for this reason that there were so many Jewish men still in Jerusalem fifty days after the Passover on the festival of Pentecost [meaning, Fifty]. [Compare Acts chapter 2.] On these occasions the inhabitants of Jerusalem could swell into the millions. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD over one million Jews were slaughtered and 100,000 take captive.

In modern times, some Christians who are willing and able also journey far to meet at least once a year with their brothers and sisters. In so doing they demonstrate their common unity and love for the Nazarene community. If Jews could travel from distant lands as those described in Acts 2:8-11 in order to be present for Pentecost, how much more so would spiritual Jews [Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6] be willing to make arrangements to travel to meet in a larger Christian fellowship. Certainly great encouragement is mutually shared when this happens.

 

A Worthy Celebration

Demons and Unworthiness.

Paul writes of certain dangers regarding the Lord’s Supper. First, this celebration cannot have any taint of pagan demonic practices. For Paul commands: “Consider fleshly Israel: Are not those who are eating the sacrifices sharers with the Altar? What, then, am I saying? That the thing sacrificed to an idol is anything? Or, that an idol is anything? [What I am saying is] that what the non-Jews are sacrificing they are sacrificing to demons and not to God. [Deuteronomy 32:17] But, I do not want you to become sharers with the demons. It is not possible for you to be drinking YHWH’s Cup and also a cup of demons. It is not possible for you to be partaking of YHWH’s Table [Malachi 1:7] and also a table of demons. Or, ‘are we inciting the LORD to jealousy?’ [Deuteronomy 32:21] Are we stronger than Him?” [1 Corinthians 10:19-21 NCMM]

As in the first century Church, over the following centuries certain elements traceable to pagan Gentile worship crept into the Lord’s Supper. These ranged from changing the timing, the dates, the manner, and even some of the doctrines became “teachings of demons.” [1 Timothy 4:1-3] Indeed, in most of modern-day Christendom the Lord’s death is not celebrated at all, it having been replaced by Christmas and Easter. [Do research on the origins of these annual holidays in any encyclopedia.] Many of those who do observe “Communion” [meaning, sharing] do so using emblems other than after the Lord’s example. For example, many churches will not use the red wine Jesus used, but rather grape juice. Additionally, and perhaps most unworthy of the Lord’s Supper, is to see in Jesus God Himself as a plural triune deity.

Paul will later write to the Corinthians about Christian separateness from that which is pagan and satanic. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul commands: “[Corinthians], do not become unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or, what communion between light and darkness? Also, what harmony between Christ and Belial? Or, what portion between a believer and an unbeliever? Also, what agreement between God’s Divine Habitat and idols? We are the Living God’s Divine Habitat! Just as the God said: ‘I shall indwell in them, and I shall walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they shall be my People.’ [Leviticus 26:11] ‘As a result, all of you come out from among them, and all of you determine the boundaries,’ says YHWH, ‘and do not continue to touch the unclean thing [Isaiah 52:11] … then I shall take all of you in [Ezekiel 20:41] … and I shall be a Father to all of you, and all of you will be sons and daughters to me,’ [2 Samuel 7:14] says YHWH Almighty.’” [NCMM]

Though some Christians feel they can share communion at the Lord’s Supper with some church groups who might fit the above description, others feel they cannot. Some such individuals and families may be unable to travel to gather with Saints elsewhere. They can properly and worthily observe the Memorial by purchasing a red wine such as a chianti, zinfindel, or cabernet. And they can make the unleavened bread out of flour and water into something like a fluffy pancake baked in the oven. They can follow the simple outlined provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. Some may wish to read certain portions of the Bible, such as Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53. Others find the reading of portions of John 13-17 to be in harmony with the Memorial, as the Nazarene spoke these words the same evening. Psalm 116-118 were included in the hymns that concluded the Passover meal and these make for good reading.

Using Passover as something of a pattern, remarks can be made to explain “what this means”? [See Exodus 12:26]

Sectarianism and Unworthiness.

Another reason Paul gives that could cause the Lord’s Supper to be observed in an unworthy manner is disunity. Paul writes just before mentioning the Lord’s Supper: “However, in giving you the following instructions I do not praise you. Because it is actually not for the better, but for the worse, that you meet together. For first of all when you assemble for meeting I hear that schisms exist in your midst. In part I believe this. Now there is a necessity that opinionated heresies exist in your midst that those approved may also become manifest among you.” [1 Corinthians 11:17-19 NCMM]

Paul has already urged the Corinthians to strive for unity of thought. At the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth, he exhorted: “I strongly encourage all of you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that you all continue saying the same thing and not have any schisms among you. Continue to remain harmoniously joined together with the same thinking and opinion.” [1 Corinthians 1:10 NCMM] Every effort should be made so that Friends of the Nazarene [John 14:15] be like-minded in their beliefs and understanding of the fundamental teachings of the Bible.

Paul does not commend the church that meets with its membership divided into personal or doctrinal schisms. They should all be able to speak and think the same. This can be achieved by a mature study of the Bible and a willingness to wait until some matters are more clearly understood.

The Poor and Unworthiness.

Another matter that can make the celebration of the Lord’s Supper unworthy is rich Christians shaming their poor brothers. Paul also writes on this in the context of the Memorial: “Therefore, when you assemble together to the very same place, it is not appropriate for you to eat the Lord’s Supper. For some persons take their own supper beforehand. So, one person is really hungry, while another has had too much to drink. Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or, do you despise the assembly of the God, and shame those who have nothing? What should I tell you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I cannot praise you.” [1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NCMM]

Possibly some rich Corinthian Christians [1 Corinthians 4:8] were meeting among one another and having big meals with considerable drinking. Thus, when they showed up for the Lord’s Supper they were well-fed and drunk, while their poor brothers and sisters were hungry. Such an attitude shows that some Christians have completely forgotten the Master they claim to follow. In more modern times, something similar can happen after the Memorial: well-to-do brothers and sisters go out to a fine restaurant or to one of their homes for eating and drinking, while the poor disciple is unable to do this.

Jesus taught that when one had enough to spread a feast such a disciple should get into the habit of inviting the poor. [Luke 14:13, 14] Perhaps those with a surplus could invite a needy family and avoid any economic sectarianism?

 

An Unworthy Attitude.

Finally, Paul writes that the whole attitude and understanding of the partaker of the Lord’s Supper may do so unworthily if these be wrong. Note his caution: “And so whoever may be eating the Loaf and drinking the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be held responsible regarding the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Let a person approve oneself individually, and then from the Loaf be eating and from the Cup be drinking. For the one eating and drinking is eating and drinking judgment if not discriminating the Body. Because of this many among you are weak and sick, and a sufficient number of you are asleep. But, if we approve ourselves it is not likely that we will be condemned. However, if being judged we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned together with the social order of humanity.” [1 Corinthians 11:28-32 NCMM]

Such self-examined unworthiness, Paul says, is a failure to discern or discriminate the Body of Christ in the emblems at the Lord’s Supper. Of course, those who were influenced by Greek philosophy, and thought the body and flesh of Christ only a phantom illusion, would not discern Christ’s true body. This was his body of flesh and blood that he sacrificed on the executioner’s stake. If one approached Memorial with either a wrong attitude or a failure to understand the Lord’s sacrifice, there is considerable danger. In this regard the words of Paul to the Hebrew Christians has a bearing: “For our sinning willingly after we receive the heightened knowledge of the Truth leaves no sacrifice regarding sins. But rather some fearful expectation of condemnation, ‘a fiery zeal’ [Isaiah 26:11 LXX] ‘ready to consume the rebellious.’ [Deuteronomy 17:6] Any person who disregards the Law of Moses dies without compassion upon ‘the testimony of two or three.’ [Deuteronomy 19:15] How much worse do you think the punishment will be upon the person who has trampled underfoot the Son of the God? Who has esteemed the ‘blood of the covenant’ [Exodus 24:8]] -- in which he was sanctified -- as something common, [and thus] outrageously scorned the pneuma of unmerited favor? For we realize the One who said: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay.’ [Deuteronomy 32:35] And, again: ‘YHWH will judge His People.’ [Deuteronomy 32:26] 31 It is a dreadful matter to fall into the hands of a Living God.” [Hebrews 10:26-30 NCMM]

Our approach to the Lord’s Supper will surely be one of sober meditation with deep appreciation for what our Lord did for us. Peter expresses this proper appraisal: “And so when you call upon the Father - ‘who judges impartially each person’s work’ [Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 62:12] - conduct yourself in fear during this period of your alien sojourn, realizing that you were liberated from a futile [form of] conduct handed down from your forefathers -- by means of a ransom -- not with the corruptible gold or silver -but rather with the precious blood of an unblemished and spotless Lamb - Christ’s. Indeed, he was foreknown before the founding of the human social order, but was made visible for your sakes at ‘the time of the end’ [Daniel 9:26; 11:40] - those who by means of [Christ] believe in God, the One who raised him up from the dead, giving [Christ] glory, so that your faith and hope would be in God.” [1 Peter 1:17-21 NCMM]

 

May the Table and Cup of Yehowah Be Blessed in 2001

With all of these thoughts in mind let us prepare our attitude well in advance of this Memorial in the year 2001. We approach the “table of Jehovah” and drink of the “Cup of Jehovah” free of pagan, demonic forms of worship and beliefs. Let prayer mold the heart and mind so that we may partake in a worthy manner. Let our studies strengthen our faith in His “eternal purpose” and increase our love for others. Surely, the Lord’s Supper is a divinely blessed observance, and so let us join together with one unified heart and mind as we listen to Paul’s words: “The Cup of the blessing that we are blessing, is it not the blood of the Christ? The Loaf which we are breaking, is it not a sharing of the body of the Christ? Because [there is] one Loaf, we many are one Body, for all of us are partaking from the one Loaf.” [1 Corinthians 10:16, 17 NCMM]

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AN INSPIRED PRAYER

A Lesson in Praying for Others

14 For these reasons I fall to the ground on bended knees facing upward to the Father. 15 From Him every father’s family is named, whether in the celestialum or upon the earth. 16 I so pray that the Father may make you Ephesians strong within the inner person in spiritual mightiness through the wealth of His glorious power. 17 I pray the Christ will reside within your hearts because of your faith and love. 18 You Ephesians have strong roots and are well founded, so that you will have the combined strength with all the Saints; and with all the Saints seize from above the cosmic dimensions -- breadth, length, height, depth -- of Christ’s love. 19 And to comprehend the transcendental ‘knowing’ of Christ so you may be completely filled with all the wholeness of God. 20 Now I pray: To the One who answers every request infinitely beyond every superabundance and beyond anything we can mentally conceive according to that dynamic energizing with us: 21 Glory to Him by means of the Church and by means of Christ Jesus, throughout all eternal generations. Amen. [Ephesians 3:14-21 NCMM Paraphrase]

Paul writes to the Romans that some times Christians do not know what to pray for. [Romans 8:26] Often when we approach our Father in prayer we may be at a loss for words. Even Christ’s apostles asked, “Teach us how to pray.” [Matthew 6:8] Happily we have many recorded prayers in the Bible - including many of the psalms. We have our Lord’s prayer, or the Model Prayer. And, we also have his longest recorded prayer in John chapter 17. We also have several prayers that appear in the writings of Luke [Acts of the Apostles] and in Paul’s epistles. One of his written prayers to the congregation in Ephesus is a master role model of an inspired prayer.

We can only benefit from a close meditation on this prayer in Ephesians 314-21.

How and to Whom We Pray

Ephesians 3:14 Because of this I bend my knees facing toward the Father, Ephesians 3:15 from whom every fatherhood in heaven and upon earth is named,

Right off we learn that Paul often prayed on his knees. It is said of another disciple of the Nazarene - his own half-brother - that he prayed so often for the People of Israel that “his knees were like those of a camel.” Here begins Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and all future members of the Church. We see Paul in his prison cell, fingers stained black by ink, parchment scattered around him, eyes gazing out his cell bars to the heavens -- thinking only of the Ephesians and the triumphant glory of the Church in Christ. The KJV text adds to these above verses, “... of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this portion is lacking in Nestle-Aland and Westcott-Hort Greek texts.

Like Jesus in his model prayer to his apostles Paul begins with the Father. [Matthew 6:9] He describes the God and Father as the Source or Origin of “every fatherhood in heaven and upon earth.” The Greek is ex ou pasa patria ... onomazetai. The thought is that all those who are the progeny of the Father in heaven, and all those produced by fathers on earth, owe their “name” or lineage to the one Father of all created beings. Others render this phrase as: KJV: from whom the whole family in heaven and earth; TCN: from whom all ‘fatherhood’ in heaven and on earth; KNX: takes it title; TCN: derives its name. There is one universal family of angelic sons and spiritual children on earth who name a single Father.

Receiving Within from the Abundance of God’s Power

Ephesians 3:16 so that He might give to you (Ephesians) the glorious riches of His dynamism to be made mighty through His Pneuma within the inner person,

Paul focuses or concentrates his prayer on his Ephesian brothers and sisters. He prays that this part of the Nazarene community will be given “the glorious riches of [God’s] dynamic power.” That is: KJV: riches of his glory; WEY: in accordance with the wealth of His glorious perfections; PME: out of the glorious riches of his resources. He means, not just a little bit of God’s power, but the entire wealth and abundance of that divine energy - the very same energy that created the universe and that raise Christ from the dead.

The result of such infusion of divine energy is “to be made mighty through His Pneuma within the inner person.” This phrasing is also rendered: KJV: to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; WEY: with the power permeating your inmost being; PME: to know the strength of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement.

God does not just give a person external, physical strength to do His, but also an inner empowerment and validation that causes the Nazarene disciple to do things beyond what is normal.

Christ Resides in a Well-founded Heart

Ephesians 3:17 the Christ taking up residence in your hearts because of your faith in love; you (Ephesians) having been rooted and founded,

The very idea that the Nazarene, Lord Messiah, resides within the heart is enough to weaken the knees, and thus Paul’s praying on his knees. Yes, he confirms that “the Christ has taken up residence in our hearts.” Others render this phrase: KJV: that Christ may dwell in your hearts; TCN: so that Christ, through your faith, may make his home within your heart sin love; PME: that Christ may actually live; TAY: I pray that Christ will be more at home in your hearts.

Christ is not just passive in this heart-residence but actually behaves as something of an umpire as Colossians 3:15 states. So, the Christian not only has the natural hard-wiring of the God-given conscience [Romans 2:15, 16], but also within the Christian the very presence of the Lord Jesus. It is clear from Paul’s words that this Christine occupancy only occurs within those who are characterized by deep conviction and loving concern for others. [1 John 3:23]

This is not just a passive feeling of belief and love, but it is deeply “rooted and founded” on the love of God and Christ. [Or, KJV: rooted and grounded in love; WEY: having your roots deep and your foundations strong in love; TCN: firmly rooted and established; PME: now firmly fixed in love; TAY: may your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.]

Shared Strength and Universal Comprehension

Ephesians 3:18 so that you might have the strength together with all the Saints to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth, Ephesians 3:19 to know surpassing knowledge of the love of Christ, so that you might be filled with all the fullness of The God.

A person alone feels helpless. But the very same individual may feel empowered and strengthened when backed up by associates of like-mind. And so Paul prays that “you might have the strength together.” The united strength for what? Paul says, “mighty enough to grasp [together] … the universal dimensions” of God’s love in Christ. The lone individual may not feel this all-encompassing love, but when united in harmony with others of like-mind suddenly there is an immense strength. This use of words may possibly be a phrase from the Stoics describing ‘the totality of the cosmos.’ The dimensions are cubic.

These universal dimensions involve knowledge, but here Paul prays that they “know [the] surpassing knowledge of Christ’s love.” [Or, KJV: the love of Christ which passeth knowledge; MON: may know the love of Christ which transcends all knowing; NOR: really beyond human understand; PME: that love so far beyond our comprehension.] Knowing this kind of love leads to complete fulfillment and satisfaction. Paul describes it as “filled with all of God’s fullness.” [Or, TCNT: filled to the full with God himself; KNX: with all the completion God has to give.] Note the same language is used of Christ at Colossians 2:9. The joyous goal of every disciple of Christ is to be completely filled with God so that “God may be everything to everyone.” (1 Corinthians 15:28 MOF) This is that ultimate state of the future New Age, but it begins with the Church millennia before the Thousand Years begin.

Deep Conviction in God’s Power

Ephesians 3:20 To the One who is able to do immeasurably beyond whatever we request or mentally perceive according to the dynamic inner-energy within us - Ephesians 3:21 to Him the glory in the Ecclesia and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations of the eons of Eons. Amen.

Paul prays that all the Saints have deep conviction in what God is able to due for all in the Church. Our own imaginations cannot even begin to conceive God’s power in behalf of the Saints. Other versions read: KJV: exceedingly abundantly above; GDSP: unutterably more than; NEB: immeasurably more than. Our trust in God exists despite the fact that we cannot “mentally perceive” all that God could do. The Greek is a philosophical technical term, nooumen and means to “mentally see” something. It is a constant God-vision carried around in the heart and mind. Paul has used a related term in Ephesians 3:4, noesai, to see mentally.

Our God is able to put his “dynamic inner-energy within us.” The Greek is dynamin ten energoumenen. Others render the phrase: KJV: the power that worketh in us; RHM: the power which doth energise itself within us; RSV: by the power which is at work within us. Paul’s language is a way of describing God’s Pneuma or Spirit that works within the Christian. God’s Pneuma has been compared by Paul to His Mind. [1 Corinthians 2:16] Now when God thinks so as to express His will, His own inner-energy exerts a pressure on the object of His will and purpose. It has been compared to the wind pressing against the sails of boat. This is dynamic in that this Pressures moves, or motivates the person within to accomplish His will.

Prayers That Praise God

Paul concludes his prayer in behalf of the Ephesian congregation with praise of the One who can do beyond anything we can conceive or comprehend. Though the honor goes to the God [HO THEOS], the honor also comes about by means of the Church and Christ Jesus. Paul has earlier mentioned the Church as an agency or instrument in glorifying God. [Ephesians 2:1-7; 3:10, 11]

Thus the God will be glorified through the Church and Christ Jesus “throughout all generations of the eons of Eons.” [Or, KJV: throughout all ages, world without end; ASV: all generations for ever and ever; TCNT: for all generations age after age.] There is a strong inference that Ecclesiastes 1:4 is an eternal principle: humankind will continue to generate new human beings throughout the endless ages. Since the planet earth could never accommodate such population increases, homes must be found elsewhere in the Universe. Thus, we can imagine an entire Cosmos peopled by those for whom “God is everything to everyone.” The Church with its Head the Master Christ will always remain a cause of “glory and honor and power” to the Almighty God as the Creator. [Revelation 4:11]

In the process of taking a closer look at this inspired prayer we learn about several of the subjects that ought to characterize our own prayers.

We pray for our associates in the Nazarene community, the Church, and their mutual strength.

We pray that Christ may reside in our hearts.

We pray for knowledge and comprehension.

We pray to be fulfilled in Christ’s love.

We pray that the Church and Christ will glorify God forever.

Our prayers may never be considered inspired as was Paul’s, but we can remember his model in Ephesians. May your prayers continue in behalf of your brothers and sisters - that their faith, knowledge, and love continue to grow, and that the Church and Christ may always bring glory to God our Father.

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DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

The subject of origin of Christmas in a Christian country is a sensitive one. Even though journalists, commentators, historians, and pundits make the origins of Christmas clear, the vast majority of Christians may respond: “Does it really matter? Who cares?” Such questions demand an answer. [1 Peter 3:15]

Well does it really matter whether a Christian celebrates or observes Christmas or not? Most will even be puzzled by that question, for, “Doesn’t everyone celebrate Christmas?” Well, no, actually. Some individuals and groups of Christians have made the decision not to celebrate or observe Christmas. Why? Could two billion Christians be wrong? May be, maybe not.

The one thing Christians should know is that their Master and Teacher, Jesus the Nazarene, taught that true worship must be rendered in “spirit and truth.” [John 4:22-24] So, what is the “truth” regarding Christmas? Should a modern Christian, in these enlightened years supposedly free of superstition and myth, observe or celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ on December 25?

First, what do we mean by observe or celebrate? Webster’s defines the word “observe” as “to adhere to, follow, keep, abide by a law, custom, rule … [as in] to celebrate or kept a holiday according to custom.” And, “celebrate” as “to commemorate an anniversary or holiday.” The word is a synonym for “observe.” So, it is obvious that to follow a particular custom on a particular day is to observe or celebrate it.

Well, what is Christmas anyway. We leave it to the reader to consult the Internet or a number of encyclopedias and reference works on the subject. The word is essentially Christ-Mass and thus it is obvious we can look to the Catholic Church to discover the beginnings of this “mass.” Most scholars know quite well that such a mass began about the middle of the 4th Century. The Catholic Mass in observance of the birth of Christ on December 25 was instituted for the purpose of replacing the pagan Roman feast of Saturnalia. But, did Christians before this observe or celebrate Christ-mass?

The answer is, No. Search as we may in the writings of the Christians of the first three centuries we see no mention of such an observance. Even in church lists of proper assemblies and observances nothing is said of the birth of Christ, or Christ-mass. But, what about the Bible? Does it enjoin the annual observance of Christ’s birth on members of the Church? No.

One may ask, Why not? Judging from today’s observances - even among sincere and genuine Christians - it would be assumed that some where, some place in the Bible such a celebration would be mentioned. But, it is not. Indeed, only one annual - or periodic observance, depending on your view - is enjoined on the Christian Church. The observance - not of Christ’s birth, or even of his resurrection, but rather of his death - is mentioned by Jesus and the apostle Paul. [Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:20-34]

So, our Lord himself commanded the continued observance of the memorial of his death in celebration called “the Lord’s Supper.” [See the article Keep Doing This in this issue. Paul in the above verses helps us answer the question regarding this observance, “Does it matter?” For in the first case of 1 Corinthians 10:14-17 he cautions against idolatry and “sharing with the demons [of the pagan non-Jewish nations]” [1 Corinthians 10:20]; and, in the latter verses, he warns against God’s condemnation for failure to observe this properly. [1 Corinthians 11:27, 29] Paul’s reason - in answer to the question, “Does it matter?” - is, “You [Corinthian Christians] cannot drink the Cup of the Lord AND the cup of demons. Neither can you partake of the ‘table of YHWH’ and the table of demons. Or, ‘are we trying to arouse God’s jealous anger’?” [1 Corinthians 10:21, 22 NCMM] This all seems good reason to weigh carefully who, how, and what we observe or celebrate, for it may find us not “fleeing from idolatry” as he warns in 1 Corinthians 10:14. [Compare also 1 John 5:21.]

Thus, throughout the first three hundred years of Church history we find the Christians celebrating the Lord’s Supper, but we do not find Christ-Mass until the middle of the 4th Century. But, does it matter?

Before considering that question further, would it be admitted by Christian celebrants of Christ-Mass that it is a pagan-based observance or celebration with its origins in the Roman Catholic Church? Any honest Christian must answer, Yes. So, then, where would we begin to look to find out, “Does it matter?”

The obvious answer for a true believer is, “the Bible.” Can we find examples in the Bible where God warned his People - both Israel and the Christian Church - to avoid the idolatrous ways of the pagan nations? Can we find throughout this history specific warnings against becoming polluted spiritually by adopted pagan, idolatrous ways?

It might be good, first, to examine the question of idolatry. What is an idol? Is an idol something adored or revered in a certain customary manner? Is an idol something prayed to, or about which hymns are sung? Webster’s defines an “idol” as “any object of ardent or excessive devotion or admiration.”

Did God Almighty Yehowah in the history of His People ever warn them not to take up the pagan practices of surrounding nations? Indeed, He did. Consider the following verses as part of the Law of Moses given around the beginning of the 15th Century BC to Israel:

“1 And Jehovah speaketh unto Moses, saying, 2 `Speak unto the sons of Israel, and thou hast said unto them, I [am] Jehovah your God; 3 according to the work of the land of Egypt in which ye have dwelt YE DO NOT, and according to the work of the land of Canaan whither I am bringing you in, YE DO NOT, and in their statutes ye walk not. 4 `My judgments ye do, and My statutes ye keep, to walk in them; I [am] Jehovah your God; 5 and ye have kept My statutes and My judgments which man doth and liveth in them; I [am] Jehovah.” [Leviticus 18:1-5 Young’s Literal Translation]

“And ye WALK NOT in the statutes of the nation which I am sending away from before you, for all these they have done, and I am wearied with them.” [Leviticus 20:23 YLT]

“These [are] the statutes and the judgments which ye observe to do in the land which Jehovah, God of thy fathers, hath given to thee to possess it, all the days that ye are living on the ground: 2 ye do utterly destroy all the places where the nations which ye are dispossessing served their gods, on the high mountains, and on the heights, and UNDER EVERY GREEN TREE; 3 and ye have broken down their altars, and shivered their standing pillars, and their shrines ye burn with fire, and graven images of their gods ye cut down, and have destroyed their name out of that place. … -- 30 take heed to thee, lest thou be snared after them, after their being destroyed out of thy presence, and lest thou inquire about their gods, saying, How do these nations serve their gods, AND I DO SO --even I? 31 `Thou dost not do so to Jehovah thy God; for every abomination of Jehovah which He is hating they have done to their gods.” [Deuteronomy 10:1-3, 30 YLT]

Did it really matter? Was Israel to absorb the ways of worship - the celebrations and observances - of these pagan nations and “sanctify them by adoption” into their Congregation? How could any Israelite draw that conclusion after such warnings? However, what happened?

About seven centuries later, the descendants of these people who had been rescued out of Egypt had turned away from God and become apostates. They had begun to do the very thing Yehowah had warned them about. Jeremiah records this in his prophecy against Israel: “And I have cast you from before My face, As I have cast out all your brethren, The whole seed of Ephraim. 16 And thou dost not pray for this people, Nor lift up for them crying and prayer, Nor intercede with Me, for I hear thee not. 17 Art thou not seeing what they are doing In cities of Judah, and in streets of Jerusalem? 18 The sons are GATHERING WOOD, And the fathers are causing the fire to burn, And the women are kneading dough, To MAKE CAKES TO THE QUEEN OF THE HEAVENS, And to pour out libations to other gods, So as to provoke Me to anger.” [Jeremiah 7:15-18 YLT]

So, some many centuries later, we can still ask, “Did it matter what customs and observances the Israelites adopted from pagan lands?” Surely, it did. God had not changed, but His People had.

Now the jeremiad continues in Jeremiah 10:1-4, “Hear ye the word, O house of Israel, That Jehovah hath spoken for you. 2 Thus said Jehovah: UNTO THE WAY OF THE NATIONS ACCUSTOM NOT YOURSELVES, And by the signs of the heavens be not affrighted, For the nations are affrighted by them. 3 For the statutes of the peoples are vanity, For A TREE from a forest hath one cut, Work of the hands of an artificer, with an axe, 4 With silver and with gold THEY BEAUTIFY IT, With nails and with hammers they fix it.” [YLT]

One of the “customs of the nations” was to take a tree from the forest and beautify it. Can anyone with straight face say, “It did not matter”? For what did Yehowah condemn - destroying their city and temple in the 5th Century BC - His own People? Was it not because they had taken up the customs of the pagan nations, including the adoration of a forest tree with ornaments?

One might hear someone say, “Yes, but that was ancient history. That was Israel. Things are different in the Christian Church.” Well, in the Christian Church, “Does it matter” whether the Church absorbs pagan custom, ritual, and observances - adopting their practices in the guise of Christ and Christianity?

We have read above that Paul warn the former pagan Corinthians to “flee from idolatry” and “not partake of the table of demons.” In his second inspired epistle to the cosmopolitan congregation, he warned them again for the need for spiritual separation from “unclean” religious practices and worship. Observe, his words in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 -

“[Corinthians], do not become unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or, what communion between light and darkness? Also, what harmony between Christ and Belial? Or, what portion between a believer and an unbeliever? Also, what agreement between God’s Divine Habitat and idols? We are the Living God’s Divine Habitat! Just as the God said: ‘I shall indwell in them, and I shall walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they shall be my People.’ [Leviticus 26:11] ‘As a result, all of you come out from among them, and all of you determine the boundaries,’ says YHWH, ‘and do not continue to touch the unclean thing [Isaiah 52:11] … then I shall take all of you in [Ezekiel 20:41] … and I shall be a Father to all of you, and all of you will be sons and daughters to me,’ [2 Samuel 7:14] says YHWH Almighty.” [NCMM]

Let us ask Paul whether it mattered that Christians had “partnership,” or “communion,” or “harmony,” or “a portion of,” or any “agreement” between the Church and what breaks God’s law, what belongs to Darkness, what belongs to Satan [Belial], or with striving to find agreement with unbelievers and idolaters? What would be Paul’s answer? Would he say, “Does it really matter?” How can that be when he goes on to quote Isaiah, “come out [and] determine the boundaries [and] stop touching the unclean thing.” And then - continuing with Ezekiel and Samuel - that only then would God take these Christians in to his intimate relationship as His children.

Let us be honest with ourselves: if we were to transport Moses - from whom we heard the words of the Law mentioned above - and then Jeremiah - from whom we heard his prophetic words above - and then Paul - from whom we have heard these words - and let them observe the modern “Christian” observance of Christ-Mass - well, what would be their reactions? What would these three outstanding servants of Yehowah think of the adoration of a decorated pine tree in the millions, or even billions? What would they think of the adoration of this tree with decorations of every kind? What would they think of hymns that amount to prayers, like, “O, Christmas Tree”? Or, those to stars, angels, yule logs, crucifixes, votive candles, prayer beads, images?

In addition to this, what would these holy men think of the billions upon billions of dollars, pesos, pesetas, lira, francs, marcs, and a hundred other currencies - all spent on gifts to family and friends? What would they think of all this wealth, almost beyond comprehension, used in this adoration, while Christian and non-Christian poor and needy go without food, clothing, and medicines? Upon their objections as prophets of God, could we tell them, “Does it really matter?”

The evidence seems transparent: the Roman Catholic Church, beginning with its first Pontifex Maximus [Great Bridge-builder], Constantine, made the religious and political decision to conform and transform into any local idolatry and practices with the purpose of converting the heathen to Christianity. This was so successful that within a few centuries the Church ruled Europe. When the so-called Protestant reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin and others separated from the Holy Mother Church, they took most of the attitudes and customs with them.

In the end, no matter the origins or background of Christ-Mass, it is likely that those Christians who are determined to observe it will continue to do so. Nothing will change their minds that they are observing the birth of Christ - though it did not occur on December 25. And despite the fact so many pagan trappings are connected to Christ-Mass, such Christians will continue to celebrate the Catholic holiday. And despite the fact that Christ-Mass is deluged in materialism and commercialism, it will matter not that a large portion of earth’s inhabitants will go to sleep in a state of starvation.

Some Christians will be moved by the facts regarding Christ-Mass and will either discontinue the practice or strive to make sure than Christ is at the center as they view “this day above other days.” [Romans 14:5, 6] Each Christian is free to determine for themselves whether this or that celebration or observance will be something they practice. In the end, each Christian stands as a responsible individual before the judgment-throne of Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:10]

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FAITH - DEAD OR ALIVE?

Faith has been defined as hope, belief, conviction, or trust in something that is not visible or has not yet been realized. Paul defines this all-important Greek word PISTIS: “Faith is hoping for something, [hoping for] the reality of things without visible proof. For, it was because of [their] faith that the ancients received convincing evidence. By such faith we comprehend how God’s verbal commands set in order the periods of time, so that what is visible came into existence by what is unseen.” [Hebrews 11:1-3 Christian Scriptures 2001]

Other versions render this definition: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the sign that the things not seen are true.” [BAS] “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” [DAR] “Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.” [WEY] “And faith is of things hoped for a confidence, of matters not seen a conviction,” [YLT]

Now, according to the Nazarene faith can have strength and size - as in “little” or “weak.” Paul associates faith with a divine gift. [Roman 12:3] He also writes that “not everyone possesses faith.” [2 Thessalonians 3:2] However, it is the disciple James who speaks of either a living or dead faith. The very idea of a dead faith may come as a shock to some Christians. What does James mean by this? How does he illustrate such a dead faith? Is faith alone enough? Let us do a study of James chapter 2 for the answers.

Introduction: Faith and Financial Standing

James introduces his subject of a dead faith with an unusual and unexpected atmosphere in the early Church - social and economic prejudice. Note this in James 2:1-4 --

JA2:1 My brothers, do not hold conviction in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with partiality or favoritism. JA2:2 For if a man in splendid clothing, with gold rings on his fingers, enters your synagogue -- and also at the same time a poor man in shabby clothing -- JA2:3 and you look on the one wearing the splendid clothing, and tell him, “You sit here in this good seat,” and to the poor man you say, “You stand in the back or squat here by my footstool” --- JA2:4 are you not making distinctions among yourselves and have become judges with evil thoughts? [NCMM]

At first it is unthinkable what James describes in some of the early congregations of Christians. On the other hand, it does not come as a surprise that “partiality or favoritism” existed then, for it exists even today at the beginning of Church history in the 3rd millennium. Others phrase this bad characteristic this way: an attitude of personal favoritism [NAS], flattery of human greatness [KNX], and, show snobbery [NEB]. James echoes Proverbs 24:23, “To have respect for a person’s position when judging is not good.” [BAS]

Even the thought of favoritism -- class partiality, status, personality cults, economic bias, race and national distinctions -- within the Christian community is unthinkable, even disgusting. Such attitudes are alien to the Nazarene. And yet, here James finds it -- has observed and witnessed it sufficiently to write about it. This is not one mere isolated case that could be handled personally and corrected. It is a widespread attitude.

What caused it? How did such a thing come about? Obviously egotism and pride are at the root of class distinctions -- rooted in the idea that my way of life, my family status, my financial standing, my racial group, my nation, even the part of the country I am from -- is superior. Even language or accent difference can cause such attitudes. [Acts 6:1, 2] Who bears the brunt of this arrogance? It is generally the poor and it is from this perspective James writes. So, here, in this “favoritism” is economically based.

Shocking such a thing would exist among those who profess to follow the poor Nazarene -- a man unable to scrape up the temple tax together with a close follower so that a miracle had to be performed by finding the coin in a fish’s mouth! A man so poor when a scribe offered to follow him anywhere the Nazarene responded, “Unlike birds with roosts I do not know where I am sleeping tonight.” That was enough to put off the educated copyist.

It is Paul who writes to the rich Corinthians about their fellows and “their deep poverty” and then reminds them “ ... you are aware of the charitable kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in your behalf he became poor though he was rich, so that you might become rich through that One’s poverty.” [2 Corinthians 8:2, 9 NCMM] Writing himself, the Nazarene gives stern warning to a congregation which would boast, “I have become rich and do not need anything!” [Revelation 3:17 NCMM] Some modern Christians, lacking true faith, make the same claim in tryin ti prove God’s blessing.

To be fair, the rich man in these verses cannot be automatically condemned for it is others who also demonstrate the preferential treatment of favoritism to the rich. Though perhaps we can censor this rich man for not refusing the elitist treatment which shames his poor brethren. Or, he is a rich man who has not yet heard of the Nazarene’s teaching at Luke 12:33. Of course, at this moment, we do not even know that he is a Christian, but a stranger who has some interest in this “meeting.” Surely, if this is his first Christian meeting he will draw poor conclusions about such a group and perhaps choose to examine some other form of worship that lacks this prejudice.

How does one identify the rich? Proverbs warns “there is the rich person pretending to be poor.” But, generally, this is not the case and one estimates a person’s material worth by jewelry, clothing, residence or automobile. The poor could not afford gold rings -- note it is plural -- and Jesus said, “... fine, soft clothing is found in the homes of wealthy royalty.” The poor were blessed with but one lifetime garment usually in three or four layers. Paul counsels women -- and we may assume the general principle applies to men - “Women … adorn themselves with appropriate dress, soundness of mind, adorning themselves modestly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls, nor costly clothing.” [1 Timothy 2:9; compare 1 Peter 3:3] The first disciples at Pentecost obeyed the command of the Nazarene and “sold their belongings to distribute to their poor brothers. [Luke 12:33; Acts 2:45; 4:32-37] Unlike this rich man entering the Christian gathering, Paul was “homeless” and often ill-clad for the weather. [1 Corinthians 4:11] Any serious adherent of the Nazarene would not be identified by “fancy clothing” or “expensive garb” nor be gold-fingered.

The rich man and the poor man enter a Christian (Jewish) “gathering” or “meeting” or “assembly.” The Greek is synagogen and if the word is transliterated and left untranslated it would become ‘into the synagogue.’ It is so rendered in each of the 20 cases in Acts where “synagogue” is mentioned. There is a heightened use in the form episynagogen used at Hebrews 10:25 regarding Hebrew-Christian meetings as well as once with regarding to the Great-Gathering of the saints. [See notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:1] The use of “synagogue” here strengthens the view that James is primarily addressed to Christian-Jews in that early period when Paul and the other disciples were still making use of the synagogue as a standard preaching platform. [Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14, 42, 43; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 7, 19, 26; 19:8]

Like the Jews, the first Christians gathered in regular assembly and often this was in the private homes of individuals and later during persecution wherever their was a convenient and secret place to meet. In the case in James either the place is very large and crowded or very small because it is standing-room-only. The idea that there would be a “footstool” might argue for a private home. This is a unique occurrence of the word outside of a Hebrew Bible quotation. Perhaps it is an absurdum -- though it is not unlikely one might bring such a footstool to a Christian gathering for comfort.

It is the Nazarene who pronounces the Blessing, “Happy are the poor. He himself was such by every form of the word: he was often to sleep out doors under the stars, he was hungry on occasion, he relied on the hospitality of others, and he was regularly and normally supplied by those charitable women who looked to his needs. It is true on rare occasions he was treated in an extravagant manner such as the woman of ill-repute and the “waste” (according to Judas) of a year’s wages in perfuming Jesus’ body prior to his burial. But these are extremely isolated. Jesus was poor, and poverty -- even what many today would consider extreme asceticism, or at least a roundly self-sacrificing lifestyle -- was the lot he chose.

In this regard he was different from Agur who prayed, “do not give me great wealth or let me be in need, but give me only enough food.” [Proverbs 30:8] Jesus shared the poverty of that majority which responded to him. When the Nazarene says, “For you will always have the poor among you.” [Matthew26:9-11 NCMM] Perhaps Jesus echoes Moses: “For the poor will never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your needy, and to your poor, in your land.” [Deuteronomy 15:11 WEB]

Jesus’ touring group had a “poor box” and the Nazarene displayed a keen interest in the poor. [John 12:5-8; John 13:29] This genuine charity was practiced by his disciples as shown in the instructions of the apostolic body and elders in Jerusalem. [Galatians 2:10] Paul praises the Hebrew-Christians for their general disposition of charity -- With joy you plundered your own possessions.” [Hebrews 10:34 NCMM]

As a result of these disparities between the rich and the poor, Christians were showing “class distinctions.” The very thought is disgusting and would without argument be repulsive to the Nazarene! In Greek this is diekriphete en eautois and diekrithete is related in the doubting, wavering man in James 1:6. It means to separate in order to make a distinction and often is translated “doubt.” It is also related to diakrisis and a judicial differentiation as at Romans 14:1. It is used in Jude 22 of the doubter in need of mercy. The Greek suffix krith is that of the word “judge” (kritai) which follows. [English “critic” finds its root here.]

These are critical, judgmental persons who “doubt” the value of the poor man and appraise the rich more than he deserves. By these “wicked decisions” they make themselves judges. Jesus warned against this: “Also, stop being judgmental and you will never be convicted. Stop condemning others and you will never be condemned.” [Luke 6:37 NCMM] Paul pursues this powerful theme in Romans chapter 14. The idea of “class” - and the prejudicial distinctions which arise from it - is so common to fallen human nature there seems not a time when it has not been present among mankind. [2 Kings 24:14; 1 Chronicles 23:11; Isaiah 53:9; Jeremiah 5:4; Galatians 2:12]

What gives rise to it? Pride and egotism -- for what man does not believe his own opinion correct and his own lifestyle superior? Paul warns of this “For we are not daring to rank ourselves, or equate ourselves, with some who recommend themselves. But they -- in measuring themselves with their own standards, and comparing themselves by a self-evaluation - are without understanding.” [2 Corinthians 10:12] NCMM] It is the rare individual, indeed, who is the personification of modest humility and who, despite having firm convictions, with empathy views all others to be his “superior.” [Philippians 2:3] It is clear that class distinction rise mainly from economic status but for a disciple of the Nazarene who is taught by his Master to “sell all and give” this is meaningless.

Such persons make themselves into “judges with evil thoughts.” Or, “prove to be critics with evil motives.” [WMS] Those who verbally or mentally become critics of their brothers and who then render what are truly “wicked judicial decisions” waste their time within the Christian community. They belong to the world and they speak the things of the world. But, what are the reasons James gives why the poor should not be ill-treated by fellow Christians?

The Ill-treatment of the Poor

JA2:5 Listen, my beloved brothers, did not The God choose the world’s poor to become rich in conviction and heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those loving Him? JA2:6 For you have dishonored the poor person. Do not the rich oppress you? Are not the rich those who drag you into law-courts? JA2:7 Do not the rich blaspheme the good name by which you have been called? JA2:8 You will do well indeed if you continue to perform the royal law according to the Scripture, “You will love your neighbor as yourself.” [Leviticus 19:18] JA2:9 However, if you show partiality you commit a sin and are exposed by the Law as transgressors. [NCMM]

James first reason is that it was the poor God chose. God chooses whom He pleases and He has been making such choices for thousands of years. [Deuteronomy 4:37; Acts 13:17; Psalm 78:68, 70; Matthew 12:18; Luke 6:13; John 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:27, 28] With the coming of Christ a special election or choosing began -- the calling of persons to become “people who are the saints of the Most High.” [Daniel 7:27] But, James emphasizes as does Paul that it is the “poor” who will represent the majority in this Kingdom. This is wholly in line with the Nazarene. [Luke 18:24-26] There is not single case of a rich disciple of the Lord save those who were such in secret. Whether Zachaeus remained rich after his promise to the Lord is unknown. Paul does mention “those who are rich” but it would seem if they obeyed his “orders” they would in time do exactly as the Master instructed his apostles at Luke 12:33. It is this choosing in which the poor of James 1:9 “exult.” The rich are exempt or fail to muster to the call for the reasons given later in James.

Though poor, James says they are “rich in conviction” or faith. Now here, first James begins to associate what has gone above with his main theme of faith. As pointed out in James 1:3 faith has strengths and sizes -- here it has values. The idea of being rich materially and poor spiritually dates from the Proverbs and is taught by the Nazarene. It may be said that the rich will probably never fully trust God because they always have their material resources to rely on. The poor have nothing -- but also they have fewer distractions which eat up precious time.

James’ second reason is that the “rich oppress the poor” and are always “dragging them into courts of law.” Historically it is a truism that “the rich oppress.” It is their greed that makes them squeeze every farthing from the mouths of the poor. But, what “rich” does James have in mind? A generic statement of principle? Or, was he aware of rich Christians (or, Jews) who were behaving oppressively? Judging from things he says later it may be true there were such examples within the Christian community just as there were in the Jewish community.

Paul also censors the rich Corinthians for having lawsuits and dragging brothers into courts though in the case(s) he has in mind the defrauded person may be the one doing the suing. [1 Corinthians 6:1-8] With James it is the rich who oppress the poor by means of the judicial and legal system. The rich can afford the attorneys and the time in court -- the poor cannot. It is also possible the rich -- because they can bribe judging elders [a time-honored tradition] -- can manipulate judgments in their favor even within the Christian community. The rich have subtle ways of currying favor with responsible men who lose their freeness of speech because of the largess of rich sponsors.

James 1:9 says the poor or lowly brother is exalted, but the rich “dishonored.” They do not follow what Paul would later exhort in Romans 12:10. How is it the rich drag the poor before courts? Or, why is it? Solomon says “the poor are immune from threats because they have nothing. In Corinth it was the defrauded one who took his brother to court. Here in James it is rich oppression which “drag the poor into judicial hearings. The rich are so greedy they cannot rest if there is a single penny they cannot squeeze out of the poor. In James 5:4 the wages of the worker (poor worker) is withheld -- an old trick of the rich because they hate to let go. If the poor laborer made the mistake of borrowing from the rich while waiting for his rightful wage and then that was not forthcoming, the rich could take legal action. The rich do not follow the Nazarene’s teaching, “Give to the one asking and do not expect interest or insist on repayment.” [Luke 6:34, 35] This judicial pressure on the poor Christian abuses the “fine name” by which they are called because it brings reproach on God’s name.

James recommends the Christian alternative -- love -- by quoting Leviticus 19:18 [as did the Nazarene] and giving it the title, The Kingly Law or Royal Commandment. It is “kingly” because God gave it and Jesus repeated it. It is interesting James does not quote Jesus or use as his authority the many teachings of the Nazarene on this subject of neighbor love. Most formal religions would make the most of that authority from their founder or master. But nothing carries more weight with James’ audience than the Law of Moses and thus the quote from Leviticus.

Paul makes use of Leviticus 19:18 twice and in so doing summarizes all the law with this one principle - neighbor love. [Romans 13:9-11; Galatians 5:14] Paul also alludes to this as the “law of the Christ” and so voices something similar to James’ “kingly law.” [Galatians 6:2] Yes, if the rich would practice this and do so in the manner outlined in the Nazarene’s Mountain Teachings this reproach on God and Christ would be removed and these rich men would “prove themselves disciples of the Lord by the exercise of love.”

But instead, some in the Christian Church are “showing partiality.” But, alas, favoritism or prejudicial and divided reckoning and judgments is the problem at hand -- and not of just the rich, but also of the poor who will tend to show favoritism to the rich in hopes of some benefit to themselves. How is this favoritism shown? It may be shown by those who have the financial means by important invitations to prestigious banquets; a currying of favors for political ambition in the form of simonized appointments; by “admiring personalities for personal benefit” [Jude 16]; by preferential treatment; by flattering speech or special recognition.

This prejudice showed its ugly face very early in the first century Church. Acts chapter 6 records the affair. During the daily food distribution the Greek-speaking widows were be “overlooked” - that is putting it politely - in favor of the Hebrew-speaking widows. It seems clear it was the Jewish or Hebrew-speaking Christians who were showing prejudice and partiality toward those who spoke a different language. This problem was corrected with the first appointment of deacons to care for the liberal distribution of this communal food.

James calls this prejudice a sin. He warns such political skullduggery and back-room politics is a sin and transgression of law. Such men are in the wrong religion for one day they will be called upon to prove their faith -- and in this they will fail; or, God’s own judgment will be visited upon them and they will to be found without those ‘friends’ who are truly important. [Luke 16:9] How does James prove his point from the Law?

A New Law of Freedom

JA2:10 For whoever observes all the Law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of [breaking] all of them. JA2:11 For the same One who said, “Do not commit adultery,” [Exodus 20:14] also said, “Do not murder.” [Deuteronomy 5:17] So, if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. JA2:12 So, both speak and act as though you are about to be judged by a law of freedom. JA2:13 Because, the judgment will be without mercy to those who have not shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

One cannot decide which laws to keep and which laws to break. For according to James, the violation of one law is a violation of all of them. [Leviticus 4:2; Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10] When James uses the word “law” here he means the Mosaic law given at Sinai for he goes on to quote from two of the Ten Commandments. One is either law-abiding or one is a law-breaker. In the absolute sense if one breaks any law he cannot say he is law-abiding for he has broken law. In the contractual sense the people of God agreed at Sinai, All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.If they broke one law they had failed in their covenant promise. [Exodus 19:8 LXX]

This is Paul’s argument also. It is not the same as modern law where there are varying degrees of guilt for misdemeanors and felonies. And here James is not discussing equal punishment for law-breaking -- he is arguing the abstraction that a single slip in the slightest point makes one a transgressor and that is all there is to that. So in this absolute sense “There is no one who does good perfectly.” [Romans 3:12] An illustration would be man who is in prison for committing a crime. In matters not to the average person why this man is in prison -- he is a prisoner because he is a law-breaker, whether extortion or murder -- the result is the same; and, in the mind of society he is just a prisoner.

The law made allowances for accidental mistakes and there were sanctifying actions one could take even in some capitol offenses. The subject before James is the rich and their transgression of the single law he stated, “You must love your neighbor. These rich Jewish Christians, by violating this single law were shown to be transgressors of those laws that are based on this principle of neighbor love. For, neither murder nor adultery will occur where one has neighborly love.

James has already discussed these two points: the tongue and performing. The rich have transgressed with their tongue because they have set themselves up as wicked and critical judges. They have also violated the law of neighbor love by dishonor, oppression and judicial action against the poor. Though the Mosaic Law held the rich liable for the care of the poor there is no way to legislate this. But, these rich have come into a different set of rules and circumstances within the New Covenant. The subject or “doing” or becoming a “doer” and the use of the tongue is one James’ mind and he is moving toward the details

The rich are now members of a community which will be judged by a different set of standards including the principle stated in the law of neighbor love. No Jew could be punished or judged for failure to control his tongue in passing personal critical judgments on others as long as he did not openly lie or offer false testimony in court. He could not be judged or punished for withholding charity from those in need. But, now, not the law but the spirit of the law -- something taught by the Nazarene in his Mountain Teachings -- is the new basis for judging him.

The expression in Greek nomon eleutherias is unique to James and he has used a similar phrase already at James 1:25 -- nomon teleion ton tes eleutherias. Translators approach this phrase differently. The idea of a liberating law is taken up by Paul in Galatians 5:1, 13 and Galatians 6.2 where nomon and eleutheria are used. Paul infers the Law of Moses in a “yoke of slavery” because it is taken en toto with its law on circumcision. The “law of Christ” or the “kingly law” is based solely on Leviticus 19:18 -- love thy neighbor -- without the need of many scores of specifics. This law is defined elsewhere as ‘working what is good to your neighbor’. This law of the Christian community is highly liberating, or “the law of a free people” released from the burden and slavery of the Mosaic Law. This royal legislation is the basis for judging “those” who are a “free people” -- and this judgment comes from God.

Whereas under the Mosaic Law one was judged by the sanctions imposed by individual regulations and carried out under judicial examination by the appointed elders of the community, the “free people” in the New Israel of God will be judged either worthy of everlasting non-existence or immorality in the heavens. Paul often warns of this. [1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10]

James mentions the triumph of “mercy.” The Nazarene considered “mercy” as a “weightier matter of the Law of Moses” ignored by the Jewish hierarchy. The Greek eleos may mean compassion or pity, but generally it is used from the standpoint of “giving” or charity. For compassion and pity are useless without positive action toward the object of the mercy. The Latin root of mercy meant the gift or payment to mercenaries and is used here as kindness manifest to the poor. [Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says: "ELEOS 'is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it. . . . sympathy manifested in act.” The merciless will receive merciless judgment. [See notes on Matthew 7:1, 2.]

Those who refuse to give generously and share liberally will likewise receive nothing from God. [James 1:7] This spirit of victorious mercy is straight out of Proverbs: “He who has pity on the poor lends to Yahweh; He will reward him.

(Proverbs 19:17 WEB) The phrase “mercy is triumphant over (God’s) judgment” is straight out of the Mountain Teachings [Matthew 5:7] and the Lord’s Prayer. [Luke 11:4] The thrust of this is directed toward the rich as previously discussed by James [James 1:10, 27] and yet to be expanded upon in James 2:15, 16. Now, how does this all relate to faith? How does it bear on the subject of either a dead faith or a living faith? James continues with a compelling example:

What Kind of Works of Faith?

JA2:14 My brothers, what is the profit if anyone says, “I have conviction,” but does not have works? Is just his conviction able to save him? JA2:15 [For example], if a brother or sister is living without adequate clothing and lacks daily food, JA2:16 and anyone of you says, “Go in peace. Keep warm and well fed” -- but do not give them their bodily necessities -- what is the profit? JA2:17 Just so, conviction without works is dead by itself.

James anticipates the defense of the rich person, “I have faith!” This is repeated in James 2:18 and it is likely James has in mind a real person or group of persons who have presented a view or objection. This person or group is most likely the rich who feel faith is sufficient and need not be accompanied by works of charity and humanity -- which is the subject under consideration. In modern times at the beginning of the 3rd Millennium there are some who call themselves “carnal Christians” and believe that God forgives them no matter their sin.

As in James’ day, these claim, “I have conviction.” That is belief or faith. James does not define “faith” as does Paul [Hebrews 11:1] but the Greek pistis is simply trust. It was a word even used of credit in business so the rich ought to know something of this. “Faith” is a Lain root word and “trust” is OE drawn from dru or the oak tree. “Faith” is used 500 times and occurs first with regard to Abraham at Genesis 15:6, and most often in all Bible books it occurs 60 times in Romans and 17 times in James -- all but once in chapters 1 and 2.

In James 2:1 he has used “faith” with regard to Jesus Christ and he also uses it in connection with God at James 2:19. How one could reason faith could be separated from action is difficult to comprehend. However, there are millions of Christians in modern times who still think so. The subject of faith and works is a strong one in Paul and many think they have found a rift between James and Paul. Any close study of the two will show them in agreement. Judging from Acts the disciple, and congregational apostle, James -- brother of the Lord -- has Jewish roots as strong as Paul’s.

But, Paul breathes of his effort to “become a Greek to win Greeks” though he is submissive to any attempt to also “remain a Jew to save Jews.” One should not struggle so hard to see a difference between the two rather than be aware of the two different audiences. Paul does not speak to a synagogue the same way he speaks to Greek philosophers. [Compare Acts chapters 13 and 17] We do not have a letter from James to a Greek audience to compare. In Paul “works” are largely a matter of the Mosaic Law and he also finally reduces this to the royal law of neighborly love. To James “works” are specifically limited to charity as James 2:16 shows. That faith and salvation are involved is shown by his phrase, “That faith cannot save him.” James writes years before Paul and Paul may be viewed as a clarification on any confusion presented in James.

James uses a practical example, perhaps an experience he actually knows about, or an observation he has made many times with regard to the rich. He has heard this and again he uses “a certain one” but the Greek “you” here is in the plural so this no single incident. The example is pure humanitarism and charity -- or lack thereof. The object of the need is a fellow believer -- a brother or sister -- and the need is immediate and serious. This is not a case of taking care of someone long-term but that requirement for that particular day. The Greek is different from Matthew 6:11 but the spirit is the same -- daily bread.

Whereas the rich will make great plans to make profits over the period of a year in a distant city they do not respond to the daily needs of those whom they profess to be related to in the faith. John uses a similar example in 1 John 3:17, 18, “For example: if any of us has this world’s resources for maintaining life and is aware that another Christian is in need and yet slams shut the doors of his tender affections -- how is it possible that God still loves that person? My little children, make it your habit to always show loving concern, not in speech or words only, but in positive and real action.” Both James and John seem familiar with the parable of the sheep and goats. [See notes on Matthew 25:31-46]

James writes of the same subject as Paul. [1 Corinthians 13:2, 3] It is interesting, James does not amplify or attach additional riders to this simple demonstration of faithful works. For example, he does not clarify by saying, “Of course, the most important act of charity is providing for one’s spiritual needs.” Nor does he once launch into a desertion on the disciple-making commission of Matthew 28:19. Here he is dealing with those within the Christian community and their urgent material needs. This is the same spirit of Galatians 6:10 and Romans 12:13. [See Nazarene Commentary 2000© notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Titus 3:8; 1 Corinthians 13:2; Job 31:19-23; Isaiah 58:7; Matthew 25:35-36; Luke 3:11; Deuteronomy 15:7, 8]

The rich person with the worldly where-with-all upon observing a Christian brother or sister in need responds with a “go in peace,” or “good luck to you.” [NEB] In modern times this is a, “Well, I hope you find something.” The idea is present in Proverbs 3:27, 28, “Don't withhold good from those to whom it is due,
When it is in the power of your hand to do it. Don't say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, Tomorrow I will give it to you,’ When you have it by you.” [WEB] Such a person who violates this “kingly law” is in danger of eternal extermination as the Nazarene shows in his parable of the sheep and goats. [Matthew 25:31-46]

And so, James has now linked the rich with his main theme, “Conviction without works id dead.” Faith is dead without positive action. Dead faith is unconscious, sleeping, lifeless, non-existent. It may be active in other areas but if faith forgets basic human need and dignity it is completely worthless and will make no impression on God Almighty. The Father is the epitome of charitable caring as the Nazarene teaches [Matthew 5:45] and any who profess to be His worshippers must be characterized by those attributes of the kindly Samaritan. [Luke 10:33] See Nazarene Commentary 2000© on Deuteronomy 15:7, 8; Matthew 7:22, 23; Luke 3:11; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:14; 1 John 3:17. But, James faces one last justification or rationalization in the self-deception of the rich Christian.

Why Faith is Not Enough

JA2:18 Now, someone will argue, “You have conviction and I have works. Show me your conviction without the works and I will show you my conviction from my works.” JA2:19 You do well if you believe that The God is One. Even the demons believe and shudder. JA2:20 O shallow man, are you unwilling to realize that conviction without works is fruitless. JA2:21 Was our father Abraham not pronounced innocent without works, having offered up his son Isaac upon the altar? JA2:22 You observe that the conviction was working together with Abraham’s works and by these works the conviction was completed. JA2:23 And so the Scripture was fulfilled which said, “And Abraham believed and it was accredited to him for righteousness,” [Genesis 15:6] and, “God’s friend,” [Isaiah 41:8] he was called.

A certain person shows up again, probably the same fellow, type or class of James 2:14 and probably representing the rich for the only justification in clinging to his wealth is to convince himself that faith is enough. He does not feel the need follow the Nazarene’s teaching at Luke 12:33, and elsewhere, and give to his poor brothers. [Galatians 5:6; James 3:3]

This is a real objection known to James or he anticipates it as an argument in favor of the sufficiency of belief alone. Actually this argument is fallacious for the rich man does not have works as he claims. He says to James, “You have faith,” and claims, “I have works,” as he creates a straw-man argument. He claims to be a show-me person: “Demonstrate to me belief without works and I will demonstrate my belief by works.”

James’ response is “You believe that ‘The God is One’.” [Deuteronomy 6:4] This is not an atheist as the rhetorical question indicates. Nor is this a polytheist or agnostic? Nor is this a Trinitarian like an Egyptian. James does not ask if this “certain one” believes in Jesus the Nazarene. Since from the outset it is apparent James is writing to Jewish Christians the question regarding “one God” is highly appropriate. Every Jew was familiar with and repeated often the anthem of Israel -- the Shema -- “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” [Deuteronomy 6:4] This person is commended for his belief in one God; however, as pointed out, “the demons believe and shudder from fear. This later phrase is unique to James. The demons have pisteuousiN -- a word rooted in pisti for faith or belief. So even the demons have faith! After all they have first-hand experience about God from their previous state. The sense of their trust or belief is shown in their fear when demons beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss or suggest the Nazarene will “torment” them before the due time.

James begins to conclude by addressing this rich Jewish Christian as a “hollow man.” That is a shallow or empty man. This “certain one” is now a man of kene or emptiness, and James drives his point home: “faith without works is dead.” He proceeds with his Scriptural argument based on the case of Abraham.

James has now shown that the rich person who refused to assist the poor and needy has a dead faith. The Christian with the means to help others and refused to sacrifice his or her wealth has an inactive, ineffective, worthless faith that amounts to nothing. So now James moves on to proving Biblical this powerful assertion. He says that “conviction without works [of charity] is fruitless.” [Or, AMP: is inactive and ineffective and worthless; GDSP: without good deeds amounts to nothing; NEB: divorced from good deeds is barren.] One who is convinced about something usually has no trouble expressing an opinion or even trying to convince others. Paul expresses himself this way, “I believed and therefore I spoke.” [2 Corinthians 4:13] According to both Jesus and James the most important element of faith is charity.

James will give two examples. The first is Abraham. It is noteworthy that Abraham is called “our father” and this further supports the view the audience is of Jewish roots. This is a claim made by the Pharisees, "Our father is Abraham." [John 8:39] It is a subject they know about -- Abraham. [It is possible James foresees Paul’s “Abraham, the father of all those having faith” including non-Jews. James refers to the offering up of Isaac and states it was after this event Abraham was justified by this action or works.

This initially presents an interesting problem. The expression “count it to him as righteousness” occurs at Genesis 15:6, “And he put faith in Jehovah; and he proceeded to count it to him as righteousness. It is not Abraham but Abram and the occasion is much earlier -- at least 25 years or more earlier. It is upon that occasion described in the Genesis account, after having left Ur and traveled to Canaan. [Romans 4:10-12, 18-21; Hebrews 11:8] Abraham is circumcised after his name change and the making of his covenant with God at the age of 99. How is it James could use this argument for works when, as Paul argues, it was a justification based on faith and not on works, for the “work” James mentions had not occurred and would not occur for another 25 years? One answer would be a telescopic view in which the original justification for faith was fully realized or perfected when the seed finally arrived in fulfillment of God’s promise and upon Abraham’s attempt to offer up his son.

Thus, Abram’s initial faith in God’s promise was put to the test with the action of offering up Isaac. By this that initial faith was proven beyond a doubt. So, it says at Hebrews 11:17, “In faith when Abraham was tested he approached with Isaac and offered up the only-begotten - the very one who had received the promises.” The “test” was of the initial faith so in this sense that justification which occurred in the original uncircumcised state takes on a more perfected meaning -- which is what James 2:22 suggests -- and James telescopes his view without a contradiction. He sees the altar event as the real culmination of Abraham’s faith and also the complete and mature justification that ushers Abraham into “friendship” status with God.

Thus, “by these works the conviction was completed.” [Or, KJV: by works was faith made perfect; RHM: became full grown; NEB: and that by these actions the integrity of his faith was fully proved.] Though James has given charity as an example of living faith, Abraham’s works involved two major actions: a) He left Ur and traveled to Canaan; and, b) He offered up his son. It is only after such solid evidence that Abraham became “God’s friend.” [Compare 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8] It is thus that the ancient patriarch was possessed of a living faith.

Finally, James gives a second example of how works affirm or validate one’s faith. He speaks of the prostitute Rahab, a non-Hebrew.

An Example of Living Faith

JA2:24 You observe that a human is pronounced innocent by works and not just conviction alone. JA2:25 And just so, also, was not Rahab the prostitute pronounced innocent by works, having received the messengers and then sent them out by another way? JA2:26 Therefore, just as the body without pneuma is dead, so also, conviction without works is dead.

James concludes his premise or affirmation that “a human is pronounced innocent by works and not just conviction alone.” [Or, TCN: you see, then, that it is as a result of his actions that a man is pronounced righteous; WMS: you see that a man is shown to be upright by his good deeds.] When viewed from a knowledgeable perspective of Paul’s writings, there is no contradiction here. One cannot insist there was no disagreement at all between those in the Church who wished a continuing Jewish legalistic influence and those who saw a growing non-Jewish influence. We note after chapter 15 in the book of Acts that Peter vanishes and there seem two stellar individuals: James and Paul. Romans 4:5 may be understood to refer to works of the Law in an attempt to be justified by self-righteous efforts. Paul is to echo the Nazarene: “If you are the children of Abraham, continue to do the works of Abraham.” [John 8:39; Romans 4:13] By this Jesus likely means “works [of faith]” such as Abraham had.

James gives “Rahab the prostitute” as his second example. Rahab had already heard the news regarding the Israelites and their escape out of Egypt. [Joshua chapter 2] She had heard of YHWH and had a basis for her faith. Rahab becomes a forebear of the Messiah. (Ruth 4:20-22; Matthew 1:5, 6) Rahab is one of only two women named by Paul as examples of faith. [Hebrews 11:30, 31] And this faith was manifest by hospitality and charity, just as James argues above.

Thus, a person may have faith, but it may be dead, inactive, ineffective faith. James analogy is with the human body, “As the body without breath is dead, so faith without works is dead.” [Compare Psalm 146:4 and Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.] even speaking from a human, earthly standpoint, people who are convinced of something, or believe in something, are moved by such conviction to speak to others about it and to let such belief move them to goodness.

The professing Christian who claims a saving faith must also produce saving works. And this, according to Jesus, Paul and James is made most manifest in works of charity and hospitality. For the parable of the Nazarene regarding the sheep and goats confirms that those who are righteous and inherit the Kingdom are those who observe a humanitarian need and react positively; while, those who are cut off forever from God’s grace and blessings - having ignored the needs of their spiritual fellows - share the fate of the Devil and his demons. [Matthew 25:31-46]

May our Lord Jesus see in you a reflection of himself in that you continually follow a course of loving kindness to others and thus prove your faith is not dead but living.

==== END ====

KINGDOM PARABLES

Commentary on Matthew Chapter 13

“But, blessed are the eyes of you (disciples) because they saw; and your ears because they listened. I tell you this truth: Many prophets and righteous persons longed to see what you behold but did not see; and to listen to what you hear but did not hear.” [Matthew 13:16, 17 Christian Scriptures 2001]

People like stories. Story-tellers have held crowds in awe from the beginning of humanity. Most good stories have a moral. No teacher in the history of humankind has been so repeated, copied and commentaries published than those stories told by Jesus of Nazareth. His stories are often called parables or illustrations. They not only have a moral behind them, but in the case of some there are prophetic details. These prophecies imbedded in Christ’s parables have already proved partially true as history established. Thus, those parts yet to be fulfilled can be approached with a high degree of confidence or conviction.

Perhaps of all the parables of the Nazarene those found in Matthew chapter 13 are among the most revealing. They reveal not only truths and moral principles, but also prophetic details that may well affect our lives today. What are these? How is my life as a Christian - or non-christian - involved in these charming stories?

In this article an attempt is made to discuss several parables that have a common thread - a Kingdom of the Messiah. These illustrations help us to understand how the King will judge his own realm or domain. They reveal what our own ultimate destiny will turn out to be. A strong associated theme regarding this Kingdom or Realm is that of judgment by the King himself. No Christian will escape this judgment as Paul indicates: “For it is necessary that all of us [Christians] appear in front of the judgment-seat of the Christ, so that we might receive what we deserve for those things performed by means of the body, whether these things be ‘good or vile.’ [2 Corinthians 5:10 NCMM] With such a prospect in view, we approach these parables with keen personal interest.

CHRIST’S CHURCH WILL BE FILLED WITH WEEDS

(Matthew 13:24-30)

MT13:24 Another parable Jesus put before them, saying, “The Realm of Heaven may be compared to a man sowing good seed in his field. MT13:25 But, while men were sleeping his enemy arrived and over-seeded zizania among the wheat and then left. MT13:26 Now when the (wheat) sprouted and produced fruitage there also appeared the zizania. MT13:27 So, the slaves approached the landlord and asked him, ‘Lord, did you not sow good seed in your field?’ MT13:28 The landlord answered them, ‘An enemy did this.’ The slaves asked, ‘Do you want us to go and cull-out the zizania?’ MT13:29 But, the landlord told them, ‘No, for by accident while culling the zizania you uproot the wheat also. MT13:30 ‘Go and let both of them grow together until the harvest. Then in the harvest season I will tell the harvesters, ‘Gather first the zizania and bind them into bundles to be burned. But, the wheat gather into my storehouse.” [NCMM]

All of the following parables have one single thing as their focus - the Kingdom. Not the seat of government, but the realm or domain over which the King reigns: the realm of profession -- the Church. Jesus is to use several parables to illustrate truths or mysteries about the Congregation (or, Church) he is to build. (Matthew 16:18; Compare Ephesians 1:19-22) Regarding this domain, territory or realm of the Son’s Kingdom, Paul himself writes: “Who has made us free from the power of evil and given us a place in the kingdom of the Son of his love.” [Colossians 1:13 BAS] The Nazarene is to explain this parable a bit later. So we will examine some details in Matthew 13:36-43.

That this “kingdom” is not the literal celestial Kingdom in heaven is shown by a closer look at Matthew 13:41-43, “The Son of Humankind will send forth his angels and they will cull out of his Realm everything that causes scandal and those doing lawlessness. The angels will cast out (the sons of the Evil One) into the furnace of fire. There will be lamentation and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will ‘shine forth like the sun’ in the Realm of their Father.” We note two “kingdoms”: a] the Son’s kingdom which has the lawless and scandalous within it; and, b] the Father’s Kingdom where the Saints will shine like the sun.

Jesus says that ZIZANIA [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance # 2215, a kind of darnel, resembling wheat except the grains are black] have been planted among the wheat sown in his field. Generally this plant (Lolium temulentum) is called either tares or the “bearded darnel.” (KJV) [Or, MOF: weeds] When young it resembles wheat but with maturity it turns black and stands up straight, while wheat is golden and bows its head. (See Bible dictionaries.) William Barclay observes: “The tares and the wheat are so like each other that the Jews called the tares bastard wheat. The Hebrew for tares is zunim, whence comes the Greek zizanion; zunim is said to be connected with the word zanah, which means ‘to commit fornication’.” Thus, the weeds, tares, or ZIZANIA are a prostituted form of the wheat it resembles.

The landlord or farmer is asked if these weeds should be uprooted or culled out. The landlord responds, “No, for by accident while culling the zizania you may uproot the wheat also.” What is the meaning of this parable? This illustration is unique in that late the disciples ask for an explanation. Jesus gives added details when he explains the meaning of this kingdom comparison.

A JUDGMENT OF THE LORD’S FIELD

(Matthew 13:36-43)

Then Jesus released the crowds and came into the house. His disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the zizania of the field.” Jesus responded by saying, “The One sowing the good seed is the Son of Humankind. The field is the world. The good seed are the sons of the Realm; but the zizania are the sons of the Evil One. The enemy sowing them is the Devil. The harvest is the consummation of a period. The reapers are angels. So, even as the zizania are gathered and burned in fire, thus it will be at the consummation of the Period. The Son of Humankind will send forth his angels and they will cull out of his Realm everything that causes scandal and those doing lawlessness. The angels will cast out (the sons of the Evil One) into the furnace of fire. There will be lamentation and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will ‘shine forth like the sun’ in the Realm of their Father. Let the one with ears, hear.

After Jesus dismisses the crowd and is alone with his own apostles, and at the end of his explanation, he tells them: “Let the one with ears, hear.” So, anyone who reads this parable’s explanation should listen with comprehension as well as a willingness to respond to the moral within the teaching.

When asking for an interpretation to this Kingdom parable, it is the disciples who call it “the parable of the zizania of the field.” We see also the critical point they wondered about - should the wheat and weeds grow together?

Jesus first explains that the “field is the world.” The Greek for “world” is kosmos and means something arranged in a certain order to characterize it. The whole world of humankind is the field of the Lord. In that field the “good [or, fine/excellent] see are the sons of the Realm [or, kingdom].” Jesus has used the phrase “sons of the kingdom” earlier. In Matthew 8:12 these are children of Israel. The Nazarene tells that Jewish generation that the kingdom will be removed and given to another nation. (Matthew 21:43) That nation proved to be a spiritual one identical to the Christian Church. (1 Peter 2:5-9; Galatians 6:16) The “sons of the Realm” are the children of God within the realm of profession. Compare 2 Timothy 2:19.

It is likely that Daniel 7:14 refers to this international mixture of “sons of the Kingdom” who became subjects in Christ’s realm after his ascension to heaven and enthronement in God’s presence. [Daniel 7:13; Ephesians 1:19-21] Daniel describes these subjects as coming from “peoples, ethnic groups and languages.” This is the same language that describes that reign of kings and priests at Revelation 5:9, 10. [Revelation 7:9]

There is another “seed” sown in this field. These are “the sons of the Evil One.” That is, children of the Devil. This distinction made by Jesus is also in the writings of John. (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10) According to the apostle John what primarily identifies the children of the Devil is hatred and lack of love manifest in charity. On this matter compare Matthew 25:31-46.

The “enemy sowing [the seed of evil] is the Devil. Like the fermenting leaven, the Devil is at work even within the Realm of the Son. Paul describes such when he writes to the Corinthians: “I continue to fear that some how, as ‘the serpent seduced Eve in its cunning,’ [Genesis 3:4] your minds might be corrupted from the single-mindedness and chastity due the Christ. For it is a certainty that if a person arrives preaching another Jesus whom we did not preach - or you accept a different inspiration which you had never received - or a different Good News which you had never accepted - you [Corinthians] put up with him in a fine manner.For such persons are pseudo-apostles, deceitful workers, refashioning themselves into Christ’s apostles. And no wonder, for Satan continues to transform himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing, then, if his ministers also continue to refashion themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will be according to their works!” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 4, 14, 15 NCMM)

Indeed, virtually every inspired epistle warns of this inworking of evil and lawlessness - which is apostasy - within the Church of Christ. [2 Thessalonians chapter 2; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy chapter 3; 4:1-3; 2 Peter chapter 2; 1 John chapters 2-4; Jude] Jesus had foretold such lawlessness early in the Church’s first few decades. Matthew 24:12 has the Nazarene predicting: “Because of increasing lawlessness the love of many will cool.” [NCMM] Paul agrees less than three decades later when he says, “[This] lawlessness is already at work.” [2 Thessalonians 2:3-9] And, writing six decades after Jesus the apostle John declares, “Little children, it is the last hour, and antichrist has arrived.” [1 John chapter 2]

But this growing together of the wheat and the weeds was not to last forever. The harvest time would come. Is the harvest a generational period covering over a hundred years? Or, is it the end of a period that brings judgment? Jesus calls it “the consummation of a period of time.” The whole phrase in Greek is te synteleia tou aionos. It is nearly identical to Matthew 24:3 (see notes) and Hebrews 9:26. The phrase is also rendered: KJV: the end of the world; TCN: the close of the age; NWT: conclusion of the system of things. It seems the disciples draw their use in Matthew 24:3 from Daniel 9:26 where synteleias occurs in the Jewish Greek Bible (LXX). Jerome translates synteleia by consumatis.

This is an angelic harvest. The King Messiah uses “his angels” to assist in the harvesting of the wheat and weeds. Jesus says the same in the parable of the sheep and goats at Matthew 24:30, 31 and Matthew 25:31. There angels attend the King when he arrives to judge his realm. This is the parousia-judgment. The Nazarene’s parables in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 also deal with this judgment of his own household of faith.

Note from the initial statement of the parable that the zizania were bound and burned “first.” That is, their judgment occurs before the “sons of the Realm” are seen within the Father’s Kingdom. The parousia-judgment is a time of judging the Church upon its resurrection. For, Paul says, “we must ALL stand before the judgment-throne of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) These are those “of Christ at his Parousia” mention in 1 Corinthians 15:23. Within the Household of Faith all professing Christians are resurrected to their judgment day upon the Return of Christ. (Daniel 12:1, 2; John 5:28, 29) Those thus raised to judgment will have two outcomes: everlasting life or everlasting shame and reproach. (Daniel 12:2) Jesus paraphrases the later as a “resurrection to condemnation.” The apostle John also borrows from Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29 when he writes at 1 John 2:28; 4:17 - “Now, little children, continue to abide in (Jesus) so when the time comes for him to be made visible we all might speak openly and freely at his Arrival and not experience embarrassment while standing before him. … [during] the day of judgment.” This is the truth taught by Jesus’ Parousia parables.

Those Christians who are judged to be lawless and scandalous will be exterminated in fire. Compare Matthew 25:46 where the same befalls the “goats.” This is “the consummation of the Period.” Similar to the previous phrase but now with the article in Greek. This is the end of the Age or Period prior to the Return of Christ when the Harvest begins. It may also be the end of the Gospel Age or Age of the Church.

The King will send for his angels [Compare Matthew 24:31 and Matthew 25:31] and they will “cull out of his Realm” those described as scandalous and lawless. [Or, gather, collect out] There are certain undesirables within the Son’s Realm. Are they not the lawless of Matthew 7:21? (Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:7-9.) Jesus describes these as those who “cause scandal.” The Greek is scandala and is usually rendered: KJV: things that offend; ASV: cause stumbling; MOF: all who are hindrances; PME: spoiling; BEC: who lead others to do wrong. The history of the Church has been scandalous. These will meet their King with shame. (1 John 2:28)

They are also those who commit “lawlessness” within the Church. [Compare Matthew 7:21.] These break the two commandments of 1 John 3:23 by their faithlessness and lack of love. They are “cast out” or expelled just like the exorcising of demons. Before their demise into eternal extinction “there will be lamentation” before the judgment-throne of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28)

Only then - or after the destruction of the lawless and scandalous weeds are the righteous seen in victory. [Compare the “righteous” at Matthew 25:37.] The “righteous” are contrasted to the “lawless” for righteousness is the same as being law-abiding. The key law is that of love expressed by charity and hospitality as the parable of Matthew 25:31-46 shows. These righteous members of the Church or Realm of Christ will then begin to “shine forth like the sun” in celestial glory. The strong allusion is from Daniel 12:3 where similar language occurs. [Compare Daniel 12:2, 3 with John 5:28, 29.] The “sons of the kingdom” have now become part of the Father’s Kingdom in heaven. Note this verse in Daniel follows upon the foretold “oppression” associated with the appearing of Michael. (Daniel 12:1, 2 JBS; compare Matthew 24:30)

Jesus concludes this important Kingdom parable with a warning to all his disciples: “Let the person with ears to hear, listen!” This is a phrase the glorified Nazarene is to go on to use in the Revelation. [Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9]

CHRIST’S CHURCH BEGINS SMALL BUT BECOMES HUGE

(Matthew 13:31, 32 || Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18, 19)

Jesus put before them another parable, saying, “The Realm of Heaven may be compared to a grain of mustard which a man took and planted in his field. The mustard grain is smaller than all the seeds but when grown is greater than all vegetation as it becomes a tree. Birds of the sky find lodging in its branches.”

Having illustrated how his realm or kingdom is composed of both wheat and weeds, Jesus now gives a parable about its growth. Something about the Church -- the realm of profession -- is like a tiny seed that grows into a great tree where birds roost. Jesus uses the tiny “mustard seed” in his analogy. The Greek is sinapeos. Possibly it is Brassica nigra with a seed the size of a pinhead growing to as much as five meters. Wild mustard may have been right before them in yellow bloom along the lake. The Jews used the phrase “mustard seed” to refer to the slightest breach of ceremonial law. [Compare Matthew 17:20.]

Jesus says this tiny seed is “planted in his field.” There is an echo here of the previous parable. May the man and the field be the same? Luke 13:18 has it, “a man took and put in his garden.” This seed is described as “smaller than all the seeds.” The Greek is microteron and could infer the “least of all seeds.” There are smaller seeds (orchid) but most feel Jesus is speaking only of the land of Israel. Mark 4:31 reads: “the tiniest of all the seeds that are on the earth (or, in the land).” Also, Jesus has in mind a domestic seed that is planted in a field or garden within the experience of the disciples.

This tiny, insignificant seed “becomes a tree.” What is the meaning of the parable? In what manner is the Church (the realm of profession) like a tiny seed that grows into a great tree? Had Jesus told Pilate that within three centuries Christianity would be the state religion and the Caesar would be a Christian, how would Pilate have responded? Entering the beginning of the 3rd millennium the Christian Church is the largest of the religions on earth with Christian America the most powerful nation on earth. William Barclay writes: “Sometimes his disciples must have despaired. Their little band was so small and the world was so wide. How could they ever win and change it?”

When reading John chapter one we get an idea of the tiny beginnings of the Nazarene movement. One relative told another and another told still another. And then there were twelve. And later there were seventy active in the Master’s harvest and “fishing for humans.” After Christ’s resurrection and during the festival of Pentecost there were 120. Within a few days there were thousands. Then more thousands upon thousands. Soon persecuted Christianity numbered in the millions scattered abroad in most nations of the world. Today there are over two billion persons who claim a believe in Christ in one form or another. Certainly the “kingdom of the heavens,” or “the realm of profession,” grew from such insignificant beginnings to a tree of great size. But, what would happen during this phenomenal growth?

CHRIST’S CHURCH BECOMES CORRUPTED

(Matthew 13:33 || Luke 13:20, 21)

Jesus related to them another parable: “The Realm of Heaven may be compared to leaven, which a woman takes and kneads into three seah measures of flour until the whole is leavened.”

The Nazarene now approaches the subject from another angel. He says his realm of kingdom may be compared to a woman mixing leaven into dough until the “whole” was thoroughly mixed and fermented. There is something about the development of Christ’s Church (the realm of profession) which is like leaven.

The Greek for leaven is zume. [Or, TCN: yeast.] What do we know of “leaven” in the Christian Bible? The word occurs 8 times in the Gospels. Leaven is used of the three sects or groups and their doctrine or ideas - the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians. (Matthew 16:6, 11, 12; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1) Note it is “three measures” the woman mixes and perhaps these may be - conservative, liberal, and political.

Paul uses leaven as a metaphor for wickedness and badness. (1Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:9) This agrees with Plutarch, the Greek historian, who wrote: "(Leaven) itself [is] also the product of corruption, and produces corruption in the dough with which it is mixed." (Moralia, IV, "The Roman Questions," 109) In view of the above it does not seem twisting matters to view this parable as a prediction about the fermentation of the Christian Church. It began in the purity of the Nazarene’s teachings and example and within three centuries was bastardized and mongrelized until it was virtually unrecognizable from the original. Nearly every inspired Christian writer foretells an apostasy or falling away. (Acts 20:29, 30; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 4:3, 4; 2 Peter 2:1ff; 1 John 2:18, 19) Interestingly, no where in these parables does Jesus foretell some kind of restoration of “true religion.”

Some would try to make every single element of a parable important and worthy of some application. This need not necessarily be the case. Note the woman “hid” (ene-crypsen) the leaven. This may only mean knead. On the other hand it may be ominous - the process of fermentation is so subtle as to be unseen. Though Paul notes certain doctrines running amiss, as does John, it is likely the average Christian did not observe what was happening. For example, the process that finally created the Trinity was likely only elevating Christ beyond what the Scriptures require, until the Father and the Son became obscured.

The whole of the realm of profession is to become leavened. After two thousand years of fermentation Christendom (the Church of Christ) has undergone a metamorphoses. This is likely to continue until “that day.” Are their individuals within this realm who will find the Lord’s approval? Jesus once asked: “When the Son of Humankind arrives will he find The Faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) The explanation of the parable of the Sower reveals the answer - there will be wheat!

Women have been very influential in the development of some 19th Century sects: Mary Baker Eddy and the Church of Christian Science; Ellen White and the Seventh Day Adventists; Mary Russell and the Bible Students who later became Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other women founded New Age movements that combine elements of Christianity with Egyptian theology. Even within the 1st Century Church there were certain female influences that worked leaven into the congregations. Jesus himself identifies one in the congregation at Thyatira. [Revelation 2:20] And, finally in the Apocalypse the Church is compared to a woman, “Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots.” Also, the 144,000 are described as those who did not become spiritually unclean “with women.” So, on occasion, throughout the history of the Church there have been Christian women who influenced the Body of Christ for good or bad, just as there have been men.

So after over two thousands of years when Christ returns his end-time Saints will be found within this fermented mixture. But how will these wheat and weeds, these Christians mixed up within “the whole” be judged? Jesus repeats elements of his earlier parable from another perspective.

THE JUDGMENT OF CHRIST’S CHURCH

(Matthew 13:47-50)

“Again the Realm of Heaven may be compared to a dragnet thrown into the sea and gathering together every kind of (fish). When the net is filled it is hauled onto the beach. Then the (fishermen) sit down and collect the good fish into vessels; but, the rotten (fish) they throw away. Just so it will be in the consummation of the Period: the angels will go forth to separate the wicked from among the righteous. The angels will hurl the wicked into the furnace of fire. There will be lamentation and the grinding of teeth.

There is something about the Christian Church that resembles a fisherman’s dragnet lowered into the world to “catch men alive.” Some call this the Gospel Net. Jesus called his first disciples and told them they would “become fishers of men.” He commissioned his apostles to “Go and make disciples of people of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18, 19) Beginning with Jesus the gospel preaching “dragnet” -- the greatest evangelical effort of all time -- the Gospel Net has been fishing earth’s waters.

At the Return of Christ and the beginning of the parousia-judgment this dragnet is hauled in for examination. This parallels the parable of the Zizania in the Field as well as those parables within Matthew 24:45-25:46. At the judgment the dragnet will be filled with all those who professed Jesus as Lord as Christians throughout the Gospel or Church Age or Period.

The “good fish” are collected into vessels. Or, sorted the good fish into baskets. [TCN] And the “rotten fish” are separated from the good. Rotherham calls these “worthless.” The Greek sapros is rendered rotten or corrupt and often applied to the bad fruit of a tree. (Matthew 7:17, 18; Luke 6:43) These are the same as the “workers of lawlessness” of Matthew 7:21, 22, the zizania of Matthew 13:38, and the “goats” of Matthew 25:40-46.

These rotten fish are those who throughout the history of the Church were habitually vile or wicked. [2 Corinthians 5:10] They include some who did not work direct or deliberate harm to others, but simply did nothing when the humblest Christian was in need. Jesus makes this clear in his later parable of the sheep and goats. [Matthew 25:31-46] Note that the sheep are “righteous” because of their empathy, compassion, hospitality and charity. While on the other hand the goats are so because they saw a need and did nothing.

Paul describes these two groups of Christians at the parousia-judgment in this manner: “However, in harmony with your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in a day of wrath when the righteous judgment of The God is revealed. [The God] ‘will reward each one in harmony with [their] works’ [Psalm 62:12]. Indeed, to those who endure in good works -- glory, honor, and incorruption to those searching for ageless life. But, to those who out of selfishness disobey the truth, obeying rather unrighteousness --- wrath, anger, oppression and distress -- upon every human soul who persists in working harm to others -- first to the [Christian] Jew, but also to the Greek [Christian]. But, glory, honor, and peace to everyone who continues to work at good --- to the Jew first, but also to the Greek. ‘For there is no partiality or favoritism of persons with The God’.” [Romans 2:5-11 NCMM]

Thus, as with the separation of the wheat and weeds, this separation of the good and rotten fish will occur at the judgment upon “the consummation of the Period.” The Age or Period may be the Gospel Age or that time period of the generation that witnesses the Revelation of Christ. (Matthew 24:34) Then “angels will go forth to separate” the two kinds of fish. That is, “the wicked from among the righteous.” There are only two classes of Christians: the good and the bad. The difference between the wicked and the righteous is that the former are hurtful and unloving, and the later law-abiding and charitable. These are destroyed with great lamentation. The grief is before the throne of Christ and in their shame and reproach prior to being hurled into everlasting extinction. (1 John 2:28; Matthew 7:21)

Given the background of these Kingdom parables with their truths and principles what should be the reaction of the disciple who hears them? Jesus goes on to conclude by answer that question.

 

EACH DISCIPLE’S RESPONSIBILITY

(Matthew 13:51, 52)

“Did you (disciples) comprehend all of this?” (The Disciples) answered, “Yes.” MT13:52 So Jesus told them, “Therefore, every teacher who has become a student of the Realm of Heaven can be compared to a person, like a householder, who throws out of his treasure-chest new things and old things.”

Jesus asks his apostles if they understood everything he had said in the parables. That is did they “grasped all this” [KNX]. They answer, Yes. So we may assume the truths and morals within these parables are not beyond comprehension. Any modern Christian reader should be able to understand these parables.

Th Nazarene mentions a “teacher” who has become “a student of the Realm of Heaven.” The Greek for teacher is grammateus and is generally rendered “scribe” though some do rendered it “teacher.” The scribe was sometimes considered a teacher as well as a student sometimes as this was a life-long process. We never stop learning and thus we are always students even though we may become a teacher.

The Greek for “student” is matheteutheis. Others render this TCN: received instruction; PME: becomes a disciple; NEB: a learner. The perfect teacher is one who is also a life-long student. Such a student-teacher is compared to a “householder” or the “master of a house.” [NOR] This person searches the household “treasure-chest” and brings out, or throws out various items. The treasure are his own goods, the things he has saved. Jesus has used the word “treasure” in relation to the heart. See the notes on treasure at Matthew 6:21 and Matthew 12:35. As a student or learner (a disciple of Christ) each of these apostles has had truths stored up from the Jewish religion -- laws, principles, doctrines, prophecies. Now each ones has new truths and news ways of expressing these from the Master teacher, Jesus.

The Nazarene calls these treasure-chest items “new things and old things.” The New Jerusalem Bible footnote here reads: “The Jewish teacher who becomes a disciple of Christ has at his disposal all the wealth of the Old Testament as well as its completion in the New.” William Barclay writes: “There is something suggestive here. For it means that Jesus never desired or intended that any man [or, woman - editor] should forget all he knew when he came to him; but that he should see his knowledge in a new light and use it in a new service.” (Page 90) No person embarking on discipleship to the Nazarene can refuse to “throw out” in personal witnessing to others truths old and new.

The apostles had a wealth of truths and laws from their Jewish backgrounds, and now they had new thoughts and principles to give to others. It is interesting that despite a separation of two thousand years, the Hebrew-Jewish part of the Bible is called “old” while the Christian part is called “new.” Both elements are in the “treasure-chest” and the two sources may be used by the Christian teacher in the spiritual education of others.

Each disciple must become first a student, then a teacher who continues to be a student. Paul is critical of some Hebrew Christians who failed to do this: “Regarding [Jesus] we have the word to speak and hard to interpret since you have become sluggish in your hearing. For there are those who ought to be teachers by now, but you have a need to be taught by someone all over again from the beginning the elementary principles the sacred words of The God. You have become those needing milk and not solid nourishment. For every person partaking of milk is really unfamiliar with the word of righteousness because they remain babies. However, solid nourishment belongs to mature persons, those who through the use of their sensory organs have been trained like an athlete to be able to distinguish between what is good or bad.” [Hebrews 5:11-14 NCMM]

If after a reasonable period of time as a Christian the disciple is still just a student there may be something that needs to be done. What is it? Actually the answer lies in two Kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13. They both involve possessions. “The Realm of Heaven may be compared to a treasure hidden in a field. When a person found that hidden treasure out of sheer joy he went and sold everything he possessed and bought the field. Again the Realm of Heaven may be compared to a traveling merchant seeking excellent pearls. Upon discovering a very valuable pearl he leaves to sell everything he possesses and bought the pearl.” [Matthew 13:44-46 NCMM]

There is a saying that “time is money.” The converse is also true, “money is time.” In other words it takes a certain amount of time to acquire possessions. In America the minimum wage is about $5. So if one wanted something that cost $50 they will have to work ten hours to acquire that possession. The Christian may be torn between where and how he or she will spend that time. Those with a short-term view - get all out of life now - may feel their personal leisure and enjoyment is more important. Whatever time they have left they may spend becoming a Bible student and teacher. Others who take a long-term view - with eternal life as God’s promise - may wish to demonstrate this faith by sacrificing certain leisure time or possessions to do as Jesus taught above.

The essential principle is to find a balance in a practical and simple lifestyle that leaves more time to bring out things old and new from that spiritual treasure-chest. In this way the serious Christian as a “genuine disciple” of the Nazarene Master is willing to sacrifice all to buy the “valuable pearl” of Kingdom blessings and privileges. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Matthew 6:24-34.] Given the above in Jesus’ teachings of the Kingdom parables, we do well to listen to his closing words: “Let the person with ears to hear, listen.”

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Christian Dress - Identifying Yourself

How you dress tells a lot about you. Indeed, your dress can identify what kind of person you are. How you dress can send messages, either good or bad. For example, in the Proverbs of Solomon he speaks of the “dress of a prostitute.”

Dress and the New Person in Christ

Paul writes about this new clothing - this new way of dressing - in Colossians 3:12-14: “As the Elect of God - holy and beloved - clothe yourselves with empathy and compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, tolerance. Be patient and tolerant of one another even if someone has a complaint against another. Forgive one another, just as the Lord graciously forgave all of you, you must also be forgiving. And above everything else show loving concern, for this results in perfect unity.” [NCMM]

So, just as literal clothing may identify a person’s trade, military service, school, family, the New Person in Christ is identified by certain layers of spiritual clothing. He or she wear these like layers so that they may be quickly characterized by these several attributes. People will have no difficulty in reading or identifying this person.

God’s Elect Put On Holy Garments

Paul urges Christians as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” to clothe themselves in these new and holy garments. Like brand new clothing put on the same old person, the New Person in Christ must be characterized by completely new attitudes and qualities. Paul lists some of these in the following phrases.

Dress In Empathy and Compassion

The first layer is that of “compassion.” Other versions render this as tenderness of heart, heart of pity, tender affections of compassion, merciful in action. The New Person is compassionate - humane, gracious, forgiving, sympathetic, empathic.

Paul makes a similar appeal to compassion and related characteristics at Philippians 2:1-4, “So if there is any encouragement incorporate within Christ, if any consolation of love, if any sharing of Pneuma, if any inner feelings and compassions, you Philippians fill me with joy so that you may be minding the very same thing, having the same love, joined together in soul, minding the one thing -do nothing out of contentiousness nor from vainglory, but rather with lowly-mindedness be considerate of one another, not just looking after your own selfish things, but also those things of others.” [NCMM]

A compassionate person is known as someone who thinks of others in an empathetic way. Such a Christian is known by others to show concern for others, someone whose heart goes out to anyone in need. [Matthew 15:32; 20:34] This is truly a “feeling” person who is not blind - nor turns a deaf ear - to the circumstances of others less fortunate. James 5:11 describes Yehowah as tenderly compassionate to Job. Jesus wore such spiritual clothing: “Feeling compassion for them, he healed their sick.” [Matthew 14:14 NCMM; Mark 6:34]

Peter urges compassion and other related attributes: “All of you be like-minded - sympathetic, along with brotherly affection, well-disposed to compassion, humble in disposition, not paying back harm for harm, or slander for slander, but rather, bestow blessings [on others]. So that you inherit a blessing, for unto a blessing you were invited.” [1 Peter 3:8, 9 NCMM]

The parable of the good Samaritan illustrates this marvelous quality: “He was filled with compassion, so he drew near and bandaged his wounds, pouring wine and oil over them. Then he put him on his animal and brought him to an inn and there cared for him some more.” [Luke 10:33, 34 NCMM] Paul counsels the Ephesian congregation: “Become graciously charitable to each other, with a tendency to sympathetic compassion full of forgiveness to all, exactly as God by Christ graciously forgave you.” [NCMM]

Dress in Kindness

Compassion is an inner feeling of sympathy and empathy for others, but the second layer of spiritual clothing calls for positive action - kindness. The New Person in Christ is known to be kind toward others and this is manifest in empathy and charity. Kindness is also marked by good manners and courtesy. This kindness is not limited to just other Christians, for God is “kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” [Luke 6:35]

Kindness is part of the fruitage of the holy spirit. [See Nazarene Commentary 2000© notes on Galatians 5:21, 22.] The Christian who has dressed in this layer of clothing is well known by others. They know that if anyone is going to help out it will be this kind Christian. If neighbors and friends were asked what kind of person this is, they would add, “kind.”

The Lord is describes as kind. [1 Peter 2:3] Jesus described the yoke of discipleship: “For my yoke is kind and my load is light.” [Matthew 11:30 NCMM] Christ describes his Father as kind even to those who are not thankful and even wicked. Such kindness is associated with charity. “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Continue to be charitable just as your Father is charitable.” [Luke 6:35, 36 NCMM]

Dress in Lowliness

The third layer of spiritual clothing is “lowliness.” Or, self-humiliation, humble in mind, lowly-minded. One knows they are meeting a New Person in Christ when humility is manifest, and arrogance and egotism completely lacking.

At Romans 12:16 Paul urges, “Do not think lofty thoughts.” [NCMM] The Nazarene is the premier example of humility and lowliness. In what amounts to a hymn Paul sings: “(The pre-existent Christ) stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man. And, having become a man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying.” [Philippians 2:6, 7 PME] By way of illustration, imagine you are living as royalty in high standards and have never known want, but lived in luxury all your life. Now, you are asked to leave all of this and travel to Haiti to become a medical missionary in the red light districts where AIDS is thought to have been brewed. What characteristic would that require?

Nothing is more disharmonious than the individual who takes himself or herself too seriously. It is interesting that Peter’s mention of haughtiness follows right on the heels of his discussion of shepherds and elders. Ambition is not only self-destructive, it destroys the harmony and unity of God’s people. Satan is the originator of ambition. Ambitious men have existed throughout the history of Jehovah’s people. It was a problem among the Christian disciples and Paul alludes to it in his letters.

Each Christian can ask themselves: As a disciple of the Nazarene how can I become more like him in his example of humility? Do others view me as arrogant or prideful? How can I manifest humility in my life today?

Paul writes about this subject to other congregations: “Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of one another than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but each should learn to see thing from other people’s point of view. ... Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for one another.” [Philippians 2:3, 4; Ephesians 4:2 PME] The lowly and humble will never be disharmonious. Pride is the disrupter. Humility the healer. All of your current pains, indeed all of your pains in life, may be traceable to that original act of pride on the part of Satan.

Dress in Meekness

The next layer to this spiritual garment is “meekness.” [Or, gentleness, mildness.] The adversarial, confrontational, aggressive person has not become a New Person in Christ. Nor have the opinionated or self-righteous. The New Person in Christ is known by his or her willingness to yield on matters of no great import, to be reasonable in sharing convictions with others. Most of all, the meek New Person in Christ is willing to learn, and indeed, receive rebuke and reproof when that is necessary. Meekness or mildness is one of the fruitage of the spirit. [Galatians 5:22, 23]

Meekness does not mean a person is without authority, for both Moses and Jesus are described as meek, and yet they had great authority among God’s people. [Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:29] Nor is meekness a weakness of character. Rather it takes great strength and self-control to remain meek and mild. Jesus taught that the meek were blessed. [Matthew 5:5]

Paul counsels: “Do this in all lowliness and meekness, persevering in tolerance for one another in loving concern.” [Ephesians 4:2 NCMM] We note that the quality of meekness is associated with tolerance and loving concern for others. And again he says to a Christian official: “Do not be quarrelsome but rather display gentleness and meekness to everyone.” [Titus 3:2 NCMM] Accepting God’s word in meekness is necessary for salvation: “In meekness accept the implanted Word which is able to save your souls.” [James 1:21 NCMM] Meekness is associated with wisdom: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him prove it by his good conduct with works in wisdom’s meekness.” [James 3:13 NCMM]

The person dressed in meekness is not easily irritated, is not confrontational or adversarial, is not opinionated and treating the views of others as nothing. People know meekness in others when they see it, but not always in themselves.

Dress in Patience

The next layer of Christian dress is “patience.” That is, forbearance, longsuffering, tolerance. The New Person in Christ is known as a patient Christian who is not easily upset, but is willing to suffer long with the weak and immature. Patience is a part of the fruitage of the spirit. [Galatians 5:22, 23]

Patience requires doing what Paul says at Ephesians 4:2, “Putting up with one another in love.” [Or, KJV: with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; RHM: bearing one with another in love; TCN: patient, bearing lovingly with one another; KNX: patient, too, in bearing with one another’s faults, as charity bids; PME: making allowances for one another because you love one another.]

God has exercised patience. [Acts 14:16; 17:30; Romans 3:24; 15:5] Patience is necessary to inherit God’s promises: “Be imitators of those who through conviction and patience inherit the promises.” [Hebrews 6:12, 15 NCMM] Patience cannot be separated from endurance in faith: “Brothers, take as an example of suffering hardship the patience of the prophets who spoke in the YHWH Name. Behold, we call blessed those who have endured.” [James 5:10, 11 NCMM]

It is easy to show patience and tolerant long-suffering to those we love and who also like us. However, Jude encourages patience with even the difficult: “Show merciful patience with the indecisive. Save them by snatching them out of the fire. However, while showing mercy in fear continue to hate the inner garment stained by the flesh.” [Jude 22, 23 NCMM] So the real test of patience comes with those who are difficult to like and love, those who do not respond easily and quickly to godly counsel, those who are self-willed and resist being submissive or yielding to those with Church authority.

Dress in Tolerance And Forgiveness

The Christian must also be dressed in tolerance and forgiveness. This should be so “even if someone has a legitimate complaint against another.” Paul provides a specific example of this patience as it is displayed in a forgiving disposition even when there is a legitimate “complaint” against another. His words are a virtual commentary on the Lord’s Prayer at Matthew 6:12 and the Lord’s own commentary at Matthew 6:14. There is simply no tolerant forgiveness from God if we do not also forgive those who have sinned against us. Christ’s ransom will not save the unforgiving and intolerant person. For they will be judged just as they judge others. [Matthew 7:1, 2]

A Christian can see what is involved in this layer of clothing by considered also Ephesians 4:32, “Rather become benevolent to one another, well inclined to sympathy, compassionately forgiving to others, just as The God in the Christened One graciously forgave you.” [C2001] Other versions indicate this includes benevolence, kindness, and generosity. Such sympathy includes being tenderhearted [KJV] and understanding [PME]. This “compassionate forgiveness” means to be ready to forgive. [TCN] Such free and almost automatic forgiveness can lead no where but into compassionate fields of kindness.

Dress in Love

The last layer of clothing, what we might consider the outer wear - the wind proof and rain proof later - becomes the most important. The quality that ties all the others together and without which none of the others will work completely. James Moffatt put it most beautifully, “love is the link of the perfect life.” The final piece of clothing is that of love - that real [divine] love manifest in positive action for a neighbor’s or enemy’s highest good. The very least that love performs is “to never work harm toward another.” [Romans 13:10] See Nazarene Commentary 2000© for details on the Greek and verbal descriptions on love see 1 Corinthians 13:5-7.

The word “love” in English has a multitude of uses and meanings. In Greek the word most often used for “love” is AGAPE. Biblically AGAPE may be positive or negative. The Bible speaks of “hypocritical love.” That is because AGAPE begins with interest and concern based on certain principles and motivations. For example, a mother may think she is loving her child by withholding some degree of discipline and direction. This is a love based on wrong principles and a mistaken motive.

Divine, Biblical love is interest and concern rightly motivated and highly principled. These are the engines that move the interest and concern into positive action that seeks the highest good and welfare of another. Love cannot exist without selflessness. Love is useless without self-sacrifice. For the self-centered and egotistical person will always be motivated by a wrong principle in dealing with others - “what can I get out of this?”

With all the criticisms brought against the Bible, it remains a Book about love. The word group occurs at least 1,000 times and in part because the two main characters of the Scriptures are God and Christ. These are both the premier examples of love. The beloved apostle John simply describes the Almighty, “God is love.” [1 John 4:8] Christ’s example of self-sacrifice was based on love. [John 13:34; 1 John 3:16]

So, as the last layer of a Christian’s dress, love combines and works with all of the previous qualities. It is the glue that holds together empathy, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, tolerance and forgiveness. With love moving the others, none will ever fail.

Dress That Creates Unity

What kind of person do we have here, this man or woman dressed in these “clothes”? We have a person who has discovered inner harmony, and plumbed the depths of spiritual tranquility. We find a person we want to be around. We find someone to copy as a role model in our own lives. We find a person who is no longer angry at the world, has left cynicism behind, has ceased being judgmental. A person knows that in the end all will be right with God and the world.

We also see a person who is able to “bind everything together into perfect harmony.” Not just inside in the warm residence of this person - that room where Christ also dwells - but also outside, in dealings and relationships with others. Scholar Phillips describes it, “love is the golden chair of all the virtues.” All of the previous virtues or moral attributes are bound together to produce “perfect harmony” within the Church.

No one person is automatically blessed with all of these gifts in perfect measure. But there is one thing for sure - the person who strives to wear this clothing will be a better person for it. And, so will all those who come in contact with him or her.

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