Category Archives: Verse of the day

78:4. “We will not hide them from their children.” Our negligent silence shall not deprive our own and our father’s offspring of the precious truth of God, it would be shameful indeed if we did so. “Shewing of the generation to come the praises of the Lord.” We will look forward to future generations, and endeavour to provide for their godly education. It is the duty of the church of God to maintain, in fullest vigour, every agency intended for the religious education of the young; to them we must look for the church of the future, and as we sow towards them so shall we reap. Children are to be taught to magnify the Lord; they ought to be well informed as to his wonderful doings in ages past, and should be made to know “his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.” The best education is education in the best things. The first lesson for a child should be concerning his mother’s God. Teach him what you will, if he learn not the fear of the Lord, he will perish for lack of knowledge. Grammar is poor food for the soul if it be not flavoured with grace. Every satchel should have a Bible in it. The world may teach secular knowledge alone, ’tis all she has a heart to know, but the church must not deal so with her offspring; she should look well to every Timothy, and see to it that from a child he knows the Holy Scriptures. Around the fire-side fathers should repeat not only the Bible records, but the deeds of the martyrs and reformers, and moreover the dealings of the Lord with themselves both in providence and grace. We dare not follow the vain and vicious traditions of the apostate church of Rome, neither would we compare the fallible record of the best human memories with the infallible written word, yet would we fain see oral tradition practised by every Christian in his family, and children taught cheerfully by word of mouth by their own mothers and fathers, as well as by the printed pages of what they too often regard as dull, dry task books. What happy hours and pleasant evenings have children had at their parents’ knees as they have listened to some “sweet story of old.” Reader, if you have children, mind you do not fail in this duty.[1]

78:4 — We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.

It is our job to tell our children not only the great things God did in Bible times, but also the wonderful works He has performed in our own lives. They need to see God at work in us.[2]

78:4 We will not hide them from their children Israel failed to follow God throughout its history. The psalmist seems to be saying that he will not hide the past from God’s people but instead use it for teaching.

the praises of Yahweh The focus of Israel’s faith is not their goodness, but God’s help to them over the course of their history.

wonders The Hebrew word used here, niphla’oth, is usually associated with the events of the exodus from Egypt (see Exod 7:3).[3]

4. We will not conceal them from their children in the generation to come. Some take the verb נכחד, nechached, in the nephil conjugation, and translate it, they are not concealed or hidden. But it ought, according to the rules of grammar, to be resolved thus:—We will not conceal them from our posterity, implying, that what we have been taught by our ancestors we should endeavour to transmit to their children. By this means, all pretence of ignorance is removed; for it was the will of God that these things should be published from age to age without interruption; so that being transmitted from father to child in each family, they might reach even the last family of man. The end for which this was to be done is shown—that they might celebrate the praises of Jehovah in the wonderful works which he hath done.[4]

Ver. 4.—We will not hide them from their children. They shall still be handed down in the same way. We of this generation will still continue the practice of handing down, by word of mouth, to the next generation, how God has dealt with Israel. Asaph’s psalms were written, it must be remembered, to be recited in the services of the sanctuary (comp. 2 Chron. 29:30). Showing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord; i.e. the actions for which he deserves praise. And his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done (comp. vers. 12–16, and vers. 23–55).[5]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 56-87 (Vol. 3, p. 331). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[2] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Ps 78:4). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 78:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 3, p. 230). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 2, p. 124). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 19, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

13 Confidence in the Lord’s ability to discern and perceive the nature and needs of his people comes from a belief in God’s purpose. He is the Creator, and his creative concerns include individuals.

In a sense this section continues the emphasis on divine involvement by an emphatic use of “you” (ʾattâ, vv. 2, 13: “you know … you created”) and by the use of the pronominal prefixes and suffixes to the verbs and nouns in Hebrew (translated by “you” and “your”). The Lord has formed the individual as a spiritual (“you created [qānâ, GK 7865; Ge 14:22; Pr 8:22] my inmost being [‘kidneys’],” v. 13) and a physical being (“you knit me together”; cf. Job 8–11; Jer 1:5). All beings owe their existence to the Creator-God. How much more the individual who walks with God, who knows that the Lord has formed him or her for a purpose.

14 Creation is existential! The intensely personal language to which the psalmist returns (“I” and “my”) complements that of the second section. God is concerned with the individuals he has formed for his purpose. Therefore praise is the proper response to God’s grace of discernment, perception, and purpose. The child of God sees God’s presence everywhere (vv. 7–12) and experiences the joy of God’s watchful eye over him. All God’s “works” are “wonderful,” but the believer, more than any other part of God’s creation, senses that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Though God’s grace toward him is like “knowledge … too wonderful for” him to comprehend (v. 6), he lives with a personal awareness of God’s gracious purpose (“I know that full well”). The psalmist reveals a unique awareness of God’s grace toward him and responds with a hymn of thanksgiving (“I praise you”).[1]

For his omnipotence (vv. 13–14)

God’s power is evidenced by his creation of each individual. God created our ‘reins’ (our innermost being, that is, those things that control us—minds, hearts, wills). He ‘covered’ us while we were in the womb. The word ‘covered’ may also be translated ‘knit’ or ‘wove’. By using this term the psalmist pictures himself as a fine piece of art and God as a skilled craftsman.

The psalmist’s conclusion is that he is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Henry writes: ‘… we may justly be astonished at the admirable contrivance of these living temples, the composition of every part, and the harmony of all together.’

Some of the newer translations render this phrase as a description of God—‘You are fearfully wonderful’, that is, a God who is so marvellous and wonderful that the only thing one can do is stand in awe of him.

It isn’t all that important which of the two translations we follow. A fearfully wonderful God can only do fearfully wonderful works.

David would have us know he is not just getting carried away with his own writing. He is not indulging in poetic licence. He says it is the deep conviction of his soul that all God’s works are marvellous (v. 14).[2]

13. “For thou hast possessed my reins.” Thou art the owner of my inmost parts and passions: not the indweller and observer only, but the acknowledged lord and possessor of my most secret self. The word “reins” signifies the kidneys, which by the Hebrews were supposed to be the seal of the desires and longings; but perhaps it indicates here the most hidden and vital portion of the man; this God doth not only inspect, and visit, but it is his own; he is as much at home there as a landlord on his own estate, or a proprietor in his own house. “Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.” There I lay hidden—covered by thee. Before I could know thee, or aught else, thou hadst a care for me, and didst hide me away as a treasure till thou shouldst see fit to bring me to the light. Thus the Psalmist describes the intimacy which God had with him. In his most secret part—his reins, and in his most secret condition—yet unborn, he was under the control and guardianship of God.

14. “I will praise thee:” a good resolve, and one which he was even now carrying out. Those who are praising God are the very men who will praise him. Those who wish to praise have subjects for adoration ready to hand. We too seldom remember our creation, and all the skill and kindness bestowed upon our frame: but the sweet singer of Israel was better instructed, and therefore he prepares for the chief musician a song concerning our nativity and all the fashioning which precedes it. We cannot begin too soon to bless our Maker, who began so soon to bless us: even in the act of creation he created reasons for our praising his name. “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Who can gaze even upon a model of our anatomy without wonder and awe? Who could dissect a portion of the human frame without marvelling at its delicacy, and trembling at its frailty? The Psalmist had scarcely peered within the veil which hides the nerves, sinews, and blood-vessels from common inspection; the science of anatomy was quite unknown to him; and yet he had seen enough to arouse his admiration of the work and his reverence for the Worker. “Marvellous are thy works.” These parts of my frame are all thy works; and though they be home works, close under my own eye, yet are they wonderful to the last degree. They are works within my own self, yet are they beyond my understanding, and appear to me as so many miracles of skill and power. We need not go to the ends of the earth for marvels, nor even across our own threshold; they abound in our own bodies.

And that my soul knoweth right well.” He was no agnostic—he knew; he was no doubter—his soul knew; he was no dupe—his soul knew right well. Those know indeed and of a truth who first know the Lord, and then know all things in him. He was made to know the marvellous nature of God’s work with assurance and accuracy, for he had found by experience that the Lord is a master-worker, performing inimitable wonders when accomplishing his kind designs. If we are marvellously wrought upon even before we are born, what shall we say of the Lord’s dealings with us after we quit his secret workshop, and he directs our pathway through the pilgrimage of life? What shall we not say of that new birth which is even more mysterious than the first, and exhibits even more the love and wisdom of the Lord.[3]

139:13–14. The theme of verses 13–18 is announced here: the Lord (You is emphatic in Heb.; cf. v. 2) created him in his mother’s womb. The language is figurative in that creating and knitting describe God’s sovereign superintendence over the natural process of reproduction (on knitting; cf. Job 10:11).

This fact prompted the psalmist to break forth in praise over the thought of how marvelously he had been made. Even David’s rudimentary knowledge of the marvels of the human body led him to be in awe and wonder. The words wonderfully and wonderful are mindful of God’s marvelous knowledge (Ps. 139:6).[4]

139:13, 14 So much then for the omnipresence of God. David now turns to consider His power and skill. And the particular phase of divine omnipotence he chooses is the marvelous development of a baby in his mother’s womb. In a speck of watery material smaller than the dot over this i, all the future characteristics of the child are programmed—the color of his skin, eyes and hair, the shape of his facial features, the natural abilities he will have. All that the child will be physically and mentally is contained in germ form in that fertilized egg. From it will develop:

… 60 trillion cells, 100 thousand miles of nerve fiber, 60 thousand miles of vessels carrying blood around the body, 250 bones, to say nothing of joints, ligaments and muscles.

David describes the formation of the fetus with exquisite delicacy and beauty. “You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.” Yes, God formed our inward parts; each one a marvel of divine engineering. Think of the brain, for instance, with its capacity for recording facts, sounds, odors, sights, touch, pain; with its ability to recall; with its power to make computations; with its seemingly endless flair for making decisions and solving problems.

And God knit us together in our mother’s womb. This aptly describes the marvelous weaving of the muscles, sinews, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels and bones of the human frame.

David bursts forth in praise to the Lord. As he thinks of man, the crown of God’s creation, he can only confess that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. The more we think of the marvels of the human body, its orderliness, its complexity, its beauty, its instincts and inherited factors—the more we wonder how anyone trained in natural science can fail to be a believer in an infinite Creator.[5]

[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 962). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ellsworth, R. (2006). Opening up Psalms (pp. 126–127). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 120-150 (Vol. 6, pp. 262–263). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[4] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 892). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 770). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

October 19, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

sinners repent verse

The Lost Coin

Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (15:8–10)

Like the first story, this one also takes place in a village setting. As does the previous parable, this one presents a poor person of low social standing facing a major crisis—a woman who lost a coin of great value.

If the scribes and Pharisees were insulted that Jesus asked them to think like a shepherd, calling on them to imagine themselves in the place of a woman was an even greater insult. Shepherds were considered unclean, and in that male-dominated culture women were deemed insignificant and not worthy of respect. It should be noted that while the scribes and Pharisees resented being compared to a shepherd and a woman, God Himself did not. In Psalm 23 He not only pictured Himself as a shepherd (v. 1), but also as a woman (v. 5; preparing a table was women’s work), while in His lament over Jerusalem, Jesus pictured Himself as a mother hen (Luke 13:34). It was mercy that prompted Jesus to assault their foolish pride, since only the humble can be saved (Matt. 5:5; James 4:6, 10).

The parable describes a woman who had lost one of her ten silver coins. The coin was a drachma (a Roman denarius), which represented a day’s wage for a common laborer. While that may not seem like a large sum, in a bartering society, where money was not used as frequently as in most modern societies, it was a significant loss. The money may have been an emergency fund, to be used when needed to make critical purchases. A more likely possibility is that the coins represented the woman’s dowry, given to her as a wedding gift by her father and providing security for the future.

How she lost it is not relevant to the story. It may be that she had strung the coins together and worn them around her neck and the cord broke, or she may have bound them up together in a rag as a sort of purse and the knot came undone. To carry out her desperate search, it was necessary for her to light a lamp even in the daytime, since houses usually had either no windows, or at best very small ones. When a quick look around failed to reveal the coin, she proceeded to sweep the dusty, hard-packed dirt floor of the house and search carefully and intensely for it.

At last, to her great joy, she found the missing coin. To celebrate, she called together her female friends and neighbors (both nouns are feminine) saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” People in a small, tight-knit village would share each other’s sufferings and joys, so a party celebrating the woman’s joy at recovering what she had lost would have been appropriate. Are eternal souls worth less?

In terms of ethics, the Pharisees would once again have agreed that she had done what was necessary under the circumstances. All would agree that having lost a significant sum of money, there was nothing else for her to do but diligently search for it until she found it. This parable too was aimed squarely at them, as Christ’s emphatic statement I tell you indicates. Yet they again failed to make the connection between their contemptuous disdain for lost souls and God’s passionate concern for them. They failed to share in the joy that exists in the presence of the angels of God, who have a keen interest in the redemption that produces God’s joy (cf. Matt. 18:10; 25:31; Luke 2:10–14; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 3:5), over one sinner who repents. The joy here is God’s joy, the joy that fills heaven, and in which the angels and the redeemed share (cf. Rev. 4:8–11; 5:8–14).

The Lord’s indictment of the scribes and Pharisees was clear and inescapable. How could they affirm the ethical responsibility of a shepherd to search for a lost sheep and a woman to search for a lost coin, while condemning Him for seeking to recover lost souls? How could they understand the joys of the humble men and women in a village over temporal recovery, and utterly fail to comprehend the joy of God in heaven over eternal salvation?

The theological and Christological elements of this brief parable are clear. The woman represents God in Christ seeking lost sinners in the cracks, dust, and debris of a dirty world of sin. He initiated the search for those sinners who belong to Him through His sovereign choice of them, since like the lifeless, inanimate coin, they can do nothing on their own (Eph. 2:1–3). Jesus came all the way from heaven to earth to search for His lost ones, pursuing sinners into every dark corner, and then shining the light of the glorious gospel (2 Cor. 4:5–6; 1 Tim. 1:11) on them. Having found the lost sinner, God in Christ restores him or her to His heavenly treasury, and then expresses joy in which the holy inhabitants of heaven share.

Recovering the lost requires costly grace. The sinless Son of God became a man, lived with sinners, bore God’s wrath for sin on the cross, and rose in triumph from the grave. None of the false gods of the world’s religions are like the true and living God, who seeks and saves unworthy sinners because He values them as His own; who makes His enemies His friends for the sheer joy that He receives in saving them.

Yet God’s seeking and saving lost sinners does not happen apart from their repentance. That reality is not part of the sheep and coin stories, since they are not persons. It is, however, a theme of the last and longest of the three parables in this chapter, the tale of two sons and a loving father (vv. 11–32), which is the subject of the next chapter of this volume.[1]

The Lost Coin

Luke 15:8–10

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8)

The Pharisees we meet in the Gospels were wrong about many things, including God’s requirements for salvation and their own righteousness, and wrong about the true identity of Jesus Christ. But at least they were right about this: Jesus was a man who welcomed sinners. We know this because they said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

This is one of the best summaries of Jesus’ ministry anywhere in the Gospels. How ironic that it comes from the scribes and the Pharisees, who were speaking more truly than they even knew! To “receive” people in the biblical sense of the word (Gk. prosdechomai) was to welcome them into fellowship, to accept them and associate with them. In that culture, one of the most tangible ways to establish this kind of friendship was to share a meal. “To invite a man to a meal,” writes one scholar, “was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood, and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life.”

This is the very essence of salvation: God the Son sharing his life with us. Remarkably, he shares his life with sinners. Some Bible translations put the word “sinners” in quotes, as if to indicate that somehow this was the wrong word for the Pharisees to use. But these people were sinners; this was just the word for them. They were reprobates. They were liars and cheats, lechers and lawbreakers, swindlers and thieves. In the words of John Chrysostom, “The tax-gatherer is the personification of licensed violence, of legal sin, of specious greed.” Yet Jesus welcomed these people into his fellowship. He even ate with them—not as a duty of philanthropy, but because he had mercy on people who were lost in their sins.

At the Table with Jesus

Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners. If you know that you are a sinner, then this is the best of all possible news, because it means that there is still hope. Despite the fact that we have fallen into sin—doing things we should never do, as well as not doing things that we really should do, and therefore deserving the wrath and curse of God—Jesus is ready to receive us. He wants to welcome us. If we come to him—even after everything we have done wrong—he will take us to himself. This ought to make what the Pharisees said one of the most joyful statements in Scripture: “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Praise God!

The Pharisees did not say this with joyful praise, however. This is one of those times when you have to know how somebody said something to know what they really meant. Here Luke uses the little word “grumbled” to indicate what tone of voice the Pharisees used. The Greek version of the Old Testament used the same word to describe the way the children of Israel grumbled in the wilderness (e.g., Ex. 15:24). It expresses a strong undercurrent of discontent. When the Pharisees saw that Jesus was eating with sinners, they complained about it bitterly. Rather than making their remark with admiration, they made it with condemnation.

Jesus hardly could have done anything to give these men greater offense than to eat with sinners. A man is known by the company he keeps, and thus the Pharisees were shocked to see that Jesus preferred “the society of notorious sinners to their own irreproachable manners and decorous conversation.… They could not understand why a teacher of holy life, instead of frowning upon the notoriously profligate, should show a preference for their society.” As far as they were concerned, this could only mean that Jesus was guilty of moral laxity. He was not taking sin seriously enough, but going soft on depravity. The Pharisees believed that to eat with people who were known for loose living was to condone their immoral behavior. “Let not a man associate with the wicked,” the rabbis said, “not even to bring him to the law.”4 Jesus broke this tradition every time he sat down to eat dinner with sinners (which he did, of course, any time he ate with anyone at all, including the Pharisees!). To associate with people of low moral character was to give them public recognition. Thus the Pharisees accused Jesus of sharing in unrighteousness.

What the Pharisees saw as a problem was actually the solution! The very thing they criticized was the very thing Jesus had come to do. He had come to make sinners holy for God, and sharing table fellowship was part of his plan. It is only in being received by Jesus that anyone can ever be saved. How can Jesus help us unless he has a relationship with us? In that culture—and perhaps in any culture—having a relationship meant sharing a meal. So Jesus ate with sinners.

Rather than getting grumpy about this, the Pharisees should have been rejoicing. If they had, then the rest of what Jesus said in this chapter would not even be necessary. Replace the word “grumbled” with “rejoiced” in verse 2 and you get rid of everything that follows. But the Pharisees were grumbling, and therefore Jesus taught them a three-part parable about sharing God’s joy in finding what is lost.

What Woman …?

In the first part of this triple parable, a shepherd finds a lost sheep and brings it back home, rejoicing. In the third part of the parable, a father runs to embrace his long-lost son. In between those two famous parables Jesus told a story about a housewife who found her missing money: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8–10).

The first lesson this story teaches is that Jesus cares as much about women as he cares about men. Although at first this may seem like an insignificant detail, Jesus begins by talking about a woman. He could just as well have told this story about a man, of course. In fact, one of the old Jewish rabbis told a somewhat similar story about a man who lost a little coin and then looked for it until he found it. The rabbi then compared the man’s careful search process to the way faithful Jews should look for hidden treasure in the Torah.

Jesus could have told his story about a man, too, but instead he chose to tell it about a woman. He did this despite the fact that he was speaking most directly to a group of men—the scribes and the Pharisees. There must have been women in the audience too, as there almost always were. In chapter 8 Luke told us that as Jesus went from place to place a large group of women went with him (Luke 8:1–3). These women were devoted to Jesus’ teaching. They wanted to hear everything he said, and on this occasion he told a story that touched the world of their experience—the story of a poor woman at home who lost one of her only coins.

As far as we know, this is something the rabbis never did: set the story of a woman side by side with the story of a man. First Jesus told a story about a man who went out into the wilderness to look for his sheep; then he told a story about a woman who swept her floor to look for her coin. By putting the story of a woman next to the story of a man, Jesus was reaching his whole audience.

This may still seem insignificant, but consider how many times something like this happens in the Gospel of Luke. Two miracles are performed, two stories are told, or two examples are given, and one of them relates specifically to women. First Jesus healed a centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1–10); then he raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11–17). Jesus told two parables about how God answers prayer: one is the friend at midnight—a story about the man of the house (Luke 11:5–13), but the other is the story of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1–8). In teaching about the sign of Jonah, Jesus used two examples from the Old Testament: the men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South (Luke 11:29–32). Jesus performed two miracles on the Sabbath: one was the woman with the disabling spirit (Luke 13:10–17), while the other was the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1–6). In describing the people that he saved, Jesus called one of them “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16) and the other “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). Jesus told two parables about the kingdom of God. The first story was about a man working in his garden to sow a mustard seed (Luke 13:18–19); the second was about a woman working in the kitchen to mix leaven in with her dough (Luke 13:20–21). Similarly, in his teaching about the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus used examples of men working in the fields and women grinding out their grain (Luke 17:34–36).

Can you see what Jesus was doing? In contrast to the other preachers of his day, he wanted to teach women as much as men. To do that effectively, he made a point of using examples that related to their life experience. According to Luke, Jesus Christ is not a male chauvinist: his ministry, his gospel, his teaching, and his theology are explicitly for women.

There is more, because the woman in this parable represents the character of God himself. As she looks for her lost coin, and as she rejoices in finding it, she shows us the joy that God has in finding lost sinners. This is a connection people sometimes miss. It is easy to see that the shepherd who finds his lost sheep must be God the Son, who said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). It is also easy to see that the father who finds his lost son must be God the Father. But if these three stories are parallel, then in some way the woman who finds her lost coin must also represent God.

Going back to the early church fathers, many Christians have thought that this woman represents the Holy Spirit—an interpretation that seems to fit with the other stories in the parable. If the first story is about Jesus the Good Shepherd and the third story is about God the loving Father, then it would make good sense for the middle story to show us the Holy Spirit. There may even be a specific point of connection in the story, because in order to find her coin, the woman had to light her lamp. Perhaps this refers to the work of the Spirit in lighting our way to God.

Admittedly, this interpretation seems somewhat speculative. But whether the woman in the parable stands for the Spirit or not, she certainly shows us something about God. This is not to say that God is a woman. (He is not a man, either; God does not have a gender, although most commonly he uses masculine terms to reveal himself to us as the Father and the Son.) But from time to time—on rare occasions—God compares his attitudes and actions to the love of a woman. For example, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Isa. 66:13). To help us understand the comfort of his compassion, God says that his love is like a mother’s affection for her only son. Here in Luke, Jesus tells us that the love of God pursues us the way a poor woman pursues a lost coin.

God is not embarrassed to make this kind of comparison. The women he made in his image are able to reflect his grace, as Jesus showed throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus cared for the women in his life in a way that elevated their sense of dignity. Therefore anyone who treats women with disrespect, or fails to prize their gifts, or dismisses their capacity to learn sound theology, or puts them down in any way does not have the love of Christ, who cares about women as much as he cares about men.

As Precious as Silver

The story of the lost coin also teaches how precious we are to God. Notice that there is a progression in the larger parable. The lost sheep was only one out of a hundred. The lost coin is one of out ten. The lost son will be one out of two (although really both sons were lost, as we shall see). Needless to say, a coin cannot possibly compare with the precious life of a son, but since it is one out of ten, it would seem to be more precious than the sheep—at least as far as the ratio is concerned.

The coin was certainly precious to the woman, who we may infer was very poor. The coin she lost was a drachma, which in those days was roughly equivalent to a full day’s wage for a common laborer. It is hard to work out an exact equivalent, and it depends on what kind of work a person does, of course, but it would amount to perhaps a hundred dollars in today’s economy.

Needless to say, anyone who dropped a hundred dollar bill would take the trouble to look for it, especially someone living below the poverty line. Although the parable does not give us any other details about the woman’s financial situation, ten coins may well have represented her life savings, and therefore she would have guarded them with her life. According to custom, in those days a housewife would have kept her money in a chain around her neck, or else tied them up in a little rag. When she discovered that one of her coins was missing, she would have done anything to get it back. Her coin was too precious to lose; it had to be found.

The value this woman placed on her lost coin shows the great love that God has for lost sinners. We are as precious to him as silver—an analogy that works at several levels. To begin with, the relationship between the woman and her coin was that of ownership. Even when it was lost, the coin still belonged to her. In the same way, each of us belongs to God. Even if we have fallen away, and even if we never acknowledge him, we still belong to him by virtue of the fact that he made us. So when we finally come to God in repentance, through faith in Jesus Christ, God is getting back his own.

Another point of comparison—not mentioned explicitly in the parable, but illustrated by its central image—is that like the coin, we bear a royal likeness. At the time of Christ, coins generally bore the imprint of the Caesar in Rome. Since we are made in the image of our King, we too have been stamped with his likeness. Furthermore, silver is a metal that remains precious even after it tarnishes. Unless it is kept polished, silver will darken with time; nevertheless, it retains its value. This is our situation exactly. We were made precious when God fashioned us in his own image, giving us a dignity that surpasses all the other creatures. Sadly, our race has fallen into sin and is now darkened by all the sins of our depravity. Nevertheless, we are still valuable to God. Even in our lost and fallen condition, he considers us his prized possession.

Know for sure that we are precious to God. Now that Jesus has paid the price for our redemption by bleeding and dying for our sins on the cross, we are more precious to God than ever. Do not wonder whether or not your life is even worth living. Do not feel forgotten. Do not doubt that God loves you. The story of the lost coin shows that God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love. Even when we are lost, we are still precious to God and will be useful to him when he finds us.


This story also teaches that until God does find us, we are helplessly lost. A lost coin is certain to stay lost until it is found. We are in the same situation spiritually, for we cannot find ourselves. Once we are lost, we will stay lost until we are found by God.

Each of the stories in this triple parable has to do with something that is lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. But notice that each of these things gets lost in a different way, so that together these stories give us a full picture of what it means to be lost. The sheep simply wandered away from its shepherd. Heedless of danger, it followed its own instincts and appetites. The same thing happens to us when we go off and pursue our own pleasures: we end up far away from God, and whether we realize it or not, our souls are in mortal danger. As we shall see, the son got lost by his own deliberate will. He chose to walk down the path of rebellion, and when he discovered that he was lost, he knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Yet the coin was lost through no apparent fault of its own. It slipped between the woman’s fingers, or fell out of her purse, or got knocked off the table, and then it was truly lost.

When we use this parable as an illustration of our own spiritual experience, we have to admit that what happened to the coin is never the whole story for us. We can never say that we got lost through no fault of our own. We are like the sheep that wandered away, or like the son who turned his back on his father and went to live in a far country. Yet, we may well be able to say that what happened to the coin is part of our story. The hard circumstances of our lives conspired to keep us away from God. Maybe no one took us to church when we were children, or taught us what the Bible says about salvation. Or maybe people sinned against us, and this only drove us further into sin. But however it happened, the reality is that we are as helplessly lost as a silver coin that has fallen from a woman’s purse and rolled into a forgotten corner of her home.

Now, despite our intrinsic value, we are useless to God. We do not have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ, and therefore we do not praise him, have not loved him, and will not serve him. This is what it means to be lost. “Like a coin that is lost,” writes Richard Phillips, “sinners lie unused and unseen, no longer contributing the value for which they were fashioned, while God’s image with which they were stamped is increasingly tarnished and covered with the dust of sinful living.”

Are you able to identify with that coin? Do you know what it means to be lost spiritually? What makes the situation so completely helpless is that coins cannot find themselves. A lost coin is hardly able to leap off the floor, land on the table, and roll back into its owner’s money bag! This is why the woman made such a diligent search: a coin will stay lost until it is found.

This illustrates our own spiritual situation until we are found by Christ: we will stay helplessly lost until Jesus comes to find us. Michael Wilcock describes this part of the parable as a story about “the finding of that which cannot help itself.” He explains:

The coin is lifeless, it cannot move, it can certainly not find its own way back like the son, it cannot even bleat for help like the sheep. Of course in some senses lost mankind is not, like the silver coin, inanimate. But spiritually—from the point of view of the Spirit—it is lifeless; and the coin is an apt symbol of those who see the requirements of God and know themselves incapable of rising to them. Only the all-powerful Spirit can rescue men who in that sense are lost.

A Thorough Search

We may be helplessly lost, but we are not hopelessly lost, because Jesus is able to come and save us. This is a fourth lesson from the story of the lost coin. Jesus does not simply leave us in our lost condition, but is looking to find us.

When the woman in the parable discovered that one of her precious coins was missing, she started to search for it. Although her coin was lost, it was not forgotten, and she was determined to get it back. In those days most homes were only about the size of a one-car garage, but they were very dark, with only a few small slits to let in the light. Typically floors were made of dirt, sometimes covered with straw. In Galilee, where Jesus came from, they were usually made of flagstones. How easy it was, therefore, for the woman’s coin to get covered with straw, or to be concealed by the dust, or to fall into a crack between two stones. In order to find it, she would have to light a lamp, get out her broom, and make a clean sweep.

In the first part of this parable, Jesus emphasized the persistence of the good shepherd, who looked for his lost sheep until he found it. The woman who lost her coin was equally persistent. She knew that the missing money had to be in her house somewhere, and she would not stop looking until she found it. But what Jesus especially emphasized was the meticulous thoroughness of her search. With extreme care the woman lit her lamp, swept her house, and searched diligently to find her lost coin. We can imagine her getting down on her hands and knees to examine every square inch of her home. Subjecting her floor to the most careful scrutiny, she looked in such a way as to find. This is the way people look for anything they really want to find. First they look in the most obvious places, but if the missing item is still nowhere to be found, they go back and conduct a more thorough investigation.

This is also the way that Jesus looks for lost sinners: in such a way as to find. The reason Jesus came to earth in the first place was to seek and to save what was lost. This is why he became a man, why he performed miracles, why he preached the kingdom of God, and why he died and rose again. Jesus was looking to find.

Even now he is still conducting his search, looking in every corner of the world for the sinners he died to save. Jesus has sent his gospel out into the world—the gospel that says everyone who trusts in his cross and believes in his empty tomb will be saved. He has sent his Spirit out into the world—the Spirit who convinces people they are lost in sin and invites them to come to Christ. He has sent his church out into the world—the church that proclaims the gospel, by the power of the Spirit, to all the unreached peoples on all the lost continents of the globe. Jesus is looking to find and seeking to save. With painstaking thoroughness, he will keep searching and searching until he finds every last one of the precious coins that belongs in his pocket.

If you are lost and waiting to be found, Jesus is looking to find you. He is searching and seeking to save you. Here is how Anne Lamott described her experience of being lost and getting found:

[Jesus] was relentless. I didn’t experience Him so much as the hound of heaven, as the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven, who seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up, mewling outside your door, you’d eventually open up and give him a bowl of milk.… I resisted as long as I could, like Sam-I-Am in Green Eggs and Ham.… He wore me out. He won. I was tired and vulnerable and He won.… Then, when I was dozing, tiny kitten that I was, He picked me up like a mother cat, by the scruff of my neck, and deposited me in a little church.… That’s where I was when I came to. And then I came to believe.

The Joy of Being Found

Every lost sinner has a different story to tell, because we all get found in different ways. But whenever and wherever and however Jesus finds us, we all share the same joy. This is the fifth and final lesson from the story of the lost coin: it is a joy to be found by Jesus Christ—a joy that lasts forever.

When the woman found her lost coin, she gathered her girlfriends to celebrate (the Greek words that Luke uses for “friends and neighbors” are feminine). Because her search was so rewarding, it led to great rejoicing, which is really the main point of this story. Thus Jesus ended this part of his parable by saying: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

This statement is virtually repeated from verse 7, where Jesus said there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Here in verse 10 he makes no comparison, but when he mentions “the angels of God,” once again he is pulling back the curtain so that we can see what joy there is in heaven whenever Jesus finds a lost sinner. Jesus ought to know, because he has been there!

It is always a joy to find something that is missing, as we know from everyday experience. Even if what we find is only something small, we invariably tell someone else about it. “Hey! Look what I found!” we say. “You’ll never guess what I just discovered!” Yet the simple joy of finding something lost cannot compare with the surpassing joy of being found by Jesus Christ. What a joy it is when Jesus finds you in your lost and helpless situation, when you respond by repenting of your sins and receiving the free gift of eternal life. What a joy it is to see someone else come to Christ. What a joy it is to the angels, who love to celebrate the grace of God for the poor lost sinners of our fallen race. What a joy it also is to God himself. When Jesus spoke about “joy before the angels,” he was not referring only or even primarily to the joy that the angels have, but also to the joy which they witness every time a sinner gets saved. The angels see the joy of God.

If you want to bring joy to the heart of God—and to your own heart—then turn away from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation. If you are not yet a believer, the angels are waiting to celebrate. What joy there will be in heaven when you finally come to Christ! Then, once you have come to Christ, do everything you can to welcome other people with the love of God, just as Jesus welcomed the tax collectors and the sinners. Jesus is looking to receive sinners, and he is calling you to be part of the search party.

A beautiful example of the way Jesus looks for lost sinners—and of the joy he brings when they are found—comes from the Bayview Glen Church in Toronto, Ontario, where Pastor Sam Nasser was preaching in Persian to an Iranian congregation during the summer of 2004. Pastor Nasser was troubled by the fact that one of the women in the church was talking on her cell phone during the worship service. At first he thought it must be some kind of emergency, but when it happened again the following week he was even more disturbed.

Nasser invited the woman to his office to confront her about this ongoing distraction. “Pastor,” she said, “I already told you! My husband in Iran is very interested in how I became a Christian because of listening to you.” This still did not explain the cell phone, but when the pastor asked for a further explanation, the woman said,

I bought a calling card, and I call my husband in Tehran so he can hear you preaching. He puts the call on the speakerphone so my mother and sister can hear too. They have been inviting other friends and family over, and for the past three months, they have been listening to you preach. More people come every week. I am not talking on the phone. I’m just holding it up so they can hear your message about Jesus!

Needless to say, Pastor Nasser invited the woman to sit right at the front of the church. The following week he preached on the love of Jesus for his precious children. At the end of the service he asked if anyone wanted to pray to receive Christ. Suddenly the woman with the cell phone started to shout: “My husband! My husband! My husband got saved! My mother and sister want to come to the Lord too!”

Even if he does it over the cell phone halfway around the world, Jesus is looking for lost sinners. He is looking for them every time somebody preaches the gospel. He is looking for them right now. I pray that he will find you, because I know that when he does, you will rejoice. So will the hosts of heaven. And so will Jesus.[2]

The Coin A Woman Lost And Found

Luke 15:8–10

‘Or, what woman who has ten silver pieces, if she loses one piece, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me because I have found the silver piece which I lost.” Even so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

The coin in question in this parable was a silver drachma. It would not be difficult to lose a coin in a Palestinian peasant’s house and it might take a long search to find it. The houses were very dark, for they were lit by one little circular window not much more than about eighteen inches across. The floor was beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes; and to look for a coin on a floor like that was very much like looking for a needle in a haystack. The woman swept the floor in the hope that she might see the coin glint or hear it tinkle as it moved.

There are two reasons why the woman may have been so eager to find the coin.

(1) It may have been a matter of sheer necessity. It was only one coin but it would have been worth more than a whole day’s wage for a working man in Palestine. These people lived always on the edge of things and very little stood between them and real hunger. The woman may well have searched with intensity because if she did not find the coin, the family would not eat.

(2) There may have been a much more romantic reason. The mark of a married woman was a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. For years maybe a girl would scrape and save to amass her ten coins, for the head-dress was almost the equivalent of her wedding ring. When she had it, it was so inalienably hers that it could not even be taken from her for debt. It may well be that it was one of these coins that the woman had lost, and so she searched for it as any woman would search if she lost her marriage ring.

In either case it is easy to think of the joy of the woman when at last she saw the glint of the elusive coin and when she held it in her hand again. God, said Jesus, is like that. The joy of God, and of all the angels, when one sinner comes home, is like the joy of a home when a coin which has stood between them and starvation has been lost and is found; it is like the joy of a woman who loses her most precious possession, with a value far beyond money, and then finds it again.

No Pharisee had ever dreamed of a God like that. A great Jewish scholar has admitted that this is the one absolutely new thing which Jesus taught about God—that he actually searched for us. A Jew might have agreed that those who came crawling home to God in self-abasement and prayed for pity might find it; but he would never have conceived of a God who went out to search for sinners. We believe in the seeking love of God, because we see that love incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to seek and to save that which was lost.[3]

10. Similarly, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who is converted.

Does this passage mean that the angels rejoice when a sinner is converted? There can be no question about the fact that God’s holy angels take a deep interest in our salvation. See Matt. 18:10; 25:31; Luke 2:10–14; 1 Cor. 13:1; 1 Peter 1:12; Rev. 3:5; 5:11; 14:10. They may know more about it than we imagine, for they dwell in God’s immediate presence. Hence, their rejoicing over a sinner’s conversion must not be ruled out.

But that is not exactly the teaching of our passage; at least, that is not its main point. That main point is this: God, who has his dwelling in the presence of the angels, seeks sinners, and rejoices over even one of them who repents or is converted. So, should not you, Pharisees and scribes, be concerned about those people you now despise? Should you not do all in your power to help them?

On the subject of God’s deep interest in sinners and his joy in their conversion and salvation see also the following beautiful passages: Isa. 62:5; Jer. 7:13 (and its many parallels in that book); 32:41; Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; Hos. 11:8; Zeph. 3:17; John 3:16; Rom. 5:6–11; 8:32; 2 Peter 3:9.[4]

Luke 15:10. There will be joy in the presence of the angels. If angels mutually rejoice with each other in heaven, when they see that what had wandered is restored to the fold, we too, who have the same cause in common with them, ought to be partakers of the same joy. But how does he say that the repentance of one ungodly man yields greater joy than the perseverance of many righteous men to angels, whose highest delight is in a continued and uninterrupted course of righteousness? I reply, though it would be more agreeable to the wishes of angels (as it is also more desirable) that men should always remain in perfect integrity, yet as in the deliverance of a sinner, who had been already devoted to destruction, and had been cut off as a rotten member from the body, the mercy of God shines more brightly, he attributes to angels, after the manner of men, a greater joy arising out of an unexpected good.

Over one repenting sinner. The word repentance is specially limited to the conversion of those who, having altogether turned aside from God, rise as it were from death to life; for otherwise the exercise of repentance ought to be uninterrupted throughout our whole life, and no man is exempted from this necessity, since every one is reminded by his imperfections that he ought to aim at daily progress. But it is one thing, when a man, who has already entered upon the right course, though he stumble, or fall, or even go astray, endeavours to reach the goal; and another thing, when a man leaves a road which was entirely wrong, or only starts in the right course. Those who have already begun to regulate their life by the standard of the divine law, do not need that kind of repentance which consists in beginning to lead a holy and pious life, though they must groan under the infirmities of the flesh, and labour to correct them.[5]

Vers. 9, 10.—And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Again, as in the parable of the lost sheep, we find this longing for sympathy; again the finding of this sympathy in heavenly places, among heavenly beings, is especially recorded. There is a slight difference in the language of rejoicing here. In the first parable it was, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost;” here, “… for I have found the piece which I had lost.” In the first it was the anguish of the sheep which was the central point of the story; in the second it was the distress of the woman who had lost something; hence this difference in the wording. “What grandeur belongs to the picture of this humble rejoicing which this poor woman celebrates with her neighbours, when it becomes the transparency through which we get a glimpse of God himself, rejoicing with his elect and his angels over the salvation of a single sinner!” (Godet).[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2013). Luke 11–17 (pp. 299–301). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2009). Luke. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 2, pp. 113–125). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Luke (pp. 239–241). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, p. 749). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 341–342). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[6] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St Luke (Vol. 2, p. 41). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 19, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Test of Wisdom

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. (3:13)

Some interpreters believe the phrase who among you refers only to the teachers, or would-be teachers, addressed in verse 1. But it seems more probable that, like the intervening section on the tongue (vv. 2–12), this section on wisdom (vv. 13–18) applies to everyone in the churches to whom James was writing, true believers and mere professed believers. James is seeking to identify who is truly skilled in the art of righteous living. “In what way are you wise?” he is saying, in effect, “and in what way are you understanding? The answer will reveal not only your inner character but the spiritual condition of your soul.”

It is hard to find a self-professed fool. Most people have an elevated and unrealistically high opinion of their wisdom, although they might not say so. They believe they are just as “savvy” as the next person and that their opinion is usually better than anyone else’s. In this day of relativism, such perception is virtually universal.

Although the two terms seem to be used synonymously here, wise and understanding carry a shade of difference in meaning. Sophos (wise) is a general word, often used by the Greeks to designate speculative knowledge, theory, or philosophy. For the Jews, as noted earlier, it carried the deeper meaning of careful application of knowledge to personal living. Epistēmōn (understanding) appears only here in the New Testament and carries the idea of specialized knowledge, such as that of a highly skilled tradesman or professional.

Let him show translates an aorist imperative, making the verb a command. “If you claim wisdom and understanding,” he is saying, “show it first by your good behavior, your exemplary lifestyle.” As with faith (2:17), wisdom and understanding that are not demonstrated in righteous, godly living are devoid of spiritual value.

Second, and somewhat more specifically, James admonishes readers to show their wisdom and understanding by their good (implied) deeds, by all the particular activities and endeavors they are involved in.

Third, believers are to demonstrate wisdom and understanding by an attitude of gentleness. People who are wise in their own eyes are generally arrogant about it, which would be expected, because an elevated self-view is based on pride. As made clear in the following verse, selfish ambition is a common companion of arrogance.

Prautēs (gentleness) and its related adjective praus (gentle) carry the idea of tenderness and graciousness, and can be accurately translated “meekness” and “meek,” respectively. But unlike those English words, the Greek terms do not connote weakness but rather power under control. The adjective was often used of a wild horse that was broken and made useful to its owner. For believers, gentleness is to be willingly under the sovereign control of God. Numbers 12:3 (kjv) describes Moses as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” Yet that same Moses could act decisively, and flared up in anger when provoked.

Gentleness is a God-honored character trait, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). It is never bitter, malicious, self-seeking, self-promoting, arrogant, or vengeful. James has earlier admonished believers, “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility (prautēs) receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (1:21). Gentleness or meekness is to characterize everyone in the kingdom of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Our Lord used it of Himself, saying, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. 21:5).

In his excellent nineteenth-century commentary on James, Robert Johnstone wrote:

I do not know that at any point the opposition between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of Christ is more marked, more obviously diametrical, than with regard to this feature of character. That “the meek” should “inherit the earth”—they who bear wrongs, and exemplify that love which “seeketh not her own,”—to a world which believes in high-handedness and self-assertion, and pushing the weakest to the wall, a statement like this of the Lord from heaven cannot but appear an utter paradox. The man of the world desires to be counted anything but “meek” or “poor in spirit,” and would deem such a description of him equivalent to a charge of unmanliness. Ah, brethren, this is because we have taken in Satan’s conception of manliness instead of God’s. One Man has been shown us by God, in whom His ideal of man was embodied; and He, “when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously”; He for those who nailed Him to the tree prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The world’s spirit of wrath, then, must be folly; whilst than a spirit of meekness like His, in the midst of controversy, oppositions, trials of whatever kind, there can be no surer evidence that “Jesus is made of God to His people wisdom.” …

We have here again what may be described as the central thought of this epistle, that where religion [the gospel] has real saving hold of a mind and heart, it cannot from its nature but powerfully influence the outward life; and that the more a Christian has of true wisdom and spiritual knowledge, the more manifestly will his life at all points be governed by his religion [faith]. Talk of orthodoxy and Christian experience, however fluent and animated and clever, does not of itself prove wisdom; the really wise man will “show his work.” (A Commentary on James [reprint; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977], 261–62; 259)[1]

The Way of Wisdom (3:13)

James says that anyone who is wise and understanding shows it by his good life, by deeds that reflect wisdom. The way of wisdom is the way of humility. True wisdom is gentle, meek, humble. If we walk in the path of wisdom, we know that our wisdom is “from above”—a gift of God (James 3:17 esv). Humble faith, a faith that comes from heaven, is the source of the wise life.

Earlier James said we are saved, reborn, by the implanted word (1:18, 21). Now he returns to the gift of God. The gifts of God are humility, wisdom, and self-control. These gifts allow us to resist evil within ourselves and in the world. Our progress is partial, yet by God’s grace, progress is possible. Progress is James’s goal as he writes this section.

If we are wise, we show it by our good life over a span of years. Individual good deeds matter, but just now James has in mind our customs, our way of life, our lifestyle. He asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” If someone claims to be, James says it should show in two ways: by a beautiful lifestyle and by deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom. Both points deserve comment.

On a Beautiful Lifestyle (3:13)

The New Testament commands believers roughly thirty times to imitate someone or something. About half of those command us to imitate a Christian leader, such as Paul or an elder (e.g., 1 Cor. 4:16; Heb. 6:12; 13:7). The rest direct us to imitate Jesus or the Father (e.g., Matt. 10:24–25; 20:25–28; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:1).

When Scripture bids us to imitate someone, it leads us to an exemplary life, not a law. It bids us look to a model of excellence, a hero. It is not so much a command as an invitation to a beautiful or excellent life. Consciously or not, people are constantly looking for models. Parents of newborn babies watch and seek counsel from parents of sweet toddlers. Parents of twelveyear-olds observe wise parents of teenagers. Sixty-year-olds look to friends who have retired well. We rightly look for lives that stir admiration, and we think, “I want to be like that.”

A Christian is obligated to keep God’s law, but Christian living is more than law-keeping. It is especially deleterious to narrow the grandeur of the law to a set of rules. Many Christians think this way: “As a Christian I do certain things that pagans do not. I read the Bible, pray, worship, and witness to Christ. I also avoid certain things that pagans do. I don’t get drunk, curse, smoke, take drugs, or watch certain movies.”

Some Christians think, “If I do the things in group A and shun the things in group B, God will be pleased. I simply need to know the rules and follow them.” God is pleased when we obey his law, but if a disciple thinks of nothing but law, he can descend into a kind of legalism.

The Christian life includes “good deeds” and obedience to the law. But it is more. We also bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). We are “transformed by the renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:2). We have a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). The images of fruit and wells of water teach that the Christian life involves more than rule-keeping. There is a certain spontaneity to it. When we live by the quiet work of the Spirit, the beautiful lifestyle becomes commonplace, almost invisible to us, as automatic as the turns we make as we drive to work daily.

This leads to the happy announcement King Jesus makes on judgment day. He will bless his people, saying, “Come … take your inheritance.… For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.…” The righteous will ask “When?” because they will not remember it (Matt. 25:34–39).

We do not remember, do not notice what has become routine kindness. As the Lord changes the heart, our virtues and good deeds become habits that are invisible to us. When loving-kindness flows from a renewed heart, not from conscious efforts to keep regulations, it creates the beautiful lifestyle James has in mind (3:13).

What James calls “the wisdom that comes from heaven” drives the excellent life. The wise demonstrate God’s wisdom daily. They inspire others by giving them a living model of righteousness that incarnates the will of God. Their lives become models of righteousness. They become our heroes in the faith as they reflect the character of Christ.

A man whom we may call John does this for many who know him. As an immature Christian working for a diplomatic mission in South America, he met and married a bright, attractive local woman. She went to church and read the Bible, but never made a clear profession of faith in Christ. John knew he should marry a fellow believer, but he convinced himself that she would come to faith soon after they married.

She did not. Over the years, he became serious about his faith. He became a bulwark of his church, a man of prayer and a teacher. But the more he grew, the more she turned against the faith. She eventually became a committed atheist who hated the church and Christian ideas. She despised her husband’s faith, and it sometimes seemed that she despised him. But how he loved her, and still does! Patient and tender, he endures her scorn and models faithfulness to all who know him. If any man is impatient with his wife’s petty flaws, John’s very life corrects him. John is a hero; he has a beautiful life.

This capacity to love someone who despises much that we hold dear is wisdom from above. It inspires us to seek that wisdom for ourselves. It grants us a vision of godliness and an aspiration for it.[2]

13 In the ancient world, to be “wise” (sophos, GK 5055) could refer to being skilled or experienced (e.g., 1 Co 3:10); but most often in biblical literature, the word communicates an understanding that results in right attitudes and right living, for God himself is wise (Ro 16:27; 1 Co 1:25) and therefore is the source of divine wisdom. James wants his audience to consider such godly wisdom, for he asks rhetorically, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” The term translated “understanding” (epistēmōn, GK 2184) has to do with being knowledgeable or expert in some area of life. It may be that there were strong personalities in the churches James addresses—people who boasted of their great learning and “wisdom,” insisting that their perspectives on certain matters be given the highest consideration. Yet James issues a reminder that true wisdom “speaks” loudest in one primary way: a life lived well and with an attitude of humility. Thus one must “show,” or demonstrate (deiknymi, GK 1259), “deeds” (ta erga, GK 2240) associated with a righteous pattern of life. This “good life” (tēs kalēs ana-strophēs, GK 2819, 419) constitutes high moral quality and excellence of conduct (Gal 1:13; Eph 4:22; Heb 13:7; 1 Pe 3:2). Further, true wisdom is the source of humility, so the “showing” of good deeds, which really stems from divine wisdom, will manifest itself in a humbleness of spirit rather than stimulating a boastful attitude. The word rendered “humility” (prautēs, GK 4559) by the NIV and “gentleness” by the NASB can also carry the meaning “courtesy” or “considerateness,” and, given the relational conflicts addressed in the passage, these nuances may be in line with James’s intention.[3]

13 Having given sincere teachers a warning to beware of the ever present dangers of the tongue, dangers notably great in their work, James now tries to awaken insincere teachers to a proper sense of their vocation.

Of teaching the Jewish ideal was high, as is shown in the Jewish use of the term “wise” for the teacher: it signifies “in Jewish usage one who has a knowledge of practical moral wisdom, resting on a knowledge of God” (Ropes, p. 244). Since the Fall no man, except Jesus as man, of any time, past or present, can be absolutely innocent of sin, in his nature and behavior: it is the effort that distinguishes between those who seek and those who do not seek righteousness, i.e., between those on the one hand who genuinely believe that there is such a thing as right distinct from wrong, and believe that God exists, and those on the other hand who do not make the effort to serve him.

We must therefore realize the difference between worldly and genuine wisdom, between self-seeking and genuine prophets (see Matt. 7:16–20). Worldliness is the negation of true wisdom (“from above”), and James uses the strongest possible language in condemning it (3:15). Here, as constantly in his Epistle (e.g., 2:1–9), he is condemning not just a possible but an actual and present evil. Sincerity is a sine qua non: worldly self-seekers cannot receive true wisdom (2 Tim. 3:7). That is the doctrine that sounds in James’s terms, already mentioned, “wavering,” “double-minded,” “undivided,” “anarchic,” which last recalls “traitors”46 in 2 Tim. 3:4.

The first step in genuine wisdom is to know God: he that would come to God must believe that he exists, and that his reward, not the world’s, is the reward we must seek. Upon this knowledge and conviction follows the task of applying his principles and rules to our life: that is the Jewish religious ideal of practical moral wisdom (1:12ff.; 3:15ff.). W. D. Ross wrote:

Practical wisdom cannot exist independently of virtue. The power to attain one’s end, be it good or bad, is not practical wisdom but cleverness.… Let the wrong end be aimed at, and it becomes mere clever roguery. And just as practical wisdom implies moral virtue, moral virtue in the proper sense implies practical wisdom.

Now, if all true wisdom is the servant or ally of our aim to live according to God’s will, it is self-evident that the attributes and qualities of true wisdom will be the same as those of the godly life. It is therefore not surprising but inevitable that James’s panegyric of true wisdom should largely be word for word identical with the vocabulary of the several NT descriptions of the Christian life. Of a host of passages we mention only Gal. 5:22f.; Eph. 4:2; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:13f.; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:25; Tit. 3:2. “Undivided in mind” is James’s characteristic way of reprobating the man “of divided mind” and insisting on the well-known prime essential of Christianity, faith: his other adjectives seem to raise no question at all.

“Wise man” is used of the genuine teacher (see headnote, pp. 138f.). False pretenders abounded then as always. “Who is …?” is used as a vivid alternative for: “If there is a.…” The test is sound: in meekness of wisdom is a Hebrew idiom for “in wise meakness” or “in meek wisdom,” but here the Hebrew is preferable even in English. This is not “a paradox” (Hort) but almost a genuine Christian truism.

The doctrine here is: “If anyone of you is, or claims to be, a man of wisdom and knowledge, let him see that he makes his virtuous life show the peaceable temper of wisdom.” This is the only train of thought that can logically lead to James’s verses 16, 17, and 18. We must not be misled by Ropes here, “prove not his wisdom but his meekness.” There is no question of his “pointing to his good works,” but of his behavior, by its quality pointing to his wisdom. Works will be done in the spirit of meekness, and this—not arrogance or argument—is the mark of true wisdom. R. Eleazar ben Azarya asked: “He whose wisdom is greater than his works, to what is he compared? To a tree the branches of which are many, but its roots are few.” We must not think the evidence is more important than what it proves: my arrogance would be a danger (at least principally) to my own soul; my false doctrine, heresy, and schism are a menace not only to me but in fact principally to the whole Christian religion. Moreover, true wisdom always produces wisdom in its possessor, but meekness often goes with hypocrisy: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).[4]

6.2.1. Question (3:13a)

The question “Who is wise and understanding among you?” is more than a quest for information. James’s rhetorical intent is not so much to identify who are such persons as to describe such persons, as both the answer in 3:13b and the expositions in 3:14–18 will reveal. James’s description will not permit the teacher to think his or her mastery of theology or exegesis is sufficient to pass muster. What passes muster for James is behavior shaped by humble wisdom.

The combination of “wise and understanding” is found often enough in the Hebrew Bible that we can take it as shorthand for “teaching” in 3:1. Thus, Deuteronomy 1:13, 15:

Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.… So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you (see also 4:6; Job 28:28).

The wording is Solomonic:

God gave Solomon very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore (1 Kgs 4:29).

And Danielic:

There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation (Dan 5:11–12).

And common in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Upon earth their operations are these: one enlightens a man’s mind, making straight before him the paths of true righteousness and causing his heart to fear the laws of God. This spirit engenders humility, patience, abundant compassion, perpetual goodness, insight, understanding, and powerful wisdom resonating to each of God’s deeds, sustained by His constant faithfulness. It engenders a spirit knowledgeable in every plan of action, zealous for the laws of righteousness, holy in its thoughts and steadfast in purpose. This spirit encourages plenteous compassion upon all who hold fast to truth, and glorious purity combined with visceral hatred of impurity in its every guise. It results in humble deportment allied with a general discernment, concealing the truth, that is, the mysteries of knowledge. To these ends is the earthly counsel of the spirit to those whose nature yearns for truth (1QS 4:2–6; also 11:6; 1QS20 19:25).

Once again, we need to turn to the audience of these verses. James’s concern is with leaders in the messianic community, and they were identified as teachers in 3:1. Moo contends the terms in 3:13a are not regular titles for teachers, but I have to wonder if we have enough evidence of “titles” and whether this sort of observation is not imposing a modern way of referring to functions/gifts on the ancient world. Moo admits that in the Old Testament these expressions refer in all but one instance to leaders, and that concession is not without significance for understanding James 3:13. Furthermore, what needs to be observed is that the wisdom tradition, from Proverbs to Sirach, was shaped for sages. It might be wiser to say that teaching is a characteristic behavior of the sage than to say that sagacity is a characteristic of teachers. It would also be wise to observe that “sage” is a charisma more than it is a title or an office.149

6.2.2. Answer (3:13b)

James’s answer is “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” This sentence sounds as if James is once again appealing to the significance of works for genuine believers (1:22–27; 2:14–26). But what he says here is different. It is not so much that a person’s faith must reveal works, but more that a genuinely wise teacher’s works are done in ways that manifest meekness and wisdom. Thus, the order is not quite the same as we find in Jesus: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matt 11:19).

The wise teacher, or sage, will “show” “works” in his or her “good life.” The word “show” evokes the sense of manifest and exhibit.151 By “works” James no doubt has in mind good human behavior, but one cannot fail to observe that it involves compassion for the poor (1:9–11, 26–27; 2:2–4; 5:1–6) and loving speech patterns (1:19–21; 3:1–12; 4:1–12). “Works” flow from “the good life,” the pattern of one’s life, a term (anastrophē) common in Paul’s letters (Gal 1:13; Eph 4:22; 1 Tim 4:12) and 1 Peter (1:15; 2:12; 3:1–2, 16; also 2 Pet 2:7; 3:11) but not found elsewhere in James. James’s concern here is a pattern of life that routinely and habitually manifests good works.

James now brings up the word “wisdom,” the central concern of the paragraph (and some say the entire letter). To remind ourselves of a point made above, he does not tell the good teacher to be wise, but to manifest good works in wisdom. A grammatical question arises here: Does “with gentleness born of wisdom” modify the verb “show,” thus creating two prepositional modifiers of the verb? That is, “Show works, first, on the basis of a good life and, second, in the meekness of wisdom.” Or does it modify the “works,” thus connecting works to wisdom more tightly? That is, “Show works born of a gentle wisdom.” Grammatically, the second option has in its favor the proximity of the prepositional phrase (en praütēti sophias, “in meekness of wisdom”), while the former view has in its favor a grammatical balancing of the verb by two prepositional phrases. However, this may be too fine analysis for James. By the time one gets to “in the meekness of wisdom,” one has already heard “works.” Thus, if one proposes a second modifier of the verb (first option) one has to admit that the second prepositional phrase, because it comes after “works,” already includes the notion of works. Thus, the rhetoric is more consecutive and cumulative (second option) than the syntax is technically analytical. James builds from “show” to “on the basis of the good life” to “works” and then, after this, to “in the meekness of wisdom.”

James, in solid Jewish tradition, informs the teachers that they are to show their good works “with gentleness born of wisdom.”154 As in 1:21, where the messianic community was urged to receive the word with vulnerable receptivity, so here: the teacher is to do good works with a vulnerability, a non-aggressiveness, a non-boastful approach to life. The oddity of humility as a virtue among early Christians in the context of the Roman world, especially emphatic in Paul’s letters, has been observed by many. But, ʿanavâ, the Hebrew term for this moral virtue, was also important to the rabbis. It goes back to the classic line about Moses, who, when being criticized—and nothing could be more appropriate to the teachers in James’s audience—was described in these words: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). And Jesus, too, was humble (Matt 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor 10:1). The implication of this evidence is that humility or gentleness is non-retaliation in the face of criticism. Wise teachers are non-retaliatory, and teachers know full well the temptation to respond with harshness. Wisdom, then, for James has to do with both a grasp of God’s will and a life that conforms to that will, and that life will not be noted by the things we are about to find in 3:14–18. And it is there that we will be able to find a full understanding of what James means by “wisdom.” But for now we need to observe that wisdom, as can be seen in Proverbs 1:1–7, produces in sages and leaders the following attributes: receptivity toward instruction, the moral virtues of righteousness, justice, and equity, cognitive prudence and instruction, and what can best be translated as “skill” (tahbulot, Prov 1:5; see also 9:7–12).

The question James asks in 3:13a is intended to open up the opportunity for him to clarify how the teachers of the messianic community are to behave. We are left with the suggestion that that wisdom and understanding are for James not simply cognitive mastery but behavioral. The climactic behavior James has in mind, as 3:18 will make abundantly clear, is a community marked by peaceableness. A simple summary of what James teaches in 3:13–18 to teachers is: a wise teacher is the one who creates godly, loving peace in the community.[5]

3:13 / James has already argued for simple, sincere speech; now he makes an appeal. Who is wise and understanding among you? At one level this is a question that simply asks if someone fits the description, but at a deeper level one remembers that 1 Corinthians 1–3 describes a church in which rival teachers claimed superior wisdom, and perhaps that was happening in James’ community as well. At the least, he knows that the teachers of 3:1 were claiming to be understanding, for how else could they teach? It is such persons, as well as those who aspire to understanding, whom James addresses.

How are such persons to show their wisdom? By clever refutation of those who disagree with their position? By no means; rather, show it by [their] good life. Jesus had taught that one would know true teachers from false ones by how they lived (Matt. 7:15–23). James is applying his master’s teaching. Lifestyle was absolutely critical for the early church. Elders were primarily examples (1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:10–11), secondarily teachers: Their qualifications stress their exemplary lives and only mention their teaching ability as one item among many (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). Lifestyle was an important witness as well (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:2, 16), for if it did not succeed in converting, it at least removed the excuses from the mouths of unbelievers at the final judgment. James states that not one’s orthodoxy (right preaching) but one’s orthopraxis (right living) is the mark of true wisdom. One must reject the teacher who does not live like Jesus; one discounts the profession that does not lead to holiness.

James stresses two marks of this lifestyle. The first is good deeds. Actions do speak louder than words (Matt. 5:16). The works one does show where the heart is really invested (e.g., Matt. 6:19–21, 24). James commends such practices as charity and caring for widows as marks of wisdom.

The second mark is performing these deeds in the humility that comes from wisdom. Unlike the hypocrites of Matthew 6:1–5, the truly wise know how to act out of humility: They are not building their own reputations. Like Moses (Num. 12:3) and Jesus (Matt. 11:29; 21:5; 2 Cor. 10:1), they are not interested in defending themselves. They avoid conflict and especially avoid advertising themselves. Humility is the mark of the truly wise.[6]

3:13 Who is wise and understanding …? “Wisdom” and “understanding” are virtually synonymous here. Both refer to the ability to live life well—in other words, being mature. “Wisdom” is knowledge put into practice, and “understanding” refers to “being knowledgeable in a way that makes one effectual in the exercise of such knowledge.” James is demonstrating what wisdom looks like as he takes knowledge in 3:13–18 and correctly applies it to his readers’ situation in 4:1–10.

by deeds done in the humility. “Deeds” is the same word used twelve times in 2:14–26. James is still concerned about good works, but now he is emphasizing that these good works are done in a spirit of “humility.” It is not enough to do good things; they must be done in the right spirit. First Corinthians 13:1–4 says the same thing.

In this context two different words are translated with the word “humility/humble”: praytēs in 3:13 and tapeinos/tapeinoō in 4:6, 10. These are related words, and when they appear together in the New Testament, the NIV translates praytēs as “gentleness” and tapeinos/tapeinoō as “humility” (Matt. 11:29; Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12). That is the idea here. James is concerned with gentleness in dealing with others, as seen in 3:17–18 when he focuses on “peace” and the relational aspects of wisdom from above. This gentleness comes from humility, as 4:6–10 will make clear.

comes from wisdom. The fact that true wisdom manifests itself in identifiable actions is perhaps based on Jesus’s proverbial affirmation in Matthew 11:19 that “wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”[7]

13. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

James addresses the members of the church. He assumes that they pray to God for wisdom, that they possess this virtue, and that the world looks to them for leadership. Knowing, however, that these things are not always true of Christians, James wants his readers to examine themselves.

  • Examination

“Who is wise and understanding among you?” A wise and understanding person demonstrates in what he says and by what he does that he possesses wisdom. Whether James wants to designate the teachers of his day wise men is not quite clear. If this is the case, we see a direct connection between the beginning of this chapter (“Not many of you should presume to be teachers,” v. 1) and the rhetorical question here (v. 13).

James qualifies the term wise with the word understanding. This means that a wise person also has experience, knowledge, and ability. Wisdom consists of having insight and expertise to draw conclusions that are correct. An old proverb sums this up: “Foresight is better than hindsight, but insight is best.”

Countless instances prove that knowledgeable people are not necessarily wise. But when a knowledgeable person has insight, he indeed is wise. If there is a wise and understanding person among you, says James, let him demonstrate this in his life.

  • Demonstration

James encourages the wise man to show by his conduct that he has received the gift of wisdom. “Let him show it by his good life.” James seems to indicate that among Christians wise and understanding men are in the minority, for not everyone who belongs to the Christian community acquires wisdom. But those who have it are exhorted to demonstrate by word and deed that they indeed are wise. James uses the verb to show in the sense of “to prove.” Let a man provide actual proof that he possesses wisdom and understanding. Let him confirm this by means of his daily conduct.

What does James mean by the expression good life? He refers to noble, praiseworthy behavior. True, James stresses “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” But a wise man affirms his noble conduct in words and deeds.

  • Affirmation

“Actions speak louder than words.” This proverbial truth underscores the necessity of looking at a person’s deeds to see whether his actions match his words. What are these deeds? They are performed in a humble, gentle spirit that is controlled by a spirit of heavenly wisdom.

The emphasis in this verse falls on that characteristic of wisdom described as humility. This quality can also be described as meekness or gentleness. Gentleness comes to expression in the person who is endowed with wisdom and who affirms this in all his deeds.

In Ecclesiasticus, also known as the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, the writer lists a few precepts on humility and says, “My son, perform your tasks in meekness; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts” (Sir. 3:17, RSV).[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 168–170). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 119–121). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 249). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 149–151). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 299–303). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[6] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 87–88). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Samra, J. (2016). James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 45). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[8] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 117–118). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

October 18, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Premise

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (11:13)

This premise, expressed in the form of a comparison, is the foundation upon which the whole discussion rests. Christ’s opening words, If you then, being evil, express the biblical doctrine of total or radical depravity. Even His true followers, those who had embraced Him as Lord, Savior, and Messiah, were still evil (ponēros; “bad,” “wicked,” “worthless”; also used as a title for Satan [Matt. 13:19, 38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19]). Significantly, the Lord did not say that they do evil, but rather that they are evil. Though they are redeemed and forgiven, sin remains a powerful operative principle in believers (Rom. 7:14–25). Yet despite being evil, human fathers still know how to give good gifts to their children. It is natural for even unbelievers to love their children, be kind to them, and provide for their needs. The image of God in that sense in people, though warped and scarred by the fall, is nonetheless still present.

The contrasting phrase how much more is the key to the Lord’s point. Reasoning from the lesser to the greater, if human fathers who are sinners, who love imperfectly, and often lack the wisdom to know what is best for their children lovingly provide for them, how much more will God, who is absolutely holy, loves perfectly (cf. John 13:1), and has infinite wisdom give what is best to His children. As the psalmist wrote, “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11; cf. 34:9–10; Matt. 6:33; Phil. 4:19).

Then Jesus concluded His point by promising that believers’ heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. This is an intriguing statement, which differs from the Lord’s teaching of this same truth on a different occasion, as recorded in Matthew 7:11. There He spoke of the Father giving what is good; here He expanded that and spoke of God’s giving the Spirit, who is the source of all goodness and blessing, to live within every believer.

To those who ask for a gift, He gives the giver; to those who ask for an effect, He gives the cause; to those who ask for a product He gives the source; to those seeking comfort He gives the comforter (Acts 9:31); to those seeking power He gives the source of power (Acts 1:8); to those seeking help He gives the helper (John 14:26); to those seeking truth He gives the Spirit of truth (John 16:13); to those seeking “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23) He gives the producer of all those things. The indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14) is the source of every good thing in the Christian’s life (Eph. 3:20).

Though the New Testament would bring more complete revelation concerning the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with the Old Testament revelation concerning Him. They understood that He was involved in the creation (Gen. 1:2; cf. Job 33:4). Further, they knew that the Holy Spirit was associated with the coming of the Messiah (Isa. 61:1–3; cf. Joel 2:28–29, which was partially fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2:16–21]). They also understood that Messiah would send the Spirit to regenerate (Titus 3:5) and indwell those who put their faith in Him (Ezek. 36:25–27; cf. John 7:38–39; 14:16–17, 25–26; Titus 3:5).

The Holy Spirit is the cause of every truly good thing in the life of a Christian. He convicts unbelieving sinners, enabling them to be aware of and repent of their sin (John 16:8). They enter God’s kingdom of salvation by being born of the Spirit (John 3:5–8) in regeneration (Titus 3:5) and confessing Jesus as Lord through the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). It is through the Holy Spirit that they receive the knowledge of God (1 Cor. 2:11–12)—knowledge not understood by the unregenerate (v. 14). The Spirit frees believers from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:17) and seals them for eternal life (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). They are baptized with the Spirit, placing them in the church, the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), indwelt by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Tim. 1:14), and filled (controlled, empowered by) with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). The Holy Spirit empowers believers for evangelism (Acts 1:8), intercedes for them (Rom. 8:26), sanctifies them (1 Cor. 6:11), makes them progressively more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), pours out God’s love into their hearts (Rom. 5:5), and gives them hope (Rom. 15:13).

Bold, confident prayer results in communion with God and all the rich blessings of His goodness as believers experience the reality that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).[1]

13 Luke specifically mentions the Holy Spirit, who was promised (Ac 2:33; cf. Lk 24:49; Ac 1:4). The giving of the Spirit in response to prayer can already be found in 3:21–22 where the descent of the Spirit takes place when Jesus was praying. This promise also anticipates Acts, where one witnesses the dramatic descent of the Spirit on the believing community (cf. Shepherd, 137–40).[2]

11:13 / though you are evil: Lachs (p. 142) suspects that underlying “evil” is the Hebrew word biša, which originally was intended only as an abbreviation for bāśār vādām (“flesh and blood”). He notes that to describe one as “flesh and blood” is to call someone mortal, and he cites a rabbinic tradition that parallels the logic of Jesus’ saying very closely: “If this man, who is flesh and blood, cruel and not responsible for her [his divorced wife’s] maintenance, was filled with compassion for her and gave her [aid], how much more should You be filled with compassion for us who are the children of Your children Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are dependent on You for our maintenance” (Leviticus Rabbah 34.14).

Holy Spirit: Gundry (pp. 124–25) suspects that Luke’s “Holy Spirit” may be original, while Matthew’s (literally) “good things” (7:11) is a Matthean modification. I do not agree. Given Luke’s pronounced interest in the Holy Spirit (recall 1:35, 41, 67; 2:25; 3:16, 22; 4:1, 14, 18) it is much more probable that it was Luke who changed the original “good things” (as is read in Matthew) to “Holy Spirit” (so Schweizer, p. 192).[3]

11:13 A human father would not give bad gifts; even though he has a sinful nature, he knows how to give good gifts to his children. How much more is our heavenly Father willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. J. G. Bellet says, “It is significant that the gift He selects as the one we most need, and the one He most desires to give, is the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus spoke these words, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given (John 7:39). We should not pray today for the Holy Spirit to be given to us as an indwelling Person, because He comes to indwell us at the time of our conversion (Rom. 8:9b; Eph. 1:13, 14).

But it is certainly proper and necessary for us to pray for the Holy Spirit in other ways. We should pray that we will be teachable by the Holy Spirit, that we will be guided by the Spirit, and that His power will be poured out on us in all our service for Christ.

It is quite possible that when Jesus taught the disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit, He was referring to the power of the Spirit enabling them to live the other-worldly type of discipleship which He had been teaching in the preceding chapters. By this time, they were probably feeling how utterly impossible it was for them to meet the tests of discipleship in their own strength. This is, of course, true. The Holy Spirit is the power that enables one to live the Christian life. So Jesus pictured God as anxious to give this power to those who ask.

In the original Greek, verse 13 does not say that God will give the Holy Spirit, but rather He will “give Holy Spirit” (without the article). Professor H. B. Swete pointed out that when the article is present, it refers to the Person Himself, but when the article is absent, it refers to His gifts or operations on our behalf. So in this passage, it is not so much a prayer for the Person of the Holy Spirit, but rather for His ministries in our lives. This is further borne out by the parallel passage in Matthew 7:11 which reads, “… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”[4]

11:13. The Lord closes the motivational illustration with an argument from the lesser to the greater. If fallen human fathers intuitively give their children “good gifts,” God the Father will surely provide “the Holy Spirit” to those who petition Him. Belief in Jesus as Savior constitutes the only condition for receiving the Spirit in the present church age as shown at the home of Cornelius (cf. Acts 10; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 12:12–13). The reference here however probably pertains to Israel on a national scale—they would ask the Father for the Holy Spirit by their belief in Messiah and repentance (cf. Acts 2:38–39, 40–41). The following context shows why Israel did not experience this blessing on a national scale in the first century.[5]

Ver. 13.—How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? In St. Matthew we find the last portion of this teaching related as having taken place at a much earlier period of the Lord’s ministry. It is more than probable that much of Jesus Christ’s general instruction was repeated on more than one occasion. There is an important difference between the words reported by the two evangelists. St. Matthew, instead of the “Holy Spirit,” has the more general expression, “good things.” In both accounts, however, is the Master’s assurance that prayer, if persisted in, would ever be heard and granted, and there is the all-important limitation that the thing prayed for must be something “good” in the eyes of the heavenly Father. How many requests are made by us, poor, short-sighted, often selfish men, which, if granted, would be harmful rather than a blessing to the asker! Here the Lord, the Reader of hearts, having taken notice of some of the deep earnest longings, perhaps scarcely crystallized into prayer, of his own disciples, of a John or a James, pictures the case of one who deserves a special deepening of the spiritual life, and prays some prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Such a prayer, says Christ, must be granted.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2013). Luke 11–17 (pp. 56–58). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 207). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 183). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1412–1413). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Valdés, A. S. (2010). The Gospel according to Luke. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 283). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[6] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St. Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 301–302). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 18, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Dust and Glory

Genesis 2:7

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Alexander Pope was not being particularly biblical when he wrote, “The chief study of mankind is man.” He was not even being original, for the obligation to “know thyself” was an axiom of Greek thought thousands of years before him. Still, Pope was expressing an obligation felt by most men and women in nearly every age of history. We want to know who or what we are, why we are here, and where we are going.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to answer these questions apart from the biblical revelation. The reason is that we see parts of the answer, but only parts, and are therefore constantly distorting the picture. Zoologists, like Desmond Morris, who calls man “the naked ape,” tells us that man is essentially an animal. Karl Marx says that the essence of man is in his labor, what he does. Existentialists tell us that man is essentially volitional. That is, his uniqueness is found in his will. Hugh Hefner tells us that we are sensuous creatures and are therefore to be understood largely in terms of our passions or sexual performance. Common today is the view that man is essentially a machine, a large computer. At the Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh there is a research project in which scientists are asking whether there is any essential difference between a human being and a computer. Each of these attempts to define man has elements of truth. But in the final analysis each fails because it is reductionistic. It sees part of the picture, but it lacks a comprehensive view of the whole. Consequently, in this age as in previous ages of human history man is “his own most vexing problem,” as Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us.

What are we to do? The only wise course is to ask who we are from God. When we do that we find that there is no profounder statement of who we are than Genesis 2:7.

Formed from the Dust

The profundity of this verse is that it describes man as a combination of what is low and what is high. On the one hand, he is described as being formed from the dust of the ground—an image of lowness though not of evil, as the Greeks thought, for even the dust is made by God and is good because he made it. On the other hand, man has been breathed into by God—an image of glory. It is man’s unique role to combine both dust and glory.

Dust is one of the most fascinating images of Scripture, and a study of it amply repays the time invested. It is a symbol of that which is of little worth, of low or humble origin. We see this in a number of passages. For instance, when Abraham is pleading with God over Sodom and wishes to emphasize his own littleness to engage in such pleading, he says, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty?” (Gen. 18:27). Or again, Hannah, in praising God for hearing her request for a son, says, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (1 Sam. 2:8; cf. Ps. 113:7). On one occasion God reminds King Baasha of Israel that it was he who lifted him “up from the dust” and made him “leader of my people Israel” (1 Kings 16:2). But because he did not obey or honor God, God removed him and brought him down to the dust again. Dust is used as a symbol of the total defeat of one’s enemies (“the king of Aram had destroyed the rest and made them like the dust at threshing time,” 2 Kings 13:7; cf. Ps. 18:42; 72:9). It is a sign of mourning (“Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads,” Josh. 7:6; cf. Job 2:12; 16:15; Lam. 2:10; 3:29; Ezek. 27:30; Micah 1:10; Rev. 18:19). Job used the word twenty-two times to speak of the littleness of man in his misery. In a classic passage near the end of his book, this suffering saint declares, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6).

We repeat that dust is not evil, nor is it nothing. But it is “next to nothing,” as Matthew Henry notes. He adds that man “was not made of gold-dust, powder of pearl, or diamond dust, but common dust, dust of the ground.” In describing man as being formed from the dust Moses undoubtedly wished to stress man’s humble origin and show that he can aspire to glory only by the grace of God, who made him.

There is something else to be noted about dust: it is a symbol of frustration. The greatest example is the frustration of Satan whose curse, related in Genesis 3:14, was in part that “you will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” This passage does not mean that snakes literally eat dust, nor does it imply that the author of the passage thought so. Dust in the mouth is a figure of defeat and humiliation.

Before his fall Satan was an intelligent and extremely powerful being, chief of all angels. Somewhere along the line—we do not know when or how—this supremely intelligent creature conceived a most unintelligent thought, namely, that he could get along without God. He said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13–14). He rebelled. But God brought him down from the lofty heights of his own sinful imaginations, and instead of finding himself in heaven replacing God he found himself a fugitive in God’s universe. In God’s initial judgment on Satan the fallen cherub had his first taste of dust.

He had another Eden. No doubt, after having suffered God’s instantaneous judgment on himself for his sin, Satan thought that Adam and Eve would experience the same—if only he could get them likewise to rebel against their Creator. So Satan tempted first Eve, then through her, Adam. Satan got them to sin. But instead of the immediate judgment he expected he found God coming graciously to clothe the first man and woman in skins taken from the first animal sacrifices and heard God promising an eventual and full deliverance by him who was to crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15).

Satan’s most bitter mouthful of dust was at the cross of Christ when he, who undoubtedly engineered Christ’s death, thinking thereby to strike back at God, found to his dismay that he had unwittingly been instrumental in furthering God’s great plan of redemption. Certainly God was correct when he said, “You will eat dust all the days of your life.” Satan ate dust then. He will always eat it. For even in Isaiah’s great description of earth’s golden age it is said, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food” (Isa. 65:25).

In his discussion of the frustrations of Satan (and of others who follow in his path of rebellion), Donald Grey Barnhouse refers to a cartoon published in the London Star during World War II. The forces of Germany were at their farthest point of advance. Axis armies were in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. Rommel’s troops were standing within the borders of Egypt. Rommel boasted that he would be in Cairo in two weeks. But then the Russian power began to stir, and the armies under Montgomery began that victorious march across Egypt that was to result in the total defeat of the German forces in North Africa. This cartoon showed Hitler standing on tiptoe on a heap of skulls, reaching into the sky where his fingers were just barely missing a cloud in the shape of the word “Victory.” The caption said, “It is always just out of reach.” So it is for Satan, and for all who think they can succeed in their rebellion against the true God.

The third truth symbolized by dust is death, which for unbelievers is the ultimate frustration (cf. Eccles. 3:19–21). It appears in Genesis. In the same judgments in which it is said of Satan, “You will eat dust all the days of your life,” it is said of man, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). This thought was often on Job’s mind. He said in his misery, “I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more” (Job 7:21; cf. 17:16; 20:11; 21:26). It is spoken prophetically of Christ: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:15; cf. v. 29).

This image speaks of increasing despair: from littleness to frustration to death. But it is not so for believers. Although we are formed from the dust, we remember that it is God who has formed us and who “remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). True it is, as the psalm goes on to say, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone …” (vv. 15–16). But it is also true, as the psalm adds, “From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (vv. 17–18). The author of Psalm 119 declares, “I am laid low in the dust.” But he adds, “preserve my life according to your word” (v. 25).

The Breath of Life

The reason why it is possible for men to call on God for renewal or even to remember that God remembers their origin is that they are more than dust. They are also spirit, which Genesis 2:7 indicates by saying that after God had formed man from the dust of the ground, he continued his work by breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life.” This is man’s glory.

To appreciate this verse fully we must recognize the close connection between God’s Spirit and the word for “breath.” It comes from the fact that in nearly all ancient languages, particularly Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, the words for spirit and breath are identical. In Latin the word for spirit or breath is spiritus, which has obviously given us our word “spirit.” But spiritus also means breath, as we recognize in many of our Latin derivatives. Spiritus has given us: aspire, conspire, inspire, perspire, and expire. They all refer to different ways of using one’s breath. When men aspire, they take a deep breath and try harder. When they conspire, they put their heads together and breathe in and out with one another. A man is inspired when another man (or God) blows some of his breath into him. A person perspires by breathing out through the skin. When we expire, we breathe out for the last time. We die.

In Greek, the language in which the New Testament is written, the corresponding word is pneuma. It refers to breath also. This word is harder for English-speaking people to pronounce than the Latin word spiritus because of the initial two consonants, pn, so we do not have so many words based on it. Nevertheless, we have pneumatic and pneumonia. The first word refers to any tool that is air operated, like a pneumatic drill. The second refers to a disease of the breath box or lungs.

Finally, just as the Latin and Greek words for “spirit” refer to breath, wind, or air, so also does the Hebrew word. This word is ruach, which you cannot even say properly without exhaling. Ruach! It is the sound of a breath. When we understand this, we have some sense of the poetry of the opening verses of the Bible in which the creative Spirit of God blows over the waters like a troubling wind. No one English version can capture both ideas—the ideas of wind and spirit—but the New English Bible at least suggests the idea of the wind, with a reference to God’s Spirit preserved in a footnote. The New English Bible declares: “In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:1–2).

It is this word that occurs in Genesis 2:7 with the implication, readily seen by any Hebrew reader, that man was specially created by God’s breathing some of his own breath into him. Man has a special relationship to God by virtue of the divine spirit. Hence, although like the animals in certain respects, he is also above them and is to excel them in his love of and obedience to the Creator.

We know to our sorrow that man did not excel the animals in fulfilling this high destiny. He rebelled against God and thereby sadly effaced the image of God that had been given to him. Now, though retaining vestiges of that former glory, he is nevertheless thoroughly depraved in the sense that he can do no good acceptable to God, can no longer understand spiritual truth unless aided by the Holy Spirit, and cannot seek the true God against whom he has rebelled. That is why Paul writes of man in his fallen state, saying, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10–12).

Fortunately, this is not the whole story. Although man cannot seek God, God does seek man and even recreates him according to the pattern originally set in Genesis. It is what Jesus spoke about to Nicodemus when he told that leader of Israel, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus did not understand Christ’s meaning. So Jesus explained that the birth he was referring to was a birth from above by means of God’s Spirit: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (vv. 5–6). Jesus was saying, not that a man must be born again of his mother (which is what Nicodemus first thought), but that he must be born again of God—just as Adam was born of God originally (cf. Luke 3:37). Flesh gives birth to flesh, fallen man to fallen man. But God gives new life now through his Spirit, breathing into us as he once breathed into Adam. Without that necessary rebirth or recreation a person “cannot see the kingdom of God.”

A Living Being

Genesis 2:7 adds one final thought. As a result of God’s forming man from the dust of the ground and breathing some of his own breath into him, man became a “living being.” The phrase translated “a living being” (actually, “living soul”) in Genesis 2:7 is also used in Genesis 1:24 of the animals. But as a result of the particulars of man’s creation given in the second chapter, a distinction is undoubtedly implied. Man is not only alive. He knows he is alive. Even more important, he knows from whom that life has come and of his duties to the God who breathed his own breath into him.

Man also knows that he depends on God for physical life and that he must come to him for spiritual life, as Jesus indicated. Isaiah teaches the physical dependence of man on God in a fascinating verse. It plays on the idea of man’s breath by saying, “Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” (Isa. 2:22). We might paraphrase Isaiah’s command by saying, “Why trust in man who is able to take only one noseful of breath at a time? Trust God, whose breath is inexhaustible.” The breath of God in us may be our glory, but it is still received by us only one breath at a time. We breathe in. We hold our breath. We breathe out. But then we must breathe in again, or die. Nothing could better characterize our utter dependence on God.

And what if God should withhold his breath? Job answers by saying, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust” (Job 34:14–15). So does the psalmist: “When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust” (Ps. 104:29).

I give two closing verses. There is a verse in 1 Corinthians that, by its contrast between the first Adam in his littleness and Christ in his greatness, summarizes most of what this study has been saying. Paul writes, “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’ [a clear reference to our text in Genesis]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). What does Paul mean? Simply this: Adam existed by breathing in, and the breath he breathed in was from God. He could not sustain himself. Christ, on the other hand, is the One who breathes out, for he is “life-giving spirit.” We are to live physically and spiritually only as we turn to and are united to him.

The last verse is in the form of a concluding challenge, particularly to any who are not yet Christ’s. It comes from the little-known Book of Ecclesiastes: “Remember him [that is, remember God]—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccles. 12:6–7). It is the preacher’s way of saying “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

When death comes it is too late. Now, while you still have life, come to him who is able to give eternal life, and find yourself accepted in the Savior.[1]

7 At first glance the description of the creation of humankind is significantly different from that of ch. 1. In ch. 2 the man is made (“fashioned”) “from the dust of the ground” rather than (created) “in the image of God,” as in ch. 1. No two descriptions could be more dissimilar. However, we should not overlook the fact that the topic of the “creation of the man” in ch. 2 is not limited merely to v. 7. In fact, the topic of the creation of the man and the woman is the focus of the entire second chapter. What the author had stated as a simple fact in ch. 1 (human beings, as male and female, were created in God’s likeness) is explained and developed throughout the narrative of ch. 2. We cannot contrast the depiction of the creation of humankind in ch. 1 with only one verse in ch. 2; we must compare it to the narrative in the whole of the chapter.

The first point the author is intent on making is that human beings, though special creatures made in God’s image, are nevertheless creatures, like the other creatures God made. Man did not begin as a “heavenly creature”; he was made of the “dust [ʿāpār] of the ground.” In light of the special attention given to the creation of humankind in ch. 1, the emphasis in ch. 2 on their “creatureliness” is not without importance. The notion that the origin of humankind might somehow be drawn from a divine source is consciously excluded by this narrative. Man’s origin is the dust of the ground.

One can also see in this picture of man’s origin an anticipation of humankind’s destiny after the fall, when they would return to the “dust” (ʿāpār, “soil,” 3:19). In creation man arose out of the dust, but in the fall human beings return to the dust. The author thereby pictures the true nature of the contrast between the work of God and the work of humankind.

Chapter 2 makes a further contribution to our understanding of humankind’s creation in God’s image. This is seen in the author’s depiction of the land and the garden prepared for humankind’s habitation. The description of the garden of Eden deliberately foreshadows the tabernacle as it is described later in the Pentateuch. The garden, like the tabernacle, was the place where humankind could enjoy the fellowship and presence of God.[2]

7  Verses 4b–7 are one long sentence in Hebrew, containing a protasis (v. 4b), a series of circumstantial clauses (vv. 5–6), and an apodosis (v. 7). This apodosis informs us that God the craftsman formed man from the dust of the ground. The Hebrew uses assonance here: God formed hāʾāḏām … min-hāʾaḏāmá. It is hard to capture this play on sounds in English, but it is something like “God formed earthling from the earth.” The verb for crafted is Heb. yāṣar, which on several occasions explicitly describes the vocation or work of a potter (2 Sam. 17:28; Isa. 29:16; Jer. 18:2, 3, 4, 11), especially when used in participial form (yōṣēr). “Potter,” however, is a suitable translation only when the context clearly points to the fact that the work of formation being described is that of a potter. For example, the verb is used in Isa. 44:12 to describe the work of an ironsmith on metals, and hence the verb would carry a meaning like “forge.” A potter, of course, works with mud or clay (ḥōmer), not dust (ʿāp̄ār). And for instances of yāṣar (“to do the work of a potter”) with clay (ḥōmer) compare Isa. 41:25 and Jer. 18:4, 6. (Job 33:6 has Elihu saying that he was formed from clay, but “form” in this instance is qāraṣ. Similarly Job reminds God that he has made him [ʿāśá] of clay [10:9].) It is taking too much liberty with Heb. ʿāp̄ār to render it “mud” or “clay” so that yāṣar in v. 7 may carry the force of “do the work of a potter.” There are, to be sure, instances where ḥōmer is used in parallelism with ʿāp̄ār (Job 4:19; 10:9; 27:16; 30:19), but such parallelism argues at best for overlap in meaning rather than identity in meaning.

In contrast to 1:26ff., here we are told that mankind was made from something already in existence. The word of God (1:26ff.) is now augmented by the work of God (2:7), a work that includes both formation and animation. “It is as though for the climactic performance the usual act of will was reinforced by an act of divine effort.”

We should note that neither the concept of the deity as craftsman nor the concept of man as coming from earthy material is unique to the Bible. For example, from ancient Egypt we have a picture of the ram-headed god Khnum sitting on his throne before a potter’s wheel, on which he fashions the prince Amenhotep III (ca. 1400 b.c.) and his ka (an alter ego which protected and substained the individual?). Referring to this particular painting, the Egyptologist John Wilson makes the interesting observation that Egypt lacked a specific account of mankind’s creation. The reason for this lack, he argues, “is that there was no firm and final dividing-line between gods and men. Once a creation was started with beings, it could go on, whether the beings were gods, demi-gods, spirits, or men.”16

Mesopotamian literature provides numerous examples of man’s derivation from clay. We have already seen that in Enuma elish man is created from the blood of a god. In the Gilgamesh Epic (a Babylonian deluge story) the nobles of Uruk pester the gods and ask them to create one equal in strength to the oppressive Gilgamesh. The gods then ask Aruru the creator to make a counterpart to Gilgamesh:

Thou, Aruru, didst create [the man];

Create now his double, …

When Aruru heard this,

A double of Anu she conceived within her.

Aruru washed her hands,

Pinched off clay and cast it on the steppe.

[On the step]pe she created valiant Enkidu.

A sister composition to the Gilgamesh Epic is the Atrahasis Epic, another literary tradition about the creation and early history of man. As in Enuma elish, here too man is created to relieve the gods of heavy work. His creation is described as follows:

Wê-ila (a god), who had personality,

They slaughtered in their assembly.

From his flesh and blood

Nintu mixed clay.…

After she had mixed that clay

She summoned the Anunnaki, the great gods.

The Igigi, the great gods,

Spat upon the clay.

Mami opened her mouth

And addressed the great gods,

“You have commanded me a task, I have completed it;

You have slaughtered a god together with his personality.

I have removed your heavy work,

I have imposed your toil on man.”

Nowhere does Gen. 2 imply that dust is to be understood as a metaphor for frailty. Some kind of qualification would have to be added for that nuance to be apparent, as is done, for example, in Gen. 18:27. Gen. 2 simply says that dust was the raw material out of which man was created, as “rib” was the corresponding raw material for the woman. Dust is the womb from which man emerges and the receptacle to which one day he will return (3:19). It defines the beginning and end of his life. True, 3:19 may indicate that man of dust is not an infinite creature, but in so stating, Genesis is not demeaning man.

The dust image appears sporadically throughout the OT and into the NT. Especially interesting for possible connections with Gen. 2:7 are those passages which speak of an exaltation from dust, with the dust representing pre-royal status (1 K. 16:2), poverty (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7), and death (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). To “be raised from the dust” means to be elevated to royal office, to rise above poverty, to find life. Here man is formed from dust to be in control of a garden. Thus, the emphasis on the dust in Gen. 2:7, far from disagreeing with ch. 1, affirms ch. 1’s view of man’s regality. He is raised from the dust to reign.

The remainder of v. 7 supports this interpretation. into his nostrils the deity blows the breath of life. In Lam. 4:20 the people refer to King Zedekiah as “the breath of our nostrils” (though the word for “breath” there is rûaḥ, not nešāmá as here, passages like Isa. 42:5 and Job 27:3 show that nešāmá and rûaḥ are sufficiently related, both meaning “breath”). In ancient Egypt, especially in the cult of Hathor (the divine mother of the king), young princesses appear before the king with several objects in their hands to present to him. As they present these objects they say: “May the Golden One (Hathor) give life to thy nostrils. May the Lady of the Stars unite herself with thee.” In our comments on Gen. 1:26 we suggested that the application of the divine image to “man,” as opposed to the king, represented perhaps both a demythologizing of royal mythology and a democratization of society in Israel. Such would seem to be the case here too. It is man, as representative of subsequent humanity, who receives the divine breath. It is not something only for the elite of society.

Instead of using rûaḥ for “breath” (a word appearing nearly 400 times in the OT), Gen. 2:7 uses nešāmá (25 times in the OT). Unlike rûaḥ, which is applied to God, man, animals, and even false gods, nešāmá is applied only to Yahweh and to man. (The nešāmá of animals is not expressly mentioned except in the oblique reference in 7:22.) Thus 2:7 may employ the less popular word for breath because it is man, and man alone, who is the recipient of the divine breath. Now divinely formed and inspired, he is a living person. Until God breathes into him, man is a lifeless corpse.

As we shall see below, in 1 Cor. 15:45 Paul emphatically identifies “the man” of Gen. 2:7 with Adam. He amplifies the simple LXX egéneto ho ánthrōpos, “the man became …,” into egéneto ho prṓtos ánthrōpos Adam, “The first man Adam became.…” This Pauline use of 2:7 will serve as but one example of the thirty-four uses of ʾāḏām in Gen. 1:5 and how they should be translated. In essence the problem is this: is ʾāḏām to be understood generically (mankind) or is it a proper name? And if in translation we shift from one to another, on what basis do we make the shift?

As a general rule, when ʾāḏām appears without the definite article, we may translate it as a personal name, following the rule that personal names are not normally preceded by the definite article. When it occurs with the definite article (hāʾāḏām), we may translate it as “man.”

That this neat rule does not apply to all of the instances of ʾāḏām is borne out by an examination of some of the modern English translations of the Bible. Thus AV has “Adam” eighteen times and “man” sixteen times in chs. 1–5. RSV has “Adam” eight times and “man” twenty-six times. NEB has “Adam” four times and “man” thirty times. JB has “Adam” six times and “man” twenty-eight times.23 In addition, these modern versions disagree as to the first legitimate appearance of “Adam” as a personal name: 2:19 (AV, also LXX and Vulg.); 2:20 (NIV); 3:17 (RSV); 3:21 (NEB); 4:25 (JB).

Those who embrace the theory of two sources (P [1:1–2:4a and 5:1ff.] and J [2:4b-4:26]) in these five chapters are faced with the interesting use of ʾāḏām by P first in a generic sense (1:26–27), then as a proper name (5:1). If indeed P once existed as a separate document, the shift in meaning of ʾāḏām from 1:26–27 to 5:1 would be decidedly jarring. For why would the author use the same word in back-to-back positions to convey two radically different concepts?

One can argue that this shift in meaning is prepared for by the final editor’s deliberate and skillful placing of J (2:3–4:26), in which a shift in meaning from “man” to “Adam” is already manifest. Or, one can suggest that 1:5 is the product of one hand in which there is a progression in the use of ʾāḏām from mankind to mankind/Adam to Adam. We have observed the progression from the general to the specific in the Creation story of Gen. 1. Perhaps the same movement is in operation in the use of ʾāḏām in these opening chapters of Scripture.

There is no doubt that “Adam” as a personal name has ancient textual support. Old Akkadian and Old Babylonian texts feature names such as A-da-mu, A-dam-u, and ʾÁ-da-mu, while the Ebla texts have produced a reference to A-da-mu, a provincial governor under King Igriš-Ḫolam. In Ugarit one of the titles of El is il ab adm, “El, the father of mankind.”[3]

2:7 / Like a potter, God formed (yatsar) man (’adam) from the dust of the ground (’adamah). There is a wordplay between “man” and “ground.” “Ground” represents red soil (from the root ’-d-m, “red”). Whether it indicates that the man’s skin was copper-colored is difficult to determine. Furthermore, ’adam is particularly hard to translate, for it is used for all humans as well as for the name of the first man. Versions vary widely in rendering ’adam as Adam or man. The kjv renders it Adam eighteen times out of the thirty-four occurrences, but the niv translates it Adam only four times (2:20; 3:17, 20, 21), emphasizing the representative role of the first human. Agreeing with this interpretation, this commentary renders ’adam as “man” until the woman has the name Eve (3:20); then Adam is used. Thereby the representative role of the first man and the first woman is kept in the foreground throughout the narrative.

God then breathed into the man’s nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being (nepesh khayyah). The latter phrase classifies humans as members of the animal world (2:19), while “breath” establishes that humans continually and uniquely depend on God for their life force (Job 27:3). Whenever God takes the breath away, that person dies (Ps. 104:29–30).[4]

2:7. Whereas vv. 1:26–27 refer generally to God’s creation of humankind and underscore the distinctive gift of God’s “image” that He granted them, this verse presents a detailed description of the process by which He did so. Two facts here are of significance: (1) the proximity of God to what He was here creating, and (2) the imparting of a “soul” to man from God’s own self. The first point is emphasized in this verse by the use of the verb formed (vay-yiṣer, from yaṣar), which, when not applied to God’s creation of man (cf. Is 49:5; Zch 12:1), is typically employed, especially as a verbal adjective (yoṣer), to describe the role and work of a potter—which, perhaps more so than any other human activity, requires the careful and gentle use of the potter’s own hands. Since God could have created humanity in any other way He chose, such as by simply calling a man into being (as He did for everything else), the question naturally arises, “Why did He create humanity in this way?” And the answer is, “To demonstrate His special care (love) for man and His desire to relate to him in an intimate way.”

As to the second point, concerning the imparting of a soul to man—it is this that constitutes the “image” of God and that allows us, uniquely among God’s living creations, to commune or “relate” to God at a level that transcends material creation. In other words, as far as the evidence of Scripture itself, it was only into humanity that God breathed what derives exclusively from Himself—not simply “breath,” but in fact the soul. Of its 24 occurrences in the OT, this term is applied only to God and people. Hence it describes what humanity and the Creator uniquely share, namely, the capacity for spiritual relationship. That capacity is fulfilled when a person ceases from his or her own attempts to find spiritual “rest” and instead enters that permanent rest provided in Jesus Christ (Heb 4:10).[5]

7. And the Lord God formed man. He now explains what he had before omitted in the creation of man, that his body was taken out of the earth. He had said that he was formed after the image of God. This is incomparably the highest nobility; and, lest men should use it as an occasion of pride, their first origin is placed immediately before them; whence they may learn that this advantage was adventitious; for Moses relates that man had been, in the beginning, dust of the earth. Let foolish men now go and boast of the excellency of their nature! Concerning other animals, it had before been said, Let the earth produce every living creature; but, on the other hand, the body of Adam is formed of clay, and destitute of sense; to the end that no one should exult beyond measure in his flesh. He must be excessively stupid who does not hence learn humility. That which is afterwards added from another quarter, lays us under just so much obligation to God. Nevertheless, he, at the same time, designed to distinguish man by some mark of excellence from brute animals: for these arose out of the earth in a moment; but the peculiar dignity of man is shown in this, that he was gradually formed. For why did not God command him immediately to spring alive out of the earth, unless that, by a special privilege, he might outshine all the creatures which the earth produced?

And breathed into his nostrils. Whatever the greater part of the ancients might think, I do not hesitate to subscribe to the opinion of those who explain this passage of the animal life of man; and thus I expound what they call the vital spirit, by the word breath. Should any one object, that if so, no distinction would be made between man and other living creatures, since here Moses relates only what is common alike to all: I answer, though here mention is made only of the lower faculty of the soul, which imparts breath to the body, and gives it vigour and motion: this does not prevent the human soul from having its proper rank, and therefore it ought to be distinguished from others. Moses first speaks of the breath; he then adds, that a soul was given to man by which he might live, and be endued with sense and motion. Now we know that the powers of the human mind are many and various. Wherefore, there is nothing absurd in supposing that Moses here alludes only to one of them; but omits the intellectual part, of which mention has been made in the first chapter. Three gradations, indeed, are to be noted in the creation of man; that his dead body was formed out of the dust of the earth; that it was endued with a soul, whence it should receive vital motion; and that on this soul God engraved his own image, to which immortality is annexed.

Man became a living soul. I take נפש, (nepesh,) for the very essence of the soul: but the epithet living suits only the present place, and does not embrace generally the powers of the soul. For Moses intended nothing more than to explain the animating of the clayey figure, whereby it came to pass that man began to live. Paul makes an antithesis between this living soul and the quickening spirit which Christ confers upon the faithful, (1 Cor. 15:45,) for no other purpose than to teach us that the state of man was not perfected in the person of Adam; but it is a peculiar benefit conferred by Christ, that we may be renewed to a life which is celestial, whereas before the fall of Adam, man’s life was only earthly, seeing it had no firm and settled constancy.[6]

7. Here the sacred writer supplies a few more particulars about the first pair.

formed—had formed man out of the dust of the ground. Science has proved that the substance of his flesh, sinews, and bones, consists of the very same elements as the soil which forms the crust of the earth and the limestone that lies embedded in its bowels. But from that mean material what an admirable structure has been reared in the human body (Ps 139:14).

the breath of life—literally, of lives, not only animal but spiritual life. If the body is so admirable, how much more the soul with all its varied faculties.

breathed into his nostrils the breath of life—not that the Creator literally performed this act, but respiration being the medium and sign of life, this phrase is used to show that man’s life originated in a different way from his body—being implanted directly by God (Ec 12:7), and hence in the new creation of the soul Christ breathed on His disciples (Jn 20:22).[7]

Ver. 7.—And the Lord God (Jehovah Elohim) formed man of the dust of the ground. Literally, dust from the ground. Here, again, Bleek, Kalisch, and the theologians of their school discover contrariety between this account of man’s creation and that which has been given in the preceding chapter. In that man is represented as having been created by the Divine word, in the Divine image, and male and female simultaneously; whereas in this his creation is exhibited as a painful process of elaboration from the clay by the hand of God, who works it like a potter (asah; LXX., πλάσσω), and, after having first constructed man, by a subsequent operation forms woman. But the first account does not assert that Adam and Eve were created together, and gives no details of the formation of either. These are supplied by the present narrative, which, beginning with the construction of his body from the fine dust of the ground, designedly represents it as an evolution or development of the material universe, and ends by setting it before us as animated by the breath of God, reserving for later treatment the mode of Eve’s production, when the circumstances that led to it have been described. And (the Lord God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Literally, the breath of lives. “The formation of man from the dust and the breathing of the breath of life must not be understood in a mechanical sense, as if God first of all constructed a human figure from the dust” (still less does it admit of the idea that man’s physical nature was evolved from the lower animals), “and then, by breathing his breath of life into the clod of earth which he had shaped into the form of a man, made it into a living being. The words are to be understood θεοπρεπῶς. By an act of Divine omnipotence man arose from the dust; and in the same moment in which the dust, by virtue of creative omnipotence, shaped itself into a human form, it was pervaded by the Divine breath of life, and created a living being, so that we cannot say the body was earlier than the soul” (Delitzsch). And man became a living soul. Nephesh chayyah, in ch. 1:21, 30, is employed to designate the lower animals. Describing a being animated by a ψυχή or life principle, it does not necessarily imply that the basis of the life principle in man and the inferior animals is the same. The distinction between the two appears from the difference in the mode of their creations. The beasts arose at the almighty fiat completed beings, every one a nephesh chayyah. “The origin of their soul was coincident with that of their corporeality, and their life was merely the individualisation of the universal life with which all matter was filled at the beginning by the Spirit of God” (Delitzsch). Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine inbreathing; certainly not an inbreathing of atmospheric air, but an inflatus from the Ruach Elohim, or Spirit of God, a communication from the whole personality of the Godhead. In effect man was thereby constituted a nephesh chayyah, like the lower animals; but in him the life principle conferred a personality which was wanting in them. Thus there is no real contradiction, scarcely even an ‘apparent dissonance,” between the two accounts of man’s creation. The second exhibits the foundation of that likeness to God and world-dominion ascribed to him in the first.[8]

7 “Then the Lord God shaped man from the dust of the land.” The focus on man and his relationship to the land in vv 5–6 is but a prelude to man’s (אָדָם) creation from the land (אֲדָמָה). Though אדמה is grammatically the feminine form of אדם, it is doubtful whether there is any etymological connection between the two words. It is sometimes suggested that both terms are derived from אָדֹם “red.” the color of man’s skin and also the earth. This too seems improbable. Certainly, however, there is a play on the two terms אדם and אדמה, to emphasize man’s relationship to the land. He was created from it; his job is to cultivate it (2:5, 15); and on death he returns to it (3:19). “It is his cradle, his home, his grave” (Jacob).

This play on similar sounding words, paronomasia, is a favorite device of Hebrew writers (cf. 2:23), and many other phonetic allusions to ˒ādām “man” have been noted in these chapters. Strus (Nomen-Omen, 114–20) points out that the whole story reverberates with allusions to the word ˒ādām, and to the name of Eve hawwāh, just as the flood story has many puns on Noah’s name. Besides ˒ădāmāh and ˓ēden (Eden), qedem, qidmat (East), tardēmāh (heavy sleep), and môt tāmût (you shall certainly die) seem to make allusion to ˒ādām. The terms ḥayyîm ḥayyāh (life, living, wild animal) audibly resemble the name of Eve. For a discussion of the meaning of האדם and האדמה, see Comment on 1:26 and 2:5.

“Shaped,” יער: The present participle of this verb means “potter” (e.g., Jer 18:2), and it may well be that the image of a potter shaping his clay lies behind this description of man’s creation, even though “dust of the land” is not the normal material a potter works with. Though turning pots may often be a tedious, repetitive work, these are not the overtones of יצר, as a look at the other uses of the word reveals. “Shaping” is an artistic, inventive activity that requires skill and planning (cf. Isa 44:9–10). Usually the verb describes God’s work in creation. God has “shaped” the animals (2:19), Leviathan (Ps 104:26), the dry land (Ps 95:5), the mountains (Amos 4:13), and the future course of history (Isa 22:11, Jer 33:2). Preeminently, God’s shaping skill is seen in the creation of man, whether it be from dust as here or in the womb (Isa 44:2, 24) or in shaping human character to fulfill a particular role (Isa 43:21; 44:21).

“Dust,” עפר: That man was created from the dust is alluded to in many parts of the OT (Job 10:9; Isa 29:16; Ps 90:3; 104:29, etc). The idea is also commonplace outside the OT. The Gilgamesh Epic (1:34) tells how the goddess Aruru created Enkidu from clay. Egyptian monuments portray the god Khnum making man out of clay. The classical myths tell of Prometheus creating the first man from soil and water (Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.82; Juvenal 14:35). It is evident then that Genesis is here taking up a very ancient tradition of the creation of man and is giving these old ideas its own distinctive flavor.

“Blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” Man is more than a God-shaped piece of earth. He has within him the gift of life that was given by God himself. The biblical writer was not alone in the ancient world in rejecting a reductionist view of man which sees him as simply an interesting collection of chemicals and electrical impulses. Other peoples too regarded man as constituted of clay plus a divine element. The Babylonians spoke of man as a mixture of clay and the blood of a god (e.g., A 1:208–50). The Egyptians held that men had souls like the gods (F. Maass, TDOT 1:78). Similarly, Prometheus made man’s body from clay and gave it life with divine sparks (Dillmann, 54–55).

“Blew,” נפח, suggests a good puff such as would revive a fire (Isa 54:16; “Hag 1:9). The closest parallel is Ezek 37:9 where the prophet is told to blow on the recreated bodies to resuscitate them, and then, filled with wind/spirit (רוה), they stood alive. It is the divine inbreathing both here and in Ezek 37 that gives life.

“The breath of life” (נשׁמת חיים) is different from the word for “spirit” (רוח) in Ezekiel. Indeed נשׁמה and רוח sometimes occur in parallel (e.g., Job 27:3; Isa 42:5) suggesting a near synonymity. In fact נשׁמה “breath” is a narrower and rarer term than רוח “wind, spirit.” “Breath,” the ability to breathe, is a key characteristic of animal life as opposed to plant life. The flood destroyed “everything which has the breath of life in its nostrils” (7:22). Frequently, however, “breath” is more restrictive: to have breath is to be human (Josh 11:11; Isa 2:22), though it can of course be used analogically of the breath of God, e.g., 2 Sam 22:16. So when this verse says God blew into man’s nostrils the breath of life, it is affirming that God made him alive by making him breathe.

As a result of this divine inbreathing, man became a “living creature” (נפשׁ חיה). This phrase is used again of the land animals and birds in 2:19; 9:9; and in 1:20 it is also used of sea creatures. The term נפשׁ is one of the most common words in the OT (754 occurrences), and it has a wide range of meaning—“appetite, throat, person, soul, self, corpse,” among others. There have been many attempts to define and interpret the word, and often this particular verse is said to give a special insight into Hebrew psychology. (For discussion see C. Westermann, THWAT 2:71–96; E. Jacob, TDNT 9:618–31; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament [London: SCM, 1974] 10–25; W. H. Schmidt, “Anthropologische Begriffe im AT,” EvT 24 [1964] 374–88).

It tends to be overlooked in such discussions, however, that this verse says man became a נפשׁ חיה a “living creature,” not merely נפשׁ “creature.” The adjective is significant in the phrase: implicitly this “living creature” is being contrasted with a dead one, e.g., Num 5:2; 6:6, 11. Given the other uses of the phrase נפשׁ חיה in Gen 1, 2, 9, it seems unlikely that 2:7, “man became a living creature,” means any more than the tev rendering “and the man began to live.” By blowing on the inanimate body made from the earth, God made man come alive. It is not man’s possession of “the breath of life” or his status as a “living creature” that differentiates him from the animals (pace T. C. Mitchell, VT 11 [1961] 186). Animals are described in exactly the same terms. Gen 1:26–28 affirms the uniqueness of man by stating that man alone is made in God’s image and by giving man authority over the animals. There may be a similar suggestion here, in that man alone receives the breath of God directly (cf. 2:7 and 2:19). Man’s authority over the animals is evident in that he is authorized to name them.[9]

[1] Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (pp. 115–121). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 74–75). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (pp. 156–160). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Hartley, J. E. (2012). Genesis. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (p. 59). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Rydelnik, M., Vanlaningham, M., Barbieri, L. A., Boyle, M., Coakley, J., Dyer, C. H., … Zuber, K. D. (2014). Genesis. In The moody bible commentary (pp. 40–41). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[6] Calvin, J., & King, J. (2010). Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Vol. 1, pp. 111–113). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[7] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 18). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Genesis (pp. 41–42). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[9] Wenham, G. J. (1987). Genesis 1–15 (Vol. 1, pp. 59–61). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

October 18, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Unbelief Conquered

Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. (4:50–54)

Instead of agreeing to go back to Capernaum with him as the official had begged Him to do, Jesus merely said to him, “Go; your son lives.” At that very instant (vv. 52–53), the boy was healed. Even though he had no confirmation of it, the man nevertheless believed the word that Jesus spoke to him. The Lord’s words to him had moved him from the third level of unbelief (which needs miracles) to the second (which believes Christ’s word). Without any tangible proof that his son was healed, he took Jesus at His word and started off for home.

Leaving Cana in the Galilean hill country, the official went down toward Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee (about seven hundred feet below sea level). On the way, his slaves met him, already having left the town to find him and tell him the good news that his son was living (i.e., that he had recovered, not merely that he had not yet died). Overjoyed, the man inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. The servants replied, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The seventh hour would have been early afternoon, sometime between 1 and 3 p.m. in the broadest reckoning. By the time he left Cana and arrived in the vicinity of Capernaum, it was after midnight (yesterday). It is possible that Jesus’ word to him relieved his anxiety about his son, allowing him to remain in Cana, perhaps to hear and see more from the Lord and understand His message. That would have been critical, because it led him to fully believe in Jesus when his servants reported the complete healing of his son, confirming the Lord’s claims (v. 53).

It was the time of his son’s recovery that verified to the father that a miracle had taken place, because he knew that his son’s healing had happened at that very hour in which Jesus had said to him, “Your son lives.” When he heard the news, the royal official himself believed, along with each member of his whole household (cf. Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31–34; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15).

John concluded this account with the footnote, This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. This act of healing was the second of the eight major signs that John records as proof that Jesus was the Messiah. It was also the second sign (the first having taken place at the wedding at Cana [2:1–11]) He had performed in Galilee. That it was not Jesus’ second miracle overall is made clear from 2:23. In this instance, the stunning verification of Jesus’ power lifted the royal official all the way from sign-seeking unbelief to genuine saving faith.[1]

The Second Miracle

John 4:46–54

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”

Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

It does not matter who you may be, sooner or later you are going to experience great sorrows or even tragedies in your life. You may be rich or poor, a man or a woman, black or white. Tragedy inevitably will become a part of your personal experience and there will be nothing you can do to avoid it.

That is not merely my own opinion, of course. It is a truth that has been recognized by many throughout history. One of the oldest pieces of literature in any language contains an expression of this that has become somewhat proverbial. It is from the Book of Job: “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6–7). The Hebrew of this saying is beautiful; for the two Hebrew words translated by our one word “sparks” are literally “the sons of flame,” and the thought is that men are born to endure the fires of this life and eventually perish in the burning.

We know it is true. Psychologists tell us that life begins with pain, as the child, who for the first nine months of its life has rested warmly and comfortably within the uterus of its mother, is suddenly pushed and pulled into a hostile environment in which his first independent act is to cry. The experience is one akin to strangulation as the baby gasps for its life. For a time after birth the mother cares for the baby’s needs. Yet, as the child grows up, the years progressively knock away the props of life and the child is forced increasingly to depend on his own resources. He must learn to eat and clothe himself. Eventually he must go to school, then earn a living. In time there will be the failure of his plans and the dissolution of cherished relationships. There will be pain and sickness. Death will inevitably come to friends and family, and at last the person himself will face his own death and that which lies beyond.

I am not pointing this out to spread gloom. There is enough sorrow in this world without emphasizing it. Rather, I am writing in this way to start us thinking about how you and I will react to such events when they come to us. What will we do? Will we be beaten down by them? Or will we triumph over them in complete victory? The verses we end with show how we can have such victory and how the same solutions can enrich our lives even in the far more abundant times of joy and great happiness.

In Joy and Sorrow

The basis for arriving at such solutions comes from a story in the life of Jesus Christ. It is the story of a rich nobleman whose son was dying and who, out of his desperation, came to Jesus about it. By the end of the story we find that not only had the son been cured but in a far more wonderful way the rich man and his entire family had found a genuine faith in Christ.

The story begins by telling us that “once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine” (John 4:46). It ends with the remark: “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee” (v. 54). Why do we have this emphasis upon the place where Jesus performed the miracle? Why is this called the second miracle, when obviously many other miraculous things had been done by Jesus previously (cf. John 2:23; 4:45)? Why, in fact, is the former miracle of changing water into wine at Cana mentioned? Quite clearly, this is John’s way of telling us that we are to put the two miracles—that of changing water into wine and that of healing the nobleman’s son—side by side. In other words, we are to see them in relationship to each other and compare them.

What does the comparison show? In the first place it shows a number of similarities. Both were “third-day” miracles. Thus, the miracle at the wedding occurred three days after Jesus had left the area of the lower Jordan River to return to Galilee (2:1), while this miracle similarly occurred three days after Jesus had determined to leave Judea to return to Cana through Samaria (4:43). Both miracles contain an initial rebuke to the one who requested it. In the first case it was to Mary, Jesus’ mother (2:4). In the second it was to the nobleman (4:48). Third, in each case Jesus performs the miracle at a distance, doing nothing but speaking a word (2:7, 8; 4:50). Fourth, the servants possess unique knowledge of what happened (2:9; 4:51). Finally, each account concludes with a statement that certain persons who knew of the miracle believed. Thus, in the earlier story we are told that “his disciples put their faith in him” (2:11), while in the second narrative we are told that the father “and all his household believed” (4:53).

These points reinforce the need of comparing the two stories. Yet the significant point of the comparison is not in the similarities but in their one great difference. What is the difference? Certainly that in the first the scene is one of joy, festivity, and happiness. The stage is a wedding. In the second the scene is fraught with sickness, desperation, anxiety, and the dreadful shadow of death. One is a picture of joy, the other of sorrow. In comparing the two we are clearly to see that life is as filled with the one as the other and that Jesus, the One who is the answer to all human need, is needed in both circumstances.

One writer has noted: “Jesus is more than equal to either occasion. He has a place in all circumstances. If we invite him to our times of innocent happiness, he will increase our joy. If we call on him in our times of sorrow, anxiety, or bereavement, he can bring consolation, comfort, and a joy that is not of this world.”

In pointing to this truth John is further documenting his claim that Jesus is indeed “the Savior of the world”; for Jesus is the Savior of all men, at all times, and in all circumstances.

Growth of Faith

The next fact we are told is that the man who came to Jesus at Cana was a nobleman. This is not the same word that is used in chapter 3 where Nicodemus is described as being a Pharisee, “a ruler of the Jews.” The word that is used of Nicodemus is one that denotes preeminence of authority, however derived. In this case, the word is basilikos, which is related to the word for king and therefore denotes royalty. The word could even mean that the man was a petty king, but in this context it probably means that he was one of the royal officials at the court of Herod.

Moreover, the man had some means, for he had servants. Here was a nobleman, rich, no doubt with great influence. Yet neither his rank nor riches were able to exempt him from the common sorrows of mankind. Remember, as you think about those in positions of importance or power, that there is just as much sickness among them. And there is just as much of a need for Jesus Christ.

The wonderful thing, of course, is that this man sensed his need and its solution. When Jesus had performed his first miracle by changing water into wine, the miracle was at first known only to the disciples and to the servants who bore the wine to the master of ceremonies. Still, people being what they are, the news must have spread and have created a stir in Galilee. In time, some of the Galileans got to Jerusalem and learned of miracles that Jesus had been doing there. They told about these when they returned. It is part of the same picture that news of what Jesus was doing must have reached even Herod’s court, for the nobleman had heard of Jesus and immediately remembered what he had heard when faced with the fact of his son’s illness.

News came to the nobleman that Jesus was back in Galilee at Cana where the first miracle had been performed. Leaving home he made the four-hour trip (about twenty-five miles) from Capernaum, where he lived, to Cana. There he begged Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum and heal his son.

There are two ways of looking at the man’s faith at this point. The first way is to be surprised that he was exercising faith at all. Here was a man who was high in the court, where he doubtless exercised great authority, traveling twenty-five miles to request a miracle from a carpenter. It is true that desperation has driven many men and women to unusual actions, and that therefore we must not find this overly significant. Nevertheless, the man’s faith is surprising. That is one way of looking at it. The other way of looking at the man’s faith, however, is to look at it in the way in which Jesus looked at it and to realize that although it was real faith it was nevertheless quite weak. The man apparently believed that Jesus was able to heal his son. But he limited Jesus to the place—he thought it was necessary that Jesus should come down to Capernaum—and to a mode of operation. Presumably the nobleman thought that Jesus would have to touch his son to heal him, just as Jairus thought that Jesus would have to touch his daughter to heal her (Mark 5:23) and the woman with an issue of blood thought it would be necessary for her to touch the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:28). It therefore became Jesus’ purpose to teach the nobleman and to help his faith to grow.

At first Jesus delivered a rebuke. He said, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (John 4:48). That was the equivalent of calling him a curiosity seeker and was perhaps directed as much toward the crowd that had gathered as to the nobleman. It was a test of the man’s faith or sincerity. How did he react? Fortunately, the nobleman proved himself to be truly noble, for he was not offended, nor did he seek to justify himself either before Jesus or the others. He simply stood his ground, reiterating his need and humbling himself to receive his answer in whatever way Jesus chose to give it to him.

Here then is the first answer to the way in which we can find triumph or victory in sorrow. It is to trust Jesus enough to allow him to operate in whatever way he chooses.

Believing Is Seeing

But there is also a second lesson to be learned, and it was this lesson that Jesus next began to teach him. Jesus taught that one must believe first, then he will see the results. Jesus had said, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” This statement was a true description of the thinking of vast numbers of men and women. The world even has it in a proverb, which says, “Seeing is believing.” The teaching of Jesus was that in spiritual things the order is reversed and that believing is seeing, for it is only as one believes in Jesus that he sees spiritual things happening. Therefore, Jesus told the boy’s father, “You may go. Your son will live” (v. 50). The nobleman was called upon to believe without sight. It was hard, but that is precisely what he did. The story goes on to say, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

Needless to say, if it had been a mere man speaking, the belief of the nobleman would have been absurd. No one believes without sight. Yet in spiritual matters it is entirely logical to do so—because we are dealing not with a man but with God. Jesus is God. Hence, to believe him is the most logical thing in the universe.

Moreover, to believe in Jesus is also the most effective way to set one’s mind at rest, even when faced with sorrow. For we are told that having believed Jesus the nobleman simply continued on his way. The word used, plus the tense employed (imperfect), suggests that the nobleman believed Jesus so implicitly that he simply picked up his work where he had left it and went on about his business. At any rate, it is obvious that he did not rush home; for although the conversation took place about one o’clock in the afternoon and the journey was only four hours, the nobleman did not get back until the next day. When he did return it was to learn that his son had been healed instantly the day before at the very hour in which Jesus had spoken to him.

What a splendid story this is! And it is all the more splendid in that the man came to such strong faith from such a weak beginning. It is hard to read this story without thinking of that other similar story of the centurion who came to Christ requesting him to heal his sick servant. There are some noted similarities, so much so that some scholars have imagined these to be two versions of the same incident. Yet they are not the same, and the greatest of all differences is to be found in the attitudes of the two men involved. The centurion had the greatest faith. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (Matt. 8:8). Jesus praised his faith, saying, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (v. 10). Still the centurion had this faith from the beginning, while the nobleman who sought out Jesus in Cana came to the same level of faith in a very short time through Jesus’ teaching.

Truths for Everyone

The applications of this story to our own experiences are obvious. I am sure that you have already seen some of them. First, if Jesus acted as he did with this man and if his actions actually had the effect on him that the Bible tells us they did, then surely Jesus is the answer to our own anxieties also. The man came, talked to Jesus, and then went on his way without any tangible evidence that his request had been granted. Why? Because in meeting Jesus and in talking with him, his anxiety evaporated. It can be the same for you. You may be weighed down under great burdens. You may be crying inside. Just come to Jesus. Tell him about it. He will be delighted to ease your burdens and to take the weight of them all upon himself.

The second application is that the experience I have described may be true even though our actually seeing the results is postponed. They may even be postponed until after this life. We witness the death of a parent, friend, or child. We experience sorrow or sickness ourselves. We come to Jesus and find him saying, “I know what I am doing. I am working it all out.” The Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). There will always be circumstances in which we will not see that this is true. Nevertheless, we are to go on about our business. We may have to pass through the night into the bright day of the next world before we see how our prayers are answered. Still we are to believe and know that Jesus has heard and that he has answered.

Finally, there is fact that these truths are for everyone. That is the burden of this first great section of John’s Gospel. What has John done? He has shown Jesus at work in the three major sections of his world—Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. He has shown him with the rich and the poor, with the educated and the uneducated, with Jews and Samaritans, with religious leaders and those who show no religious orientation at all. He has shown him as the “light of the world,” “the lamb that takes away the sin of the world,” “the Savior of the world.” In other words, he has shown us that the gospel is for everyone. Thus, the gospel is for you also, whoever you may be.

Jesus is speaking to you when he says, “Come now, let us reason together … though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). He speaks to you when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).[2]

The Second Sign

John 4:43–54

The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. (John 4:49–50)

Scholars believe that John wrote his Gospel in part to record events from early in Jesus’ ministry that were left out of the other Gospels. As we conclude John 4, we continue John’s chronicle of those early days. We can follow the events in a clear progression, starting with John the Baptist’s testimony about Christ, which took place after Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (see Matt. 4:1–11). John’s testimony brought Jesus his first disciples (John 1:19–42), after which he went north to Galilee, where he found Philip and Nathanael (1:43–51). There, Jesus attended the wedding in Cana (2:1–12), after which he went for a stay at Capernaum and then to observe the Passover in Jerusalem. And there, Jesus violently cleansed the temple, performed a number of miracles (2:13–22), and had his meeting with the Pharisee Nicodemus (3:1–21). From there, Jesus went back to the Judean countryside where more of John the Baptist’s followers transferred to him (3:22–36). When this attracted official notice, Jesus decided to go back north to his native Galilee, and on the way he passed through Samaria, where he met the Samaritan woman and brought the gospel to her town (4:1–42).

After this, Jesus “came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine” (John 4:46). This return to Cana wraps up John’s presentation of Jesus’ early ministry, a period in which Jesus revealed himself to Israel as witnesses bore testimony to him. By showing two miracles that both happened in Cana, John invites a comparison between them. The first miracle produced wine at a wedding feast; this second miracle occurred in the midst of sorrow and death. Our lives are filled with both joy and sorrow, gain and loss. John wants us to realize, as one writer observed: “Jesus is more than equal to either occasion. He has a place in all circumstances. If we invite him to our times of innocent happiness, he will increase our joy. If we call on him in our times of sorrow, anxiety, or bereavement, he can bring consolation, comfort, and a joy that is not of this world.”

The People Whom Jesus Saves

The narrative begins in Samaria, where Jesus stayed and taught the people for two days. John tells us of Jesus’ reluctance to continue his journey to Galilee: “For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44). This fits one of the themes in John’s Gospel, one that runs all the way to the cross: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (1:11).

There are three kinds of people in this last section of John 4, two of whom do not savingly receive Jesus. The first are the ones he lamented from his hometown—those who do not honor him but reject him outright. It is clear that Jesus expected such people in his native region of Galilee, and he probably refers specifically to his hometown of Nazareth. Luke reports that when Jesus got to Nazareth, news of his miraculous powers had already reached there (Luke 4:14). Nonetheless, Jesus was rejected by his hometown when he publicly announced his ministry there (4:16–21). “They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ ” (4:22), so Jesus was not accepted by them. Jesus left Nazareth—apparently for good—and his hometown scarcely benefited from his miracles or teaching. Whereas the despised Samaritans received Jesus with a joyful faith, his own people rejected him. Likewise, many people today reject Jesus outright, since he does not meet their approval or fulfill their worldly expectations.

On the way to Nazareth, Jesus stopped by Cana, where he was warmly received. John writes, “When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast” (John 4:45).

Here, we see a second class of people: those who do not reject Jesus, but receive him for what he can do. The Galileans liked having someone who could work wonders—especially like the one at the wedding—so they welcomed Jesus. Among them was a royal official from Capernaum whose son was gravely ill. Apparently, he had heard that Jesus could help, so he made the twenty-mile journey to Cana to find Jesus and bring him back to his home (John 4:47).

Jesus’ reaction to this might be startling, but it is also revealing: “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe’ ” (John 4:48). It is helpful to know that Jesus was using the plural; he was commenting about the people in general rather than simply this bereaved father. His complaint was that the people did not worship him as Savior and Lord, but merely sought to employ him as a useful wonder-worker. They were consumers, not worshipers; admirers, not followers. John says that the miracles were signs (4:54)—that is, their true value was in revealing Jesus as Son of God and Savior—but the consumers did not believe in what they signified, only in what the signs themselves offered. Alexander Maclaren explains Jesus’ distress:

Christ had just come from Samaria, the scorn of the Jews, and there He had found people who needed no miracles, whose conception of the Messiah was not that of a mere wonder-worker … and who believed on Him … because they heard Him themselves, and His words touched their consciences and stirred strange longings in their hearts. On the other hand … such recognition as Christ had thus far received “in His own country” had been entirely owing to His miracles, and had been therefore regarded by Christ Himself as quite unreliable (2:23–25).

How little has changed since then. There are those who express no interest in Jesus, rejecting him with hardened hearts. But there are others who come to church and get involved in religious activities, not because their hearts have been awed by the glory of God and Christ’s saving majesty, but strictly for self-gratifying, worldly reasons. They have little interest in learning about God and the doctrines of the Bible, but seek mainly the lifestyle benefits of the “practical” preaching they demand. But Jesus rebukes and refuses any but a faith that is centered on him as Lord and Savior. Mark Johnston sums it up: “Jesus is not interested in satisfying crowds who want to be entertained. He is interested in sinners who feel their need and are prepared to take him at his word.”

Who, then, are the people whom Jesus saves? The answer is seen in the man’s reply: “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies’ ” (John 4:49). The first thing we notice is his humility. Here is a man of authority—the Greek term for official (basilikos) suggests that he was an officer in Herod’s court—coming to a carpenter’s-son-turned-rabbi. We might expect him to say, “Listen, you carpenter’s son, my boy has noble blood. You will come as I command.” But instead he came to Jesus humbly. He began by addressing Jesus as “Sir,” a sign of respect for a man much lower in the social order. (In fact, the Greek word is the one normally translated Lord.) This is the kind of person—almost alone among the people of Galilee—who is saved by Jesus: one who honors him as Lord and not merely seeks to employ Jesus’ services but humbly seeks his grace.

The Grace by Which Jesus Saves

Our focus in this passage is not merely on the humble royal official, but on Jesus and the grace by which he saves. The term grace is often defined as “God’s unmerited favor.” That is a good definition, except that it doesn’t go quite far enough. Since we are all sinners before God, grace really is God’s favor extended toward those who deserve the opposite. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

When we deserved nothing but punishment and hell, when we deserved nothing but to reap the fruit of our own sowing, when we were nothing but the children of wrath, God, because of his eternal and everlasting love, and according to his knowledge and wisdom, looked upon us with that eye of favour so that now we are peculiarly under his grace.

According to the Bible, this is how God saves sinners: not according to their own works or merits—since our works are sinful and merit condemnation—but according to his own grace. Paul states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

This is exactly what this passage shows: Jesus saves the official’s son not because any payment was made or because the official was less a sinner than others (as a servant of Herod, he was likely a greater sinner), but because his is a merciful grace. This is good news, because Jesus has the same mercy for us. Jesus said, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50). Likewise, because salvation is by grace—that is, by God’s free gift—Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

Notice as well that Christ’s is a sovereign grace. The ruler apparently thought that Jesus had to be physically present to perform a miracle, since he asked him to come to his son. But Jesus merely spoke and the salvation occurred. The next day, when the official returned home, he learned that his son had been cured at the very moment Jesus spoke (John 4:52). This shows that Jesus has the authority to save by his own will, and with a might that is equal to any need. This is why John so often emphasizes Jesus’ divine nature (see 20:31): if Jesus is God, he has divine power to save us. Jonathan Edwards points out that knowing this ought to strengthen our resolve to trust in Christ: “What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that He cannot save you, that He is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than the ‘mighty God,’ as Christ is called (Isa. 9:6)? Is there need of greater than infinite strength?”

Together, this shows that Jesus is both willing and able to save all who humbly come. He is willing because his is a merciful grace. He is able because his is a mighty, sovereign grace.

Moreover, we see what Christ’s grace does: it conquers death and the sin that makes death terrible. Jesus said, “Your son will live,” and his saving grace has the effect of imparting forgiveness and life. Most important is the gift of eternal life to those who are spiritually dead. Paul explains, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.… But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:1–2, 4–5). This is what Jesus wanted not merely for the official’s son but for the ruler himself. The man should not merely have come, saying, “I am a father whose son needs to be healed,” but should also have said, “I am a sinner and I need to be saved.” The greatest need that each of us has is to be born again to spiritual life so that we may believe, be forgiven through Christ’s blood, and enter into eternal life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

The Faith through Which Jesus Saves

Christ’s gift of eternal life has been the theme of this entire section of John’s Gospel. It was symbolized in the wine that Jesus made in this very town of Cana (John 2:1–12). Then Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (3:7) in order even to see God’s kingdom. Spiritual life is what Jesus offered the woman by the well: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:14). Now, to the desperate father, Jesus says, “Go; your son will live” (4:50).

The great question, then, is: “How do we receive this life that Jesus gives?” The answer all through John’s Gospel, illustrated here, is that we receive such life through faith in Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,” John 3:16 said, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

What can this episode tell us about saving faith? First, it shows us that faith comes to Jesus seeking salvation. Faith does not stand afar, but does what this official, who traveled twenty miles to seek Jesus, did. Perhaps he had heard of the other miracles, but however he learned it, he came to Jesus, begging salvation.

Second, the official shows us that saving faith believes Christ’s word. Verse 50 provides one of the most succinct pictures of true, saving faith: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” The man believed, not because he saw Jesus perform a miracle, but through faith in Christ’s word alone. Martin Luther rightly observes: “In faith one must look to nothing but the Word of God. Whoever permits anything else to be pictured in his eyes is already lost. Faith clings to the naked and pure Word, neither to its works nor to its merits.”

It is noteworthy that the official did not even bother to hurry home. When he learned that his son had been healed, he inquired about the hour. His servants replied, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him” (John 4:52). The seventh hour is 1:00 p.m., which means that the ruler might have had time to hurry home after meeting with Jesus. But his faith was strong enough that his heart was at peace. Can the same be said of us, or does our constant busyness suggest that we are not resting on the Lord with the peaceful faith that he deserves? Many of our lives have no greater need than that we would believe Christ’s Word and rest our hearts on it in faith.

We contrast this with Jesus’ earlier rebuke of those who believed only when they saw signs and wonders: true faith believes his Word. This makes an important point for us in our ministry for building Christ’s church. If we want to encourage false converts, we will impress them with fleshly enticements according to all their own desires. But if we want to inspire true and saving faith, we will simply employ Christ’s Word. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote: “We have spoken of churches that are famed for faith in our day. The reason in every case is that they are centered on the Word of God. The Lord … has promised to bless His Word. If we cleave to the Word there must be blessing.” Nothing glorifies God more greatly than when we believe his Word, and nothing builds faith like the Word of God ministered faithfully.

Third, we need to be reminded that faith itself does not save. Faith does not itself possess saving power. It was not the man’s belief in Jesus that cured his son; it was Jesus who healed the boy. This is important, because if faith itself heals us, then our salvation can be no more secure than our faith allows. Given the weakness of our faith, we would often live in despair. But since we are saved by Christ, whom we receive by faith, then even a weak, though true, faith saves us, for that weak faith receives a strong Savior. We trust, therefore, not in our believing but in him in whom we believe.

Finally, we see that faith grows strong by the experience of grace. It is true that a weak faith saves us, yet we are always to seek a strong and more fruitful faith. Verse 53 concludes that when the official learned that his son had been healed—and at the very moment Jesus had spoken—“he himself believed.” This may seem odd, since he already believed, until we realize that John means that his faith grew. In the same way, every time we trust Jesus and find that his grace is sufficient to our need, our faith is increased.

This is why it is so important for us to know the promises of God’s Word and to trust them in our daily lives. One Puritan advised, “Every time a godly man reads the Scriptures … and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it.” The story is told of an old man whose Bible was marked on page after page with the initials TNT. When asked about it, he replied that it meant “Tried and True.” He explained, “Where you see those letters, it means that I tried it and I found that it was true.” That is the way to a strong faith: to know the promises in God’s Word, to try them by faith, and to find that they are true.

And what promises God makes in his Word! He promises mercy to sinners, compassion on the weak, forgiveness through the cross, and power to change our sinful hearts. God promises strength for the performance of our duties, guidance for direction, comfort in sorrow, help in trouble, provision in life, and glory beyond the grave. J. C. Ryle writes, “About all these things there is an abundant supply of promises in the Word. No one can form an idea of its abundance unless he carefully searches the Scriptures, keeping the subject steadily in view. If anyone doubts it, I can only say, ‘Come and see.’ Like the Queen of Sheba at Solomon’s court, you will soon say, ‘The half was not told me’ (1 Kings 10:7).” Just as our muscles increase through exercise, so also our faith will grow as we exercise it in the gymnasium of God’s Word.

If Jesus were later to come back to this believing official, and call on him to make some sacrifice for his kingdom, the man’s experience of Christ’s power would strengthen him to believe and obey. He would reason, “Jesus has shown me the power of his word by raising my son from near death. Surely he can provide all my future needs by his same sovereign grace. I need not fear if I trust in his word.”

The Witness of Faith

There is one more thing to notice. I pointed out that this whole narrative of Jesus’ early ministry focuses on witnesses that are given to him. This passage ends with a witness—the natural result if we live by a growing faith in God’s Word. John says, “He himself believed, and all his household” (John 4:53).

If we want people to be persuaded of the truth about Jesus—if wives want to win unbelieving husbands, if children want to evangelize non-Christian parents, if parents want to inspire their children in their faith, and if we want all kinds of people to open their minds and hearts to Jesus—then we must start by living out our faith in their presence and letting them see God’s faithfulness and power for themselves. No doubt the official had told his servants about his faith in Jesus when he left for Cana. But surely it was the effects of his faith—especially seeing the boy alive—that persuaded them about Jesus. Martin Luther writes, “It is the character and nature of faith that it attracts other people, breaks forth and becomes active in love.” In this way, the very faith that brings us life by Christ’s grace will also save others, as we believe and live by trusting Christ’s Word.[3]

50 Jesus responds with a straightforward, “Go; your son lives” (NASB; TCNT, “is living”). The official’s faith is put to the test. He is to return to Capernaum on the simple word of Jesus. Jesus will not go with him and perform some miraculous healing. He simply tells the official to take him at his word. Distance causes no problem. The trust that Jesus would elicit is not dependent on anything other than the word of the Master. Translations that take the present tense (“lives,” GK 2409) as a futuristic present, such as “your son will live” (NIV) or “your boy is going to live” (Williams), promise a return to health but do not adequately stress the unusual fact, as we will learn from vv. 52–53, that at that very moment the fever had already gone and the boy was alive and well. The man believed what Jesus said and left. (Note the construction pisteuō plus the dative, which reflects a less firm religious commitment than pisteuō eis; Brown, 191, translates as “put his trust in.”)[4]

50 Jesus’ reply must have been totally unexpected. The man had been urging him to come down to Capernaum, evidently thinking that the Master’s presence was necessary if he was to perform a cure (contrast the centurion of Matt. 8:5ff. who asked Jesus not to come to his house, since he could easily heal without doing so). Jesus’ words impose a stiff test. He gives the man no sign. The officer has nothing but Jesus’ bare word. But this is enough and he rises to the implied demand for faith. He believes what Jesus says and goes his way.[5]

50 Instead of “coming down” from Cana to Capernaum with the royal official, Jesus simply tells him, “Go, your son lives!” The repetition of “your son lives” two more times, once in indirect discourse (v. 51) and once verbatim (v. 53) gives it the character of a healing formula. The point, of course, is not that the child still clings to life as by a slender thread, but that he will recover. He is healed. Most English versions translate it idiomatically as a future, “Your son will live” (RSV, NRSV, NIV, NEB, REB, NLT), but if it is future, it is an immediate future. There is value in retaining the present tense of the Greek, for it captures this Gospel’s accent on “life” as a present possession. Jesus’ power to save physical life becomes here a metaphor for his gift of eternal life (see 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14, 36). “Go” (poreuou) means that the royal official should go back to Capernaum, without Jesus, to rejoin his son. So “the man believed the word Jesus said to him, and he went.” It is as if he had heard Mary’s command to the servants at the Cana wedding, “Do whatever he tells you” (2:5). More specifically, the language parallels the story of the centurion in Matthew and Luke, when the centurion told Jesus, “For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under him, and I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Mt 8:9; also Lk 7:8). The centurion’s assumption is that this is how Jesus operates as well. In John’s Gospel we see him operating in just that way, and with similar results. Another similarity is that the centurion also told Jesus to “say the word,” and his servant would be healed (Mt 8:8; compare Lk 7:7), and here the royal official “believed the word Jesus said to him.”

With this, the faith of “the man” becomes explicit. He has seen no signs or wonders, yet he believes. His faith is in Jesus’ word, and in that alone. Some commentators conclude from this that it is in some way incomplete, or at least preliminary to the full-blown faith expressed when the healing is verified (v. 53). Yet at the corresponding point in the synoptic story of the centurion Jesus says, “I have not found such faith in Israel” (Mt 8:10; Lk 7:9), and in the story of the Gentile woman, “Great is your faith” (Mt 15:28). While there is no such commendation here, the man’s action is an eloquent response to Jesus’ remark about “signs and wonders” (v. 48). Perhaps the commendation comes indirectly and belatedly near the end of the Gospel when Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who did not see, and believed” (20:29). Like these unnamed beneficiaries of Jesus’ last beatitude, the royal official believes without having seen. To this extent his faith, like theirs, surpasses that of Thomas.

Clearly, there are stages of faith here, as elsewhere in the Gospel. For example, Jesus’ disciples believed in him at first because he “revealed his glory” in a miracle at Cana (2:11), but only later, “when he rose from the dead,” did they “remember” and “believe” his word (v. 22). Our closest precedent is the case of the Samaritans, who first “believed in him because of the woman’s word” (v. 39), but later heard Jesus for themselves and “believed because of his word” (vv. 41–42). The contrast there was not between faith and sight, but between a secondhand and a firsthand report. The narrative moved from faith (genuine faith, as far as we can tell) to its subsequent verification, but at both stages it was a matter of hearing the word, not of seeing anything in particular. Here the movement is from faith to sight: when the royal official took Jesus at his word (v. 50), he exercised genuine faith, verified later by what actually happened (v. 53). This is similar to the presumed situation of the Gospel’s readers as well. The royal official is someone with whom they can identify, for their faith in Jesus’ word, the word written down in this Gospel, will eventuate in “life” in Jesus’ name (20:30–31).[6]

48–50. Jesus therefore said to him, Unless you see signs and wonders, you will definitely not believe. Jesus complains that this man, who had already heard (and, perhaps, seen) so much of the Christ, is still standing on the lowest rung of faith’s ladder. His confidence, and that of others like him, has to be constantly fed by signs and wonders. He does not believe in the divine person of Christ nor even in his word if the latter be unaccompanied by a miracle.

When Jesus spoke of signs and wonders, he was not referring to two kinds of supernatural works. Rather, the same deed of power is a sign when it is viewed in one way, and a wonder (τέρας) when it is viewed in another way. (For the meaning of the term “sign,” σημεῖον, see on 2:1–11.) A wonder is something startling. The term views the mighty deed not, like sign, from the point of view of the light which it sheds upon the person and work of the Lord, but from the aspect of the effect which it has upon the spectators. These spectators were always looking for something sensational or exciting! So Jesus says, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will definitely not (οὐ μή) believe.”

This arrow of tender rebuke hit the mark. The man takes to heart the word of earnest warning and serious complaint, as is shown in 4:50. At the same time his heart is all wrapped up in the condition of his son. The courtier therefore pours out his soul in this one, brief word of urgency: he said to him, Sir, come down, before my dear child is dead.

Jesus, who at this very moment is healing both the son’s body and the father’s soul, said to him, Go your way, your son lives. This last expression must not be toned down to something like “is going to live.” It indicates that by a deed of omnipotence performed at this moment the child is now fully restored and is, therefore, enjoying complete health and vigor.

The man whose faith had been resting completely upon miracles now advances to a higher stage: he believed the word which Jesus had spoken. Accepted the word though he saw no deed. The next day (cf. 4:52), probably at dawn, the father went on his way back to Capernaum.[7]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 167–168). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 341–346). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Phillips, R. D. (2014). John. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 280–288). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 419). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (pp. 257–258). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[6] Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (pp. 279–281). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[7] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 1, p. 182). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

October 17, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

10 Solomon’s request for wisdom and knowledge connects with his ability rightly to govern God’s people. Although kings are typically thought of as sovereignly ruling over nations, people, and empires, in the case of the Israelite monarchy the Chronicler emphasizes that the people led by the king are God’s people, the kingdom is God’s kingdom (1 Ch 17:14; 2 Ch 13:8), the king is God’s son (see 1 Ch 22:10; 28:5–6), and the king sits on God’s throne (1 Ch 29:23; 2 Ch 9:8; cf. Dillard, 12; Hill, 380).

In addition, in the broader context of 2 Chronicles Solomon’s wisdom is interwoven with his construction of God’s temple. As such, Solomon’s wisdom connects him with Bezalel, who is also noted as being given wisdom and knowledge by God (lit., “wisdom of heart”) for the task of constructing the tabernacle in the wilderness (cf. Ex 31:1–5; 35:30–35; 36:1). Perhaps with this motif of constructing a holy place for God’s dwelling, Paul refers to himself as a “wise master builder” (1 Co 3:10 [NASB]) within a context of discipleship and church building. Similarly, note Paul’s role in ensuring that the right foundation has been established (namely, Christ; cf. Eph 2:19–22) and exhorting believers to construct their “temples” in holiness (cf. 1 Co 6:12–20).

With respect to decision making, Solomon’s request for wisdom is connected to his ability to govern (judge) God’s people and facilitate an ordered, God-honoring society. It is significant to note that the term translated “govern” (GK 9149) is the verbal form of the noun “judge.” The relationship between judgeship and kingship is stressed repeatedly at the outset of the Israelite monarchy (see 1 Sa 8:1–22, esp. vv. 5–6, 20). The overlap between the role of judge and king may imply that the office of king in Israel could be likened to a national (supratribal) judgeship. Along these lines, Solomon’s first “wise” act is an act of judgeship (see 1 Ki 3:16–28). In order to judge wisely, Solomon must be able to discern and apply God’s will. This element of wisdom is paramount in leading a God-pleasing life for all believers (see Reflection, below).[1]

1:10. Solomon’s request for wisdom and knowledge (v. 10) was a humble acknowledgment of what David had affirmed about his youth and inexperience (1Ch 22:5; 29:1). “Wisdom and understanding” often appear in combination (cf. Pr 2:2; 3:13, 19; 4:5). The Hebrew notion of “wisdom” (hokmah) is something like “skill,” even artistic ability (cf. Ex 31:1–3). The notion of “knowledge” is often simply “common, or practical sense” (derived from “obvious and observable facts”) applied in a particular situation or occupation (e.g., the craftsmen who worked on the tabernacle, Ex 12:1–3; 35:1). Here Solomon was asking for “skill” and “practical competence” for leadership. He wanted to identify with the people—that I may go out and come in before this people (v. 10) that he might effectively rule this great people. Sailhamer suggests that the Chronicler and the author of the parallel passage in 1Kg 3:6–9 both had in view “the requirement of the king in Deuteronomy 17:18–20. The king was to know the law (Torah) of God and was to learn the fear of God and observe the will of God expressed in the law (Torah)” (Sailhamer, First and Second Chronicles, 70).[2]

1:10 wisdom and knowledge: These words are frequently in parallel and are essentitally synonymous. However, Hebrew hohmah, translated “wisdom,” denotes insight, usually of a spiritual kind, whereas madda’, “knowledge,” pertains to the accumulation of information or facts and their proper use. Solomon knows already of his limitations because of his youth and inexperience (1 Chr. 29:1), but he also knows that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). go out and come in: This figure of speech refers to the totality of Solomon’s life. As king he would lead by example as well as by edict.[3]

1:10 Solomon had agreed with his father (cf. 1Ch 22:5 and 29:1) on his need for wisdom, and that is what he sought from God (cf. 1Ki 3:3–15; Pr 3:15; Jas 1:5).[4]

1:10 Now, give to me wisdom and knowledge In the account in 1 Kings, Solomon asks for an understanding mind (literally rendered from Hebrew as “heart of hearing”; see note on 1 Kgs 3:9). In 1 Kings this relates to his ability to discern between good and evil. Both accounts emphasize that Solomon desired wisdom to help him judge the people.[5]

1:10 wisdom. The splendor and power of Solomon’s reign was the result of divinely bestowed wisdom. In his wisdom Solomon foreshadowed Christ, who is the Wisdom of God incarnate (Is. 11:1, 2; Col. 2:3).[6]

Ver. 10.—Give me now wisdom and knowledge. The force of the opening of this verse, and the relation of it to the former, are both prejudiced by the “now” (עַתּה) being deposed from its right position as the first word in the verse. For the rest of this verse, the parallel passage has “an understanding heart,” in place of our “wisdom and knowledge;” and “that I may discern between good and bad,” in place of our that I may go out and come in before this people. In using the words, “wisdom and knowledge,” Solomon seems to have remembered well the prayer of his father (1 Chron. 22:12). (For the pedigree of the simple and effective phrase, “know how to go out and come in,” see Numb. 27:17; Deut. 31:2; 1 Sam. 18:13, 16; 2 Sam. 3:25). It is at the same time refreshing to revisit the times when the most exalted nominal ruler was also the real ruler, as being the leader, the judge, the teacher in the highest sense, and “the feeder” of his people. Nor is it less refreshing to notice how, in Israel at least, the fact was so well recognized and honoured, that justice and to judge just judgment lay at the deepest foundation of civil society.[7]

[1] Mabie, F. J. (2010). 1 and 2 Chronicles. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Chronicles–Job (Revised Edition) (Vol. 4, p. 161). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Zuber, K. D. (2014). 2 Chronicles. In The moody bible commentary (p. 588). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 534–535). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Ch 1:10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (2 Ch 1:10). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 598). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[7] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). 2 Chronicles (p. 4). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 17, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. The temple is the “strength” of those “who dwell in your house” (84:4). Kidner makes the attractive suggestion that the word “blessed” is used three ways: first, longingly (84:4), second, resolutely (84:5), and third, contentedly (84:12). Literally, the verse reads: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, (the) ways in their heart.” The personal pronoun “you” may mean either the Lord or the temple. Since the pronoun in verse 4 is clearly the Lord, it logically follows that in verse 5a it also means the Lord (“whose strength is in you” [the Lord]); but in verse 5b, since this half line focuses on the journey (“paths,” “roads”; cf. NET) the pronoun “their” at the end of the line (lit., “in their heart[s]”) seems to be pilgrims: “[its] ways are in their heart[s]” (NIV: “whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”). See “Teaching the Text.”[1]

84:5 In verses 5–7 we switch back from the blessedness of those who are already in heaven to the lesser blessedness of those who are en route. Several things are mentioned about them. First of all, their strength is in the Lord, not in themselves. They are “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Then in their heart are the highways to Zion. The world is not their home. Though in it, they are not of it. Their heart is set on pilgrimage.[2]

84:5 Blessed. See note Ps. 1:1.

whose strength is in you. Their vitality in life is found in God’s power, not in their own.

the highways. People living outside of Jerusalem made special trips to the temple to enjoy God’s presence in worship. The Songs of Ascents (120–134) were probably used during these journeys (120:title).[3]

5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee. David again informs us, that the purpose for which he desired liberty of access to the sanctuary was, not merely to gratify his eyes with what was to be seen there, but to make progress in faith. To lean with the whole heart upon God, is to attain to no ordinary degree of advancement: and this cannot be attained by any man, unless all his pride is laid prostrate in the dust, and his heart truly humbled. In proposing to himself this way of seeking God, David’s object is to borrow from him by prayer the strength of which he feels himself to be destitute. The concluding clause of the verse, the ways are in their hearts, is by some interpreted as meaning, That those are happy who walk in the way which God has appointed; for nothing is more injurious to a man than to trust in his own understanding. It is not improperly said of the law, “This is the way, walk ye in it,” Isa. 30:21. Whenever then men turn aside, however little it may be, from the divine law, they go astray, and become entangled in perverse errors. But it is more appropriate to restrict the clause to the scope of the passage, and to understand it as implying, that those are happy whose highest ambition it is to have God as the guide of their life, and who therefore desire to draw near to him. God, as we have formerly observed, is not satisfied with mere outward ceremonies. What he desires is, to rule and keep in subjection to himself all whom he invites to his tabernacle. Whoever then has learned how great a blessedness it is to rely upon God, will put forth all the desires and faculties of his mind, that with all speed he may hasten to Him.[4]

Ver. 5.—Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee. God is the “Strength” of all who trust in him. The psalmist seems to mean that mere dwelling in the house of God is not enough for blessedness. Trust in God—having God for one’s Strength—is also requisite (comp. ver. 12). In whose heart are the ways of them; literally, in whose heart are highways. The “highways” intended are probably those of holiness (comp. Prov. 16:17 and Isa. 35:8).[5]

[1] Bullock, C. H. (2017). Psalms 73–150. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (Vol. 2, p. 93). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 677–678). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 811). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[4] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 3, pp. 358–359). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 2, p. 192). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 17, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

139:5 You hem me in behind and before. The verbal imagery is that the Lord lays a siege around the suppliant so that he cannot move in any direction.

you lay your hand upon me. The sense is that of restraint so that he cannot rise farther than the restraining hand. The oppressive hand of God and the saving hand are not identical, but in God’s providence they sometimes seem indistinguishable.[1]

5. “Thou hast beset me behind and before.” As though we were caught in an ambush, or besieged by an army which has wholly beleaguered the city walls, we are surrounded by the Lord. God has set us where we be, and beset us wherever we be. Behind us there is God recording our sins, or in grace blotting out the remembrance of them; and before us there is God foreknowing all our deeds, and providing for all our wants. We cannot turn back and so escape him, for he is behind; we cannot go forward and outmarch him, for he is before. He not only beholds us, but he besets us; and lest there should seem any chance of escape, or lest we should imagine that the surrounding presence is yet a distant one, it is added,—“And laid thine hand upon me.” The prisoner marches along surrounded by a guard, and gripped by an officer. God is very near; we are wholly in his power; from that power there is no escape. It is not said that God will thus beset us and arrest us, but it is done—“Thou hast beset me.” Shall we not alter the figure, and say that our heavenly Father has folded his arms around us, and caressed us with his hand? It is even so with those who are by faith the children of the Most High.[2]

139:5 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). And because His knowledge of us is so inconceivably absolute, He can guard us behind and before. Ever and always His hand is laid protectingly upon us.[3]

[1] Bullock, C. H. (2017). Psalms 73–150. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (Vol. 2, pp. 505–506). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[2] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 120-150 (Vol. 6, pp. 259–260). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 769). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

October 16, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

36 It happened at the offering of the evening oblation, Elijah the prophet went near, and he said, “O Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel; let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and that I have done all of these things by your words. 37 Answer me, O Yahweh, answer me; that this people may know that you, O Yahweh, are God and that you have turned their hearts back again.”

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (1 Ki 18:36–37). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

36–37 The verb translated “stepped forward” is the same as that translated “come here” in v. 30. Thus the narrator implies that the people, who are now far away from God spiritually, need to draw near to God’s appointed means of worship. “Israel” here replaces “Jacob” in the familiar motif of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The change is doubtless deliberate. Much as their ancestor Jacob achieved success by clinging to Yahweh, so the people must abandon Baal and return to the God of their covenant.[1]

18:36 The phrase Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel so characteristic of worship in the early period (Gen. 50:24; Ex. 3:6, 15, 16), reminded Elijah’s hearers of the inviolability of the Abrahamic covenant. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was still the God of the northern kingdom, and the nation’s only hope of life, protection, and blessing in the land of promise (Deut. 30:20; 2 Kin. 13:23).

18:37 Elijah’s prayer had two elements. First, he wished that the Lord would demonstrate clearly to the people that He alone is the living God. Second, he prayed for the full revival of God’s people. The first prayer would be answered in a dramatic manner.[2]

18:36–37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me. Elijah’s public prayer gives evidence of great faith and confidence that God will answer.[3]

[1] Patterson, R. D., & Austel, H. J. (2009). 1, 2 Kings. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel–2 Kings (Revised Edition) (Vol. 3, p. 779). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 454). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 635). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

October 16, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Confession of Sin (5:16)

It is easy to misunderstand the command to confess sins to one another. James cannot intend meetings where people confess any and every sin to each other. This is the only Bible verse that says, “Confess your sins to each other,” so the rest of Scripture must guide our thinking. Here are some salient biblical principles:

  1. The offender confesses to the one offended, whether to a human or to God.
  2. We confess secret sins to God, since sins such as anger, envy, or lust offend him, even if they never lead to action. It is highly unlikely that we will accomplish anything constructive by telling someone, “I envied you,” or “I lusted after you.”
  3. We confess private sins privately to the one or the few we offended. We confess public sins (which offend many) publicly. For example, if a leader propounds heresy, deceives his people, or misuses public funds, public confession is apt.

The confession James recommends must fit category three. Once a sick and sinning believer repents, fellowship is restored (James assumes that the offended party will be ready to forgive). Then the whole body of Christ can pray effectively for healing.

James expects those prayers to be effective, for “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16). Elders are responsible to set an example of personal righteousness, yet James 5:16 expects the whole church to pray. Every saint—everyone who is righteous by faith—prays.

Still, the efficacy of a prayer lies in the grace and power of God, not the goodness and merit of the petitioner. (The request “Pastor, please pray for me” may reveal a defective concept of prayer.) The prayers of the righteous have power, yet God gives us that righteousness by faith and by the Holy Spirit.[1]

16 Clearly building on the thought of the previous verse, with its mention of sins, prayer, and healing, the author transitions to exhort those in the Christian communities to mutual confession of sins and prayer. The use of “Therefore” (oun) followed by two present imperative verbs facilitates the transition. The first exhortation is to “confess your sins to each other.” Ropes, 309, understands the confession to be by the sick persons, who then are prayed for by the well, resulting in physical healing, but James seems to move from the specific situation of a seriously sick person in v. 15 to the general principle concerning the need for mutual confession and prayer in v. 16. On this interpretation, it is difficult to see the confession as preventative (as with Davids, 195), since the healing follows sickness in the verse, but the connection between sin in a community and physical illness seems clear nonetheless. Confession, a public acknowledgment of one’s guilt, may be by an individual or as a community, and in many cases in biblical literature, confession is connected to physical healing or some general form of salvation (Davids, 195–96; Johnson, 334). Johnson especially has shown the connection between physical healing and social restoration. This dynamic is prominent in the ministry of Jesus (e.g., Lk 5:17; 6:18–19) and reiterated in Acts (4:22, 30; 28:27; see Johnson, 335). Thus James, dealing with communities in which there was a good bit of social strife, points to vital Christian remedies for fractured relationships—open confession of sin and mutual prayer, which are actions that promote transparency, support, and unity. Consequently, the exhortations to confession and prayer are followed by “so that” (hopōs), a marker showing the purpose for something, and that purpose in the present case is expressed as “you may be healed.” The healing in mind is physical but points to a deeper spiritual healing of sin and broken relationships.

Whereas the first part of v. 16 consists of exhortations, the second makes a theological assertion concerning the effectiveness of prayer. In this case, the NASB reflects more accurately than the NIV the structure of the Greek text: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” First, the prayer under discussion is that of a righteous person. In 1:5–8 and 4:3–4, James has already noted that a sinful lifestyle hinders prayer, and he now expresses the flip side of that fact. In 5:17–18, he follows by offering Elijah as a prime example of such a person. Second, the prayer is “effective” (energeō, GK 1919), expressed with an adjectival participle meaning “to work,” “to be active,” or “to be operative.” Thus the prayer in mind is prayer put into action, or made operative. Finally, this prayer is able to “accomplish much.” James uses a verb (ischyō, GK 2710) that connotes having the resources or power to bring something about, and what prayer is able to accomplish is “much.”[2]

16 Some think vv. 16–18 are meant to be quite disjunct from 14 and 15, and are concerned not with illness but with miscellaneous neighbors’ quarrels and offenses. We cannot believe that after vv. 14 and 15 a stylist like James would here have invited misunderstanding by using “heal” in any but its medical sense. The well-documented association of sickness, sin, and confession in Jewish thought and ministrations seems to us to confirm (against, e.g., Dibelius; see Mitton, pp. 202ff.) the unity of the whole passage in question (vv. 13–18, esp. 14–18, including the connective oun, “therefore,” found at the beginning of v. 16 in all the great manuscripts, though missing in a few others). But our case does not stand or fall on that reading: we hold that exactly as 5:12 belongs to the whole passage 5:7–12, so there is no break between vv. 15 and 16. Confession and prayer were already implicit in Jewish thought of the sickbed; and the elaborate passage from “The prayer of a righteous man is very powerful in its operation” to the end of v. 18 is climactic not merely to the first ten or eleven words of v. 16 but to the whole passage, certainly from the beginning of v. 14.

In the ancient mind sin and sickness went together, and so confession of sin was necessary if prayer for the sick was to be effective. The confession is to be not only to the elders (or other ministers) but to one another, that is, probably to those they have wronged. But the OT speaks much of the necessity of confession for those who are well, as a private or as a public or national act of repentance, and the rabbis developed quite elaborate formulas for the purpose. The texts cited by the authorities show how the sick man’s visitors, the Jewish “guild for visiting the sick,”75 swept his room, reminded him to make a will, prayed for him, and habitually exhorted him to confess his sins in the belief that he would be cured: “Great is the power of repentance.… It brings healing.” The NT Church, as is shown by 1 John 1:9 and this passage in James, continued the practice: its subsequent history we need not here explore.

On the Greek words rendered “is very powerful in its operation,” Mayor thinks (p. 173) that the interpretation of De Wette and Alford, “the prayer of a righteous man avails much in its working,” is “irrefragably correct,” giving the sense that is apt, necessary, and lucid. Westcott saw that the word energoumenē is middle, not passive, and got it so translated in RV, “availeth much in its working”; but, with the notable exception of Ropes (pp. 309f.), critics have not generally accepted his view. The word does not here signify fervor (as in KJV, “the effectual fervent prayer”).79 Ps. 29:4 shows the Hebrew idiom: the voice of Yahweh “is with power” (where KJV, RV, and RSV quite correctly say, “is powerful”; cf. the Anglican Prayer Book Version, “is mighty in operation”). We join the participle and main verb in 5:16 in a way not unusual in Greek, as in, for example, “I have sinned in betraying” (Matt. 27:4).

This aphoristic form, without any connective, typical of James’s style, pithily expresses the effectiveness of prayer. “Prayer,” declared P. T. Forsyth, “is not mere wishing. It is asking—with a will.… It is energy. Orare est laborare. We turn to an active Giver; therefore we go into action.” Prayer is an act of faith (Jas. 1:6), and so energoumenē is apt enough for a “principle” or “power” from above at work. See further Excursus I, pp. 205ff.[3]

5:16 / James summarizes his teaching on healing in two sentences. First, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. Confession of sin is important for healing. Pastors experienced in the Christian healing ministry repeatedly witness to times when the confession of a resentment, a grudge, or an unforgiven injury has lead to physical healing with or without further prayer. But James is generalizing beyond the individual healing situation, for now it is not “to the elders” but to each other that confession is made. The picture is that of a church gathering and the confession of sin to the assembled group. The mutual public confession (supplemented by private confession where public confession would not be appropriate) lays the basis for public prayer, in which people freed from all grudges and resentments, and reconciled through confession and forgiveness, pray for healing for each other. In this kind of atmosphere, the services of the elders at the bedside will rarely be needed.

Second, the prayer of a righteous [person] is powerful and effective. The righteous person is not sinlessly perfect, but is the person who has confessed any known sin and who adheres to the moral standards of the Christian community. With a clear conscience and in unity with God, this person prays a prayer that is powerful and effective. The Greek adds a difficult expression that probably means “when it reaches God and he answers it” (lit. “when it works”). Prayer is not itself powerful; it is not magic. But its power is unlimited in that the child of God calls on a Father of unlimited goodness and ability.[4]

5:16 confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The scope now broadens to a more general principle: communal confession and communal prayer bring healing. This broadening will continue in 5:17–18, so perhaps we are to see James indicating that elders praying for the sick, including confession, is a specialized and more powerful form of general prayer for one another, which is a specialized form of prayer in general. Higher-profile or more-difficult cases of sickness may require the higher level of authority invested in the elders, but communal prayer and confession can still be effective in other cases.[5]

Power of Prayer


Confession of sin and praying for one another are vital ingredients of the healing ministry in the Christian community. When sin is removed, the power of prayer becomes evident in its amazing effectiveness.

16a. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

In this text we note three essential verbs: confess, pray, and heal.

  • “Confess.” James says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other.” With the adverb therefore, he links this sentence to the preceding verse where he writes of sickness, sin, and forgiveness. James uses the adverb to refer to the previous verse, to provide a basis for the succeeding sentence, and to stress the necessity of confessing sin.

Unconfessed sin blocks the pathway of prayer to God and at the same time is a formidable obstacle in interpersonal relations. That means, confess your sins not only to God but also to the persons who have been injured by your sins. Ask them for forgiveness!

“Confession cleanses the soul.” That is a time-worn saying which does not lose its validity. Confession is a mark of repentance and a plea for forgiveness on the part of the sinner. When the sinner confesses his sin and asks for and receives remission, he experiences freedom from the burden of guilt.

To whom do we confess our sins? The text says “to each other.” James does not specify the church or the elders; rather, he speaks of mutual confession on a one-to-one basis within a circle of believers. He does not rule out that members of the church ought to confide in the pastor and elders (v. 14). Some sins concern all believers in the church and thus these sins ought to be confessed publicly. Other sins are private and need not be made known except to persons who are directly involved. Discretion and limitation, therefore, must guide the sinner who wishes to confess his personal sins. Curtis Vaughan makes this telling observation:

But whereas the Roman Catholics have interpreted confession too narrowly, many of us may be tempted to interpret it too broadly. Confession of all our sins to all the brethren is not necessarily enjoined by James’ statement. Confession is “the vomit of the soul” and can, if too generally and too indiscriminately made, do more harm than good.

  • “Pray.” The beauty of Christian fellowship comes to expression in the practice of mutual prayer after sins have been confessed and forgiven. The offender and the offended pray on behalf of each other; together they find spiritual strength and comfort in the Lord. In their prayers they visibly and audibly demonstrate reciprocity. The forgiven sinner prays for the spiritual welfare of his fellow believer, who in turn commends him to the mercies of God.
  • “Be healed.” James states the purpose for confessing sin and praying for each other by saying, “so that you may be healed.” He is purposely vague in this statement; that is, he fails to mention whether he means physical or spiritual healing, actual or possible healing, individual or corporate healing. What is certain, however, is that when believers confess their sins to each other and pray for one another, a healing process takes place. And that can be applied to any situation.

16b. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Who is this righteous man? We are inclined to look to spiritual giants, to the heroes of the faith, and to men and women of God. In our opinion they are the people who through prayer are able to move mountains. But James mentions no names, except that of Elijah with the qualification that he is “just like us” (v. 17). He means to say that any believer whose sins have been forgiven and who prays in faith is righteous. When he prays, his prayers are “powerful and effective.”

Both prayer and the answer to prayer are powerful and effective. The one does not cancel the other. That is, prayer offered in faith by a forgiven believer is a powerful and effective means to approach the throne of God. And, God “rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6), for his answers to prayer are indeed powerful and effective.

Practical Considerations in 5:16

Scripture provides numerous examples of the power of prayer. Here are a few chosen at random:

Joshua prayed and the sun stood still (Josh. 10:12–13)

Elijah prayed and the widow’s son came back to life (1 Kings 17:19–22)

Elisha prayed and the Shunammite’s son was restored to life (2 Kings 4:32–35)

Hezekiah prayed and 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were slain (Isa. 37:21, 36)

The Jerusalem church prayed and Peter was released from prison (Acts 12:5–10)

Scripture portrays these people as ordinary men and women who sinned, sought forgiveness, prayed in faith, and received divine answers to prayer. In short, they are our kind of people.[6]

5:16. The conclusion is clear: therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other. A mutual concern for one another is the way to combat discouragement and downfall. The cure is in personal confession and prayerful concern. The healing (that you may be healed) is not bodily healing but healing of the soul (iathēte; cf. Matt. 13:15; Heb. 12:13; 1 Peter 2:24). It is the powerful and effective … prayer of a righteous person that brings the needed cure from God. This of course relates to the closing two verses of James’ letter. If James 5:14–16 refer to physical healing, then those verses seem disjointed with the verses before and after them.[7]

5:16. However, all of James’s readers should be prepared for that open and honest confession of sin which was a necessary prelude to healing (that you may be healed). But the command to confess your trespasses to one another is still based within James’s discussion of sickness and should not be stretched into a general admonition. There is no biblical command to publicly confess all our known sins. Confession to God is necessary in regard to any sin one is aware of, and should be made in conformity with 1 John 1:9. But only here in Scripture is there a command to make confession to one another and this lies fully within the parameters of the need for prayer by the elders and fellow Christians (pray for one another) that God will make the sick person well.

It seems apparent that James was not thinking in vv 14–15 of instantaneous healing after the elders have prayed. Rather, he is thinking of collective prayer, both by the elders and the congregation, and he is thinking of ultimate, rather than immediate, recovery. But if the sick person has reason to believe that God’s hand of discipline is on him, he should be prepared to acknowledge his failures openly so as to clear the path for effective prayer.

Prayer can work wonders! Not, however, if it comes from an unrighteous heart, or if it is shallow, glib, and superficial. Rather, it avails much when it is an effective, fervent prayer expressed by a righteous man. The words effective, fervent both translate a single Greek verb form (energoumenē) which is difficult to render precisely in English. The familiar English words used by the NKJV are on target, but since the verb “energize” is from the Greek verb in question, James’s statement might be paraphrased as “a spiritually energetic prayer” or “a prayer energized by God.” The point is that such prayer is more deeply at work than prayers that are verbalized in a casual or perfunctory state of mind. James is speaking of prayer that is Spirit-wrought and that comes from the heart and soul. Such prayer can be offered only by a righteous man, so that James implies that if the sick man will indeed turn from any sins he has committed, he could even pray effectively for himself. In fact, this is precisely what righteous King Hezekiah did in a time of near-fatal illness (2 Kgs 20:2–6), though his sickness was not related to sin so far as is known.[8]

5:16 — Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

We cannot obey a multitude of God’s commands without being in regular, close fellowship with other believers. He has designed this world so that many of our needs are met only through mutual interdependence.[9]

5:16 confess your sins. Mutual honesty, openness, and sharing of needs will enable believers to uphold each other in the spiritual struggle. effective prayer … can accomplish much. The energetic, passionate prayers of godly people have the power to accomplish much. Cf. Nu 11:2.[10]

5:16 confess your sins to one another. Sometimes confession in the community is needed before healing can take place, since sin may be the cause of the illness (cf. 1 Cor. 11:29–30). Pray for one another is directed to all the readers of James’s letter and indicates that he did not expect prayer for healing to be limited to the elders (James 5:14). The righteous will have great power in prayer, as God grants their requests.[11]

5:16 confess your sins to one another While James instructs his audience to confess their sins to each other, few nt texts attest to a standard practice of public confession.

James probably is referring to the act of confessing to the offended party, which would fit with the letter’s emphasis on fellowship in the congregation (see Matt 5:23–24). Confessions could also include public acknowledgment of sin in cases where the whole church has been violated.

so that you may be healed This could refer to physical healing or the restoration of the congregation’s spiritual health.

a righteous person Refers to a person who is committed to doing the will of God and to cultivating right relationship with Him.[12]

5:16 confess your sins. Though confession to a priest is not required by Scripture, confession to God and to one another is. Overreaction against the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance may lead to a neglect of authentic godly confession.

righteous person. A godly person who prays in faith is a just or righteous person.[13]

16. Confess your faults one to another. In some copies the illative particle is given, nor is it unsuitable; for though when not expressed, it must be understood. He had said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to discover our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by their intercession.

This passage, I know, is explained by many as referring to the reconciling of offences; for they who wish to return to favour must necessarily know first their own faults and confess them. For hence it comes, that hatreds take root, yea, and increase and become irreconcilable, because every one pertinaciously defends his own cause. Many therefore think that James points out here the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But as it has been said, his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he intimates that confession avails for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are more tardy to bring us help.

Wonderful, indeed, is the folly or the insincerity of the Papists, who strive to build their whispering confession on this passage. For it would be easy to infer from the words of James, that the priests alone ought to confess. For since a mutual, or to speak more plainly, a reciprocal confession is demanded here, no others are bidden to confess their own sins, but those who in their turn are fit to hear the confession of others; but this the priests claim for themselves alone. Then confession is required of them alone. But since their puerilities do not deserve a refutation, let the true and genuine explanation already given be deemed sufficient by us.

For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Availeth much. That no one may think that this is done without fruit, that is, when others pray for us, he expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? for this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual. The ancient interpreter has rendered it “assiduous;” but this is too forced. For James uses the Greek participle, ἐνεργουμένη, which means “working.” And the sentence may be thus explained, “It avails much, because it is effectual.” As it is an argument drawn from this principle, that God will not allow the prayers of the faithful to be void or useless, he does not therefore unjustly conclude that it avails much. But I would rather confine it to the present case: for our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι, working, when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to succour those who are in trouble. But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.[14]

16. The oldest authorities read, “Confess, therefore,” &c. Not only in the particular case of sickness, but universally confess.

faults—your falls and offenses, in relation to one another. The word is not the same as sins. Mt 5:23, 24; Lu 17:4, illustrate the precept here.

one to another—not to the priest, as Rome insists. The Church of England recommends in certain cases. Rome compels confession in all cases. Confession is desirable in the case of (1) wrong done to a neighbor; (2) when under a troubled conscience we ask counsel of a godly minister or friend as to how we may obtain God’s forgiveness and strength to sin no more, or when we desire their intercessory prayers for us (“Pray for one another”): “Confession may be made to anyone who can pray” [Bengel]; (3) open confession of sin before the Church and the world, in token of penitence. Not auricular confession.

that ye may be healed—of your bodily sicknesses. Also that, if your sickness be the punishment of sin, the latter being forgiven on intercessory prayer, “ye may be healed” of the former. Also, that ye may be healed spiritually.

effectual—intense and fervent, not “wavering” (Jam 1:6), [Beza]. “When energized” by the Spirit, as those were who performed miracles [Hammond]. This suits the collocation of the Greek words and the sense well. A righteous man’s prayer is always heard generally, but his particular request for the healing of another was then likely to be granted when he was one possessing a special charism of the Spirit. Alford translates, “Availeth much in its working.” The “righteous” is one himself careful to avoid “faults,” and showing his faith by works (Jam 2:24).[15]

[1] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 199–200). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[2] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 271–272). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 198–200). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 124–125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Samra, J. (2016). James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 84–85). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 178–180). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[7] Blue, J. R. (1985). James. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 835). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[8] Hodges, Z. C. (2010). The Epistle of James. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (pp. 1140–1141). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[9] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Jas 5:16). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[10] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Jas 5:16). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[11] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2399). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Jas 5:16). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[13] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1807). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[14] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 357–360). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[15] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 494). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

October 16, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

8  Do not correct (ʾal-tôkaḥ) a mocker (lēṣ) makes explicit the implied admonition of v. 7. The linking of ykḥ (“correct”) with both “mocker” and “wicked” (v. 7a) suggests that “mocker” and “wicked” are co-referential terms. The command to correct your neighbor frankly in Lev. 19:17 must be nuanced by this proverb. Lest he hate you (pen-yiśnāʾekā; see 1:22; 15:12) signifies to avoid the negative, passionate, emotional feeling that rejects a relationship. The wise aim to lead the potentially educable to repent and thereby to establish a true, spiritual friendship with them. If rebuke defeats this aim, as it will with those committed not to learn, then it is better not expressed (cf. 17:14). To save the impressionable simpleton, the mocker should be fined instead (21:11). By contrast, the sage admonishes the one in authority to correct (hôkaḥ) a wise person (leḥākām; see p. 94). Although the wise possesses wisdom (see 1:2), he is not perfect (cf. 4:18). Rather, he is the picture of educability itself (1:5; 12:1; 13:1; 14:6; 15:31; 19:25; 21:11; Matt. 13:12). The superior, detecting that a person has the essential ingredient for wisdom, the fear of the Lord, is admonished to correct him so that he will love you (weyeʾehābekā, i.e., be your committed spiritual friend; see 1:22). Because of their differing psyches, the arrogance of the wicked and the humility of the righteous, correction repulses the former and awakens in the latter the yearning to be with a superior who improves him (see 15:31; 18:15).[1]

9:8 rebuke the wise In contrast to the scoffer, the wise person accepts rebuke. Throughout Proverbs, the wise person exhibits wisdom by humbly looking to increase in wisdom (12:15; 21:11).[2]

9:8 Here the parallel structure is antithetic (i.e., the two parts are contrasted opposites).

reprove a wise man. While a fool shuts out wisdom, a wise person is glad for the opportunity to shut out folly. Wisdom perceives the positive side of correction; wisdom is not defensive and easily offended, but humble and responsive.[3]

9:8 Correction or reproof is wasted upon a “scoffer” because the more shallow and foolish a man, the less willing he is to listen to wise and godly counsel. On the other hand, the wise are eager and glad to receive knowledge and understanding and to profit from correction or rebuke (see 1:7, note).[4]

Ver. 8.—Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee (see the last note, and comp. ch. 15:12, and note there). There are times when reproof only hardens and exasperates. “It is not proper,” says St. Gregory, “for the good man to fear lest the scorner should utter abuse at him when he is chidden, but lest, being drawn into hatred, he should be made worse” (‘Moral.,’ viii. 67). “Bad men sometimes we spare, and not ourselves, if from the love of those we cease from the rebuking of them. Whence it is needful that we sometimes endure keeping to ourselves what they are, in order that they may learn in us by our good living what they are not” (ibid., xx. 47, Oxford transl.). Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. So Ps. 141:5, “Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head; let not my head refuse it” (comp. ch. 19:25; 25:12; 27:6).[5]

[1] Waltke, B. K. (2004). The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15 (pp. 440–441). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Pr 9:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 886). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[4] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Pr 9:8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Proverbs (p. 182). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 15, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Stop Swearing

(James 5:12)

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment. (5:12)

Fallen men are basically inveterate liars. Children lie to their parents and parents lie to their children. Husbands lie to their wives and wives lie to their husbands. People lie to their employers who in turn lie to them and often to the public. Politicians lie to get elected and continue to lie once they are in office. People lie to the government—perhaps most notably on their income tax returns. Educators lie, scientists lie, and members of the media lie. Our society is built on a framework of lies, leading one to wonder whether our social structure would survive if everyone were forced to speak the truth for even one day.

That we live in a world of lies should surprise no one familiar with the Scriptures, which designate unregenerate humanity as children of the devil—the father of lies (John 8:44). That basic dishonesty has led men to impose oaths on others in an often futile attempt to force them to be truthful and keep their promises. Both the simple oaths of children, the sophisticated oaths often required by cults and other organizations, and everything from legal contracts to peace treaties are necessitated by the recognition of mankind’s basic dishonesty.

Manifesting of this same dishonesty, the Jews not only swore according to Old Testament law by the name of the Lord (and occasionally violated such oaths), but also had developed the practice of swearing false, evasive, deceptive oaths by everything other than the name of the Lord (which alone was considered binding). They swore by anything other than the Lord for the very purpose of pretending to a truthfulness that they had no intention of maintaining. Jesus also condemned this practice (Matt. 5:33–36; 23:16–22).

The custom of swearing oaths was a major part of life in biblical times. It had become an issue in the church, particularly the predominantly Jewish congregations to which James wrote. Since swearing oaths was an integral part of Jewish culture, Jewish believers brought that practice into the church. But such oath taking is unnecessary among Christians, whose speech is to be honest (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9), and whose lives are to demonstrate integrity and credibility. For believers, a simple yes or no should suffice because they are faithful to keep their word.

To encourage believers to be distinctive in the matter of speaking the truth, James issues a command to stop swearing. There are four features of his command that need to be considered: the distinction, the restriction, the instruction, and the motivation.

The Distinction

But above all, my brethren, (5:12a)

The phrase but above all indicates the distinction between the exhortation that follows and the others in the epistle and sets it in the primary place. The Greek particle de (but) marks a transition from the preceding passage that discusses facing trials patiently (5:7–11). Since there is no contrast with the preceding section, it is best to translate de “now,” or “and,” recognizing that it introduces a new subject. That new subject is not totally divorced from the preceding context, since verse 12, like verse 9, refers to the coming judgment.

The command in verse 12 is the first of several that close out the epistle. As he winds down his letter, the author gives a final wrap-up to his thoughts and touches on some important concluding matters—a common occurrence in the New Testament epistles (cf. 1 Thess. 5:11–27). Because it occupies only one verse, some may be tempted to dismiss James’s prohibition against swearing as relatively insignificant. But the phrase above all sets it apart as a preeminent and pervasive command.

That James discusses speech at the close of his epistle is not surprising; he did so in every other chapter as well. In 1:26 he wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.” Those who fail to control their tongues give evidence of unregenerate hearts, despite their outward veneer of religious activities. In 2:12 he exhorted, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” Those set free from the law of sin and death through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:2) will give evidence of that liberation in their speech. In a lengthy passage in 3:2–11, James noted the difficulty of controlling the tongue, then exhorted believers to do just that. In 4:11 he prohibited speaking against a fellow believer, equating that with speaking against God’s holy law.

How believers speak was of grave concern to James since it manifests what is in their hearts; it is a test of living faith (cf. Matt. 12:34–37; Luke 6:43–45). The prohibition against false swearing in verse 12 reflects the truth that a Spirit-transformed heart will reveal itself in honest speech. How people speak is the most revealing test of their true spiritual state. People sin more with their tongues than in any other way; one can’t do everything, but one can say anything. Little wonder, then, that Jesus declared, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matt. 12:34). The heart is a storehouse and people’s words reveal what they keep there.

James’s reference to his readers as brethren shows that his attitude was not one of condescension, but compassion. He identified with them as one who also needed to guard his own mouth and speak the truth. For him, too, the matter of honest speech was of utmost importance.

The Restriction

do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; (5:12b)

The specific speech-related issue James focused his attention on is that of swearing. In this context to swear does not mean (as it often does in English) to use illicit speech, dirty talk, double entendre, filthy jokes, or four-letter words—the type of unwholesome, nonedifying speech the apostle Paul forbids in Ephesians 4:29 (cf. Eph. 5:4). Instead, it refers to the taking of oaths. The Jews of James’s day had developed a complex system of swearing oaths, the influences of which Jewish Christians brought with them into the church. It is against the abuses of that system that James wrote.

The Jewish system of swearing oaths had its roots in the Old Testament. In a time when written contracts did not exist, oaths served to bind agreements between people. To take an oath was to attest that what one said was true, to call God to witness to that, and to invoke His punishment if one’s word was violated. To call God to witness to the truth of one’s promise and to invoke His judgment if one defaulted on that promise was a very serious matter.

The Bible does not forbid taking oaths, acknowledging that in a world filled with liars there are times when they are necessary. Certainly it is not wrong to take an oath when testifying in court, being ordained, or getting married. Oaths are wrong when they are misused with the intent to deceive others, or when taken rashly or flippantly. The Bible gives examples of godly men who took oaths, lists God’s commands that oaths be taken, and records instances of God Himself taking oaths.

The first recorded instance of someone taking an oath is in Genesis 21. In the course of a discussion with the Philistine ruler Abimelech and his army commander Phicol,

Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; neither did you tell me, nor did I hear of it until today.” Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. Abimelech said to Abraham, “What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?” He said, “You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand in order that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well.” Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. (vv. 25–31)

Abraham took an oath to validate his claim that he dug the well in question. Later Isaac made a similar oath with the Philistines (Gen. 26:26–31). In Genesis 24:2–4, Abraham required his servant to take an oath:

Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Joshua 2:12–20 records the oath given Rahab by the two Israelite spies:

[Rahab said,] “Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the Lord gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall. She said to them, “Go to the hill country, so that the pursuers will not happen upon you, and hide yourselves there for three days until the pursuers return. Then afterward you may go on your way.” The men said to her, “We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father’s household. It shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be free from the oath which you have made us swear.”

David swore oaths with Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:12–17; 2 Sam. 21:7), Saul (1 Sam. 24:21–22), Shimei (2 Sam. 19:23), and God (2 Sam. 3:35). The people of Israel under Joshua swore an oath (Josh. 6:26), as did the people of Judah during King Asa’s reign (2 Chron. 15:14), and the returned exiles (Ezra 10:5; Neh. 10:28–30). The apostle Paul took a vow to God (Acts 18:18), and took an oath of truthfulness by writing to the Corinthians: “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Cor. 11:31; cf. 1:23; Rom. 9:1). Even an angel swore an oath (Rev. 10:5–6).

There were occasions in the Old Testament when God required people to take an oath. Those who lost an animal entrusted to their keeping were required to swear an oath that they had not stolen it:

If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any animal to keep for him, and it dies or is hurt or is driven away while no one is looking, an oath before the Lord shall be made by the two of them that he has not laid hands on his neighbor’s property; and its owner shall accept it, and he shall not make restitution. (Ex. 22:10–11)

Numbers 5:19–22 records the oath required of a woman suspected of marital infidelity:

The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), “the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people by the Lord’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

Numbers 6:2ff. records the Nazirite vow, which set people apart to God.

God expects vows to be kept. Because oaths invoke God’s holy name (Deut. 6:13), they are not to be taken lightly. Numbers 30:2 states that “if a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (cf. Ps. 15:1–4). Women were also expected to keep their vows (cf. Num. 30:3ff). To fail to do so was to take God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 19:12).

The seriousness of taking oaths is underscored by the consequences of taking hasty, foolish ones. The Old Testament records several examples of people who foolishly took rash vows. Deceived by the Hivites (Josh. 9:3–14), Joshua and the Israelite leaders swore an oath to let them live (9:15)—only to discover (9:16) that they were one of the peoples of Canaan that Israel was supposed to destroy (Deut. 20:17). Were it not for King Saul’s rash vow (1 Sam. 14:24), the men of Israel would have inflicted a greater defeat on the Philistines (v. 30). Herod’s foolish vow cost John the Baptist his life (Matt. 14:7–9). But the most infamous example of a rash vow in Scripture is undoubtedly that of Jephthah:

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel. When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. It came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” (Judg. 11:30–36)

Jephthah’s foolish vow cost the life of his only child.

Further evidence that wisely swearing oaths is not wrong under the proper circumstances comes from the fact that God Himself has sworn oaths. He did not do so because there is any question about His truthfulness, but in gracious condescension, to set an example of integrity for men to follow. Hebrews 6:13–17 records that

when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath.

The oft-repeated Old Testament phrase “As I live” offers further evidence of God’s swearing by Himself (Num. 14:21, 28; Deut. 32:40; Isa. 49:18; Jer. 22:24; 46:18; Ezek. 5:11; 14:16, 18, 20; 16:48; 17:16, 19; 18:3; 20:3, 31, 33; 33:11, 27; 34:8; 35:6, 11; Zeph. 2:9; Rom. 14:11). To Abraham God declared,

By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Gen. 22:16–18)

Luke 1:73 also refers to “the oath which [God] swore to Abraham our father.” Acts 2:30 notes the oath God swore to David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:11–15; 1 Chron. 17:11–14; Pss. 89:3–4; 132:11–12). Exodus 6:8 records God’s oath that He would give the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants (cf. Ex. 13:5, 11). Deuteronomy 28:9 records God’s oath to the Israelites to set them apart as a holy people to Himself. Placed under oath by the high priest, Jesus responded, in effect, by taking an oath Himself (Matt. 26:63–64). In light of the biblical evidence, James’s command do not swear must not be viewed as a blanket prohibition of all oath taking. Oaths were permitted on serious occasions, but only in the name of God.

James, therefore, does not forbid swearing in the name of the Lord, but by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. The source of James’s prohibition is our Lord’s teaching regarding oaths in Matthew 5:33–37:

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; anything beyond these is of evil.

The phrase “you have heard that the ancients were told” does not refer to the teaching of Old Testament but to rabbinic tradition. The declaration “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord” appears on the surface to be in harmony with the Old Testament teaching regarding the sacredness of taking oaths. But there was a hidden “out” in it: rabbinic teaching held that only vows to the Lord were binding. In their thinking, God was only a party to an oath if His name were invoked. All other oaths, they taught, could be (and were intended to be) violated without committing perjury—much as people in our culture invalidate their vows by saying, “I had my fingers crossed.” Attempting to deceive others, many Jews would swear by heaven, Jerusalem, the temple, the altar in the temple, the veil in the temple, their own heads, etc.—anything but the name of the Lord. Such evasive swearing was intended to hide their lying hearts. In Matthew 23:16–22, Jesus condemned the Jewish religious leaders for this hypocritical practice:

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.” You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, “Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.” You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.

Swearing by anything in God’s dominion, Jesus declared, brings Him into the transaction. Despite what the hypocritical deceivers may have thought or intended, God regarded their oaths as binding—and judged them for not keeping them.

The Instruction

but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, (5:12c)

Reiterating Jesus’ words (cf. Matt. 5:37), James calls for simple, straightforward, honest speech. Christians are to be those whose yes means yes and whose no means no. People of integrity have no need to swear elaborate oaths to convince others of their truthfulness. Nor would they swear falsely to deceive people. That is why Jesus declared that “anything beyond these is of evil” (Matt. 5:37). It must be remembered, as noted above, that neither Jesus nor James prohibited swearing oaths under special circumstances. But under normal circumstances they are superfluous for the believer, who is marked by honesty.

Jesus lifted all conversation in His church to the level of sacredness. Believers are to be known as people who keep their word, having such integrity that their simple yes and no will suffice for people. In the words of Paul, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor” (Eph. 4:25). Speaking the truth in every situation will cause believers to shine forth in the darkness of a world of lies.

The Motivation

so that you may not fall under judgment. (5:12d)

As motivation against swearing false oaths, James points out the consequences of violating them. Those who do so, he warns, will fall under judgment. The Mosaic Law warned, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). One way of taking God’s name in vain is to swear falsely. As noted in the previous point, Jesus pronounced “woe” (a curse, judgment) on the Pharisees because of their false oaths (Matt. 23:16).

The judgment James has in mind here is not God’s chastening of believers. Krisis (judgment) is never used in the New Testament to refer to believers’ chastening (a different word, paideuō, is used; cf. 1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:6–7). James used krisis in 2:13 to describe God’s merciless sentencing to hell of those whose lack of mercy reveals their unregenerate hearts. The gospels used it more than twenty-five times with the idea of passing sentence (e.g., John 5:22, 24, 27, 29, 30). In Acts 8:33 it described Christ’s judgment at Pilate’s hands. Paul used it twice to speak of God’s judgment of sinners (2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Tim. 5:24), as did the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 9:27; 10:27). Peter used it to refer to the condemnation of sinners on the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4, 11; 3:7), as did Jude (Jude 6, 15) and the apostle John (1 John 4:17).

James certainly does not teach that believers will never err with their tongues (cf. 3:2). Christians may lapse into falsehood on occasion, though lying will not be the unbroken pattern of their lives.

But that is not James’s point here. The sobering warning he gives in verse 12 is that those who continue to blaspheme God’s holy name through lying oaths face eternal damnation; thus, this is another test of living faith. Those whose lives are characterized by a pattern of lying give evidence of having an unregenerate heart. And the Bible teaches that liars, spiritual children of the father of lies (John 8:44), will be sentenced to hell (Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:15).[1]

Note on James 5:12

Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)

Students of James puzzle over the place of this verse in the structure of the epistle. Its connection to the rest of chapter 5 is a challenge. From Martin Luther to Martin Dibelius and beyond, theologians who question the structural cohesiveness of James cite 5:12 as a prime example of its tendency to drop disjointed aphorisms into the text.

As he often does, James has meditated on a teaching of Jesus and made it his own. In Matthew 5:34–37, Jesus said: “But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Although the wording differs at several points, James and Jesus see oaths the same way. Oaths are a convention designed to limit lying and deceit. We rarely use oaths or vows today. We reserve them for formal situations, such as testifying at court or taking office. Today, we use other conventions to restrain false speech when truth-telling is essential. We promise in personal settings and sign contracts in economic settings. Whether we consider oaths or similar conventions—such as vows or promises—truthful speech is the issue.

In Old Testament times, Israelites guaranteed their veracity by swearing to it in God’s name. They invoked him as witness, and as Judge if they lied. Jesus summarized the Mosaic law this way: “You have heard that it was said … ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord’ ” (Matt. 5:33). The relevant laws said:

  • “When a man makes a vow to the Lord … he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Num. 30:2).
  • “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin” (Deut. 23:21).
  • “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God” (Lev. 19:12).

In the day of Jesus and James, a perversion of oaths had arisen. Instead of calling on God to assure honesty, people took oaths to avoid God’s punishment for dishonest speech. Rabbis artificially distinguished vows that invoke God’s name, and are binding, from those that do not, and are not binding. Whatever we swear by, Jesus said, it refers to God, for he created heaven and earth. If we swear by heaven or by earth (Matt. 5:34), we invoke God, for he created them both. All oaths call God to witness, for he created and sustains all things.

James flatly prohibits the use of oaths because even the honest use of oaths testifies that something is amiss in the community. If believers reliably told one another the truth, what need would there be of oaths to guarantee truth-telling? If I must take towering oaths to buttress my speech, I admit paradoxically that my speech is unreliable without such support. The greater the weight of a man’s oaths in the short run, the greater the doubt about his veracity in the long run.

Instead, we should tell the truth so consistently that oaths become superfluous, a waste of words. The existence of oaths, as a convention of speech, proves we live in a deceitful age. The family of God should be so truthful that we never need oaths or vows to verify our words.

Sadly, it may be necessary to give assurances of our honesty for the benefit of people who do not know us. For example, a legal officer, functioning in a legal situation, may ask that we swear to give honest testimony. It seems permissible to accede to that request. Along that line, Scripture records cases where God takes oaths for the sake of those who do not know he is reliable. Similarly, Jesus spoke under oath at his trial (Matt. 26:63–64). Paul also took vows, calling God as his witness (Rom. 1:9; 2 Cor. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:10).

Still, once we survey Scripture and note the exceptional cases, we must return to the basic principle. James says we must not swear by any created thing, lest we be condemned, whether for violating oaths or for being so unreliable that we need to take oaths in the first place.

Even if the meaning is clear, the exegetical and theological question remains: Why this teaching here? If James is a disorderly book, flitting from one topic to the next, 5:12 seems like prime evidence of the charge. Specifically, James 5:1–6 declares woe upon rich oppressors. Then 5:7–11 calls God’s people to patient endurance as they trust God to vindicate them. The book closes with a call to pray in all the circumstances of life (5:13–18) and a call to stand together in the faith (5:19–20). We wonder, then, what the prohibition of oaths has to do with either the theme of endurance in the face of oppression or the theme of praying and standing together in the faith.

Some say it is simply another sign of James’s concern about the proper use of the tongue, with no closer connection to the rest of the epistle.

Others see 5:12 as a final word on the proper response to trials. It retains the section’s interest in being prepared for judgment (5:9, 12). Further, it warns against a foolish response to the oppression described in 5:1–6, for people commonly respond to trouble and distress with unrealistic pledges to God. But it is better to be genuine than dramatic, better to mean what we say than to have unfulfilled, unrealistic vows hanging over us (cf. Eccl. 5:4). The warning against vows is, therefore, part of James’s call to patience and restraint in speech as in other daily behavior.7

Still others see it as a genuine transition to James’s final section. The phrase, “above all” in James 5:12 is a literary convention meant to introduce final remarks. The topic, once again, is speech and the need to use the tongue to build community solidarity. Plain honesty is the first necessity (5:12), followed by prayer, confession of sin, and efforts to win straying brothers (5:13–20).

We probably ought to admit our uncertainty as to which explanation is best. Regardless, it is clearly possible to regard our text as a hinge. It is the final word on endurance and the first word in the conclusion. To take a vow is an extreme manifestation of impatience. James says “above all” because to take a rash vow before God is worse than grumbling before men (5:9). Yet “above all” can sometimes appear in the epistolary conclusions of Hellenistic letters, and, as we just saw, it does open a final series of thought on speech.10[2]

12 This verse begins with the phrase “above all,” marking the beginning of the letter’s closing remarks (Davids, 189; Laws, 220; Martin, 203), as the author transitions to a focus on important ways believers are to use their words wisely in community. James again uses the address “brothers,” repeated here for the fourth time since the beginning of v. 7, and continues giving attention to the obligations of living in Christian community (5:7, 9–10).

The exhortation “do not swear” once again echoes a basic teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (5:13–17). James 5:12 serves to remind believers that integrity lies close to the heart of kingdom life and ethics. James is not speaking against vulgar language but rather against using oaths to shore up one’s word to make it more believable. Oaths in and of themselves were not prohibited in the OT, and even God used oaths as a form of guarantee (see esp. Heb 6:13–18; 7:21). Leviticus 19:12, however, located in a passage from which James draws throughout the book, forbids swearing falsely by God’s name, for that is profaning the name. Jesus goes even farther in Matthew 5:34–37, which certainly lies behind James’s words at this point (contra Laws, 223), the two passages paralleling each other in great detail. There Jesus commands, “Do not swear at all” (Moo, 232–33).

The verb, in the present imperative and preceded by , can be translated as a command to end a certain course of action (“stop swearing”), and this view finds some support in the failure to control the tongue in the communities addressed by James (3:1–12; 4:1–4). However, the same construction is used to communicate a general precept or guideline for life, regardless of whether or not the action has started, and this is the approach taken by both the NIV and NASB: “do not swear.” The means by which the exhortation is to be lived out is stated both negatively and positively. Negatively, believers should not swear—“not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” James means the triple prohibition to be all-inclusive, covering the gamut of possible orientations used to strengthen an oath.

Positively, Christ-followers are to speak plainly, saying “yes” when they mean “yes” and “no” when they mean “no.” If a person’s word is true, and she is known as a person of integrity who reflects the values of God’s kingdom, such basic words as “yes” and “no” do not need strengthening with an oath, for they are infused with the power of an honest character. John Chrysostom wrote, “Now the person who has heard the blessings of God and who has prepared himself as Christ has commanded will never claim any need to do anything of the kind, for he is respected and honored by all. What is needed beyond a simple yes and no? An oath adds nothing to these” (cited in Bray, 59). The reason one should not swear concerns the danger of falling “under judgment” (NASB), which is James’s restatement of Jesus’ teaching that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).[3]

Swear no oaths (5:12)

12 But above all things, my brothers, do not swear oaths, either by heaven or by earth or any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no, lest you fall under condemnation.

12 In his discussion of the structure of the Epistle of James, P. B. R. Forbes notes James’s way of going back to where he began and also his comprehensive aim, to present an epitome of all the essentials of the Christian life. James obviously feels that avoidance of oaths is one of those essentials.

Bridling the tongue is one of the duties stressed in the opening chapter of the Epistle, and in its third chapter, which opens the second half of the composition. In the final chapter James characteristically harks back to the subjects of both, i.e., prayer with faith (1:5f. and 5:13–18), the rich (1:10 and 5:1–6), “endurance,” and the tongue (1:3 and 13, 19, 26; 5:7, 8 and 9, 12; see 4:11). There is here an express warning against grumbling at one another in our troubles, and the mention of Job at least ought to remind us (as James certainly did not forget [1:13] about Job 1:22 and 2:9–10) how Job in his afflictions did not sin with his lips nor charged God foolishly.

The introductory pro pantōn, above all things, is said to be (i) hyperbole (Augustine); an “elative” superlative (A. T. Robertson); (ii) an allusion to Zebulon (Sebulonspruch) (A. Meyer); (iii) a signal for a verbum Christi (A. Resch); (iv) equivalent to a letter’s P. S., an addendum, or appendix (Knowling, Plummer, Ropes). We submit that, far from interrupting the general sense (Mitton, p. 190), “above all” links this passage with the previous passages on the discipline of the tongue, not only in 5:7–11 but also in 1:19 and 26. We see here not divorce but a strong bond of unity: reverence for the name of God may well be called paramount in the discipline of the tongue. 5:9 and 12 illustrate very well James’s habit of opening and closing a paragraph on the same note: so pro pantōn comes “into focus.” This does not mean that abstention from oaths is more important than the avoidance of other sins. The immediate reference is to sins of speech. Both formal and informal oaths were loaded with danger, which with the utmost temperance the best of men can scarcely avoid (3:2). Apart from any question of lying—possibly the ancient Jews and Greeks were easy liars—the habitual use of oaths could verge on blasphemy. The invocation of God’s name in common speech is a practice which even if sincere at first can only lead to irreverence; from this failing even the rabbis were not exempt. The temptation to make rash vows (Sir. 18:23) was one to which the Galileans apparently were particularly prone. Paradoxically, swearing not only increases the untruthfulness which oaths are supposed to prevent but also as inevitably leads to blasphemy. The oath is the commonest and most serious moral fault in speech, and James is hardly to be blamed for ranking it pro pantōn, above all errors of the tongue, e.g., boasting, grumbling, and backbiting. Like “above all” in English, so pro pantōn means “above all else.” Thus the phrase can be related to the “other things,” i.e., the other kindred faults of speech in v. 9, and (we think, but do not wish to press this) in other parts of the Epistle (4:13–16; 5:9; 4:11).

5:9 condemns grumbling, and 5:13 swearing. James could not approve the use by Christians of the pagan challenge to an oath in court, a process not abolished in England until the Civil Act, 1833 (see Prov. 30:9); the teaching on oaths may reflect “the outlook of a persecuted minority” whom the rich haul into court (2:6). Neither could he be silent against Christian use of oaths in other transactions or relations in daily life; he knew the dangers involved: “lest you fall under condemnation”53 (see Prov. 30:8, 9). It is hard for us to see the problem of the conclusive and promissory oath in true perspective; the old pagan, the Jew, and the early Christians believed in God in a way in which most of our present world does not.

It is possible that here, and in Christ’s prohibition, the point is pride and presumptuousness, as in 4:11–12: there a man condemns his fellows as if he were God; so to swear falsely by God is obviously impious. Even an honest man can rarely be sure that he is infallibly telling the truth even of the past, much less of the future; and even if he is within the truth in the particular case, there is the danger of error and, especially in freely swearing in antiquity, of presumptuousness, in (as it were) taking God as a man’s partner, not to say accomplice.

But we think James here is chiefly concerned with what was a sort of idiomatic and not always consciously profane swearing in conversational extravagance, as, like the Greeks and the Romans, we often say or at least hear, “By Jove.” James, surely, is not against honest legal oaths; he did not require a Christian Jew to repudiate the Mosaic law, though he advised him to rely rather on the law of liberty, as supplementing, not cancelling, the old law (see 2:8–13). The Epistle of James is not given to paradox or extremism, but to basic essentials; these, quite properly and indeed inevitably, include the discipline of the tongue in relation to God and our fellows. The judgment of 5:9 and 12 refers not to human judgment but to God’s: so “under condemnation” must be interpreted eschatologically. Here is yet further proof that the Epistle of James is permeated and dominated by an urgent sense of imminent judgment in the end of the present world (5:9).

The point of this command and its parallel in Matt. 5:34 is that the Christian does not need to swear, for his word is his bond: swearing is necessary only in a society where the truth is not reverenced. Whether he swears or not, the Christian ought always to speak the truth, and this will mean that a simple unadorned “Yes” or “No” is sufficient. James’s target is the sort of thing exemplified today in the use of the name of Christ as a mere expletive.[4]

Oaths (5:12)

12 Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath,b but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.d

There are two major questions to be answered about this verse: First, what is its relation to what precedes and what follows? Second, was there an oral tradition that showed up in Matthean (Matt 5:33–37; 23:16–22) and Jacobite forms, or is this a quotation of Jesus, or is James earlier than the form we find in Matthew—in other words, what is the tradition history behind James 5:12?

To begin with the first question: there is an obvious connection to an important theme in James, namely, the speech patterns of the leaders (3:1–4:12) and of the whole community (1:19–21, 26). But this general connection does not help much when subjected to a more careful analysis. The speech patterns mentioned earlier are not the issue in 5:12. Instead, this verse speaks of (legal?) oaths, for the first time in the letter. Too many have connected 5:12 thematically to the earlier speech passages and then stretch 5:13–20 to make those verses address speech patterns as well. We need not try to give organization to James where he has not. The instructions of 3:1–4:12 and 5:12 are substantively different. In 5:12 James is not addressing teachers and how their speech has a potent impact; instead, James here addresses the inappropriateness of oaths as he draws on the early Christian emphasis on honesty. Furthermore, this is hardly a concluding word about speech patterns in James because it neither summarizes what has been said nor concludes what has been taught. It introduces a distinct and narrow topic. Davids represents the more accurate view: there is no obvious connection of 5:12 to what precedes.

Perhaps what confuses most is how James begins: “Above all.” How can legal oaths take such significant importance in the concluding section to a letter that did not once raise the issue? J. H. Ropes long ago suggested that those who were enduring stresses might be tempted to use oaths and accuse God. What is in the favor of this suggestion is that 1:12–18 moves in the direction of blaming God. But it is at best a stretch to connect these two passages, and it is probable that “above all” is a non-comparative, introductory expression with very little logical power. Franz Mussner translates: “Above all, before I forget.…”9 A similar use of this expression can be found in 1 Peter 4:8. It is an “epistolary cliché,” perhaps synonymous with Paul’s “finally” (2 Cor 13:11). It strains logic to see it any other way.

The pastoral tone of 5:7–20 is notable, not the least of which evidence is the use of “my beloved.” This is the language of identification and motivation, and James’s concern is this: “do not swear.”13 This leads back to our question about the origin of James 5:12. The evidence in the Jesus tradition is found only in Matthew 23:16–22 and 5:33–37. Matthew 23:16–22 shows no recognizable literary connection. It does not prohibit oaths or contrast oaths to simple, honest words. It is concerned, rather, to distinguish carefully between the sanctuary and its gold, between the altar and the offering. We can exclude Matthew 23:16–22 from having anything substantial to do with James 5:12.

The connection between James 5:12 and Matthew 5:33–37 is, however, substantial. Both prohibit oaths, specifically by heaven or earth, and include words to indicate that swearing by any object is prohibited. Both use the noun horkos, “oath,” as well as the verb omnyō, “swear” (only the latter appears in Matthew 23). And both contrast swearing oaths to a simple “Yes” or “No,” Matthew adding that “anything more than this comes from the evil one” and James “so that you may not fall under condemnation.” When we look for the substantive words (and avoid commonplace words like “and”) and for common word order, these two texts come up smelling like shrimp from the same gumbo. Furthermore, what they have in common is unusual and cannot be ascribed to commonplaces.

The texts are related, but that raises questions rather than answering them. First, which is earlier? The little differences between the two texts demonstrate beyond doubt that neither is copied from the other in the way, for example, that Matthew and Luke copy Q and Mark. Matthew’s text is more fulsome and even in the “Yes, yes … No, no” James differs from Matthew by setting them off with the article.18 Finally, the two end differently even if their points are similar. Matthew ends with “anything more than this comes from the evil one” and James ends with “so that you may not fall under condemnation.” The two texts are not literarily dependent. Or, to be more nuanced, if they are literarily dependent the second author either has taken many liberties with the work of the first or has worked hard to avoid detection. Our conclusion is that they are not dependent at the literary level. But, because the texts are so substantially related we would argue that the text of James is a literary deposit of an oral tradition that goes back to Jesus. In other words, James has made the words of Jesus his own. He gives us a virtual quotation.

Matthew’s fuller text suggests that James is the more primitive account of the words of Jesus, but the evidence is not clear enough to give the historian confidence. One could easily speculate on what is redaction in Matthew 5:33–37 and find the core behind the redaction, compare that core to James 5:12, and then make historical judgments on priority. What ought to surprise us more is that James feels no compulsion to say that he is quoting Jesus.21

The words perhaps surprise: James is not drawing lines of halakah often drawn in his Jewish world, nor is he even permitting the legitimate oath found in the Old Testament. Instead, he prohibits any kind of oath-taking. What is required of the follower of Jesus, according to Matthew 5:33–37 and James 5:12, is simple honesty. The command is to drop the buttressing of words with more words that demonstrate the levels of commitment to one’s words. This runs counter to explicit Old Testament commands. Thus, it was wrong to swear falsely (Lev 19:12) or to make use of God’s name (Deut 5:11; but cf. 6:13; Jer 12:16), but it was not wrong to use oaths properly (Exod 20:7; 22:10–11; Num 30:3–15; Ps 50:14). To be sure, oaths were held at bay by some, and the Essenes notoriously did not take oaths. Thus, according to Josephus,

They dispense their anger after a just manner, and restrain their passion. They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of peace; whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury; for they say, that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God, is already condemned (War 2.135; cf. Ant 15:371).

But they took “tremendous oaths” upon joining the sect (War 2.139–42). Thus those who were described as never taking oaths apparently took oaths in some contexts, and it might be wise to recognize that Jesus and James might not have intended absolute prohibition of oath-taking (but cf. Matt 26:63–64). On the other hand, many have taken Jesus’ words as law. But the New Testament does not show any awareness elsewhere that oath-taking is absolutely prohibited (Rom 1:9; 2 Cor 1:23; Gal 1:20; Phil 1:8; Heb 6:13–20; Rev 10:6). Philo, too, thought it wise not to get entrapped in oaths, expressing himself in ways also similar to Jesus and James:

To swear not at all is the best course and most profitable to life … which has been taught to speak the truth so well on each occasion that its words are regarded as oaths; to swear truly is only, as some people say, a “second-best voyage,” for the mere fact of his swearing casts suspicion on the trustworthiness of the man.

What Jesus and James say, then, is neither peculiar to them nor un-Jewish; instead, their words represent a kind of Judaism with which many would have been familiar, not the least of whom would have been the messianic community.

James provides a bit of a laundry list of what Jews of his day used to buttress their words: “by heaven or by earth or by any other oath.” These words extend the prohibition of using the name of God (YHWH) lightly, which led to not pronouncing the name of God at all, and that led to substituting various circumlocutions for God’s Name. This is why in Matthew 5:34–35 each form of the oath is connected back to God: “either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” Thus, “heaven” and “earth” represent various extensions of God. Jeremias may be accurate, though, when he observes that these words are not legal oaths but everyday slogans: “the oaths with which the oriental constantly underlines the truthfulness of his remarks in everyday speech.” Which would then mean that Jesus (and James following in his wake) is advocating truthfulness more than prohibiting legal oath-taking: “Each word is to be unconditionally reliable, without needing any confirmation through an appeal to God.” One would have to ask, however, what words would be used in a legal setting if not these? One could not by the time of the first century use the name YHWH in an oath, so one must consider these words as both normal and perhaps also legal ways of buttressing one’s words. A good example of how these words were used in oaths can be found in the much later Mishnah, for example, m Shevuot 4:13:

  1. (1) “I impose an oath on you,” (2) “I command you,” (3) “I bind you,”—lo, these are liable.
  2. “By heaven and earth,” lo, these are exempt.
  3. (1) “By [the name of] Alef-dalet [Adonai]” or (2) “Yud-he [Yahweh],” (3) “By the Almighty,” (4) “By Hosts,” (5) “By him who is merciful and gracious,” (6) “By him who is long-suffering and abundant in mercy,” or by any other euphemism—
  4. lo, these are liable.
  5. “He who curses making use of any one of these is liable,” the words of R. Meir.
  6. And sages exempt.
  7. “He who curses his father or his mother with any one of them is liable,” the words of R. Meir.
  8. And sages exempt.
  9. He who curses himself and his friend with any one of them transgresses a negative commandment.
  10. [If he said,] (1) “May God smite you,” (2) “So may God smite you,” this is [language for] an adjuration [conforming to] what is written in the Torah (Lev. 5:1).
  11. (3) “May he not smite you,” (4) “may he bless you,” (5) “may he do good to you”—
  12. R. Meir declares liable [for a false oath taken with such a formula].
  13. And sages exempt.

What was prohibited by Jesus and carried on by James was connecting casuistry to the integrity of one’s words: swearing by the earth is no less severe than swearing by heaven, so one ought to say what one means and no more. This is the meaning of “but let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no.” What we find in Greek is a doubling of the words “yes” and “no” (nai nai, ou ou), and most recognize this as a Semitic expression “let your yes be a yes and your no be a no” (see 2 Cor 1:17–18). Reiteration of a word is designed to lead to distribution of the idea, and we see the same in Mark 6:7: “two by two” (dyo dyo).

James prohibits oath-taking “so that you may not fall under condemnation.” This is an interesting variant on Jesus’ “anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Wherever James got his wording, the two come at the same point from different angles: insincere or dishonest words reflect a character that is not in tune with God and is, therefore, liable to condemnation. James is given to what appears to many to be exaggeration: people can be condemned for not showing mercy (2:13), for grumbling (5:9), and for the inappropriate use of oaths (5:12). Each of these, on closer inspection, emerges from the depth of his theology: from a loving life, from a nonviolent approach to resolving one’s economic situation, and from a heart that tells true words. These are not the concerns of austere severity but of one who thinks messianists ought to follow Jesus and be transformed in the community.[5]

5:12 / James is ready to end his letter, so he puts in his equivalents of the customary endings of a Greek literary letter. The first part of such an ending was frequently an oath to guarantee its truth, so having first used a common ending formula (above all), James takes up the topic: Do not swear. Although the Old Testament regulated oaths and demanded that if one used an oath one must fulfill the promise (e.g., Exod. 20:7), it did not prohibit oaths (cf. Exod. 22:10–11). Throughout the Old Testament period there are a series of warnings against using oaths too lightly (e.g., Jer. 5:2), and later Sirach advised not using oaths, so one would not frivolously use one (23:9, 11). Jesus, however, prohibited all oaths, using the words Do not swear—not by heaven or by earth (the or by anything else in James summarizes the rest of Jesus’ saying in Matt. 5:34–37). James has picked up and summarized the words of Jesus; the readers would recognize the source.

Christians are not to use oaths. Among the common oaths of the day were by heaven or by earth. None are to be used: Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no. If one resorted to oaths it divided speech into two categories: promises one really meant (guaranteed by an oath) and promises that could not be trusted. The Christian demand is for absolute faithfulness and truthfulness in all speech. There should be no social hypocrisy in which one says something other than what is in the heart. This demand is important, for not to observe it means you will be condemned. God is the guarantor of all speech. He will judge every word. God’s judgment is the standard Christians should fear and observe.[6]

5:12 Above all … do not swear. “Swear” refers to swearing oaths, not the use of vulgar profanities. But why does James bring up the swearing of oaths? The issue is authority and control of the future. To swear the kind of oath James has in mind is an attempt to assert one’s control of the future with regard to a particular situation.

Hebrews 6:13–20 is illuminating in this regard. In that passage the writer says that God wanted to promise Abraham descendants, and to confirm his intentions he swore by himself. In the midst of his argument, the author of Hebrews tells us that is why humans swear too—to confirm that what they said will happen actually will happen. Interestingly, in Hebrews 6:15 it says, “so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” Abraham could not control the future, so he had to wait patiently for God, who could control the future. Abraham doesn’t say, “I swear to God, I am going to have a baby.” Instead, God says, “I swear by myself that you are going to have a baby.” When it comes to dealing with life, the one who swears is the one who controls the future; the one who waits is the one who can’t control the future. To wait is to trust God to make things right; to swear an oath is to trust yourself to make things right.

Swearing oaths as a means of wrongly claiming control can be seen in Matthew 5:33–37, which records Jesus’s teaching on swearing that James is referring to. In that statement, Jesus commands believers to refrain from swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or your own head, since “you cannot make even one hair white or black.” In other words, since you can’t control what happens to you, do not swear and try to assert that you can. (On what swearing an oath might look like in times of trouble, see “Illustrating the Text,” below.)

This is the same idea that underlies James 4:13–17. If a Christian making plans for the future without acknowledging the Lord’s will is bad, then certainly oaths regarding the future are even worse. Both are forms of a lack of submission to God.

This is why James prefaces his statement with “above all.” Whereas grumbling and complaining about suffering are bad (5:9), the worst thing someone can do in the midst of suffering is to attempt to usurp God’s place and claim control over the future.

Otherwise you will be condemned. Matthew’s version of Jesus’s statement on swearing ends with “anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). Satan’s modus operandi is to displace God, and this is an expression of his primary sin, that of pride. When we swear oaths, we are exercising pride and insubordination as we attempt to usurp God’s place in determining our lives.

Theological Insights

On the idea of Christ’s coming being “near in time” and “near in space,” 5:7–12 is part of a larger theme in the Scriptures often referred to as an “already/not-yet” framework or “inaugurated eschatology.” An example of this already/not-yet framework can be seen in Jesus’s presentation of the kingdom of God as something that is both present (e.g., Matt. 6:33; 11:12; 12:28; Mark 10:15; Luke 17:21) and future (e.g., Mark 9:47; 10:23–25; 14:25; Luke 13:28). Likewise, there is already new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and we are awaiting the new creation (Rev. 21:1–5); we know God in part, but we will know him fully (1 Cor. 13:12); and we have been saved (Eph. 2:8), but we are still awaiting our future salvation (Phil. 3:20).

Teaching the Text

With one overarching command (be patient and stand firm), two supporting commands (do not grumble, and do not swear oaths), and three examples (farmers, prophets, and Job), 5:7–12 provides a straightforward structure and ready-made illustrations for teaching this material. The two supporting commands fit nicely with the overarching command, because the two strongest temptations while one is suffering are to complain (grumble) and to try to control the situation (swear an oath).

James 5:7–12 also fits well with 5:13–20 for a two-part series on the presence of God, with 5:7–12 focusing on the future coming of Christ and the need for patience and 5:13–20 focusing on the present reality of God’s presence and the need for prayer.

The two biggest hurdles facing the teacher of this text are (1) explaining the meaning behind swearing oaths in 5:12 and (2) deciding how to handle the dual perspectives on the nearness of God. With regard to swearing oaths, the commentary explained that this is an attempt to guarantee the future and supplant our need for trusting with self-reliance. We all want to take matters into our own hands when we are suffering and to fix the problem. Such oaths are attempts to take the future out of God’s hands and put it into our own. There may be a need to stress that it is not the exact wording that makes something an oath but the attitude of trying to guarantee the future to oneself or others.

The second hurdle is deciding how to approach the dual perspectives on the nearness of the Lord. On the one hand, the teacher can focus only on the “near in time” perspective and preach or teach this passage in light of Christ’s imminent second coming. At that time patience will be rewarded, suffering will end, and judgment will come upon those who have grumbled or sworn oaths. On the other hand, the teacher may feel compelled also to address the “near in space” perspective that God is already near to us and therefore the rescue that we are waiting for from God and judgment for grumbling and swearing will come to some extent before Christ’s second coming. After all, not only was Job waiting for the day of the Lord; he also was waiting for God to show up in his life at some point before that and bless him—and God did.

While both perspectives are in this text, the near-in-time/second coming is emphasized and shouldn’t be excluded. The teacher may choose to leave the near-in-space perspective for 5:13–20, where it is the focus.

Illustrating the Text

Swearing an oath is an attempt to control a situation of suffering

Bible: See 1 Samuel 25:22, where David makes an oath, showing that he has resolved to take matters with Nabal into his own hands instead of waiting for God (1 Sam. 14:24 would be another example). A modern-day example is a person who has been betrayed by an adulterous spouse saying, “I swear to God I will never let that happen to me again.”

Waiting is the hardest part

Film: Waiting for Guffman. This movie is a fictional “documentary” about a small town’s sesquicentennial celebration, featuring a local theater troupe attempting to produce a musical they unrealistically hope will make Broadway. Early in the film, the director of the musical receives a confirmation letter that a representative of a New York City production company will send someone to review the musical: Mr. Guffman. The rest of the drama unfolds around the deep tension created by pairing outsized hopes with subpar writing, terrible acting, and what-one-would-expect production values. Waiting for Mr. Guffman makes everything else much more difficult.

Human Experience: Describe different situations of waiting: for example, purchasing a gift you can’t wait to give a good friend, waiting to see what your new hair color will look like, the time between engagement and marriage, hungrily waiting for a table in your favorite restaurant, waiting for results from a cancer-screening test.

Situations that require patience tend to strain relationships

Scenario: Have you ever been part of a company “team-building exercise”? The object is to help a group of coworkers band together, overcome obstacles, and realize that each member of the team is a valued player in achieving common objectives. These lessons are typically taught by putting participants in situations that require extra measures of patience and careful communication. The tasks can vary—fitting five people on a stump the size of a soda can, blindfolding the team and forcing them to untangle a rat’s nest of rope, and, of course, doing trust falls. Inevitably, participants are forced to deal with impatience. Hard-charging competitors have to slow down and listen to thoughtful, deliberate doers. Lone rangers learn that tasks can be completed only through teamwork. Sounds a lot like life, doesn’t it?[7]

The Needlessness and the Folly of Oaths

James 5:12

Above all things, my brothers, do not swear, neither by heaven nor by earth nor by any other oath. Let your yes be a simple yes and your no a simple no, lest you fall under judgment.

James is repeating the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33–7), teaching which was very necessary in the days of the early Church. James is thinking not of what we call bad language but of confirming a statement or a promise or an undertaking by an oath. In the ancient world, there were two evil practices.

(1) There was a distinction—especially in the Jewish world—between oaths which were binding and oaths which were not binding. Any oath in which the name of God was directly used was considered to be definitely binding, but any oath in which direct mention of the name of God was not made was held not to be binding. The idea was that, once God’s name was definitely used, he became an active partner in the transaction, but he did not become a partner unless his name was introduced in this way. The result of this was that it became a matter of skill and sharp practice to find an oath which was not binding. This made a mockery of the whole practice of confirming anything by an oath.

(2) There was at this time an extraordinary amount of oath-taking. This in itself was quite wrong. For one thing, the value of an oath depends to a large extent on the fact of it being very seldom necessary to take one. When oaths became commonplace, they ceased to be respected as they ought to be. For another thing, the practice of taking frequent oaths was nothing other than a proof that lying and cheating was widespread. In an honest society, no oath is needed; it is only when people cannot be trusted to tell the truth that they have to be put on oath.

In this, the ancient writers on morals thoroughly agreed with Jesus. The Jewish writer Philo says: ‘Frequent swearing is bound to beget perjury and impiety.’ The Rabbis said: ‘Accustom not yourself to vows, for sooner or later you will swear false oaths.’ The Jewish sect of the Essenes forbade all oaths. They held that if an oath was required to make someone tell the truth, that person was already branded as untrustworthy. The great Greeks held that the best guarantee of any statement was not an oath but the character of the person who made it, and that the ideal was to make ourselves so respected that no one would ever think of demanding an oath from us because there could be no doubt that we would always speak the truth.

The New Testament view is that every word is spoken in the presence of God and ought therefore to be true, and it would agree that Christians must be known to be men and women of such honour that it will be quite unnecessary ever to put them on oath. The New Testament would not entirely condemn oaths, but it would deplore the human tendency to lying, which on occasion makes oaths necessary.[8]


12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.

Once more James returns to a discussion on the use of the tongue (see 1:19, 26; 3:1–12). The connection between this verse and the preceding verses is scant. The warning not to grumble against one another to avoid falling under judgment (5:9) is somewhat parallel to the prohibition not to use an oath lightly, “or you will be condemned” (5:12).
12. Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.
What is the significance of the phrase above all? If James means to say that the readers ought to pay special attention to the warning not to swear, we would have expected a more elaborate admonition. And if James wished to convey the importance of this verse in the light of the preceding verses, we would have expected a definite connection. As it stands now, this verse has little in common with the foregoing passage. Perhaps we must conclude that James is coming to the end of his epistle and wishes to mention a series of admonitions (compare 1 Peter 4:8).

a. Similarity

The resemblance between the words of Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount and this verse is unmistakable. By placing the verses in parallel columns, we can see that James relied on the saying of Jesus.

Matthew 5:34, 35, 37
James 5:12
“But I tell you,

Above all, my brothers,
Do not swear at all:

do not swear—
either by heaven,

not by heaven
for it is God’s throne;
or by the earth,

or by earth
for it is his footstool;
or by Jerusalem,

or by anything else.
for it is the city of the
Great King.… Simply
let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’

Let your “Yes” be yes,
and your ‘No,’ ‘No’;

and your “No,” no,
anything beyond this

or you will be
comes from the evil one.”


Most likely James depended on memory and not on manuscript when he wrote these words. If the Epistle of James was written in the first part of the first century of the Christian era, the writer would have taken these words from the oral gospel preached by the apostles and the apostolic helpers. James, then, bases his admonition to refrain from swearing careless oaths not merely on Scripture but in this case directly on the authority of Jesus.

b. Practice

Like Jesus, James fulminates against the Jewish custom of strengthening statements with nonbinding oaths. The people knew the commandment, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exod. 20:7; Deut. 5:11). To remain guiltless, the Jews had made a distinction between binding and nonbinding oaths. Instead of using the divine name (which would be binding), they swore “by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” In their opinion, that would be nonbinding and would not incur the wrath of God. Both Jesus and James denounce this practice; the intention of appealing to God remains the same, even though one pretends to avoid using God’s name.

c. Implications

Is the swearing of oaths forbidden? Both Jesus and James say “do not swear.” If in a court of law defendant, plaintiff, lawyers, jury, and judge could be certain that every spoken word would be absolutely true to fact, oath taking would be superfluous. Because men shade the truth and falsify the facts at hand, the use of the oath is necessary. The person who takes the oath and breaks it faces divine wrath.
The teaching of Jesus, reiterated by James, is simple: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ ” That is, be honest and speak the truth at all times. Let no flippant word come from your lips. Let everyone know that “your word is as good as gold.”

d. Application

James concludes his admonition by saying that if you fail to speak the truth, “you will be condemned.” A literal translation of this clause is, “so that you may not fall under judgment” (NASB). That is, God’s judgment strikes anyone who carelessly swears an oath and fails to uphold the truth. Says Jesus to the Pharisees of his day, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37).

Practical Considerations in 5:12

Change the customs, culture, country, and nationality of people in the first century to our day and the truth of this text remains the same. True, we are not in the habit of swearing by heaven or earth to affirm the words we speak. And certainly we would not think of using the name of God in vain. But we seem to have no objection to the expression by George and its numerous variations. Some people cross their hearts to assert the veracity of their words. These worldly practices, however, are contrary to the teachings of Scripture. Those who resort to them incur divine condemnation.
Houses and buildings that are built on firm foundations need no supporting props. Likewise, the person whose foundation is Jesus Christ, with whom he continually communicates in prayer, has no need to strengthen his words. He speaks the truth because he himself is grounded in Christ, who said “I am … the truth” (John 14:6). Truth depends not on the use of expressions that approach profanity, but on the simple yes that remains yes and no that stays no.

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.
—Edward Mote[9]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 263–272). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 185–188). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 268–269). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 193–196). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 423–429). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[6] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 121–122). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Samra, J. (2016). James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 78–81). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[8] Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters of James and Peter (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, pp. 146–147). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

[9] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, p. 173). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

October 15, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Understand the Lord’s Blessing

We count those blessed who endured. (5:11a)

The phrase we (believers in general) count introduces a fourth motive for patiently enduring trials: it is common knowledge that God has blessed those who have so endured. Endured translates a form of the verb hupomenō, which is related to the noun translated “endurance” in 1:3–4. As noted in the earlier discussion of verse 7, that word refers to patiently enduring difficult circumstances. People who endure are the objects of divine favor. Paul understood this and revealed it in the rich words of 2 Corinthians 12:7–10:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was blessed even in this life with humility, dependence on God, special grace, and spiritual strength—all through his being unjustly assaulted by Satan.

God’s blessing does not come to people who do great things, but to people who endure. Those who will receive the greatest blessing in the life to come are those who have endured the greatest suffering in the present world (cf. Matt. 20:20–23). The hope of blessing now and in the future glory should motivate suffering Christians to patient endurance.

Realize the Lord’s Purpose

You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, (5:11b)

James’s fifth motive for patient endurance of trials derived from a familiar story to James’s Jewish readers. The incredible story of the endurance of Job amid his trials was one of the most popular stories in Jewish history. Job endured unimaginable, unexplained suffering—the fierce attacks of Satan, the loss of his children, his wealth, his health, his reputation, and, worst of all, his sense of God’s presence. It is true that Job vocalized his misery (3:1–11), bemoaned the fallacious counsel of his misguided, would-be comforters (16:2ff.), and cried out in confusion to God (7:11–16). Yet “through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22; cf. 2:10). Job’s triumphant statement “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (13:15) exemplifies his patient acceptance of his trials (cf. 1:21; 19:25–27).

The outcome or purpose of the Lord’s dealings with Job provides hope for all who patiently endure suffering. There were at least four important divine purposes for Job’s suffering: to test his faith and prove it genuine; to thwart Satan’s attempt to destroy that faith; to strengthen Job’s faith and enable him to see God more clearly; and to increase Job’s blessedness. All those purposes were realized because despite all his trials Job remained loyal to God. The book of Job closes by enumerating God’s blessing of his loyal, faithful servant:

The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. Then all his brothers and all his sisters and all who had known him before came to him, and they ate bread with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the Lord had brought on him. And each one gave him one piece of money, and each a ring of gold. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, and the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land no women were found so fair as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. After this, Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons and his grandsons, four generations. And Job died, an old man and full of days. (Job 42:10–17)

The example of Job encourages those suffering trials to patiently endure, realizing the Lord’s purpose is to strengthen them, perfect them, and, in the end, to richly bless them. In the words of the apostle Paul, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s Character

the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. (5:11c)

Fittingly, James closed his exhortation to patiently endure trials with a reminder of the character of God. It is not uncommon for those in the midst of severe trials to, like Job, question whether God really cares about them. But in all their trials, believers can take comfort in the indisputable truth that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. That is the clear testimony of the Old Testament (e.g., Ex. 33:18–19; 34:6; Num. 14:18; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; 145:8; Isa. 30:18; Lam. 3:22–23; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2).

Full of compassion translates polusplagchnos, a word used only here in the New Testament and perhaps coined by James himself. It literally means “many-boweled,” reflecting the Hebrew idiom which spoke of the bowels or stomach as the seat of emotion. To say that God is “many-boweled” is to affirm that He has an enormous capacity for compassion.

That God is merciful is the unmistakable teaching of Scripture (cf. Ps. 86:15; Ezek. 39:25; Luke 1:78; Rom. 9:16; 11:30, 32; 12:1; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 2:4; Heb. 2:17; 1 Pet. 1:3; 2:10). Because of God’s great mercy, Peter exhorted believers, “[Cast] all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7; cf. Ps. 55:22; Phil. 4:6). Believers’ suffering elicits a merciful, compassionate response from their heavenly Father (Ps. 103:13).

Any trial, suffering, or persecution that Christians face can be patiently endured by anticipating the Lord’s coming, recognizing the Lord’s judgment, following the example set by the Lord’s faithful servants, understanding the Lord’s blessing, realizing the Lord’s purpose, and considering the Lord’s compassionate, merciful character. Those who do so will be able to say triumphantly with the psalmist, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).[1]

The Compassion of the Lord (5:11)

The reason for optimism in adversity is this: “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). Compassion and mercy are more than synonyms for love. The terms convey the visceral feelings, the deep-seated emotional feeling of love.

The story of a missing teenager illustrates the idea. At fourteen, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home; nine months later police found her, in a disguise, on the street of a small western town, in the company of the two enigmatic drifters who kidnapped her. Her recovery was hailed as a miracle, but every parent of older children knew at once that something had gone wrong with Elizabeth. A fourteen- (and then fifteen-) year-old who has enough liberty to stroll a street also has chances to call for help. She didn’t run to the police officer on the street—the officer spotted her and took her into custody. Why wasn’t she trying to escape, we wondered. When Elizabeth’s father appeared on television, we could see the same perplexity in him. Yet heartfelt joy ruled every word, every gesture. His daughter was home. The emotions of love filled his face and infused his voice. However bewildering her behavior was, he loved his child.

So it is with us. God’s love is more than a dispassionate, detached interest in our well-being. Scripture chooses the language of emotional feelings to describe that love.

This passage offers us many reasons to persevere in the faith. It comforts us in several ways. First, it shows us the Lord. He is near. He is the Judge and comes to set all things right. Second, it reminds us of Job and the prophets, who persevered to the end in great adversity. Yet above all, James takes us to the fatherly heart of God. He abounds in love and he is sovereign still. Knowing this, whatever our troubles, we can endure. We can persevere to the end and know the full blessing of God.[2]

11 The aorist of this macarism is deliberate—not men who are still enduring, but men who have endured and have now completed their test (1:2, 12), as Job finished his, and wins the Christian envy of us all. As Ropes says (p. 299), telos indicates consummation; but for the Christian, trial will not quite be over till the Parousia. Job is not cited as an example of makrothymia proper, but, like Elijah, of not altogether perfectly patient hypomonē, “that gallant spirit which can breast the tides of doubt and sorrow and disaster, and still hold on, and come out with faith still stronger on the other side”; his lapse in patience proper did not exclude him from the Lord’s pity and mercy.45 The example of Job therefore would have a special appeal for those in trial.

Obviously the idea of telos must be connected in some way with the story of Job. If this is kept in mind, fruitless speculation on its meaning and integrity will be avoided. Telos is correct: it refers not to Christ, his sufferings, death, or resurrection (Augustine, Bede, Wettstein; see Ropes), but to Job and the joyful consummation that crowned his sorrows (Job 42:10ff.). Though telos can mean “purpose” (RSV), it is best taken here as “outcome,” “issue,” “result” (Latin effectus): similarly the Syriac version, “the end which the Lord made for him” (exitum quem ei fecit dominus). So James urges the same spirit in endurance to win a no less merciful award.

Instead of a noun, such as “mercy” or “pity,” James uses a “that” clause—“that the Lord is merciful,” with two adjectives recalling Ps. 103:8. Very pitiful occurs nowhere else in the Bible: it is borrowed from a Hebrew locution,49 literally “many bowels of compassion,” i.e., “very kind”; compassionate illustrates both James’s force and his Hebraic affinities. James began this section (vv. 7–11) with an assurance of the quality of that reward.[3]

5:11a Our reading of v. 11a connects it with the prophets in v. 10 as “those who showed endurance” instead of with Job, who emerges in v. 11b, but the matter is far from clear. Three factors cloud the issue: first, James begins with “Indeed,” idou (“behold”), and this word often serves to introduce a new topic or level of argument. In 3:4 it marked the shift from the bit in a horse’s mouth to the rudder of a ship; in 5:4 it intensifies the argument by shifting it to a new level; in 5:7 it particularizes the argument by providing a fresh analogy; and in 5:9 it turns the argument to a new level of seriousness. Second, there is a tense change: 5:10 “take” (labete) is aorist; in 5:11a we have a present tense (“we call blessed”) and in 5:11b we turn back to the aorist (“you have heard”). Third, the term “showed endurance” (hypomeinantas), while clearly overlapping in sense with “patience” (makrothymia), is picked up again in 5:11b with the “endurance” (hypomonē) of Job. For these reasons, then, v. 11a could be taken as a transitional statement that leads to 5:11b. On the other hand, it can also serve to summarize the practical particularities of the theology of 5:10: if one asks what it means to say “As an example … take the prophets …,” one could not find a better manifestation than “we call blessed” in 5:11a. The use of the present tense then would serve to make the practical significance vivid. Furthermore, “those who showed endurance” is a single-term summary of what “suffering and patience” means. The issue is far from clear, but we think 5:11a functions as a summary statement of 5:10 and, at the same time, prepares the ground for 5:11b.

The Jewish community at large, and we can infer also the messianic community in particular, blessed those who endured: “we call blessed those who showed endurance.” If we see the present tense in aspectual terms, that is in terms of depiction of action instead of correspondence to time and reality, and if that aspectual intent is to describe action that is incomplete or “imperfective,” then what is incomplete is the claims of the merchants (4:13), the mist-like nature of their duration (4:14), the “instead of … but” actions of 4:15–16, the knowledge of good and not doing it (4:17), the wailing of the rich farmers and the coming of miseries (5:1), the cries of the harvesters (5:4), the prayerful resistance of the harvesters (5:6), the reception of precious/valuable crops (5:7), the patience of the farmer (5:7), the intended non-grumbling of the messianic community (5:9a), and the blessing of those who endured (5:11a). In James’s mental world, these are the focal elements of his exhortations in 4:13–5:11. My suggestion is that the blessing corresponds to these elements and, in particular, it corresponds with the cries of the oppressed. As the oppressed cry to God, the messianic community blesses those poor who are living faithfully.

Inherent to 5:11a’s “we call blessed” is the macarism in 1:12, where the messianic community was promised that endurance, prompted as it is by the steadfast love of God, will lead to reward. Thus, “we call blessed,” in the sense of being blessed by God, also implies “and you will be too if you endure in spite of this oppression.” Matthew 5:11–12 is probably behind both James 1:12 and 5:10–11a, and the text shows substantive parallels:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It is not at all stretching the text to think that James connects the messianic community to that line of prophets in using the prophets as examples for how the messianists are also to endure and show patience in suffering.

Perseverance, the grace and resolution to remain faithful under serious stress, is promised not only happiness but salvation (Dan 12:12; Matt 10:22; 24:13). James cares about perseverance, apparently not in ways that have fascinated theologians, but in the pastoral context of knowing messianists who were asked to run the gauntlet. Thus, James 1:3–4 teaches that tests of faith lead to endurance (hypomonē) and endurance builds maturity; 1:12 teaches that the one who endures (hypomenō) temptation/testing will receive the “crown of life”; and now in the context of severe trial (5:1–6), the messianists are exhorted to take suffering prophets and Job as their example—and to wait for God’s timing in judgment (5:7–11). For James perseverance has to do with human will, the building of Christian character, connection to the story of God’s people, and final destiny. Job (5:11b)

“You have heard of the endurance of Job.” James finds in Job the quintessential example of patience in suffering or endurance and his example forms a model of how the messianists are to conduct themselves under stress. But why Job? His example is sui generis, an assault by the Satan on God’s playground, and has nothing to do with oppression by the rich. Furthermore, he was not all that patient: “He was anything but an example of a godly person who was patient in the midst of adversity.” “The canonical book rather pictures Job as a bit self-righteous, overly insistent on getting an explanation for his unjust sufferings from the Lord.”215 Nor does the standard paradigm, “the patience of Job,” help us. Nor does it help that such a stereotype has led to a complacent theory of patience. Indeed, Job’s story tells us in no uncertain terms that he complained. But any reading of Job reveals a character who stuck it out, who trusted in God, and who did so fully aware of the fundamental injustice he had experienced. Maybe, then, Job is the perfect example for the oppressed poor. Patience here need not be understood as quietude or passivity; perhaps genuine patience involves realities like protesting to God, yet without surrendering one’s integrity or one’s faith in God or losing the path of following Jesus.

Some suggest that James brings in Job because Job was seen by some as a prophet. Thus, Sirach 49:9 says “God also mentioned Job who held fast to all the ways of justice” and sandwiches Job between Ezekiel and the Twelve Prophets. Not only is this slender evidence but it is also not the focus of James, who is less concerned with who is a prophet and more with the need to endure. Oddly enough, the word “endurance” (hypomonē) only appears once in the Septuagint of Job and then not of Job himself (14:19). Perhaps we are to think of a general stereotype of Job as someone who was patient in suffering and who endured. Job is chosen because the story of Job was connected to suffering, patience, and endurance.

It may be that the canonical text of Job does not fit the stereotype James calls on, but perhaps the evidence of the Jewish world suggests that it is the interpreted Job who is an example for James. This is a central theme in the Testament of Job, and there are strong parallels between that book (especially 33) and James. Thus, in Testament of Job 27:3–7 Satan admits defeat and his words tell the story: “So you also, Job, were the one below and in a plague, but you conquered my wrestling tactics which I brought on you.” And then Job says to his children: “Now then, my children, you also must be patient in everything that happens to you. For patience is better than anything.” That text is almost certainly later than the book of James, but it does reveal that the theme of perseverance was central to the perception of Job in the Jewish and Christian worlds.

But we should not fall for this generality about patience so easily. Indeed, Job is cast in the Testament of Job in altogether patient terms, but that is not James’s point. He has more in mind with Job; he has in mind the poor oppressed who cry out to God (like Job), who are not to resort to violence, and who will retain their faith and integrity without always falling from their commitments. It is then the combination of Job’s (impatient!) protests along with his steady resolve to stick to what he believes to be true, even if God does not (!), that makes Job the most suitable character in the Bible for what James has to say.

“The purpose of the Lord” not only continues the example of Job but provides for James a platform for what he has to say to the oppressed poor in the messianic community. The NRSV might lead some to think James has become abstract when he says “and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,” but the term translated “purpose” is telos. Patience has been connected to God’s sovereign purposes in 1:2–4, but here telos seems to reflect the “end” of the book of Job, where “the Lord” forgives Job’s friends through Job’s prayers, that is, “the Lord’s end” refers to the merciful resolution of the story of Job and his friends. God not only forgives the friends but then also shows mercy to Job by restoring his fortunes. This best explains why James then says “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”226

While Job 42:7–17 brings these themes to the fore, they are emphasized even more in the targum of Job from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Thus 11Q10 [Tg Job] 38:1–9:

[(So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad) the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and] did [what they had been told by] God. And G[o]d listened to the voice of Job and forgave them their sins because of him. Then God turned back to Job in compassion and gave him twice what he once had possessed. There came to Job all his friends, brethren and those who had known him, and they ate bread with him in his house. They consoled him for all the evil that God had brought upon him, and each man gave him one sheep and one gold ring. So God blessed J[ob’s] latt[er days, and h]e [had] [fourteen thousand] sh[eep …]

James here moves in the world of wisdom, as can also be seen in Wisdom 2:16–17 and 3:19. But James goes beyond this wisdom conviction that we ought to live now in light of the end, to seeing “the Lord’s end” as days of mercy, restoration, and blessing. Furthermore it is not just the telos of life that James has in mind but the telos of the Lord.

James appeals to the compassion and mercy of God, as he often does (1:5, 17–18, 27; 2:5, 11, 13; 5:4, 6), but he does so again not in the abstract nor casually but to assure the poor oppressed of the community that God can remake all things. As Job lost it all at the hands of the Enemy, and God restored it all in duplicate, so the oppressed poor can count on God’s mercy and God’s goodness that maybe they, too, will find “the Lord’s end” better than the beginning. Surely the appeal to God’s compassion and mercy evoke texts like Exodus 34:6–7, where we find not only mercy for God’s good people but also the warning of judgment on those living in iniquity.[4]

Job (v. 11)

We know Job’s story very well. He was very devoted and faithful to the Lord, and he was very prosperous and happy. And then the devil came along and suggested that Job was faithful because he was blessed. If his blessings were removed, his devotion to God would vanish!

So the Lord allowed Satan to test Job, and test he did! Job lost his family, his health and his possessions. But in the end, Job still had his faith, and the devil was proven wrong.

In citing the example of Job, James refers to ‘the end intended by the Lord’. And that end was to show ‘that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful’ (v. 11).

By reminding his readers of Job, James was calling them to trust God to have a good purpose even in the midst of circumstances that they did not understand.

We are called to this same kind of patience, but, oh, how difficult it is for us! We look at this harsh circumstance and that unpleasant reality, and we are very ready and eager to pronounce an adverse verdict on God. If the Lord truly had our best interests at heart, he would not allow such things! These difficulties are so great that there could not possibly be a good purpose behind them!

If we will let him, the devil will always have us drawing false conclusions about God on the basis of our burdens and trials.

What are we to do? We must learn how to talk to the devil! And when he suggests that our circumstances are such that they could not conceivably come from the hand of a good God, we must learn to point him to the cross of Calvary. That is where God for ever declared how he feels about his children. He put his only Son there to bear the wrath of God in their stead.

As we point Satan to the cross, we must say to him, ‘God did so much for me there that I can never question his love for me. God did so much for me there that if he chooses to do nothing else for me at all, I will still have cause to praise him forever.’

The cross is ever the great antidote for whatever ails the Christian. And if we will learn to always take the devil and his insinuations there, he will leave us and take his insinuations with him!

We have examined in brief fashion the plea that James made to his readers for patience. We must not leave his words without noticing one more thing, namely, their enemy in achieving patience. He says to them, ‘Establish your hearts …’ (v. 8). Alec Motyer puts it neatly: ‘Whatever our life-style, the heart lies at the centre.’

If we are failing in patiently trusting the Lord, it is because we have not fixed our hearts with determination and resolve. So let us give attention to our hearts. That is where the battle rages, and that is where the battle is lost or won.

Let us talk to God about our hearts. Let’s tell him how prone our hearts are to take us away from God. And let’s fill our hearts with the truth of the Word of God. If we are to live for God, we must all be good heart doctors.[5]

5:11 / In their own day prophets were regarded as reactionary fossils who did not like the modern trends in worship. They were seen as dangerous visionaries who believed that God, not strategic alliances, would protect the nation. Some were even thought to be weak-kneed traitors who suggested surrender (e.g., Jeremiah). Many people probably said, “I admire his convictions, but he seems to be rather masochistic, virtually demanding martyrdom by going public.” Others were glad when the prophet was dead and gone. The suffering itself was far from glamorous, with no angel choirs lending a glow to the setting. Yet now we consider blessed those who have persevered. Matthew 5:11–12 is the background, for Jesus calls blessed those suffering for good deeds. This is a reversal of the world’s evaluation, and James implies that “the same happiness can be yours.” Since the prophets’ happiness was because they did not give up but persevered, perseverance is also required of Christians. In this vein, Jesus had earlier said that the truly saved is “whoever holds out to the end” (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Luke 21:19), and Paul will point out that it is those who cross the finish line who gain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24–27; Phil. 3:13–14; cf. 2 Tim. 4:6–8).

As a concrete prophet James cites Job: You have heard of Job’s perseverance, and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The story of Job was a favorite in Jewish circles; he is cited as early as Ezekiel 14:14, 29. By the time of James, many embellished versions existed that enlarged upon the canonical account in two directions: (1) they emphasized Job’s endurance under testing, and (2) they stressed his righteousness, especially his great charity. The important point for James, however, is that as much as Job complained, he refused to give up his trust or to disobey God, and the Lord finally brought about his deliverance. The call to the Christian, then, is not to give up and to lose the reward now, after all that has already been endured, but to keep holding on.

Driving his point home, James adds a single clause: The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James is citing Ps. 103:8 or 111:4 (probably from memory), and the quotation is most appropriate. God does not like watching people squirm. He would not allow suffering to happen if there were not a far greater good ahead. On this note the summary ends: Trust God and keep on patiently enduring, for the Lord is unimaginably concerned about you.[6]

11a. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.

In this verse we hear the echo of one of Jesus’ beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11–12). James intimates that the readers are familiar with this word of Jesus.

Blessed are the people who have persevered and continue to persevere. In the introduction to his epistle James writes the beatitude, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (1:12; also see 1:3). Toward the end of his epistle, he mentions “perseverance” in the context of a discussion on patience (5:11). James seems to say that the persevering believer actively bears up under trials and temptations and remains courageous. He provides a striking example by referring to job.

11b. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.

Perhaps because of our reliance on Bible translations, the proverbial patience of Job has become well known. But in his epistle, James uses the word perseverance rather than “patience.” He introduces the noun perseverance with the verb to persevere in the preceding sentence: “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered” (v. 11a; also see 1:3, 4, 12). Patience can be described as passive endurance; by contrast, perseverance is the active determination of a believer whose faith triumphs in the midst of afflictions.

What do we know about the patience of Job? The prophet Ezekiel mentions him with Noah and Daniel. However, the prophet extols not patience but righteousness as the qualifying virtue of Job (Ezek. 14:14, 20). Even in the Book of Job, patience is not one of Job’s outstanding characteristics. Job betrays his impatience when he curses the day of his birth (3:1) and when he says that the “long-winded speeches” of his three friends never end (16:3).

Then, what makes Job unforgettable? He is known for his steadfastness, that is, his persevering faith that triumphed in the end. Because “Job did not sin in what he said” (2:10), God eventually blessed him with twice as many possessions as he had before (42:12–13). For this reason, James tells his readers that they “have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” God blessed Job because of his persevering faith.

11c. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

If God permitted Satan to take everything Job possessed, if God allowed the rich people to oppress the poor in the days of James, is he at all concerned about man’s lot on earth?

Yes, God is concerned about his people. James writes these assuring words, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” Although he does not quote the Old Testament Scriptures, he alludes to at least two passages:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. [Exod. 34:6]

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love. [Ps. 103:8]

But James goes one step further than these two passages. He coins a word in Greek that does not occur anywhere else in the New Testament. He says, “The Lord is full of compassion” (italics added). God is more than compassionate; he is filled with compassion. His heart goes out to the person in need of help.

What is compassion? It is a feeling; the word is best translated “heart.” Furthermore, compassion is synonymous with mercy. Mercy extends to man and is received by him. Mercy has an external aspect; it reaches out to man.

James exhorts the readers to imitate the prophets, reminds them of Job’s perseverance, and teaches them about God’s abounding love and mercy. His message is: God will sustain you.[7]

11. The patience of Job. Having spoken generally of the prophets, he now refers to an example remarkable above others; for no one, as far as we can learn from histories, has ever been overwhelmed with troubles so hard and so various as Job; and yet he emerged from so deep a gulf. Whosoever, then, will imitate his patience, will no doubt find God’s hand, which at length delivered him, to be the same. We see for what end his history has been written. God suffered not his servant Job to sink, because he patiently endured his afflictions. Then he will disappoint the patience of no one.

If, however, it be asked, Why does the Apostle so much commend the patience of Job, as he had displayed many signs of impatience, being carried away by a hasty spirit? To this I reply, that though he sometimes failed through the infirmity of the flesh, or murmured within himself, yet he ever surrendered himself to God, and was ever willing to be restrained and ruled by him. Though, then, his patience was somewhat deficient, it is yet deservedly commended.

The end of the Lord. By these words he intimates that afflictions ought ever to be estimated by their end. For at first God seems to be far away, and Satan in the meantime revels in the confusion; the flesh suggests to us that we are forsaken of God and lost. We ought, then, to extend our view farther, for near and around us there appears no light. Moreover, he has called it the end of the Lord, because it is his work to give a prosperous issue to adversities. If we do our duty in bearing evils obediently, he will by no means be wanting in performing his part. Hope directs us only to the end; God will then shew himself very merciful, however rigid and severe he may seem to be while afflicting us.[8]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 259–261). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 183–184). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 192–193). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 418–423). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 154–156). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[6] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 120–121). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 168–170). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[8] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 351–352). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

October 15, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

26 Paul goes on to express the emotional unity that should be present in the church. If one member of the church experiences an honor of any sort, this is not the time for others to get jealous and attempt to steal the spotlight or downgrade that individual. Rather, we should all rejoice with that person. By the same token, if one member experiences pain of any sort—physical, emotional, relational, economic, etc.—then all the other members of the body should be there for that individual and rally around him or her. What is natural in the human body (i.e., a malfunction in any single part of the body can lead to the entire person’s feeling sick and out of commission) should also be apparent in the body of Christ.[1]

26 Paul rounds off the application by elaborating the positive side of v. 25, namely “that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” The analogy is easily understood, especially the first part. It is difficult to study when one has a toothache; the whole body suffers with the part that is aching. More difficult is the second part, “if one part is honored,27 every part rejoices with it.” Does it suggest that the adulation of some part of one’s body (eyes, face, physique, etc.) causes momentary forgetfulness of other difficulties, even bodily ones? Or does it refer to a part receiving special care?29 In any case, one can see the net drawing closer around the Corinthians. This is how they are to be toward one another, precisely because, as Paul will spell out clearly in v. 27, they are the one body of Christ and individually members of it, and therefore members of one another.

Paul has come a long way from where all this began as illustrations of v. 14. But his point is not irrelevant. Their lack of unity, demonstrated most clearly at their Supper, is scarcely commendable, all the less so in light of their arrogance over wisdom and knowledge. Yet in their eagerness for spiritual things (14:12) they have focused singularly on tongues. They need both unity and diversity. But they cannot have the one without the other. Thus this concern for unity; the rest of the chapter is devoted to diversity, to which he will now return in the next paragraph.

This is one of the sections of the letter that is ready-made for present-day application. The caution that must be raised, however, is that one not neglect altogether Paul’s own concerns in favor of those kinds of easy, independent ones that are so quickly available from such rich metaphors. Paul’s concern is for diversity, on the one hand, and for mutual concern in the body, on the other. According to the analogies themselves, that means (1) that there must be a greater acceptance of a variety of gifts in the church. The singular focus on one gift, be it tongues, prophecy, or healing in charismatic churches or strictly cerebral gifts in others, destroys the diversity God intended for the body. But it also means (2) that, in terms of people, we must stop negating others as less important than ourselves. That is to destroy unity.[2]

26. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. If one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

This is one of the most beautiful texts in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. It describes the effect genuine care can have on the members in the Christian church. When love prevails, we see the church as a live physical body. A stubbed toe impairs one’s ability to walk and thus affects the entire body. Filling one’s stomach with delicious food satisfies all the parts of the body, but the pain of a stomach ulcer has an opposite effect. Similarly, when a member in the congregation mourns the death of a loved one, the entire congregation grieves with the mourner. When one member receives recognition for either an accomplishment or an anniversary, the rest of the members surround the recipient with joyful adulation. The Christian community mourns with those who hurt and rejoices with those who celebrate.[3]

12:26 What affects one member affects all. This is a well-known fact in the human body. Fever, for instance, is not confined to one part of the body, but affects the whole system. So it is with other types of sickness and pain. An eye doctor often can detect brain tumor, kidney disease, or liver infection by looking into the eye. The reason is that, although all these members are distinct and separate, yet they all form part of the one body, and they are so vitally linked together that what affects one member affects all. Therefore, instead of being discontent with our lot, or, on the other hand, instead of feeling a sense of independence from others, we should have a real sense of solidarity in the Body of Christ. Anything that hurts another Christian should cause us the keenest sorrow. Likewise, if we see another Christian honored, we should not feel jealous, but we should rejoice with him.[4] †

12:26 — And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

This verse gives the reason for Paul’s instruction to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Since we all belong to each other, we should desire the welfare of each other.[5]

12:26 all the members suffer together Implies that the individual members of the church are interdependent, rather than self-sufficient. Paul expresses that when the community of believers functions properly, it shares pain and joy, as a person would in his or her own body (1 Cor 12:12).[6]

26. Whether one member suffers. “Such a measure of fellow-feeling,” (συμπάθεια,) says he, “is to be seen in the human body, that, if any inconvenience is felt by any member, all the others grieve along with it, and, on the other hand, rejoice along with it, in its prosperity. Hence there is no room there for envy or contempt.” To be honoured, here, is taken in a large sense, as meaning, to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better fitted to promote harmony than this community of interest, when every one feels that, by the prosperity of others, he is proportionally enriched, and, by their penury, impoverished.[7]

26. And—Accordingly.

all … suffer with it—“When a thorn enters the heel, the whole body feels it, and is concerned: the back bends, the belly and thighs contract themselves, the hands come forward and draw out the thorn, the head stoops, and the eyes regard the affected member with intense gaze” [Chrysostom].

rejoice with it—“When the head is crowned, the whole man feels honored, the mouth expresses, and the eyes look, gladness” [Chrysostom].[8]

[1] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 368–369). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 615–616). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 438). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1793–1794). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Co 12:26). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Co 12:26). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Vol. 1, p. 412). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[8] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 287–288). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

October 14, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Anticipate the Lord’s Coming

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (5:7–8)

Three times in this section (vv. 7, 8, 9), James refers to the believer’s great hope, the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The realization that things won’t always be as they are now, that believers are headed for “the city … whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), provides great hope for those undergoing persecution. For that reason, the more persecuted a church is the more eagerly it anticipates the return of Jesus Christ; conversely, an affluent, indulgent, worldly church has little interest in the Lord’s return.

Parousia (coming) is an important New Testament eschatological term. It is the most commonly used term in the New Testament epistles for the second coming of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; 2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4; 1 John 2:28; cf. Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39). Parousia refers to more than just coming; it includes the idea of “presence.” Perhaps the best English translation would be “arrival.” The church’s great hope is the arrival of Jesus Christ when He comes to bless His people with His presence. That glorious truth appears in more than 500 verses throughout the Bible.

Our Lord said much about His return, especially in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24–25; Mark 13; Luke 21). He taught that His return would be preceded by definite signs (Matt. 24:5–26). He portrayed His coming as a dramatic, climactic event, as striking and unmistakable as the flash of lightning across the sky (Matt. 24:27–30). It will be a time of separation, as the angels gather the elect to enjoy Jesus’ presence (Matt. 24:31) and gather unbelievers to banish them from it (Matt. 24:39–41).

Every Christian is to live in the hope of the certainty of Christ’s return. “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter; “therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). With his own death imminent, Paul could confidently say, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The sure hope of Christ’s return is especially comforting to those undergoing trials and persecution. To the Romans Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). He reminded the Corinthians that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Peter also encouraged suffering believers to remember their Lord’s return:

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7)

Focusing on Christ’s return also motivates believers to godly living. In 1 John 3:3 John writes, “Everyone who has this hope [the Second Coming—v. 2] fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” The study of end time events should not produce speculative eschatological systems, but holy lives. After discussing the destruction of the present universe, Peter exhorted his readers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:14; cf. Phil. 3:16–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; Titus 2:11–13).

To further reinforce his point that believers need to wait patiently for the second coming, James described a familiar scene using a simple, straightforward illustration. The farmer, he points out, waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. The farmer would have been a tenant farmer or small landowner. Having planted his crops, he waits expectantly for the precious produce of the soil—his crops—to come in. That depends on something outside of his control, God’s providentially bringing together all the elements needed for the crops to grow. Those crops are precious or valuable to him because he depends on them for his existence. All he can do is to be patient (from makrothumeō, the same word used earlier in the verse) as he waits eagerly for the crops to come in.

James’s reference to the early and late rains shows just how long farmers had to patiently wait. The early rains in Palestine arrive at the time of the fall planting season (October and November), the late rains just before harvesttime (March and April).

Applying the analogy to his readers, James exhorted them, you too be patient. Just as a farmer waits patiently through the entire growing season for his crop, so also are believers to wait patiently for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul addressed a similar exhortation to the Galatians: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9). Perhaps James’s readers, like those described in Revelation 6:9–11, were growing impatient for Christ to return. They may also have been plagued by scoffers who denied the reality of the Second Coming (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–4).

James further exhorted his readers to strengthen their hearts. Strengthen is from stērizō, a word meaning “to make fast,” “to establish,” or “to confirm.” In Luke 9:51 this term is used to describe Jesus’ resolute determination to go to Jerusalem, although He knew He faced death when He arrived there. It is a word denoting resoluteness, firm courage, an attitude of commitment to stay the course no matter how severe the trial. Stērizō derives from a root word meaning “to cause to stand,” or “to prop up.” James urges those about to collapse under the weight of persecution to prop themselves up with the hope of the Savior’s return.

Spiritual strengthening is seen elsewhere in Scripture as the gracious work of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 3:14–19; 1 Thess. 3:12–13; 2 Thess. 2:16–17; 1 Pet. 5:10), but is here presented as the believer’s responsibility. This is another instance of the profound tension between divine provision and human responsibility that permeates doctrinal truth. Christians are not to “let go and let God,” nor are they to view the Christian life as one of legalistic self-effort. Instead, they are to live as if everything depends on them, knowing that it all depends on God (cf. Phil. 2:12–13).

James does not tolerate double-minded, unstable people. In 1:6 he observed that “the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” and warned “that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (vv. 7–8). In 2:4 the inspired writer denounced those who equivocated by making “distinctions among [themselves],” and thus became “judges with evil motives,” while in 3:8–12 he pointed out the incongruity of those who bless God while at the same time cursing their fellowmen. James also rebuked those who claimed to love God, yet were in love with the world (4:4), exhorting them, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8). It is not surprising, then, that James exhorted his readers to have a settled conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ would return, and thus strengthen their hearts.

The obvious idea of this exhortation was that believers should realize that their trouble is temporary. It will end when Jesus returns. Though Jesus would not return in the lifetime of the recipients of this epistle, nor in the lifetimes of millions of other believers who have lived and died since—no one has known when He will—all may live in the anticipation that He may come at any moment. This argues for imminency, the idea that the next event on God’s schedule for Christ is the deliverance of believers from this world with all its troubles. This is the message of comforting hope for the church in every age (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18).

James emphasizes imminency by reminding his readers of the hope that the coming of the Lord is near. The verb translated near (eggizō) means “to draw near,” “to approach,” or “to come close.” The return of Christ is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar and could happen at any moment. He delays His return because God is still redeeming those whom He “chose … in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). But from the human perspective, Christ’s return has been imminent since He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9–11). That reality has always been the church’s hope. “The night is almost gone, and the day is near,” wrote the apostle Paul to the Romans (Rom. 13:12). The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers not to forsake their “own assembling together … but [to be] encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). “The end of all things is near,” wrote Peter (1 Pet. 4:7), while the apostle John added, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). And Jesus’ last recorded words in Scripture are “Yes, I am coming quickly” (Rev. 22:20). It is both the privilege and the responsibility of all Christians to be constantly “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; cf. John 14:1–3; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 Thess. 1:9–10; 4:16–18). Any view of eschatology which eliminates imminency (believers in every age living with the hope that Christ could come at any moment) is in conflict with all those passages which provide hope for suffering believers by anticipating the Lord’s coming.[1]

8 Like the farmer, Christians must be patient and strengthen their hearts (compare Luke 9:51; 22:32; 1 Thess. 3:13). In both instances such confidence is based on hope: the farmer is sure that the rains will fall, and the Christian that the Lord will come. The tense of the verb indicates that the coming is near.31[2]

7.3.2. Second Exhortation to Patience (5:8) Exhortation (5:8a)

James now repeats his exhortation to patience, but this time with some emphasis and in light of his analogy: “You must also be patient.” To this James adds a new idea before he gives his second reason for patient endurance: “Strengthen your hearts.”188 The word “strengthen” (Greek, stērizō) is used of fortifying oneself with food (Judg 19:5, 8), and by trusting in the strength of God one’s heart can be fortified and the will made resolute (Ps 57:7; Sir 6:37; cf. 22:16–17). Paul wants to strengthen, or fortify, the Romans with some spiritual gift (1:11), he prays that God will fortify hearts in holiness (1 Thess 3:13), and he is confident that good works fortify the heart (2 Thess 2:17). Not surprisingly, strength of heart comes from grace not food observances (Heb 13:9). When James says he wants the messianists to be strengthened “in your hearts,” he is thinking from the inside out, from the core of their being, both in resolution and confident faith (James 1:26; 3:14; 4:8; 5:5). Reason (5:8b)

Why do they need to be patient and strengthen their hearts? As James puts it, “for the coming of the Lord is near.” We concluded above that “the coming of the Lord” refers to the act of God in judgment against the oppressors in the defeat of Jerusalem. But, again, some of this needs to be shown, and this verse and the next will clarify what remains to be demonstrated. Everything here hinges on the meaning of “is near” (Greek ēngiken). The word (engizō), in short order, means “draw near.” It speaks of something so near that its impact is beginning to be felt. The fear that somehow James, and therefore the Word of God, would be wrong if this word is given the meaning one expects it to have has led too many to less than obvious explanations. The word is used forty-one times in the New Testament.191 One of the more telling uses is in Mark 11:1 (par. Matt 21:1): “When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples.…” The point is that they were close but not yet there; so close that Jesus sent two disciples on ahead to get things ready. Other uses, such as Matthew 21:34; 26:45–46; Luke 15:25; 18:35; 19:41; 21:8, 20; 22:1 confirm that engizō means to be near, very near, but not yet arrived—but close enough for things to start happening.

What matters in our context is that ēngiken is used for cataclysmic eschatological events in the time-plan of the early Christians. Hence, Jesus can say the kingdom of God has drawn near (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11). Of note are Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near,” and 21:28: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” From Acts, we read in 7:17: “But as the time drew near for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplied.” Paul says in Romans 13:12: “the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” And Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Peter too: “The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers” (1 Pet 4:7). In addition to these considerations we note that this term emerges at times in the context of oppression and serves to buttress the hope of the oppressed. Thus, Mark 13 speaks often of persecution and how the nearness of the Son of Man’s coming brings hope (Mark 13:26–31). Peter’s words about the end of all things being near immediately lead to encouragement about persecution (1 Pet 4:7–11, 12–19). The so-called roll-call of heroic faith in Hebrews 10 winds up its point in a combination of encouragement and promise that the Lord is coming (10:32–39).

One can read “the coming of the Lord is near” in James 5:8 in the context of Paul’s statements about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, if ēngiken is understood as referring to something about to happen, then either Jesus did return somehow or James was wrong. Or one can read this text in light of the teachings of Jesus about the parousia in a Jewish context and see it as a prediction of the imminent judgment of God, and in this case one would have to think of the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 ad as told of so graphically by Josephus in his Jewish War. The latter is far more probable, and the next verse tips the balance in its favor. There (5:9b) the parousia has to do with God appearing as Judge. Grammatically speaking, the perfect tense of ēngiken needs to be seen in context: the state of affairs that comes through the perfect tense is that God has heard the cries of the poor (5:4, perfect tense), so the flipside of that hearing is that the “coming near” of the Lord’s parousia is a state of affairs. One might think of “being near” the way a plane might be put into a holding pattern just before it arrives. The Lord’s parousia then mirrors the hearing of the cries of the oppressed as a state of affairs. The Judge’s standing, or hovering, at the doors (5:9b) is another set of affairs sketched in the perfect tense. They need to be tied together: God having heard the cries, the coming near of the parousia, and the approach of God as Judge.[3]

5:8 / Christians also must be patient. Like the farmer, the Christian bets his or her life on the outcome of a long wait. Like the farmer, reducing the tension (by compromise or attack) would be self-destructive. The Christian must place all hope in a condition outside his or her control, waiting patiently for the coming of the King.

As they wait they are to stand firm. As they wait doubt must be fought at all costs: The inner defenses must be constantly attended, their hearts must be strengthened in the face of suffering.

As a further encouragement he adds, the Lord’s coming is near. For the rich this is bad news (5:3–5); for believers this is good news. The waiting may still be long, but like a runner who has rounded the last curve on the track and sees the finish line down the interminable straightaway, they can receive a new wind from the vision of the end.[4]

5:8 the Lord’s coming is near. A double meaning is intended here. “Near” means near in time, that is, “soon” (as in Rom. 13:11–12; Heb. 10:25). But “near” also means near in space, that is, “nearby” or “at hand” (as in Matt. 3:2; Luke 10:9–11). The word for “coming” (parousia), when used of Jesus, almost always refers to the second coming, which is in the future. And the primary frame of reference thus far in 5:7–12 has been the future. But the verb “is near” is in the perfect tense, which usually indicates something that has already been put into place and that has continuing effects. So besides the emphasis on Christ’s future second coming, there is also a sense that James is saying the Lord is nearby his readers now, that they should wait for him to rescue them from their sufferings in some ways before the second coming. This ambiguity of Jesus (or his kingdom) being both already present in some sense and not yet present in another runs through much of the New Testament. While 5:7–12 has a stronger emphasis on the “not yet” aspect, 5:13–20 emphasizes the “already” aspect.[5]

7. Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Note these observations:

  • Command

Fully aware of their adversities, James tells his readers to exercise patience. The adverb then links the command to be patient to the preceding verses in which James describes the oppressive conditions under which the poor live. In a sense, James takes up the theme with which he begins his epistle: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1:2).

Patience is a virtue possessed by few and sought by many. We are living in a society that champions the word instant. But to be patient, as James uses the word, is much more than passively waiting for the time to pass. Patience is the art of enduring someone whose conduct is incompatible with that of others and sometimes even oppressive. A patient man calms a quarrel, for he controls his anger and does not seek revenge (compare Prov. 15:18; 16:32).

The old English term long-suffering does not mean to suffer a while but to tolerate someone for a long time. To say it differently, patience is the opposite of being short-tempered. God displays patience by being “slow to anger” when man continues in sin even after numerous admonitions (Exod. 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:15). Man ought to reflect that divine virtue in his day-to-day life.

James knows that the readers of his epistle are unable to defend themselves against their oppressors. Therefore, he urges them to exercise patience and to leave matters in the hands of God, who is coming to deliver them. Even if they were able to do so, they should not take matters into their own hands. God has said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:12; Heb. 10:30).

“Be patient … until the Lord’s coming.” The readers know that the Lord is coming back in the capacity of Judge. They ought to exercise self-control toward their adversaries and demonstrate patience in respect to the coming of the Lord. He will avenge his people when he returns (2 Thess. 1:5–6).

  • Example

Throughout his epistle the writer reveals his love for God’s creation. In this verse he portrays the expectations of the farmer who anticipates a bountiful harvest but must patiently wait for the arrival of “the autumn and spring rains.” The farmer has learned that everything grows according to the seasons of the year. He knows how many days are needed for a plant to develop from germination to harvest. Moreover, he knows that without the proper amount of rainfall at the right moment, his labors are in vain.

Although the amounts of rainfall in Israel fluctuate, the farmer knows that he can expect the autumn rain, beginning with a number of thunderstorms, in the latter part of October. Then he can plant his seed so that germination takes place. And he eagerly hopes for a sufficient amount of rainfall in April and May when the grain is maturing and the yield increases every time the rains come down. He depends, therefore, on the autumn and the spring rains (Deut. 11:14; Jer. 5:24; Hos. 6:3; Joel 2:23). He is able to predict the coming of the rain, but he cannot speak with certainty about the harvest. He waits with eager expectation.

  • Repetition

James applies the example of the farmer to the readers. “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” As the farmer confidently waits for the coming of the autumn rain and the spring rain on which his harvest depends, so the believer waits patiently for the coming of the Lord. As God promised Noah that “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest … will never cease” (Gen. 8:22), so the Lord has given the believer the promise that he will return.

James tells the readers to be patient and to stand firm (“to strengthen your hearts” in the original). They can say with confidence that the Lord is coming back, but they do not know when that will be. While they are waiting, doubt and distraction often enter their lives. For this reason, James counsels his readers to stand firm in the knowledge that the Lord in due time will fulfill his promise made to the believers. He falls into repetition, but the reminder of the Lord’s imminent return is necessary so that the readers will not lose heart in difficult circumstances.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 253–256). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (p. 191). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 410–413). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[4] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 118–119). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Samra, J. (2016). James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 78). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 163–165). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

October 14, 2019 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

Thinking on Godly Virtues

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (4:8)

The word finally indicates that Paul has arrived at the climax of his teaching on spiritual stability. The principle that he is about to relate is both the summation of all the others and the key to implementing them. The phrase dwell on these things introduces an important truth: spiritual stability is a result of how a person thinks. The imperative form of logizomai (dwell on) makes it a command; proper thinking is not optional in the Christian life. Logizomai means more than just entertaining thoughts; it means “to evaluate,” “to consider,” or “to calculate.” Believers are to consider the qualities Paul lists in this verse and meditate on their implications. The verb form calls for habitual discipline of the mind to set all thoughts on these spiritual virtues.

The Bible leaves no doubt that people’s lives are the product of their thoughts. Proverbs 23:7 declares, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” The modern counterpart to that proverb is the computer acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). Just as a computer’s output is dependent on the information that is input, so people’s actions are the result of their thinking. Jesus expressed that truth in Mark 7:20–23: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Paul’s call for biblical thinking is especially relevant in our culture. The focus today is on emotion and pragmatism, and the importance of serious thinking about biblical truth is downplayed. People no longer ask “Is it true?” but “Does it work?” and “How will it make me feel?” Those latter two questions serve as a working definition of truth in our society that rejects the concept of absolute divine truth. Truth is whatever works and produces positive emotions. Sadly, such pragmatism and emotionalism has crept even into theology. The church is often more concerned about whether something will be divisive or offensive than whether it is biblically true.

Such a perspective is far different from the noble Bereans, who searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true, not whether it was divisive or practical (Acts 17:11). Too many people go to church not to think or reason about the truths of Scripture, but to get their weekly spiritual high; to feel that God is still with them. Such people are spiritually unstable because they base their lives on feeling rather than on thinking. Bill Hull writes,

What scares me is the anti-intellectual, anti-critical-thinking philosophy that has spilled over into the Church. This philosophy tends to romanticize the faith, making the local church into an experience center.… Their concept of “church” is that they are spiritual consumers and that the church’s job is to meet their felt needs. (Right Thinking [Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress, 1985], 66)

John Stott also warned of the danger of Christians living by their feelings: “Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than on our faculty of thinking, because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experiences” (Your Mind Matters [Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1972], 16).

God commands people to think. He said to rebellious Israel, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). Jesus chided the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees for demanding a miraculous sign from Him. Instead, He challenged them to think and draw inferences from the evidence they had, just as they did to predict the weather (Matt. 16:1–3). In Luke 12:57 He said to the crowds, “And why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right?” God gave His revelation in a book, the Bible, and expects people to use their minds to understand its truths.

Careful thinking is the distinctive mark of the Christian faith. James Orr expressed that reality clearly:

If there is a religion in the world which exalts the office of teaching, it is safe to say that it is the religion of Jesus Christ. It has been frequently remarked that in pagan religions the doctrinal element is at a minimum—the chief thing there is the performance of a ritual. But this is precisely where Christianity distinguishes itself from other religions—it does contain doctrine. It comes to men with definite, positive teaching; it claims to be the truth; it bases religion on knowledge, though a knowledge which is only attainable under moral conditions. I do not see how any one can deal fairly with the facts as they lie before us in the Gospels and Epistles, without coming to the conclusion that the New Testament is full of doctrine.… A religion divorced from earnest and lofty thought has always, down the whole history of the Church, tended to become weak, jejune, and unwholesome; while the intellect, deprived of its rights within religion, has sought its satisfaction without, and developed into godless rationalism. (The Christian View of God and the World [New York: Scribner, 1897], 20–21)

Scripture describes the unsaved mind as depraved (Rom. 1:28; 1 Tim. 6:5; 2 Tim. 3:8), focused on the flesh (Rom. 8:5), which leads to spiritual death (Rom. 8:6), hostile to God (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21), foolish (1 Cor. 2:14), hardened to spiritual truth (2 Cor. 3:14), blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), futile (Eph. 4:17), ignorant (Eph. 4:18), and defiled (Titus 1:15).

Because of that, the first element in salvation is a proper mental understanding of the truth of the gospel. Jesus said in Matthew 13:19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” Romans 10:17 could be translated, “Faith comes from hearing a speech about Christ,” emphasizing again that faith involves thinking (cf. Isa. 1:18). That is why Peter commands believers to always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). J. Gresham Machen observed, “What the Holy Spirit does in the new birth is not to make a man a Christian regardless of the evidence, but on the contrary to clear away the mists from his eyes and enable him to attend to the evidence” (The Christian Faith in the Modern World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965], 63).

God saves people to be worshipers, and “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is therefore impossible to worship God apart from truth. When Paul visited Athens, the cultural capital of the ancient world, “his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 17:16). But what disturbed him as much as the blatant idolatry was that he “found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’ ” (Acts 17:23). Natural minds can see the world and conclude that there is a God. But by human reason it can only be known that He exists, not who He is. To the natural reason He is the “unknown” and the unknowable God. He can only be truly known by supernatural theology, the revelation of Scripture. God will not accept worship based on ignorance. Paul therefore proceeded to explain to the Athenian philosophers who God has revealed Himself to be (Acts 17:24–31).

In sharp contrast to the contemporary definition of faith, biblical faith is not an irrational “leap in the dark.” It is not a mystical encounter with the “wholly other” or the “ground of being.” Nor is it optimism, psychological self-hypnosis, or wishful thinking. True faith is a reasoned response to revealed truth in the Bible, and salvation results from an intelligent response, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to that truth.

In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus rebuked the disciples for the sin of worry. In a remarkable section of his classic work Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out that the disciples’ problem was that they failed to think. Instead, they allowed themselves to be controlled by their circumstances.

Faith, according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. That is the real difficulty in life. Life comes to us with a club in its hand and strikes us upon the head, and we become incapable of thought, helpless and defeated. The way to avoid that, according to our Lord, is to think. We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, and draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them.

The trouble with most people, however, is that they will not think. Instead of doing this, they sit down and ask, What is going to happen to me? What can I do? That is the absence of thought; it is surrender, it is defeat. Our Lord, here, is urging us to think, and to think in a Christian manner. That is the very essence of faith. Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry.… That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, 2:129–30)

Thinking is essential to saving faith, as well as to sanctifying faith.

Salvation involves the transformation of the mind. In Romans 8:5 Paul writes, “Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” Unsaved, fleshly people have an unsaved, fleshly mind-set. They think as fallen, unredeemed people. On the other hand, “those who are according to the Spirit [set their minds on] the things of the Spirit.” Their renewed minds are focused on spiritual truth. Consequently, “the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The Holy Spirit now controls the mind that before salvation was depraved, ignorant, and blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). The redeemed mind no longer thinks on the fleshly level, but on the spiritual level.

In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul described one of the most amazing realities of salvation: “Christ Jesus … became to us wisdom from God.” Believers’ renewed minds can plunge into the deep thoughts of the eternal God (cf. Ps. 92:5) and never reach the bottom. In 1 Corinthians 2:11–16 Paul expanded on that thought:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

In contrast to the “natural man [who] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” the Holy Spirit grants to believers the ability to “know the things freely given to us by God.” In fact, “we have the mind of Christ”; through the Spirit, believers have knowledge of God that they would otherwise never have had.

Just as the believers’ initial act of saving faith leads to a life of faith, so also the transforming of the mind at salvation initiates a lifelong process of renewing the mind. In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” To the Ephesians he wrote, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:23). Jesus, answering the question as to which was the greatest commandment of the Law, said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Peter also spoke of renewing the mind when he commanded, “Prepare your minds for action” (1 Peter 1:13). Paul called for believers to “set [their] mind[s] on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). More than a dozen times in his epistles Paul asked his readers, “Do you not know?” The apostle expected believers to think and evaluate. Nor is that an exclusively New Testament perspective. In Proverbs 2:1–6 Solomon counseled,

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

The psalmist cried out, “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart” (Ps. 119:34).

Believers must discipline their spiritually sensitive minds to think about right spiritual realities. In this brief list, Paul catalogues eight godly virtues to concentrate on.

The Word of God is the repository of what is true. In His High Priestly Prayer Jesus said to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). In Psalm 19:9 David wrote, “The judgments of the Lord are true,” while Psalm 119:151 adds, “All Your commandments are truth.” The Bible is true because the “God of truth” (Ps. 31:5; Isa. 65:16; cf. Eph. 4:21) inspired it. Thinking on whatever is true means reading, analyzing, and meditating on the Word of God. The remaining seven virtuous categories of thought are all based on the truth of God’s Word. All of them are ways to view the truths of Scripture.

Second, believers are to think on whatever is honorable, whatever is noble, dignified, and worthy of respect. Semnos (honorable) comes from a word meaning “to revere,” or “to worship.” In its other New Testament uses, it describes the dignified lifestyle required of deacons (1 Tim. 3:8), deaconesses (1 Tim. 3:11), and older men (Titus 2:2). Believers must not think on what is trivial, temporal, mundane, common, and earthly, but rather on what is heavenly, and so worthy of awe, adoration, and praise. All that is true in God’s Word is honorable.

Third, believers are to think on whatever is right. Dikaios (right) is an adjective, and should be translated “righteous.” It describes whatever is in perfect harmony with God’s eternal, unchanging standards, again as revealed in Scripture. Believers are to think on matters that are consistent with the law of God.

Fourth, believers are to think on whatever is pure. Hagnos (pure) describes what God in Scripture defines as holy, morally clean, and undefiled. In 1 Timothy 5:22 it is translated “free from sin.” Believers are to purify themselves because Jesus Christ is pure (1 John 3:3).

Fifth, believers are to think on whatever is lovely. Prosphilēs (lovely) appears only here in the New Testament. It could be translated “sweet,” “gracious,” “generous,” or “patient.” Believers must focus their thoughts on what the Bible says is pleasing, attractive, and amiable before God.

Sixth, believers are to think on whatever is of good repute. Euphēmos also appears only here in the New Testament. It describes what is highly regarded or well thought of. Believers’ thoughts are elevated by Scripture to fix on the loftiest themes.

In summary, Paul exhorts, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The key to godly living is godly thinking, as Solomon wisely observed: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23).[1]

God’s Rule for Doubtful Things

Philippians 4:8–9

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praise-worthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

These verses are a statement of one of God’s rules for doubtful things. They introduce us to the problems of regulating our conduct in areas of life where the Bible is not entirely explicit. Should a Christian drink alcohol or not? Can he enter politics? Can he work for a company that manufactures war materials? To what extent can a believer adopt the standards of his times and society? The answers to such questions must be given in their broadest possible scope; accordingly, we shall range through Scripture, returning at last to these verses in Philippians.

Varying Standards

We need to recognize first that although many of the issues that trouble Christians are silly and do not deserve much attention, not all of them are. Consequently, we must not make the mistake of avoiding all serious thought about such matters.

Elisabeth Elliot has written on one of these problems in a book called The Liberty of Obedience, which is based on her experiences. She had always had the idea, perhaps as the product of her Christian upbringing, that there was a certain type of clothing that was right for a Christian to wear. Conversely, there was clothing that was wrong. Then she went to Ecuador and found herself in the midst of a tropical people who wore little or no clothing at all. What did her standards have to do with them? Should she dress new converts? Should their standards prevail? She said the problem became even more complex when she realized in time that, although the women in the tribe wore almost no clothing, they were nevertheless conscious of the proper ways to walk, sit, and stand that they thought modest. The entire problem forced her to ask herself if there is anything inherently Christian or non-Christian in the way we dress in America.

Another problem with an uncertain answer is alcohol. Should a Christian drink? Does the level of society in which a Christian finds himself matter? I admire people, such as some Christian businesspeople I know who do not drink. But what happens to this conviction when you go to France, as I did as a young boy, and see the leading deacon of an evangelical Protestant church going around a large ring of children at a Sunday school picnic mixing a little wine with their cups of water? I know that part of the reason he did it was to prevent their getting sick on the water in a rural area, but the main point is his attitude toward alcohol. This was obviously quite different in France than in America, even among people who believed all that the most conservative Christians believe about the gospel in the United States. Comparisons such as this defeat any approach to the problem through legalism. Comparison throws the student back upon the important principles of Scripture.

What are they? I should like to suggest three principles that will help any Christian in 99 percent of his or her difficulties. All these are found throughout Scripture, but they are summarized in three important verses: Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 6:12 (also 10:23); and Philippians 4:8. They tell us that we are to live (as we have been saved) by grace; that we are to think first, last, and always of others; and that we are to pursue the highest things. The last verse is our text in Philippians.

Not Law, But Grace

The first principle, then, is that we are not under law; we are under grace. The text is Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” This verse teaches that whatever the answer may be to the problem of doubtful practices, it is not legalism. That is, the way will never be found by organizing any body of Christians to declare whether or not movies, cigarettes, alcohol, war, or whatever it may be, is proper.

Historically, this problem was fought to a decisive conclusion in the first generation of the church. We must remember that, because of the wide dispersion of Jews through the Roman world in the centuries before Christ, there was hardly a congregation of believers during the first Christian century that did not consist of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, even in the most gentile cities of the empire. Because of their own religious and social training, the Jewish Christians got the idea that the gentile believers should submit to the ceremonial laws of Israel, and the result was a tremendous battle in which for a time the apostle Paul fought almost single-handedly against them. For a time even Peter was carried away with the error. But Paul resisted him (Gal. 2:11–14) and later defended the case for gentile (and Jewish) liberty before the other apostles in Jerusalem. On this occasion Peter sided with Paul and said, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10–11). In the early church the battle against legalism was won for pure grace.

It is also true, however, that the same verse that speaks against legalism also speaks against another error that is likewise a wrong approach to the problem. This error is the error of license, the teaching that because we are not under law but under grace Christians can therefore go on doing as they please. That is to say, “Let us sin that grace may abound.” This error pretends to be logical, but it is not. It is infernal, and Paul does not hesitate to say so. The very next verse says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom. 6:15). He adds, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22).

Paul’s argument is that life by grace actually leads to holiness and, hence, we should not fear to abolish legalism as an answer to the problems of Christian conduct. The way it works may be illustrated by two types of marriage. There is the type of marriage that is founded on law. In this marriage the wife says something like this. “I know that you are going off to that office party tonight, and I know that dozens of those young secretaries will be there. Don’t you dare look at any of them. Because if you do and I hear about it, I’ll really lay into you when you get home. And be back by ten-thirty.” Well, if the wife says that, the husband is likely to go off saying to himself, “So that’s what she wants, is it? Well, I’ll just stay out as long as I please and do as I please.” There will be no end of friction. Legalism does not promote happiness or fidelity in marriage.

The other type of marriage is one in which there is love rather than law. Each partner knows the faults of the other, but they know that they love each other anyway and have forgiven the faults in advance. Are they happy? Certainly. And they are faithful in the relationship. In a similar way, the grace of God never makes us rebels; it makes us men and women who love God and desire to please him.

All Things are Not Expedient

The second principle for determining God’s will in doubtful matters is that although all things are lawful for the Christian—because he is not under law but under grace—all things are not expedient. That is true for two reasons: First, because the thing itself may gain a harmful control over him or have a harmful effect on him physically. Second, because through him it may hurt other Christians.

The first reason is given in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “ ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul knew that God had not set him free from sin and the law in order for him to become captive to mere things.

The guiding principle here is whether you as a Christian are using things or whether things are using you. Take food for an example. Nothing can be as obviously good for a person as food; it is necessary for bodily strength as well as mental health. But it is possible for a person to become so addicted to overeating that the good end is thwarted and the person’s health is endangered. Hence, certain eating habits should be avoided (v. 13). A second example is sex (vv. 13–20). This too is good: it is a gift of God. Within the bonds of marriage it is a force for strength in the home as well as an expression of close union. But it too can be destructive. It can control the person instead of the person controlling it, and in this form sex can destroy the very values it was created to maintain. The Bible teaches that the Christian must never use things—food, sex, drugs, alcohol, cars, homes, stocks, or whatever it may be—in such a way that he or she actually falls under their power. In some of these cases, such as the case of habit-forming drugs, I would think that 1 Corinthians 6:12 is an unequivocable warning to avoid them.

Later on in 1 Corinthians Paul gives another reason why something may not be expedient: the freedom of one believer may hurt the spiritual growth of another. Here Paul says, “ ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Cor. 10:23). The verses that follow show that he is thinking of the edification and growth of fellow Christians.

I do not believe this verse means you have to take your standards of conduct entirely from what other Christians say or think. If you do that, you are either going to become hypocritical, schizophrenic, or mad. Ethel Barrett, who was well known for her Bible-story work among children, tells of her early experiences with matters of dress as she first began to travel about the country. She came from California, and her standards of dress were formed by the climate and style of California. Her clothes were bright; she wore makeup and large hats. When she went east she soon met some for whom her standards of dress were unspiritual. They said, “Why does she look like that? That is no way for a Christian to dress.” Being young and less experienced then, she took it to heart. She changed her clothes and stopped wearing makeup. It was not long, however, before some new remarks got back to her: “Why does she have to look so drab and unpleasant? She would have a much more effective and spiritual ministry if she would brighten herself up a bit.” Ethel Barrett learned through experience that you cannot take all of your standards of conduct from other Christians. She was right. The verse does not mean that you are to allow the prejudices and viewpoints of others to dictate your pattern of behavior.

Yet the verse does mean something. It says there are situations in which we must avoid certain things, even if they are right in themselves, lest they be detrimental to others. Let me give you an example. Suppose you have been witnessing to a young man who has been having a hard time overcoming a disposition to sexual sins. He has become a Christian, but the lure of the flesh is still with him. This verse means that you had better not take him to see or encourage him to see certain movies. What is more, you had best not go yourself, for he may be harmed by your freedom. In the same way, we are not to serve alcohol to anyone for whom it may be a problem; for that person’s sake, we are to avoid it also.

Moreover, we are to be consistent in our abstinence, for we must not appear double-faced or hypocritical. We must sometimes be consistent over a long period of time. Paul wrote, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Cor. 8:13). Never again! And this from the same apostle who had defended the cause of Christian liberty successfully before the Jerusalem apostles! We must remember that it will be costly if we are to be careful of the effect of our conduct upon others.

The Better Things

The final principle of the three that I think best helps to direct our conduct in doubtful areas is Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” According to this verse the Christian is to decide between doubtful things by choosing the best.

This does not exclude the best things in our society, whether explicitly Christian or not. For the meat of the verse lies in the fact (not always noticed by Bible teachers) that the virtues mentioned here are pagan virtues. These words do not occur in the great lists of Christian virtues, lists that include love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. On the whole they are taken from Greek ethics and from the writings of the Greek philosophers. In using them Paul is actually sanctifying, as it were, the generally accepted virtues of pagan morality. He is saying that although the pursuit of the best things by Christians will necessarily mean the pursuit of fellowship with God, the will of God, all means to advance the claims of the gospel, and other spiritual things also, it will not mean the exclusion of the best values the world has to offer. The things that are acknowledged to be honorable by the best people everywhere are also worthy to be cultivated by Christians. Consequently, Christians can love all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable, wherever they find it. They can rejoice in the best of art and good literature. They can thrill to great music. They can thrive on beautiful architecture. They should do it. You should do it. Christians can thank God for giving us the ability even in our fallen state to create such things of beauty.

Moreover, as you use this principle for determining God’s will in doubtful things, you can also take confidence from the promise of God’s presence that accompanies it. Paul often writes parenthetically in his letters, and he does so here. The result is that the first half of verse 9 seems partially to distort the meaning of the sentence. The first half says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” As the verse stands we would tend to think that the promise of God’s presence is attached to it. Actually, it is attached to verse 8, and the promise is: “Whatever things are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you.”

When we pursue the highest things in life, both spiritually and secularly, then the God of peace will be with us. And we shall have the confidence that he will bless and guide us as we seek to please him.[2]

8 Paul moves to a new set of admonitions with to loipon (GK 3370), which, as in 3:1, means “as for the rest” rather than “finally.” One way to fight anxiety is for Christians to focus their minds on virtues—“the real goods of virtue” as opposed to “the false goods of pleasure” (Paul A. Holloway, “Notes and Observations Bona Cogitare: An Epicurean Consolation in Phil 4:8–9,” HTR 91 [1998]: 95). This exhortation for them to consider whatever is true, honorable, and just is without analogy in Paul’s other letters and arises from his desire to restore harmony to the community.

The “whatsoever things” (hosa; NIV, “whatever”) refers to those things learned from the example of Christ and from those who clearly follow Christ’s example (3:17; 4:9). “Whatever is true” is not whatever one’s culture might claim to be true. Truth is measured only by God and requires spiritual discernment. Paul expects his readers to have the moral discernment to make their own right judgments about what exactly constitutes the virtues he lists. “Whatever is noble” (semnos, GK 4948) means what is dignified and above reproach—that which inspires respect from others. “Whatever is right” (dikaios, GK 1465) is something that conforms to custom or law. For Christians, what is “right” is defined by God’s justice, but Paul may also have in view its association with the Greek virtue of establishing order and harmony (see Plato, Republic 4.443 c–e). “Whatever is pure” (hagnos, GK 54) is defined by God’s holiness and is connected to what is chaste. “Whatever is lovely” (prosphilēs, GK 4713) is not simply anything that brings delight and pleasure. The word “pleasing” (or “agreeable,” “amiable”) would fit the context better, and it would apply to the effect of one’s relations on others (cf. Sir 4:7; 20:13). “Whatever is admirable,” or “of good repute” (euphēmia, GK 2367), denotes what is well sounding as opposed to grumbling. It is the right choice of words that reveals deference and respect for others.

Paul shifts the sentence structure abruptly to conditional clauses—“if anything is …” “If anything is excellent” (aretē, GK 746) refers to a virtuous character; the word was used to describe those whose moral uprightness contributed to the common welfare. The Shepherd of Hermas (Sim. 8.10.3), for example, links the word to righteousness, and those who exhibit this virtue are contrasted with those who are double-minded and foment division (Sim. 8.10.2). “If anything is … praiseworthy” (epainos, GK 2047) in a Christian context refers to those things that will bring commendation from God (1 Co 4:5; 1 Pe 1:7). To “think about such things” (tauta logizesthe, GK 3357) requires more than sublime contemplation; it means taking such things into account so that one does them. The verb’s usage in Romans 6:11 (“count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”) and its alternate expression in the next verse, “do these things” (tauta prassete [GK 4556], Php 4:9; NIV, “put it into practice”), make clear that action is to be involved.[3]

With this “finally,” and its accompanying (final) vocative, “brothers and sisters,” Paul concludes the “hortatory” dimension of this “hortatory letter of friendship.” There is one further item to add, his grateful recognition of their renewed material support (vv. 10–20); but that belongs to the dimension of friendship altogether (without being “hortatory”), and has basically to do with their relationship with him. This “finally” concludes his concerns about them (and is thus also “hortatory”).

What is striking about this sentence is its uniqueness in the Pauline corpus. Take away the “finally, brothers and sisters,” and this sentence would fit more readily in Epictetus’s Discourses or Seneca’s Moral Essays than it would into any of the Pauline letters—except this one. The six adjectives and two nouns that make up the sentence are as uncommon in Paul as most of them are common stock to the world of Greco-Roman moralism. However, they are also the language of Jewish wisdom; indeed, the closest parallel to this sentence in the NT is not in the Pauline letters but in Jas 3:13–18, where some of this same language (as well as that of vv. 4–7) occurs in speaking of “the wisdom that is from above.”

But what Paul says here is much less clear than the English translations would lead one to believe. The impression given is that he is calling on them one final time to “give their minds” to nobler things. That may be true in one sense, but the language and grammar suggest something slightly different. The verb ordinarily means to “reckon” in the sense of “take into account,” rather than simply to “think about.” This suggests that Paul is telling them not so much to “think high thoughts” as to “take into account” the good they have long known from their own past, as long as it is conformable to Christ. This seems confirmed by the double proviso, “if anything,” that interrupts the sentence. The six words themselves, at least the first four, already point to what is virtuous and praiseworthy; so why add the proviso unless he intends them to select out what is morally excellent and praiseworthy from these “whatever things” that belong to the world around them, and to do so on the basis of Christ himself? Thus, he appears to be dipping into the language of hellenistic moralism, in his case tempered by Jewish wisdom, to encourage the Philippians that even though they are presently “citizens of heaven,” living out the life of the future as they await its consummation, they do not altogether abandon the world in which they used to, and still do, live. As believers in Christ they will embrace the best of that world as well, as long as it is understood in light of the cross.

Despite its several correspondences to hellenistic moralism and Jewish wisdom, however, this is Paul’s own enumeration. It neither reflects the four cardinal virtues of Hellenism,15 nor is there anything else quite like it as a list in the ancient world, either in form or content. As with all such “virtue” lists in Paul, it is intended to be representative, not definitive. The six adjectives cover a broad range—truth, honor, uprightness, purity, what is pleasing or admirable. Since they also reflect what the teachers of Wisdom considered to be the best path for the young to adopt, very likely this language in part came to Paul by way of this tradition. In any case, in Paul they must be understood in light of the cross, since that is surely the point of the final proviso in v. 9 that whatever else they do, they are to follow Paul’s teaching and thus imitate his cruciform lifestyle. Thus:

(1) Whatever is true. For Paul truth is narrowly circumscribed, finding its measure in God (Rom 1:18, 25) and the gospel (Gal 2:5; 5:7). As a virtue, especially in Jewish wisdom, it has to do with true speech (Prov 22:21) over against the lie and deceit (cf. 1:18 above) or is associated with righteousness and equity. Just as suppression of the truth about God, which leads to believing the lie about him, is the first mark of idolatry (the worship of false deities), so the first word in this virtue list calls them to give consideration to whatever conforms to the gospel.

(2) Whatever is noble. Although this word most often has a “sacred” sense (“revered” or “majestic”), here it probably denotes “honorable,” “noble,” or “worthy of respect.” It occurs in Prov 8:6 also in conjunction with “truth” and “righteousness,” as characteristic of what Wisdom has to say. Thus, whatever is “worthy of respect,” wherever it may come from, is also worth giving consideration to.

(3) Whatever is right. As with “truth,” what is “right” is always defined by God and his character. Thus, even though this is one of the cardinal virtues of Greek antiquity, in Paul it carries the further sense of “righteousness,” so that it is not defined by merely human understanding of what is “right” or “just,” but by God and his relationship with his people.

(4) Whatever is pure. This word originated in the cultus, where what had been sanctified for the temple was considered “pure”; along with the related word “holy,” it soon took on moral implications. In Proverbs it stands over against “the thoughts of the wicked” (15:26) or “the way of the guilty” (21:8, in conjunction with being “upright”). Thus, “whatever things are pure” has to do with whatever is not “besmirched” or “tainted” in some way by evil. As with “truth” it occurs earlier in this letter (1:17) to contrast those whose motives are “impure” in preaching the gospel so as to “afflict” Paul.

(5) Whatever is lovely. With this word and the next we step off NT turf altogether onto the more unfamiliar ground of Hellenism—but not hellenistic moralism (see n. 15). This word has to do primarily with what people consider “lovable,” in the sense of having a friendly disposition toward. The NJB catches the sense well by translating, “everything that we love.” Here is the word that throws the net broadly, so as to include conduct that has little to do with morality in itself, but is recognized as admirable by the world at large. In common parlance, this word could refer to a Beethoven symphony, as well as to the work of Mother Teresa among the poor of Calcutta; the former is lovely and enjoyable, the latter is admirable as well as moral.

(6) Whatever is admirable. Although not quite a synonym of the preceding word, it belongs to the same general category of “virtues.” Not a virtue in the moral sense, it represents the kind of conduct that is worth considering because it is well spoken of by people in general.

It is probably the lack of inherent morality in the last two words that called forth the interrupting double proviso that follows, “if anything is excellent, if anything is praiseworthy.” The word “excellent”27 is the primary Greek word for “virtue” or “moral excellence.” It is generally avoided, at least in this sense, by the LXX translators.28 Although not found elsewhere in Paul, the present usage, along with “contentment” in v. 11, is clear evidence that he felt no need to shy away from the language of the Greek moralists. What he intends, of course, is that “virtue” be filled with Christian content, exemplified by his own life and teaching (v. 9). Likewise with “praiseworthy.” Although this word probably refers to the approval of others, the basis has been changed from “general ethical judgment”30 to conduct that is in keeping with God’s own righteousness. While not inherent in v. 8 itself, such an understanding of these words comes from the immediately following exhortation to “imitate” Paul, which in turn must be understood in light of what has been said to this point.[4]

Think about the right things (v. 8)

The book of Proverbs says: ‘… as he thinks in his heart, so is he’ (Prov. 23:7).

In keeping with that thought, Paul suggests to his readers a ‘divine programming’ that will ensure their peace. He calls upon them to think about:

  • the true—those things that correspond to the teaching of God’s Word;
  • the noble—those things that have the dignity of moral excellence;
  • the just—those things that conform to God’s standards;
  • the pure—those things that are free from the taint of sin;
  • the lovely—those virtues that make believers attractive and winsome, such as generosity, kindness, compassion and willingness to forgive;
  • the things of good report—those things that give Christians a good reputation and a good name.

Paul sums it all up by telling his readers to meditate on anything of virtue and anything worthy of praise.

Paul concludes this set of instructions to the church with these words: ‘The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you’ (v. 9).

This is the third time that Paul has explicitly called his readers to follow his example (2:17–18; 3:17). It must be said again that Paul is not merely giving way here to pride. Every pastor is called to set the kind of example that others can follow. If one is doing this, he can safely call others to follow him.[5]

4:8 / Finally, brothers: practically the same wording as in 3:1.

If “the mind is dyed the color of its waking thoughts,” then what one thinks about gives character to life. As good food is necessary for bodily health, so good thoughts are necessary for mental and spiritual health. Paul lists six such things, and then urges the Philippians to think about such things; that is, “take them into account” or “give them weight in your decisions” (F. W. Beare). Set your minds on such things, he says, and having set your minds on them, plan to act accordingly—whatever is

(1) True. This could be a warning against indulgence in mental fantasies or baseless slanders. But even some things that are factually true are not healthy things to dwell on: whatever is true has the moral qualities of uprightness and dependability, of reality as opposed to mere appearance.

(2) Noble. This word (Gk. semnos) is particularly common in the Pastoral Letters; this is its only nt occurrence outside those three documents. A mind that concentrates on ignoble matters is in danger of becoming ignoble itself. Nobility is the converse of that vulgarity which debases all moral currency and is incompatible with the mind of Christ.

(3) Right, or righteous (Gk. dikaios). The propriety of righteous thoughts and plans needs no emphasizing: God himself is righteous and loves righteousness in his people (Ps. 11:7). The converse to this is found in the wicked man who “even on his bed … plots evil” in order to carry it into action when daylight comes (Ps. 36:4; cf. Amos 8:4–6).

(4) Pure. The word (Gk. hagnos) has the general sense of innocence (as in 2 Cor. 7:11) or the special sense of chastity (as in 2 Cor. 11:2). Purity of thought and purpose is a precondition of purity in word and action, as opposed to “sexual immorality, or … any kind of impurity, or … greed” which should not even be mentioned among God’s people (Eph. 5:3).

(5) Lovely. (Gk. prosphilēs). Lovely things are those that commend themselves by their intrinsic attractiveness and agreeableness. They give pleasure to all and cause distaste to none, like a welcome fragrance.

(6) Admirable. (Gk. euphēmos). A thing is admirable in this sense if it deservedly enjoys a good reputation. The mind that dwells on such things rather than on those that are disreputable has much in common with the love that takes more pleasure in what is to other people’s credit than in what is to their discredit (1 Cor. 13:6).

There is a rhythmic quality about the Greek text of verse 8 (as there is in the familiar kjv rendering: “Whatsoever things are true …”). This suggests that Paul may be quoting some well-known words of ethical admonition. The virtues listed are not specifically Christian; they are excellent and commendable wherever they are found. But in a Christian context such as they are given here they take on the distinctive nuances associated with the mind of Christ.

Such things, then—things that are excellent or praiseworthy—are to be pondered and planned; the results will be beneficial for life and action.[6]

true states of mind

Philippians 4:8–9

Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things have the dignity of holiness on them, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are winsome, whatever things are fair-spoken, if there are any things which men count excellence, and if there are any things which bring men praise, think of the value of these things. Practise these things which you have learned and received, and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The human mind will always set itself on something, and Paul wanted to be quite sure that the Philippians would set their minds on the right things. This is something of the utmost importance, because it is a law of life that, if we think of something often enough, we will come to the stage when we cannot stop thinking about it. Our thoughts will be quite literally in a groove out of which we cannot jolt them. It is, therefore, of the first importance that we should set our thoughts upon the fine things—and here Paul makes a list of them.

There are the things which are true. Many things in this world are deceptive and illusory, promising what they can never perform, offering a false peace and happiness which they can never supply. We should always set our thoughts on the things which will not let us down.

There are the things which are, as the Authorized Version has it, honest. This is an archaic use of honest in the sense of honourable, as the Revised Standard Version translates it. The Authorized Version suggests in the margin venerable. The Revised Version has honourable and suggests in the margin reverent. Moffatt has worthy.

It can be seen from all this that the Greek (semnos) is difficult to translate. It is the word which is characteristically used of the gods and of the temples of the gods. When used to describe an individual, it describes a person who, as it has been said, moves through life as if the whole world were the temple of God. The nineteenth-century poet and critic Matthew Arnold suggested the translation nobly serious. But the word really describes that which has the dignity of holiness upon it. There are things in this world which are flippant and cheap and attractive to those who never take life seriously; but it is on the things which are serious and dignified that Christians will set their minds.

There are the things which are just. The word is dikaios, and the Greeks defined the person who is dikaios as the one who gives to gods and to other people what is their due. In other words, dikaios is the word of duty faced and duty done. There are those who set their minds on pleasure, comfort and easy ways. The Christian’s thoughts are on duty to other people and duty to God.

There are the things which are pure. The word is hagnos and describes what is morally uncontaminated. When it is used ceremonially, it describes that which has been so cleansed that it is fit to be brought into the presence of God and used in his service. This world is full of things which are sordid and shabby and soiled and smutty. Many people develop a way of thinking that soils everything. The Christian’s mind is set on the things which are pure; the Christian’s thoughts are so clean that they can stand even the scrutiny of God.

There are the things which the Authorized Version and the Revised Standard Version call lovely. James Moffatt’s translation has attractive. The word we have chosen, winsome, a word not so often used today, is the best translation of all. The Greek is prosphilēs, and it might be paraphrased as that which calls forth love. There are those whose minds are so set on vengeance and punishment that they cause bitterness and fear in others. There are those whose minds are so set on criticism and rebuke that they bring out resentment in others. Christians set their minds on the lovely things—kindness, sympathy, patience—so they are winsome people, whose presence inspires feelings of love.

There are the things which are, as the Authorized Version has it, of good report. In the margin, the Revised Version suggests gracious. Moffatt has high-toned. The Revised Standard Version has gracious. Charles Kingsley Williams has whatever has a good name. It is not easy to get at the meaning of this word (eophema). It literally means fair-speaking; but it was especially connected with the holy silence at the beginning of a sacrifice in the presence of the gods. It might not be going too far to say that it describes the things which are fit for God to hear. There are far too many ugly words and false words and impure words in this world. On the lips and in the minds of Christians, there should be only words which are fit for God to hear.

Paul goes on: if there be any virtue. Both Moffatt and the Revised Standard Version use excellence instead of virtue. The word is aretē. The odd fact is that, although aretē was one of the great classical words, Paul usually seems deliberately to avoid it, and this is the only time it occurs in his writings. In classical thought, it described every kind of excellence. It could describe the excellence of the ground in a field, the excellence of a tool for its purpose, the physical excellence of an animal, the excellence of the courage of a soldier, and the virtue of an individual. Lightfoot suggests that with this word Paul calls in as an ally all that was excellent in the non-Christian background of his friends. It is as if he were saying: ‘If the idea of excellence held by the religions in which you were brought up has any influence over you—think of that. Think of your past life at its very highest, to spur you on to the new heights of the Christian way.’ The world has its impurities and its degradations, but it also has its fine qualities and its brave actions, and it is of the high things that Christians must think.

Finally, Paul says: if there be any praise. In one sense, it is true that Christians never think of the praise of others, but in another sense it is true that every good individual is uplifted by the praise of good men and women. So Paul says that Christians will live in such a way that they will neither conceitedly desire nor foolishly despise the praise of others.

the true teaching and the true god

Philippians 4:8–9 (contd)

In this passage, Paul lays down the way of true teaching.

He speaks of the things which the Philippians have learned. These are the things in which he personally instructed them. This stands for the personal interpretation of the gospel, which Paul brought to them. He speaks of the things which the Philippians have received. The word is paralambanein, which characteristically means to accept a fixed tradition. This, then, stands for the accepted teaching of the Church, which Paul had handed on to them.

From these two words, we learn that teaching consists of two things. It consists of handing on to others the accepted body of truth and doctrine which the whole Church holds; and it consists of illuminating that body of doctrine by the personal interpretation and instruction of the teacher. If we would teach or preach, we must know the accepted body of the Church’s doctrine; and then we must pass it through our own minds and hand it on to others, both in its own simplicity and in the significances which our own experiences and our own thinking have given to it.

Paul goes further than that. He tells the Philippians to copy what they have heard and seen in himself. Tragically few teachers and preachers can speak like that; and yet it remains true that personal example is an essential part of teaching. Teachers must demonstrate in action the truth which they express in words.

Finally, Paul tells his Philippian friends that, if they faithfully do all this, the God of peace will be with them. It is of great interest to study Paul’s titles for God.

(1) He is the God of peace. This, in fact, is his favourite title for God (Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). To a Jew, peace was never merely a negative thing, never merely the absence of trouble. It was everything which makes for a person’s highest good. Only in the friendship of God is it possible to find life as it was meant to be. But also, to a Jew, this peace led especially to right relationships. It is only by the grace of God that we can enter into a right relationship with him and with one another. The God of peace is able to make life what it was meant to be by enabling us to enter into fellowship with himself and with other people.

(2) He is the God of hope (Romans 15:13). Belief in God is the only thing which can keep us from the ultimate despair. Only the sense of the grace of God can keep us from despairing about ourselves; and only the sense of the providence of God which rules over all things can keep us from despairing about the world. The psalmist sang: ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?… Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God’ (Psalm 42:11, Psalm 43:5). The hymn-writer F. W. Faber wrote:

For right is right, since God is God,

And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin.

The hope of Christians is indestructible because it is founded on the eternal God.

(3) He is the God of patience, of comfort and of consolation (Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 1:3). Here, we have two great words. Patience is in Greek hupomonē, which never means simply the ability to sit down and bear things but the ability to rise up and conquer them. God is the one who gives us the power to use any experience to lend greatness and glory to life. God is the one in whom we learn to use joy and sorrow, success and failure, achievement and disappointment alike, to enrich and to ennoble life, to make us more useful to others and to bring us nearer to himself. Consolation and comfort are the same Greek word—paraklēsis. Paraklēsis is far more than soothing sympathy; it is encouragement. It is the help which not only puts an arm round someone but sends that person out to face the world; it not only wipes away the tears but makes it possible to face the world with steady eyes. Paraklēsis is comfort and strength combined. God is the one in whom any situation becomes our glory and in whom people find strength to go on gallantly when life has collapsed.

(4) He is the God of love and peace (2 Corinthians 13:11). Here, we are at the heart of the matter. Behind everything is that love of God which will never let us go, which puts up with all our sinning, which will never cast us off, which never sentimentally weakens but always vigorously strengthens us for the battle of life.

Peace, hope, patience, comfort, love—these were the things which Paul found in God. Indeed, ‘our competence is from God’ (2 Corinthians 3:5).[7]

4:8, 9

III. Summary of Christian Duty

8 For the rest, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things (are) honorable, whatever things (are) just, whatever things (are) pure, whatever things (are) lovely, whatever things (are) of good report; if (there be) any virtue and if (there be) any praise, be thinking about these things. 9 The things which you not only learned and received but also heard and saw in me, these things put into constant practice; and the God of peace will be with you.

  • Proper Meditation

8. For the rest—see on 3:1—brothers—see on 1:12—whatever things are true. Many are of the opinion that the apostle is here copying a paragraph from a pagan book on morality or from this or that Manual of Discipline circulated by an Essenic sect. Objections:

(1) The definitely Christian character of this exhortation is clear from the reference to the peace of God which precedes it and the God of peace which follows it.

(2) It is also clear from the fact that the apostle states that these things have been heard and seen in himself. Surely, the Philippians had seen Christian virtues displayed in Paul!

(3) Wherever possible, words used by Paul in any passage should be interpreted in the light of their true parallels in Scripture, especially in Paul’s own letters.

Note the six occurrences of whatever, followed by two instances of any. Believers should exhibit not just this or that trait of Christian character but “all the graces in choral order and festal array” (Johnstone).

The apostle tells the Philippians to meditate on whatever things are true. Truth stands over against falsehood (Eph. 4:25). It has its norm in God (Rom. 3:4), goes hand in hand with goodness, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4:24; 5:9) and is climaxed in gospel-truth (Eph. 1:13; 4:21; Col. 1:5, 6). Truth belongs to the armor of the Christian soldier (Eph. 6:14).

Paul adds, whatever things (are) honorable. In his speech and in his entire behavior believers should be dignified, serious. Proper motives, manners, and morals are very important. In an environment then as now characterized by frivolity whatever things are honorable surely merit earnest consideration. See also 1 Tim. 2:2; 3:4; Titus 2:2, 7; 3:8.

So also whatever things (are) just. Having received from God righteousness both of imputation and impartation, believers should think righteous thoughts. They should, in their mind, gratefully meditate on God’s righteous acts (Rev. 15:3), appreciate righteousness in others, and should plan righteous words and deeds. Masters, for example, should take account of what is fair and square in dealing with their servants. They should realize that they, too, have an Employer in heaven (Col. 4:1). In all his planning, let the Christian ask himself, “Is this in harmony with God’s will and law?”

Next, whatever things (are) pure. The Philippians, because of their background and surroundings (both pagan, cf. Eph. 5:8, and antinomian, cf. Phil. 3:18, 19) were being constantly tempted by that which was unchaste. Let them therefore fill their minds with whatever is pure and holy. See also 2 Cor. 11:2; 1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 2:5. Cf. James 3:17; 1 John 3:3. Let them overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). A wonderful direction also for the present day!

Whatever things (are) lovely follows immediately. The word lovely, though occurring only in this one instance in the New Testament, is rather common in epitaphs. That which is lovely, amiable, pleasing, breathes love and evokes love. Let believers meditate and take into account all such things.

Whatever things (are) of good report (only occurrence of this adjective in New Testament, but see cognate noun in 2 Cor. 6:8) closes this list of six whatever’s. These things are well-sounding, appealing. Even upon non-Christians they may make a good impression. The main consideration is, however, that in their inner essence they are actually worthy of creating that impression.

Paul summarizes: If (there be) any virtue and if (there be) any praise, be thinking about these things. Nothing that is really worthwhile for believers to ponder and take into consideration is omitted from this summarizing phrase. Anything at all that is a matter of moral and spiritual excellence, so that it is the proper object of praise, is the right pasture for the Christian mind to graze in. Nothing that is of a contrary nature is the right food for his thought. It is hardly necessary to repeat that the virtue of which the apostle speaks is the fruit which grows on the tree of salvation. The trunk of this tree is faith, and its roots are imbedded in the soil of God’s sovereign, saving grace (Eph. 2:8–10; 2 Peter 1:5). To be sure, the believer is not at all blind to the fact that “there remain in man, since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior” (Canons of Dort III and IV, article 4). In a sense even sinners do good (Luke 6:33), and even publicans love (Matt. 5:46). To deny this, in the interest of this or that theological presupposition, would be to fly in the face of the clear teaching of Scripture and the facts of everyday observation and experience. But surely when Paul told the Philippians to be constantly thinking about anything that is virtuous and worthy of praise, he, great idealist that he was, could not have been satisfied with anything that was less than goodness in the highest, spiritual sense (that which proceeds from faith, is done according to God’s law, and to his glory).

This follows also from the continuation:

  • Proper Action

9. The things which you not only learned and received but also heard and saw in me these things put into constant practice. It becomes very clear now that the thinking or meditation of which the apostle spoke in the preceding passage was not of an abstractly theoretical character. It was thinking with a purpose, and that purpose lies in the sphere of action. This is also the teaching of The Sermon on the Mount and of Christ’s parables (Matt. 7:24; 13:23; Luke 8:15). True believers hear. They meditate until they understand. Then they act upon it, putting it into constant practice, thereby showing that their house was built upon a rock.

The learning and receiving of which the apostle speaks here in verse 9 represents one idea; the hearing and seeing the other. Paul and others had taught the Philippians the matters summarized in verse 8, and they had accepted them. But the apostle had also exemplified these virtues in his own daily conduct. The Philippians had heard about this from various sources and by the mouth of ever so many messengers. Even by means of the present letter they are hearing about it, and Epaphroditus will surely fill in the details. Moreover, both on his first visit and on subsequent stop-overs they have seen these graces displayed in Paul. Hence, the apostle had a right to say, “Brothers, join in being imitators of me” (Phil. 3:17).

The result of such constant Christian practice is stated in the words, And the God of peace will be with you. The expression the God of peace here in verse 9 complements and brings to a climax the phrase the peace of God of verse 7. Not only will the Philippians who obey these instructions receive God’s most wonderful gift; they will also have as their constant Helper and Friend the Giver himself![8]

4:8. Continuing his strong imperative style, Paul suggested what should occupy our minds rather than anxiety and worry. Paul understood the influence of one’s thoughts on one’s life. Right thinking is the first step toward righteous living. What is right thinking? It is thinking devoted to life’s higher goods and virtues. Thus Paul picked up a practice from secular writers of his day and listed a catalog of virtues that should occupy the mind. Such virtues are not limited to the Christian community but are recognized even by pagan cultures.

True is that which corresponds to reality. Anxiety comes when false ideas and unreal circumstances occupy the mind instead of truth. Ultimately, thinking on the truth is thinking on Jesus, who is the truth (John 14:6; Eph. 4:21). Noble refers to lofty, majestic, awesome things, things that lift the mind above the world’s dirt and scandal. Right refers to that which is fair to all parties involved, that which fulfills all obligations and debts. Thinking right thoughts steers one away from quarrels and dissensions to think of the needs and rights of the other party. Pure casts its net of meaning over all of life from sexual acts to noble thoughts to moral and ritual readiness for worship. Thinking on the pure leads one away from sin and shame and toward God and worship. Lovely is a rare word referring to things that attract, please, and win other people’s admiration and affection. Such thoughts bring people together in peace rather than separating them in fighting and feuding. Admirable is something worthy of praise or approval, that which deserves a good reputation. Pondering ways to protect one’s moral and spiritual image in the community leads away from worries about circumstances and possessions that project a different image to the community and which thinking cannot change.

The catalog of virtues Paul sums up in two words: excellent and praiseworthy. The first encompasses what is best in every area of life, the philosophical good for which every person should strive. Here it is especially the ethical best a person can achieve. The second term refers to that which deserves human praise. The catalog of virtues thus reflects the best life a person can live and the best reputation a person can thereby achieve in the community.

Finally, in this verse, Paul gets to his point: think on these things. That, joined with prayer will relieve all anxieties and lead one to praise God and live life the way he desires.

4:9. Is such noble thinking possible. Paul says, “Yes, it is. Look at my example.” This is not braggadocio or pride. It is the state every Christian should live in, a state of being an example for all who observe you. The example includes Paul’s teaching, the tradition he received from the apostles and passed on, his reputation for Christian living, and the Christian lifestyle they saw him practice. If they obey Paul, God will bless them with his peace (see v. 7; John 14:27; 16:33).[9]

8 Eight words are used for the things that should fill the Christian’s thought-life. As they are ‘taken into account’ (as the word translated think means), they will shape attitudes and direct words and actions. They are the things that are true and honest, worthy and noble, just and right, pure and holy, lovely and beautiful, admirable and pleasant to hear about. The word translated excellent was the best word that classical Greek ethics had for virtue, and lastly there is the thought of what is worthy of praise and commendation.

9 Putting this into practice, in other words, living by what they know and acknowledged, would result for the Philippians in the kind of life that Paul had sought to model (see on 3:17). Not only would the peace of God be found, but also his unfailing presence (cf. 2 Cor. 13:11; 2 Thes. 3:16).[10]

4:8 Now the apostle gives a closing bit of advice concerning the thought life. The Bible everywhere teaches that we can control what we think. It is useless to adopt a defeatist attitude, saying that we simply cannot help it when our minds are filled with unwelcome thoughts. The fact of the matter is that we can help it. The secret lies in positive thinking. It is what is now a well-known principle—the expulsive power of a new affection. A person cannot entertain evil thoughts and thoughts about the Lord Jesus at the same time. If, then, an evil thought should come to him, he should immediately get rid of it by meditating on the Person and work of Christ. The more enlightened psychologists and psychiatrists of the day have come to agree with the Apostle Paul on this matter. They stress the dangers of negative thinking.

You do not have to look very closely to find the Lord Jesus Christ in verse 8. Everything that is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy is found in Him. Let us look at these virtues one by one: True means not false or unreliable, but genuine and real. Noble means honorable or morally attractive. Just means righteous, both toward God and man. Pure would refer to the high moral character of a person’s life. Lovely has the idea of that which is admirable or agreeable to behold or consider. Of good report has also been translated “of good repute” or “fair sounding.” Virtue, of course, speaks of moral excellence; and praiseworthy, something that deserves to be commended.

In verse 7, Paul had assured the saints that God would garrison their hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus. But he is not neglectful to remind them that they, too, have a responsibility in the matter. God does not garrison the thought-life of a man who does not want it to be kept pure.

4:9 Again the Apostle Paul sets himself forth as a pattern saint. He urges the believers to practice the things which they learned from him and which they saw in his life.

The fact that this comes so closely after verse 8 is significant. Right living results from right thinking. If a person’s thought-life is pure, then his life will be pure. On the other hand, if a person’s mind is a fountain of corruption, then you can be sure that the stream that issues from it will be filthy also. And we should always remember that if a person thinks an evil thought long enough, he will eventually do it.

Those who are faithful in following the example of the apostle are promised that the God of peace will be with them. In verse 7, the peace of God is the portion of those who are prayerful; here the God of peace is the Companion of those who are holy. The thought here is that God will make Himself very near and dear in present experience to all whose lives are embodiments of the truth.[11]

8. Finally. What follows consists of general exhortations which relate to the whole of life. In the first place, he commends truth, which is nothing else than the integrity of a good conscience, with the fruits of it: secondly, gravity, or sanctity, for τὸ σεμνόν denotes both—an excellence which consists in this, that we walk in a manner worthy of our vocation, (Eph. 4:1,) keeping at a distance from all profane filthiness: thirdly, justice, which has to do with the mutual intercourse of mankind—that we do not injure any one, that we do not defraud any one: and, fourthly, purity, which denotes chastity in every department of life. Paul, however, does not reckon all these things to be sufficient, if we do not at the same time endeavour to make ourselves agreeable to all, in so far as we may lawfully do so in the Lord, and have regard also to our good name. For it is in this way that I understand the words προσφιλῆ καὶ εὔφημα.

If any praise, that is, anything praiseworthy, for amidst such a corruption of manners there is so great a perversity in men’s judgments that praise is often bestowed upon what is blameworthy, and it is not allowable for Christians to be desirous even of true praise among men, inasmuch as they are elsewhere forbidden to glory, except in God alone. (1 Cor. 1:31.) Paul, therefore, does not bid them try to gain applause or commendation by virtuous actions, nor even to regulate their life according to the judgments of the people, but simply means, that they should devote themselves to the performance of good works, which merit commendation, that the wicked, and those who are enemies of the gospel, while they deride Christians and cast reproach upon them, may, nevertheless, be constrained to commend their deportment. The word λογίζεσθαι, however, among the Greeks, is employed, like cogitare among the Latins, to mean, meditate. Now meditation comes first, afterwards follows action.

9. What things ye have learned, and received, and heard. By this accumulation of terms he intimates, that he was assiduous in inculcating these things. “This was my doctrine—my instruction—my discourse among you.” Hypocrites, on the other hand, insisted upon nothing but ceremonies. Now, it was a dishonourable thing to abandon the holy instruction, which they had wholly imbibed, and with which they had been thoroughly imbued.

You have seen in me. Now, the main thing in a public speaker should be, that he may speak, not with his mouth merely, but by his life, and procure authority for his doctrine by rectitude of life. Paul, accordingly, procures authority for his exhortation on this ground, that he had, by his life no less than by his mouth, been a leader and master of virtues.

And the God of peace. He had spoken of the peace of God; he now more particularly confirms what he had said, by promising that God himself, the Author of peace, will be with them. For the presence of God brings us every kind of blessing: as though he had said, that they would feel that God was present with them to make all things turn out well and prosperously, provided they apply themselves to pious and holy actions.[12]

Ver. 8.—Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true. He repeats the “finally” of ch. 3:1. He again and again prepares to close his Epistle, but cannot at once bid farewell to his beloved Philippians. He urges them to fill their thoughts with things good and holy. Christ is the Truth: all that is true comes from him; the false, the vain, is of the earth, earthy. Perhaps the verb (ἐστίν) may be emphatic. Sceptics may deny the existence of absolute truth; men may scoffingly ask, “What is truth?” Truth is real, and it is found in Christ, the Truth. Whatsoever things are honest. The word (σεμνά) occurs only here and four times in the pastoral Epistles. It is a word difficult to translate. “Honourable” or “reverend” (the renderings of the R.V.) are better equivalents than “honest.” It points to a Christian decorum, a Christian self-respect, which is quite consistent with true humility, for it is a reverence for the temple of God. Whatsoever things are just; rather, perhaps, righteous, in the widest meaning. Whatsoever things are pure; not only chaste, but free from stain or defilement of any sort. The word used here (ἁγνός) is not common in the New Testament. The adverb occurs in ch. 1:16, where it is rendered “sincerely,” and implies purity of motive. Whatsoever things are lovely (προσφιλῆ); not beautiful, but pleasing, lovable; whatsoever things would attract the love of holy souls. Whatsoever things are of good report. The word (εὔφημα) means “well-speaking” (not “well spoken of”), and so “gracious,” “attractive;” in classical Greek it means “auspicious,” “of good omen.” Of these six heads, the first two describe the subjects of devout thought as they are in themselves; the second pair relate to practical life; the third pair to the moral approbation which the contemplation of a holy life excites in good men. If there be any virtue. This word, so very common in the Greek moralists, occurs nowhere else in St. Paul. Nor does any other of the New Testament writers use it except St. Peter (1 Pet. 2:9 (in the Greek); 2 Pet. 1:3, 5). Bishop Lightfoot says, “The strangeness of the word, combined with the change of expression, εἴ τις, will suggest another explanation: ‘Whatever value may reside in your old heathen conception of virtue, whatever consideration is due to the praise of men;’ as if the apostle were anxious not to omit any possible ground of appeal.” And if there be any praise; comp. Rom. 12:17 and 2 Cor. 8:21, where St. Paul bids us “provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” Nevertheless, in the highest point of view, the praise of the true Israelite is not of man, but of God. Think on these things; or, as in the margin of R.V., take account of. Let these be the considerations which guide your thoughts and direct your motives. The apostle implies that we have the power of governing our thoughts, and so are responsible for them. If the thoughts are ordered well, the outward life will follow.

Ver. 9.—Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do. St. Paul turns from contemplation to practical life: they must translate into action the lessons which they received from him. The verbs are aorists and refer to the time when he was among them. He taught not by word only, but by living example; they saw in him when present, and heard of him when he was absent, a pattern of the Christian life. And the God of peace shall be with you. God dwells with those who think holy thoughts and live holy lives; and with him comes the peace which is his, which he giveth (comp. Rom. 15:33).[13]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 284–290). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 244–249). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 253–254). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Fee, G. D. (1995). Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (pp. 415–419). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Ellsworth, R. (2004). Opening up Philippians (pp. 84–85). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[6] Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (pp. 145–146). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.

[7] Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, pp. 92–98). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

[8] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 198–200). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[9] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 262–263). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Foulkes, F. (1994). Philippians. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1258). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[11] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1979–1980). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[12] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (pp. 121–122). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[13] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Philippians (pp. 157–158). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

October 14, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

The King Praises the God of Daniel and Daniel Prospers

25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the people, the nations, and the languages living in the whole earth, “May your prosperity become great! 26 ⌊I make a decree⌋ that in all the dominion of my kingdom people will be trembling and fearing before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God and endures ⌊forever⌋ and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed and his ⌊dominion has no end⌋. 27 He is rescuing, delivering, and working signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth, for he has rescued Daniel from the ⌊power⌋ of the lions.” 28 So this Daniel prospered during the kingdom of Darius and during the kingdom of Cyrus the Persian.

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer, J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Da 6:25–28). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Darius’s Letter of Proclamation and Doxology (6:25–28 [6:26–29])

25–27 Like his predecessor King Nebuchadnezzar (see comments on 4:1–3), King Darius writes a royal letter (v. 25a), or “epistle,” since publication is intended for a “universal audience” (i.e., the peoples of his vast realm; cf. Collins, Daniel: with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, 61, 72). The letter is Darius’s personal confession of his own experience with Daniel’s God, Darius having witnessed Daniel’s miraculous deliverance from the lions’ pit. According to Goldingay, 129, whether or not King Darius “converted” to the Hebrew religion is not the point; rather, it is his confession acknowledging the living, eternal, saving, and active power of Daniel’s God—an affirmation desperately needed by the Hebrews enduring the dark days of Babylonian exile (cf. Porteous, 92).

Both royal epistles offer the same greeting or salutation, “may you prosper greatly” (v. 25b; see comments on 4:1–3). The formal proclamation of Darius here (vv. 26–27) contains the additional literary forms of decree, commanding the subjects of his kingdom to respect the God of Daniel (v. 26a). Both “encyclicals” (as Seow, 95, labels them) conclude with a doxology in praise of the God of the Hebrews (vv. 26b–27). The hymnic language of the doxology justifies the poetic format of the king’s decree in the more recent English translations.

The decree of Darius that his subjects must hold “the God of Daniel” in awe is stated more positively than the decree of Nebuchadnezzar that threatened dismemberment to anyone who defamed “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (3:29). To “fear” (lit., “tremble,” Aram. zûaʿ) and “reverence” (lit., “fear,” Aram. deḥal) God mean to both “respect Him and recognize that they could be hurt by Him, Darius thus admitting that this God’s power extended far beyond the boundaries of Judah” (Wood, 175). The decree of Darius serves two purposes: first, it gives official sanction to the God of the Hebrews as a legitimate and even superior deity to the gods of the Babylonian pantheon; and second, it rescinds the “irrevocable” edict that Darius had earlier published forbidding petition to anyone but the king (cf. Redditt, 112). How ironic, as Seow, 95, observes, that “now the king himself publicizes to the world the reversal of his supposedly unchangeable edict, for God has brought about the change.”

The doxology of Darius repeats the epithet “the living God” (v. 26b; cf. v. 20), whereas Nebuchadnezzar makes reference to the Most High God (4:2). The reference to God as “the living God” not only contrasts Yahweh with the lifeless gods of the nations (e.g., Jer 16:18; Hab 2:19) but also calls attention to his capacity to preserve life as a God who saves and rescues his followers (v. 27a). The doxology of Darius extols the eternality of God and the indestructibility of his kingdom, echoing the affirmation of Nebuchadnezzar (4:3). Like Nebuchadnezzar, Darius also testifies to God’s ability to perform “signs and wonders” (v. 27a; see comments on 4:1–3). Lastly, God’s power to perform signs and wonders is applied specifically to his rescue of Daniel “from the power of the lions” (v. 27b).

Both royal epistles make the same claim—God alone is sovereign, and “he does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth” (4:35; cf. Seow, 95). Perhaps for the Hebrews in Babylonian captivity the testimony by a pagan king to God’s power to perform signs and wonders and deliver his people stirred thoughts of the “signs and wonders” associated with the exodus from Egypt and the possibility of a “second exodus” (cf. Lucas, 153).

28 Baldwin, 132, observes that the chapter ends with “an enigmatic note connecting the reign of Darius with that of Cyrus,” understanding that the conjunction “and” (NIV, NASB) actually conveys the explicative force of “namely” or “that is” (i.e., “during the reign of Darius, namely, Cyrus the Persian”). Thus the writer explains to the reader that the two names, “Darius” and “Cyrus,” belong to the same person. Given the current state of scholarship on the book of Daniel, this solution is as plausible as any of the attempts to identify the “King Darius” mentioned in ch. 6. The approach has merit in that it unifies the court-stories section of the book by forming an envelope construction with the reference to Cyrus in 1:21 (cf. Lucas, 153).[1]

6:25–28 / Reminiscent of earlier chapters (2:46–47; 3:29; 4:34–37), the king extols the God of the Jews. Here he does this by writing to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land (6:25). He addresses them with a customary greeting: May you prosper greatly! (6:25). Then he issues a decree that all his subjects must fear and reverence the God of Daniel (6:26). This is an advance over the decree in chapter 3, which is intended merely to prevent a behavior; people are forbidden from saying “anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (3:29). Here, the decree promotes an activity, commanding the people to respect this God; they are to tremble in awe before him. The former proscribes verbal attacks on God; the latter prescribes everyone to honor him. During the exile God had called his people to be witnesses to the nations (Isa. 42:6; 43:12; 49:6), promising that one day kings and foreign peoples would acknowledge that the Jews worshiped the one, true God (Isa. 45:14–15; 49:7, 22–23; 56:6–7; Zech. 2:11; 8:20–23; 14:16–19). Here a king fulfills that prophecy.

Unlike idols, Daniel’s God is living (6:26). As already noted, this confession of faith fits better here than previously (see the commentary on 6:20). The Jewish God also endures forever (6:26). Unlike human regimes, his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end (6:26). This statement is also reminiscent of earlier parts of the book, such as Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in chapter 2 (2:44) and his affirmations about the eternality of God’s kingdom in chapter 4 (4:3, 34). It also anticipates the vision of the next chapter (Dan. 7), which records the arrival of God’s everlasting reign. We are reminded that the book of Daniel is apocalyptic. Even though chapters 7–12 deal more with the end of time, the theme is not absent from the first half of the book. Finally, Daniel’s God is a God of salvation: He rescues and he saves.… He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions (6:27). This truth was intended to feed the hope of God’s beleaguered people being devoured by the Seleucid “lions,” that God may intervene in history to deliver them. Secondarily, it becomes a timeless message for every age.

The chapter concludes with a brief chronological note, locating Daniel’s prospering in the interval of time from the reign of Darius to that of Cyrus the Persian (6:28). This calls to mind Daniel 1:21, which says that “Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.” These two similar statements frame chapters 2 through 6, setting off this block from the preceding introductory chapter (ch. 1) and from the following, more apocalyptic chapters (chs. 7–12). Nevertheless, we must not forget that chapter 2 is also linked to chapter 7 by the theme of the four kingdoms and that chapters 2 through 7 form a chiastic structure, making them a unit. As further confirmation of their unity, it also bears mentioning that they are written in Aramaic. There is a further chronological reference to Cyrus in Daniel 10:1.

The book’s author uses repetition for theological effect. Four times he uses the Aramaic word meaning “law” or “religion,” but only once does it refer to God’s “law” (v. 5); every other time it refers to the “law” of the Medes and Persians (vv. 8, 12, 15). In this way, he creates a tension between divine and human requirements, so that as the story plays out, Daniel remains faithful to Jewish law, or religion, by praying, even though he risks his life to do so.

Seven times we find words from the root meaning “to seek,” “to ask,” or “to pray.” The conspirators “tried” or “sought” (v. 4) to find a way to trap Daniel. The edict was that no one should “ask” “a request” (v. 7; the two words from the root are rendered by the one word, “prays,” in the niv) from anyone except the king. Yet, Daniel continued “praying” (v. 11) to God. The evil administrators reminded the king of his decree against anyone who “prays” (v. 12) to a god and indicted Daniel because he “asks” “his request” (v. 13; niv “prays”) three times daily. This highlights the importance of praying to God rather than seeking after other gods or humans.

There are five occurrences of the verb meaning “to rescue.” The king attempts “to rescue” (v. 14) Daniel, but fails. After casting Daniel into the pit of lions, Darius then expresses his hope that God will “rescue” (v. 16) Daniel. In the morning, he inquires whether God was able “to rescue” (v. 20) his servant. At the end, the king proclaims that God “rescues,” because he “rescued” Daniel from the lions (v. 27). The purpose here is that readers may infer something about the nature of God from the story: God rescued Daniel from the wild animals because that is his nature—he is a God who rescues and saves. This is further intended to engender hope for those who, like Daniel, are persecuted for their faith; God is able to deliver them.

Finally, there is the root meaning “to harm,” “to hurt,” or “to destroy.” The lions could not “hurt” Daniel, because he was blameless and had not done any “harm” (niv “wrong”) to the king (v. 22). After Daniel exits the pit, no “hurt” or “wound” (v. 23) is found on him. The closing edict affirms that God’s kingdom will never be “destroyed” (v. 26). The theological intention is clear: just as ravenous beasts could not harm Daniel, so nothing can harm or destroy heaven’s dominion. Daniel’s experience is symbolic and prophetic.

There are parallels in Daniel 6 to the life of Jesus. Daniel’s fellow administrators conspire against Daniel to ensnare him. Just so, the religious leaders conspired against Jesus (Matt. 26:3–5), and Judas betrayed him (Matt. 26:14–16). Daniel is arrested because he prays, contrary to the edict; Jesus was arrested after prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane because he defied religious authorities (Matt. 26:36–55). Darius struggles to save Daniel but is bound by law and pressured by his administrators, so he carries out the sentence (Dan. 6:14–15); Pilate was sympathetic to Jesus and washed his hands of the affair, but he felt pressure from the religious leaders, from the crowds, and from Rome (to keep the peace), so he allowed Jesus to be crucified (Matt. 27:18–24). The opening to the lions’ pit is covered with a stone and sealed (Dan. 6:17); Jesus’s tomb was treated similarly (Matt. 27:60, 66). Both come forth from their enclosures alive, although Jesus died, whereas Daniel did not. These parallel motifs to Daniel in Jesus’s life do not “predict” events which Jesus later “fulfills.” On the one hand, the parallels are close enough to say that maybe the Gospel writers thought of Daniel as a type of Christ. On the other hand, since they do not declare this unequivocally, perhaps the most we can say is that the parallels are remarkable but possibly coincidental.[2]

6:26–27 people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. Two pagan kings, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (4:3) and Darius the Mede (6:26–27), each issue a royal decree—in strikingly similar poems—to honor the one true God. Not coincidentally these persons mark the beginning and the end of Judah’s exile. Nebuchadnezzar also praises God in 2:47; 3:28; and 4:34–35, 37. After reiterating the uniqueness of Daniel’s God as the “living God,” the king’s words turn to God’s sovereignty over earthly realms. The explicit language of God’s “kingdom”/“dominion” in 2:44 and 4:3 occurs again in 7:13–14, 27. This contrasts with the clearly marked transfer of kingdoms from Babylon to Persia in 5:30–31. The reference to “signs and wonders” at the end of the declaration recalls the “rescue” of Daniel’s friends from the furnace (3:24–27), as well as the judgment and healing of Nebuchadnezzar (4:1–3, 33–34). The idea of God performing “signs and wonders” easily applies to all three miracles. The usual twofold parallelism of this poem is altered slightly: (1) rescues, (2) performs, (3) heaven/earth.7 This emphasizes the God in heaven who works his will here on earth (contra the sages’ assertion in 2:11).[3]

The Praise of Daniel’s God (6:25–27)

6:25–27. Just as King Nebuchadnezzar did before him (4:2), so Darius issued a decree to all the peoples, nations and men of every language (cf. 4:2) declaring praise to the God of Daniel. Darius recognized the greatness of God: that He is the living God, eternal, sovereign and powerful, and able to rescue his people, even as He delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that Darius came to a saving faith at this point but instead accepted the God of Israel into the panoply of gods.[4]

The pronouncement of the king (6:25–28)

6:25–28. The one who by his decree was being revered for a month as god (v. 7) now made a proclamation that all subjects of his nation (all the peoples, nations, and men of every language; cf. 3:4, 7; 4:1; 5:19; 7:14) must fear and reverence Daniel’s God. This was an amazing turnaround on Darius’ part! The reason for this, Darius wrote, is that Daniel’s God lives (He is the living God; cf. 6:20) whereas the gods of the Medes and Persians were dead idols. This God is eternal, His kingdom is indestructible (cf. 7:14), and He intervenes in people’s affairs and delivers those who trust Him. He works by miraculous power (signs and wonders; cf. 4:2–3) to perform His will, including the miraculous delivery of Daniel. Such a God is truly to be reverenced and worshiped. In spite of the opposition of the satraps and administrators, Daniel was honored and lived during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus.[5]

25-27. Here Daniel adds the king’s edict, which he wished to be promulgated. And by this edict he bore witness that he was so moved by the deliverance of Daniel, as to attribute the supreme glory to the God of Israel. Meanwhile, I do not think this a proof of the king’s real piety, as some interpreters here extol King Darius without moderation, as if he had really repented and embraced the pure worship prescribed by the law of Moses. Nothing of this kind can be collected from the words of the edict—and this circumstance shews it—for his empire was never purged from its superstitions. King Darius still allowed his subjects to worship idols; and he did not refrain from polluting himself with such defilements; but he wished to place the God of Israel on the highest elevation, thus attempting to mingle fire and water! We have previously discussed this point. For the profane think they discharge their duty to the true God, if they do not openly despise him, but assign him some place or other; and, especially, if they prefer him to all idols, they think they have satisfied God. But this is all futile; for unless they abolish all superstitions, God by no means obtains his right, since he allows of no equals. Hence this passage by no means proves any true and serious piety in King Darius; but it implies simply his being deeply moved by the miracle, and his celebrating through all the regions subject to him the name and glory of the God of Israel. Finally, as this was a special impulse on King Darius, so it did not proceed beyond a particular effect; he acknowledged God’s power and goodness on all sides; but he seized upon that specimen which was placed directly before his eyes. Hence he did not continue to acknowledge the God of Israel by devoting himself to true and sincere piety; but, as I have said, he wished him to be conspicuously superior to other gods, but not to be the only God. But God rejects this modified worship; and thus there is no reason for praising King Darius. Meanwhile his example will condemn all those who profess themselves to be catholic or Christian kings, or defenders of the faith, since they not only bury true piety, but, as far as they possibly can, weaken the whole worship of God, and would willingly extinguish his name from the world, and thus tyrannize over the pious, and establish impious superstitions by their own cruelty. Darius will be a fit judge for them, and the edict here recited by Daniel will be sufficient for the condemnation of them all.

He now says, The edict was written for all people, nations, and tongues, who dwell in the whole earth. We see how Darius wished to make known God’s power not only to the neighbouring people, but studied to promulgate it far and wide. He wrote not only for Asia and Chaldea, but also for the Medes and Persians. He had never been the ruler of Persia, yet since his father-in-law had received him into alliance in the empire, his authority extended thither. This is the sense of the phrase, the whole earth. This does not refer to the whole habitable world, but to that monarchy which extended through almost the entire East, since the Medes and Persians then held the sway from the sea as far as Egypt. When we consider the magnitude of this empire, Daniel may well say, the edict was promulgated through the whole earth. Peace be multiplied unto you! We know how kings in this way soothe their subjects, and use soft persuasions for more easily accomplishing their wishes, and thus obtain the implicit obedience of their subjects. And it is gratuitous on their part to implore peace on their subjects. Meanwhile, as I have already said, they court their favour by these enticements, and thus prepare their subjects to submit to the yoke. By the term “peace,” a state of prosperity is implied; meaning, may you be prosperous and happy. He afterwards adds, the decree is placed in their sight, that is, they display their command before all their subjects. This, then, is the force of the phrase, my edict has been placed; that is, if my authority and power prevail with you, you must thus far obey me; that all may fear, or, that all may be afraid and tremble before the God of Daniel! By fear and terror he means simply reverence, but he speaks as the profane are accustomed to do, who abhor God’s name. He seems desirous of expressing how conspicuous was the power of the God of Israel, which ought properly to impress every one, and induce all to worship with reverence, and fear, and trembling. And this method of speaking is derived from a correct principle; since lawful worship is never offered to God but when we are humbled before him. Hence God often calls himself terrible, not because he wishes his worshippers to approach him with fear, but, as we have said, because the souls of men will never be drawn forth to reverence unless they seriously comprehend his power, and thus become afraid of his judgment. But if fear alone flourishes in men’s minds, they cannot form themselves to piety, since we must consider that passage of the Psalm, “With thee is propitiation that thou mayest be feared.” (Psalm 130:4.) God, therefore, cannot be properly worshipped and feared, unless we are persuaded that he may be entreated; nay, are quite sure that he is propitious to us. Yet it is necessary for fear and dread to precede the humiliation of the pride of the flesh.

This, then, is the meaning of the phrase, that all should fear or be afraid of the God of Daniel. The king calls him so, not because Daniel had fabricated a God for himself, but because he was his only worshipper. We very properly speak of Jupiter as the god of the Greeks, since he was deified by their folly, and hence obtained a name and a celebrity throughout the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Jupiter, and Minerva, and the crowd of false deities received their names from the same origin. There is another reason why King Darius calls the God whom Daniel worshipped Daniel’s God, as he is called the God of Abraham, not through deriving any precarious authority from Abraham, but through his manifesting himself to Abraham. To explain this more clearly—Why is he called the God of Daniel rather than of the Babylonians? because Daniel had learnt from the law of Moses the pure worship of God, and the covenant which he had made with Abraham and the holy fathers, and the adoption of Israel as his peculiar people. He complied with the worship prescribed in the Law, and that worship depended on the covenant. Hence this name is not given as if Daniel had been free to fashion or imagine any god for himself; but because he had worshipped that God who had revealed himself by his word. Lastly, this phrase ought to be so understood as to induce all to fear that God who had made a covenant with Abraham and his posterity, and had chosen for himself a peculiar people. He taught the method of true and lawful worship, and unfolded it in his law, so that Daniel worshipped him. We now understand the meaning of the clause. Thus we may learn to distinguish the true God from all the idols and fictions of men, if we desire to worship him acceptably. For many think they worship God when they wander through whatever errors they please, and never remain attached to one true God. But this is perverse, nay, it is nothing but a profanation of true piety to worship God so confusedly. Hence, we must contemplate the distinction which I have pointed out, that our minds may be always included within the bounds of the word, and not wander from the true God, if indeed we desire to retain him and to follow the religion which pleases him. We must continue, I say, within the limits of the word, and not turn away on either one side or the other; since numberless fallacies of the devil will meet us immediately, unless the word holds us in strict obedience. As far as concerns Darius, he acknowledged the one true God, but as we have already said, he did not reject that fictitious and perverse worship in which he was brought up;—such a mixture is intolerable before God!

He adds, Because he is alive, and remains for ever! This seems to reduce all false gods to nothing; but it has been previously said, and the circumstances prove it true, that when the profane turn their attention to the supreme God, they begin to wander directly. If they constantly acknowledged the true God, they would instantly exclude all fictitious ones; but they think it sufficient if God obtains the first rank; meanwhile they add minor deities, so that he lies hid in a crowd, although he enjoys a slight pre-eminence. Such, then, was the reasoning and the plan of Darius, because he held nothing clearly or sincerely concerning the essence of the one true God; but he thought the supreme power resident in the God of Israel, just as other nations worship their own deities! We see, then, that he did not depart from the superstitions which he had imbibed in his boyhood; and hence, we have no reason for praising his piety, unless in this particular case. But, meanwhile, God extorted a confession from him, in which he describes his nature to us. He calls him “the living God,” not only because he has life in himself, but out of himself, and is also the origin and fountain of life. This epithet ought to be taken actively, for God not only lives but has life in himself; and he is also the source of life, since there is no life independent of him. He afterwards adds, He remains for ever, and thus distinguishes him from all creatures, in which there is no firmness nor stability. We know also how everything in heaven, as well as heaven itself, is subject to various changes. In this, therefore, God differs from everything created, since he is unchangeable and invariable. He adds, His kingdom is not corrupted, and his dominion remains for ever. Here he clearly expresses what he had formerly stated respecting the firmness of God’s estate, since he not only remains essentially the same, but exercises his power throughout the whole world, and governs the world by his own virtue, and sustains all things. For if he had only said, “God remains for ever,” we are so perverse and narrow-minded as to interpret it merely as follows:—God, indeed, is not changeable in his own essence, but our minds could not comprehend his power as universally diffused. This explanation, then, is worthy of notice, since Darius clearly expresses that God’s kingdom is incorruptible and his dominion everlasting.

Secondly, he calls God his deliverer. Those who consider this edict as an illustrious example of piety, will say Darius spoke evangelically as a herald of the mercy of God. But, as we have previously said, Darius never generally embraced what Scripture teaches concerning God’s cherishing his people with clemency, his helping them through his being merciful to them, and nourishing them with a father’s kindness. King Darius knew nothing of this reason. Daniel’s deliverance was well known; this was a particular proof of God’s favour. If Darius had only partially perceived God’s loving-kindness towards his servants, then he would have acknowledged his readiness to preserve and deliver them. This would be too frigid unless the cause was added,—God is a deliverer! since he has deigned to choose his servants, and bears witness to his being their Father, and listens to their prayers, and pardons their transgressions. Unless, therefore, the hope of deliverance is founded on God’s gratuitous adoption and pity, any acknowledgment of him will be but partial and inefficient. Darius, then, does not speak here as if truly and purely instructed in the mercy of God; but he speaks of him only as the deliverer of his own people. He correctly asserts in general, “God is a deliverer,” since he snatched Daniel from the mouth of lions, that is, from their power and fierceness. Darius, I say, reasons correctly, when he derives from one example the more extensive doctrine concerning the power of God to preserve and snatch away his people whenever he pleases; meanwhile, he acknowledges God’s visible power in a single act, but he does not understand the principal cause and fountain of God’s affection to Daniel to be, his belonging to the sons of Abraham, and his paternal favour in preserving him. Hence this instruction should profit us and touch our minds effectually, since God is our deliverer; and, in the first place, we must confess ourselves to be admitted to favour on the condition of his pardoning us, and not treating us according to our deserts, but indulging us as sons through his amazing liberality. This then is the true sense.

He afterwards says, he performs signs and wonders in heaven and earth! This ought to be referred to power and dominion, as previously mentioned; but Darius always considers the events before his eyes. He had seen Daniel dwelling safely with lions, and all the rest destroyed by them; these were manifest proofs of God’s power; hence he properly asserts, he performs signs and wonders. But there is no doubt, that Darius was admonished by the other signs which had taken place before he possessed the monarchy; he had doubtless heard what had happened to King Nebuchadnezzar, and then to King Belshazzar, whom Darius had slain when he seized his kingdom. He collects, therefore, more testimonies to God’s power, for the purpose of illustrating his glory in the preservation of Daniel. In short, if Darius had renounced his superstitions, the confession of his piety would have been pure, and full, and ingenuous; but because he did not forsake the worship of his false gods, and continued his attachment to their pollution, his piety cannot deserve our praise, and his true and serious conversion cannot be collected from his edict. This is the complete sense.[6]

[1] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 126–127). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Nelson, W. B. (2013). Daniel. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 172–175). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Pierce, R. W. (2015). Daniel. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 118–119). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Daniel. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1296). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Pentecost, J. D. (1985). Daniel. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1349). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Calvin, J., & Myers, T. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel (Vol. 1, pp. 388–394). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

October 13, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

Their Wealth Was Unjustly Gained

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. (5:4)

The wicked rich were not only guilty of sinfully hoarding their wealth; they had also sinfully acquired it. Far from being generous to the poor as Scripture commands (Deut. 15:9–11; Matt. 6:2–4; Gal. 2:10), they exploited them. Specifically, they had withheld the pay of the laborers who mowed their fields—a practice so shocking that James introduced the statement with the arresting word behold. The perfect tense of the verb translated withheld suggests that the wicked rich completely withheld at least part of their laborers’ pay; they did not merely delay payment.

Day laborers were an essential part of Israel’s agrarian economy (cf. Matt. 20:1–16), and withholding their wages was strictly prohibited by the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:13 commanded the Israelites, “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.” Deuteronomy 24:14–15 repeats that injunction: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets.” Verse 15 explains why withholding the pay of a day laborer is such a serious matter (“for he is poor and sets his heart on it”) and warns of the consequences of such unjust behavior (“so that he will not cry against you to the Lord and it become sin in you”). Lacking the security of a steady source of income, the poor day laborers depended on each day’s wages to feed and clothe their families. So serious a matter was withholding the pay of a day laborer that Jeremiah pronounced a curse on those who did so: “Woe to him … who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” (Jer. 22:13; cf. Mal. 3:5).

As he earlier did with the rust that would act both as witness and executioner, James personified the pay that had been unjustly withheld (for examples of the personification of other inanimate objects in Scripture, see Gen. 4:10; 18:20; 19:13; Job 31:38; Pss. 65:13; 98:8; Isa. 55:12; Hab. 2:11). That pay, James warned the wicked rich, cries out against you. Krazō (cries out) means “to shout” (Matt. 15:22–23; Acts 19:32, 34; 24:21), or “to scream” (Luke 9:39). It is used in Mark 9:26 to describe the shrieks of a demon being expelled from its victim, in Matthew 21:9 of the joyous cries of the crowd during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in Matthew 27:23 of the hate-filled cries of the bloodthirsty mob for Jesus’ execution.

James then added the sobering warning that the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (cf. Deut. 24:15). The painful cries of the robbed, defrauded laborers reached the ears of God—and they would echo there until He acted in righteous judgment. Sabaoth is an untranslated Greek word which derives from the Hebrew word tsaba meaning “hosts,” or “armies.” The phrase the Lord of Sabaoth describes God as Commander of the armies of heaven (cf. 1 Sam. 17:45). He is the One who hears the cries of the defrauded poor and will call His angelic armies to act in judgment (cf. Matt. 13:41–42; 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 2 Thess. 1:7–8).

A frightening judgment awaits those who unjustly hoard the wealth they rob from the poor. Their victims will cry out for justice to the Righteous Judge and He will not disappoint them.[1]

Fraud and Oppression (5:4)

For James, eschatology does not blunt social criticism; it inspires it. His emphasis on future retribution does not blind James to current social problems; it “strengthens his social conscience.” Precisely because judgment is coming, people must treat the poor well today. The poor cry out, says James, and their cries reach God’s ears. He will defend the oppressed. As the Lord of Hosts, he has mighty armies to do his bidding.

James holds a specific complaint against the rich: they have defrauded their field laborers of their wages. As he says, “The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” This could mean several things: (1) they pay, but after undue delay (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15); (2) they pay less than they agreed, less than a living wage; (3) they refuse to pay at all. (Prov. 11:24 and Jer. 22:13 may address all three sins.) Biblical law emphasizes the need to pay fair wages to day laborers and to do so at the end of the day, because a laborer and his family would otherwise go hungry.

The rich think nothing can stop them. The poor seem powerless. They can only cry out to God: “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty” (James 5:4). But “the Lord hears the needy” (Ps. 69:33). He stands “at the right hand of the needy” (Ps. 109:31). This is a social principle and a gospel principle too. Jesus blesses the poor (Luke 6:20) and preaches the good news to them (Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).

Today, certain fruit and vegetable farmers still hire day laborers, who are often migrant workers. But outside agricultural regions, few Western Christians hire day laborers. Still, everyone who sets wages has an obligation to keep his employees from living on the edge of hunger or illness. If we have authority over wages and benefits, or if we serve in the field of public policy, we should promote policies that ensure justice for laborers.[2]

4 Whereas decaying possessions serve as the first witness to take the stand against the rich (vv. 2–3), the author now calls due wages stolen and the resulting cries of the harvesters in witness to the flagrant injustice perpetrated by these wealthy landowners. As elsewhere in the book, he uses the word translated “look” (idou, GK 2627) to rivet the readers’ attention (3:4–5; 5:7, 9, 11), and their attention is drawn to a blatant form of unfairness—pay that is due a laborer for an honest day’s work. The farmworkers have harvested grain for their employers with the expectation of being paid for their labor. In contrast to the rich landowners, who hoarded great surpluses of wealth, many common laborers lived day-to-day and depended on their meager wages for the basic necessities of life. To be deprived of what one had rightly earned could constitute a threat to life itself (Moo, 216; Laws, 201–2).

Thus two cries are raised against these crooked landowners, the first by the wages themselves. James defines the wages with a perfect passive participle meaning “having been stolen” (apostereō, GK 691). Biblical literature bears witness eloquently concerning the consequences for those who take advantage of common laborers in this way (e.g., Lev 19:13; Job 7:1–2; Jer 22:13; Mal 3:5; Mt 20:8). As mentioned above, James seems to have in mind both Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:14–15. The latter passage points to special responsibility toward the poor: “Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it.”

Moreover, these wages “are crying out” in demand of justice. The prepositional phrase aph’ hymōn can be read in two ways. If understood as associated with the adjectival participle immediately before it, James is stressing the idea of agency: “the wages stolen by you.” This use of apo is rare, though James does employ it at 1:13 in asserting that temptation does not originate with God. However, the phrase also could be read as belonging to the verb that follows, with apo having the more characteristic sense of source. In this case, James confronts the rich with the cries emanating from the money they have stolen, proclaiming that these stolen wages cry out from their very moneybags.

Second, condemning cries go up from the workers themselves, rising up to “the Lord Almighty.” In the Bible, the Lord’s concern for his people is, at times, expressed as his hearing their cries, such as the cry of Abel’s blood from the ground and the cries of the Israelites in bondage, or simply the cry of the righteous person for help (e.g., Ge 4:10; Ex 2:23; Ps 17:7). With his reference to “the ears of the Lord Almighty,” James seems to be alluding to the Greek translation of Isaiah 5:9, a verse offered as part of a scathing judgment against the wealthy of the land. The term sabaōth (GK 4877) is a favorite of Isaiah, used in the book some sixty times, and refers to God’s awesome power (Johnson, 302–3; Davids, 177–78). That power descends in judgment on all oppressors of God’s people.[3]

4 “The Epistle of James,” wrote Deissmann, “will be best understood in the open air beside the piled sheaves of the harvest field.” This rural background is seen here. The commination of the rich in 5:1–6 includes (v. 4) some farmers, who do not promptly and punctually pay the wages of men who have been working for them in the fields. As Mayor points out (p. 153), this charge goes deeper than that of 4:13–16, which concerns the illusion of self-confidence and self-sufficiency that rules the mind of godless men whose main interest is naturally in the pursuit of wealth.

On unattached workers hired by the day, see 3:14; Matt. 20:1ff. The greedy rich do not pay them at the end of the day, and there was then no practical way of enforcing the law of Lev. 19:13 and Deut. 24:14. Oppression of laborers is often denounced from early times onward (e.g., Isa. 58:9; Jer. 22:13; Mal. 3:5; Sir. 34:22; Tobit 4:14). Prompt payment of wages is also enjoined by the rabbis. Unlike the slave, who had someone who might protect his interests, the free laborer15 had none. The scene is deliberately set after harvest: the owners of these large Galilean “estates” were well able to pay wages. The compound withheld17 indicates not just delay but complete default. Some would connect “by you” (see 1:13) with “cry aloud” and render “cry aloud from you,” i.e., the place where the wages are wrongfully retained (see Gen. 4:10; Exod. 2:23 [22]); but this seems rather fanciful. We would hazard a reason for from in this phrase, viz., that the dominant notion is the employers’ failure to pay the wages when due. The money itself is said to appeal for justice. Cry aloud, a wild, incoherent cry, often of animals in Classical Greek, is used in the LXX of protests, especially against wrong and injustice (e.g., Exod. 2:23; Deut. 24:15; Gen. 18:20, Sodom and Gomorrah’s cry; cf. Luke 19:40). On at least one occasion the laborer himself is said to cry to the Lord (see Deut. 24:15). The ears of the Lord is simply a vivid “anthropomorphic” way of saying God listens and responds to his people.

The title “Lord of Sabaoth” combines majesty and transcendence and emphasizes that the cause of the poor is to come before the supreme Sovereign, whose justice is now to be visited upon the rich: “it is the same God, who created the sun, moon and stars, and who orders their courses, who is also deeply concerned about the just treatment of the poor and insignificant” (Mitton, p. 180). The primary reference is to Yahweh as the God of the hosts or the armies of Israel and later of the hosts of heaven. The rabbis rarely use the title, but on Exod. 3:6 connect it with Yahweh’s war against injustice.

“Sabaoth” has become familiar to us through the Te Deum; though strangely some writers, like Spenser, Bacon, and Sir Walter Scott, confused it with “Sabbath.”[4]

A Revelation (5:4)

By now a reader of James may be forgiven for being as weary as the commentator in having to explain the logical movements of the book. From the substance of 5:4 one can infer that James now informs the rich, even if they are not listening, that their oppressive behaviors against the poor have now entered the ears of the God of hosts. The substance, in other words, provides what we need to know about the logical movement: from descriptions of the impermanence of riches, to the implication of the sustained affections of those who pursue riches, to a revelation in v. 4. This revelation is designed rhetorically to awaken the rich from their immoral slumbering by appealing to an Old Testament trope—the unjust actions of the powerful rich, the oppression of the poor, the prayers of the poor to God for justice, the ears of God hearing the prayers, and God acting to judge oppressors and liberate the oppressed. The language roots us in Moses’ choice of violence as well as the exodus event and all its many variations throughout Israel’s history, not the least of which are Acts 7:23–29, 35 and Hebrews 11:24–28. Thus, after Moses slays the Egyptian (Exod 2:11–14), we read Exodus 2:23b–25:

The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

One suspects that such a contrast, the violence of Pharaoh and the people’s cry to God for liberation, forms some of the backdrop to James’s warnings about the need to resist the attractiveness of violence and his confidence that God will hear the cries of the oppressed.

5:4a The alarm James rings in the ears of the rich opens up with a loud imperative: “Listen!” or possibly “Remember!” The tenses used open a window on the rhetoric of James: “The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out [present], and the cries of the harvesters have reached [perfect] the ears of the Lord of hosts.” The present tense, now frequently called the imperfective aspect, is used to depict action that is not complete, while the perfect tense (perfective or stative aspect) is used to depict action that is complete and has led to an existing state of affairs. The state of affairs is that God has heard; the cries of the oppressed, however, are not yet completed—they are going on as the readers listen.

The oppressed, who may well be the poor of 1:9–11, have labored to earn wages: “the wages of the laborers.” The graphic realities of day laborers appear in the parables of Jesus, as do the themes of injustice, generosity, and final vindication (e.g., Matt 20:1–16). The labor involved is mowing fields, that is, harvesting grain.

But the rich farmers have defrauded the workers of their rightful wages: “which you kept back by fraud.” Here we encounter a typical accusation against the rich because, and our society is no different, it is a typical behavior. Laws were written to protect the poor from such behavior. Hence, Leviticus 19:13: “You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.” Or Deuteronomy 24:15: “You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.” One of Jesus’ parables describes the norm: “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay’ ” (Matt 20:8). So, there were prophetic warnings against the oppression of withholding wages. Thus, Jeremiah 22:13:

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,

and his upper rooms by injustice;

who makes his neighbors work for nothing,

and does not give them their wages.

Sirach’s language is strong: “To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder” (Sir 34:26 [LXX 34:22]). And the wealthy could examine their hearts on this matter, as we find in Testament of Job 12:4: “Nor did I allow the wage earner’s pay to remain at home with me in my house.” So the poor, or their wages, are crying out to God.

The theme of the oppressed crying out, which, as indicated above, evokes the children of Israel in Egypt, appears first in the primeval story of Cain and Abel, whose blood cried out to God for justice (Gen 4:10), and then later in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah (18:20; 19:13). Injustice leads to a cry for help and justice as the oppressed appeal to God (1 Sam 9:16; Isa 5:7; Sir 21:5; 35:17; 1QH 13:12; 4Q381 fragment 24ab 8).

5:4b If the cry of the oppressed forms the first part of this revelation, the second is that God hears these cries, as James both repeats what he has said and extends his thoughts into the heavenly court: “and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” The verb “cry” (krazō) in the first part of the revelation is replaced now by the noun “cry,” boē, conforming this text to the formative words of Exodus 2:23, where the Septuagint uses cognates of boē. Instead of “laborers” in this substantive repeat of 4:a, James uses “harvesters.” Most importantly, the cries of the oppressed harvesters “have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”121

Just why James speaks here of “the Lord of hosts” is not entirely clear. The language evokes the Warrior God tradition of ancient Israel, and one thinks first of a text like David’s words to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:45: “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Here in James the hosts are probably the heavenly retinue (Ps 103:21). As the covenant formula promises that YHWH will be Israel’s God, so YHWH of hosts has chosen Israel as his vineyard (Isa 5:5, 7). Even more pertinent to our text, and this language evokes the great and fulfilled prophecies of Isaiah, is that YHWH of hosts brings justice (Isa 5:16, 24, and see Rom 9:29). James’s use of “Lord of hosts” most likely draws on this theme of the God of justice who, along with the heavenly retinue, enacts justice for the oppressed in judgment. The oppressed cry out (Pss 17:1–6; 18:6; 31:2), and the Lord of hosts brings justice—in this context, justice against rich, defrauding employers. Vv. 7–11, where James will counsel the messianic community on what to do in the face of this oppression, make it clear that James uses “Lord of hosts” because he has in mind an imminent act of judgment against the oppressors.

Some have disputed whether his language is real or simply biblical imagery, a fashionable trope that carries meaning without necessarily referring to real fraud. In light of 1:9–11, the concrete descriptions in 2:1–7, 14–17, and the business pursuits of 4:13–17, it is hard to think of anything other than a plain reality when James accuses the rich of fraud, even if he uses stock language from the Old Testament. The same texts in the letter inform us of the likely protest on the part of the poor as they implore God out of their helplessness to intervene to establish justice. Simple reality might also best explain why James speaks against violence (1:20) and murder (4:2). The theme of patience that quickly follows in 5:7–11 is a logical corollary of learning to wait on God to establish justice instead of relying on one’s own violent measures.[5]

Depriving workers of their rightful wages (v. 4)

The Old Testament consistently condemns fraudulent treatment of workers (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15; Prov. 3:27–28). But some were ignoring those commands.

The rich would certainly not have been hurt by paying the wages. They had plenty from which to pay! But the workers, who lived from day to day and from hand to mouth, were hurt tremendously by not getting paid.

James depicts the seriousness of the matter in terms of two cries going up to God. The first is the cry of the unpaid wages. James pictures them sitting there in the bank and crying out to God because they have not been sent to those to whom they should have gone.

The second is the cry of the workers themselves. It is the cry of anguish, as they sit down with their families to eat a crust of bread or nothing at all when they could have been eating a decent meal.

These cries do not go unnoticed. They are heard by ‘the Lord of Sabaoth’ (v. 4). The Bible uses many names for God. He is such a glorious being that no one name can do justice to him. The name James uses here means ‘Lord of hosts’. It tells us that God is surrounded by hosts of angelic beings, and that he is greater than all of them. He is their Lord.

The God who is greater than all the hosts of heaven is certainly great enough to mete out justice to the cruel fat cats who inflict such pain and misery on their workers![6]

5:4 / Furthermore, James knows accumulated wealth usually indicates injustice, which in Palestine was usually injustice against agricultural workers. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The Palestinian economy used hired day laborers rather than slaves, partly because a slave would cost more should he or she convert to Judaism. The hired laborers would be the younger sons of peasant families or peasants forced off their land due to the foreclosure of mortgages on their property. These laborers lived a hand-to-mouth existence: Today’s wage bought tomorrow’s breakfast. When the wage was not paid at the end of the day, the whole family went hungry. Despite a host of Old Testament laws (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15), ways were found to withhold payment (e.g., Jer. 22:13; Mal. 3:5). One might withhold them until the end of the harvest season to keep the worker coming back, appeal to a technicality to show that the contract was not fulfilled, or just be too tired to pay that night. If the poor worker complained, the landlord could blacklist him; if he went to court the rich had the better lawyers. James pictures the money in the pockets of the rich, money that should have been paid to the laborers, crying out for justice.

The cries have not gone unheard, for the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. Since they are harvesters, there is no excuse that there was no money; there are heaps of grain to be sold. The hungry worker has cried out to the only resource he has—God. By saying the Lord Almighty, James reminds the reader of Isaiah 5:9, where those acquiring large estates are condemned. All Jews knew what happened to those whom Isaiah condemned, and they knew that God’s ears are open to the poor (Pss. 17:1–6; 18:6; 31:2), so James’ statement implies a threat of judgment.[7]

5:4 wages you failed to pay. Another way to translate this is, “the wages that have been stolen by you.” James uses the word for steal that in Mark 10:19 refers to “appropriating someone else’s possessions” and is effectively parallel to “You shall not steal.” (It is also used in 1 Cor. 6:7 of one Christian monetarily cheating another Christian.) Given James’s propensity to cite the Ten Commandments and another allusion to the sixth commandment in 5:6, we should see this accusation in terms of a direct violation of the eighth commandment.

cries of the harvesters. The cries of the harvesters and the crying out of the stolen wages in 5:3 link to 5:1, where the rich are told to weep and wail (or “cry out”). Although different words are used, the connection is that just as those who were oppressed cried out to the Lord, so the rich need to cry out in repentance to God. Also, if by reading this somehow the rich could be encouraged to cry out in repentance before the cries of the workers reach the Lord, the rich would spare themselves great trouble.

Lord Almighty. Or Lord Sabaōth, or the Lord of hosts. The title points to God as the commander of the armies of Israel and ruler over all. This militaristic language about God links this section to 4:6, where James used militaristic fighting language in the phrase “God opposes the proud.” When the cries of the harvesters reach the Lord of hosts, he gathers himself for battle to bring down the proud oppressors (cf. Exod. 2:23–25).[8]



One sin always leads to others. The sin of greedily hoarding riches instead of sharing them with the poor prompts the sinner to rob the poor. In this instance, the rich rob the laborers who have mowed the fields in the harvest season.

4. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

James takes the readers out to the open fields, as it were, where no one can hide. Here they can see the injustice poor people suffer at the hands of the rich. Apparently the harvest season has come to an end, the fields are empty, and the barns of the rich are filled with the bounties of the earth. Although we cannot be certain, the readers of the epistle may have been among those who harvested the fields of the rich landowners.

  1. “The wages you failed to pay.” The workers were day laborers who agreed with an employer on the daily wage and who expected to be paid at the end of the day (Matt. 20:8). The law of Moses stipulated that the employer ought “not [to] hold back the wages of a hired man overnight” (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15). Their families were dependent on the daily earnings of these workers; delay in payments meant no food at the dinner table and anguish in the souls of the laborers.
  2. “The workmen who mowed your fields.” Cultivated fields that yielded crops belonged to prosperous landowners. Some of them had appointed managers while they themselves lived elsewhere. They hired extra farm laborers to cut the standing grain, bundle it, and to collect the sheaves into shocks. These workers were needed so that the ripened grain did not spoil because of bad weather or other reasons.
  3. “The wages … [of] the workmen … are crying out against you.” Instead of the joy of the harvest season (see Ps. 126:5–6), these laborers had to cope with anger because of broken promises, delays, and the prospect of not being paid at all. They cried out against the rich and demanded justice. Presumably they were acquainted with the curse God pronounced upon the rich who made their “countrymen work for nothing” (Jer. 22:13; also see Mal. 3:5). Perhaps they knew the saying of Jesus, “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; and compare 1 Tim. 5:18). They had no one to defend them but God.
  4. “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” The mowers and the harvesters are the same people. Their cries are not heard by the rich, but the Lord hears his people. The New King James Version provides a literal translation of the Greek in the words the Lord of Sabaoth. The New International Version, by contrast, translates these words “Lord Almighty.” This translation communicates but does not necessarily give the significance of the original expression Lord Sabaoth, that is, Lord of the armies in heaven and on earth. God the omnipotent is on the side of the downtrodden. He puts his majestic power to work to vindicate his people and to mete out swift justice to their adversaries. Thanks to Martin Luther we have become familiar with the name Sabaoth.

Dost ask who that may be?

Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth His name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle.[9]

5:4. The sin of injustice occupies center stage here. The wealthy had failed to pay wages to their workers. In New Testament Palestine rich farmers hired day laborers to work their fields. Deuteronomy 24:14–15 demanded that an employer pay an employee his wages on a daily basis. The laborers lived a hand-to-mouth existence. They needed wages each day to purchase life’s necessities. A wealthy employer might retain wages until the end of the harvest to prevent the workman from leaving him. If the worker protested, the rich man could blacklist him. If the poor went before judges, the rich had better legal representation. James’s readers had mowed or reaped the fields, but the wealthy landowners withheld their pay. This injustice displeased God.

James personified the withheld wages. These unpaid wages cried out to God against the wealthy. Although the rich landowners might not hear the pleas of the poor, God would hear their prayers. One of the most majestic Old Testament names describes the God who hears prayers. He is termed the Lord Almighty or the Lord of Hosts. This pictures God as the head of Israel’s armies (see 1 Sam. 17:45) and heaven’s angels (see 1 Kings 22:19). It presents a powerful picture of God’s mighty resources available for his people.

As we face hardship in daily living, we have the complete resources of almighty God protecting us. Ultimately, none of our hardships can vanquish us. Whatever needs we face, we can expect the Lord of Hosts to be our helper and source of strength.[10]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 246–247). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 170–171). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 263). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Adamson, J. B. (1976). The Epistle of James (pp. 185–187). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] McKnight, S. (2011). The Letter of James (pp. 390–393). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[6] Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 147–148). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[7] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (p. 116). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Samra, J. (2016). James, 1 & 2 Peter, and Jude. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (pp. 71–72). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[9] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 159–161). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[10] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, p. 342). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.