12 The Word and You


IMG_1610The Bible is not just another book.

It’s not like a novel, despite its gripping portrayal of the human condition, because it’s not fiction. Every word of it is true.

It’s not like an anthology of local history or folklore, despite its eastern origin and flavour, because its life-changing message is universal.

It’s not like a textbook, despite its profundity and breadth of knowledge, because it’s not allowed in our schools.

It’s not like some sacred texts, which were supposedly given in a non-existent tongue or can only be read in their original language, because it was written in the parlance of the original readers and is the most widely published, sold, and translated book in the history of writing.

It’s not like a coffee table book, because it didn’t come with pictures and it’s not meant for sitting around looking pretty.

So, what is one to do with this amazing book which is unlike any other?

In the last half of James 1, the “second son” mentions seven responses to the Word of God. The first two of these are in verse 18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

BELIEVE IT AND PROCLAIM IT

God gives new life through His Word, and that’s the only way He gives it. Regardless of what one might believe about the doctrine of election, no elect person will be in heaven who did not hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, [this from a man who spend years putting Christians to death] for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (ROM 1.16) If anyone knew of the power of the gospel, it was Paul. Unbelief is not passive. It is not a congenital condition that God overlooks because one has never heard. Unbelief is a choice, and one who has been exposed to the Word of God and continues to make that choice will face a greater condemnation.

As “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”, those who have new life in Christ are to proclaim His Word to others so they will hear it and believe it as well. Just as the firstfruits represented what was still in the fields, so our lives as followers of Jesus represent the lives of the billions of people who need to hear the Good News.

LISTEN  TO IT

“Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (JAM 1.19,20) James is not talking about how important it is be a good listener and not to interrupt–although that is important and something I struggle with myself. The context here seems to indicate that we are to be quick to hear the Word, and not to react to what we hear with objections and anger. We should “hear God out,” as it were. The Word, not our anger, produces righteousness.

RECEIVE IT

This is reiterated when James says in verse 21, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Rather than objecting with anger, we should accept with meekness. If the Word has the power to save our souls, it also has the power to make us what we should be. Through the miracles of illumination and regeneration, the Holy Spirit uses His Word to reach us and teach us, to save us and change us.

DO IT

But all of this is without value if we don’t do it. Hearing the Word without doing it is worse than pointless–it causes one to heap condemnation upon oneself, to sear one’s conscience, and to produce spiritual complacency. As we saw before, to read the Scriptures is to look in the mirror. To read it and do nothing is like looking in the mirror, being horrified at what we see, and then just walking away.

STICK WITH IT

Verse 25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Consistent obedience to God’s Word is hard going–sometimes it’s like swimming upstream in an icy river with a strong current. We can become weary and discouraged by our apparent lack of progress, but James assures us that perseverance pays off.

APPLY IT

James closes the chapter with his observation about religion. Growing up in a religious culture, he certainly noticed the difference between the way the people around him lived–even how he lived himself–and how his Brother lived. The problem with religion–any religion–is that it does not reflect reality. It misunderstands the nature and depth of humanity’s problem and seeks an inadequate solution that, in the end, is all bad news. James tells us that if we apply the Word, we will understand that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” has both a social and a moral component. One can’t exist without the other.

The “royal law” James will refer to in Chapter 2 is the one Jesus had in mind when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” As one applies the Scriptures, one discovers it has both vertical and horizontal implications. True, selfless love for others is not possible apart from love for God; love for God is demonstrated by love for others and intentional rejection of the world’s practices and presuppositions.

What will you do with the Word of God today?

11 Self-Deceit 101


Have you ever been deceived? Bet you have.

Have you ever deceived yourself? Know you have. So have I.

If you have never had this experience and would like to know how to do it, look no further than James 1. James, Jesus’ younger half-brother, knows all about self-deception. He deceived himself for many years, denying that Jesus was God in the flesh.

In the first chapter of his epistle, he cites four ways we deceive ourselves. Here they are:

Praying without believing.

In verse 6, after exhorting his readers to ask God for wisdom when they need it, he continues,

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

We’ve already discussed this verse, so I won’t belabour it. Praying without faith–for anything, not just wisdom–is an exercise in double-mindedness and self-deceit. It just doesn’t make sense.

Blaming God for acts of sin.

The second way to deceive ourselves is by saying, when we are tempted to do evil, “I am being tempted by God.” (JAM 1.13) As I’ve already mentioned, the warning in verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” seems to serve better as a summary for the previous paragraph than as an introduction to the next one. Adam blamed God for his sin, and we know how that turned out. We’ve all been doing it ever since. We might deceive ourselves that way, but we don’t fool God.

Being hearers, not doers.

20130115_094910Verse 22 warns us that if we are hearers of the word–the Bible–and not doers, we deceive ourselves. James says it’s like looking into the mirror on the morning of an important interview, seeing some serious bed-head, lots of stubble and a smudge of last night’s hot fudge sundae, and just walking away without taking action.

In the same way, sitting under the teaching of the Scriptures and not doing what they say is an act of self-deceit. Studying the Scriptures for ourselves, gaining an understanding of their meaning, but not obeying God’s Word, produces knowledge that makes us arrogant but yields no fruit in our lives. It is self-deceit. Even more serious is purporting to be a teacher and either teaching what is false or not doing what is true. James will deal with this more later in his letter.

Not minding our mouths.

Finally, in verse 26, James writes:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

James has a lot more to say about the tongue in the third chapter, but for now he just drops this little bubble-popper. People can crow about being devout to this or that religion, but if they cannot manage their words–and, without the indwelling Holy Spirit, they can’t–their religion is worthless.

Why is that? I’m not sure if James heard it or not, but Jesus once said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of his heart his mouth speaks.” Since the Bible tells us at least twice that no one is naturally good, (Psalm 14, Romans 3) that pretty much says it. If I eat a head of raw garlic, my breath is not going to smell like freshly baked apple pie when I start to burp. In the same way, if my heart is evil, my words will not be good.

To think otherwise, says the second son, is self-deceit.

If you opened a book that started like this, would you want to keep reading?


THE BEEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER

Anna arched her back and stretched. She had come to the spring three times already today, and she was glad this was the last. She knew her mother yearned for its clear, cold water—especially now that she was close to delivering her sixth child—but the filled jars were heavy and the walk from the house seemed to get longer and steeper each time she took it.

Even so, she was thankful she hadn’t had to go with her brothers. Their father was with his friend Eliab, who was also his business partner, planning the expansion of Eliab’s almond grove. Abba—Anna’s father—was a shrewd merchant and a careful planner, and Eliab’s almonds were part of his long-range strategy to leave a thriving enterprise to his sons. He would help to propagate the new trees with healthy rootstock. The more trees, the more blossoms. The more blossoms, the more almonds for Eliab and the more honey for Abba and her brothers.

Anna loved and admired her father more than anyone she knew. He feared God, he was wise and hard-working, and he adored his family. Even now, as she approached womanhood, she would sometimes sit on his lap in the cool of twilight and together they would listen to the night sounds and discuss local gossip. Feeling the warmth and strength of his body gave her a sense of serenity, and she loved the sound of his laughter. He appreciated her quick wit, her curiosity, and the gentleness she expressed toward others. Abba was not an especially gentle man himself, except with his three daughters. He drove his sons hard, and with exacting standards. He wanted them to understand the value of hard work, to master every aspect of the family business, and to appreciate what they would one day inherit.

Anna’s family had grown prosperous from keeping bees. The apiary near their house was a place she had grown to love—from the calming drone of the bees as they busily filled the clay hives with honey, to the cloying, musky scent of the place and the orderly rows of clay cylinders, stacked several tiers high, that housed the hundreds of thousands of bees that had brought honey merchants to the city of Rehob for three generations.

Almond blossom honey was prized for its sweetness, its clarity and its nutty aftertaste. Bakers preferred it to any other, and foreigners used it to brew ale. It was expensive, but the wealthy clients who sought it always seemed willing to pay. Anna enjoyed listening to her father boast of its marvelous qualities as he haggled with buyers, and often smiled to herself when she heard them sigh with resignation as he named his final price. He had a reputation both for producing a high quality product and for driving a hard bargain.

Sometimes, Hittite or Assyrian merchants would appear with jars of bees they had brought to sell. Abba always bought them, knowing they were more productive and less aggressive than the bees from the Jezreel Valley. Even now he was trying to cultivate some hives of local bees, but he found them difficult to handle. He was about to give up.

The wildflower honey, which came mainly from the anemones that grew all over the valley in winter, was red and dark and had an aroma like perfume. It was not as expensive, so it was what most people used. Anna liked it better, possibly because she had an affinity for the weaker and less appreciated elements in life—from the feeble, blind widow who lived on the next street to the orphaned lamb she had nursed by hand with another ewe’s milk and a barley straw. She liked nothing better than dipping a peeled stick into a honey pot and savoring the floral sweetness.

There were some things about being the beekeeper’s daughter that Anna did not like. One was building new hives from clay, dry straw, and dung—a dirty, itchy job that she felt would be better done by slaves—but her father only kept one slave, a surly Egyptian girl who had become more of a liability than an asset to the family. When asked why he didn’t have slaves running his business, Abba would jokingly respond, “Why does a man need slaves when he has children?”

Another loathsome task was pulling the dead blossoms from the anemones, as her brothers were doing today. It made them produce more flowers, Abba said, but it was backbreaking work that kept the children out of the house for many days each year. Up until her marriage three months ago, Anna’s sister Mahlah had gotten all the good work—cooking, baking bread, and helping to care for their little sister Rachel, the darling of Rehob, who at twenty-two months was active and mischievous and could charm just about anything out of just about anyone. Anna loved being at home with her mother to cook, scrub, bake the daily bread, and visit with the other women of Rehob who stopped by to gossip or ask for advice. She even enjoyed serving the merchants who would come to buy honey or beeswax from her father. So she was glad that having to stay near her mother in these last weeks before she gave birth meant she didn’t have to pull blossoms. But because their maidservant was needed at home in case Anna’s mother went into labour, it did mean Anna had to carry water.

As she leaned over to pull the last earthenware vessel from the cool depths of the spring, Anna caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. What looked like a puff of smoke appeared toward Beth-Shan to the north—then another and another. It was still late summer, so farmers would not be burning off their fields. The closest village was more to the west, so it couldn’t be coming from there.

She watched, perplexed, wishing her brothers were with her. Surely they would know what she was seeing. An inexplicable sensation of dread crept into the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong, but since she was only twelve, her experience was not able to provide her mind with the answers it sought.

The puff became a cloud, writhing and scintillating in the afternoon sun. Then her ears detected a distant rumble that sounded to her like boulders rolling into the steep ravine that ran between Rehob’s “upper town” and “lower town”. Soon the rumble was accompanied by muted shouts, then coarse laughter. Suddenly, she could discern the sound of hoof beats, and a shiver of terror shook her body.

Soldiers. Please, dear Adonai, please let it not be the Syrians.

She had reason for concern. In Beth-Shan, the town just an hour’s brisk walk to the north, a cousin of her father had been burned alive in one of the recent raids the Syrians had been conducting on the border towns of eastern Israel. He had watched his wife raped and brutally beaten; then, she and his children had been run through with spears before his eyes as the flames had devoured him.

The clay jar fell from her hands with a crash, the water drenching her clothes. Anna gathered the skirts of her smock into her small fists and began to sprint back into town, screaming to all who would hear.

“Soldiers are coming! Run! Hide! The Syrians are coming! Mama! Abba!”—she choked on the words, gasping for breath as much from fear as from exertion. Other people had seen the danger as well, and women were already weeping and trying desperately to gather their children and what few possessions they could carry before fleeing for refuge into the folds of the hills of Gilboa that lay just to the west of Rehob. They knew what had happened in Beth-Shan.

 

10 The Marble Lady


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Shhh…she’s sleeping!

Meet the “Marble Lady.” Dr. Frederick Augustus Webster, of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, met his stunning wife, Margaret McNaught, in Scotland when he was studying medicine there.  The couple soon returned to Nova Scotia, where the doctor set up a practice in his hometown. As a young woman, Margaret contracted a fatal illness and died in the mid-19th Century. Her widower asked a local sculptor to create a fitting memorial for her, and the result was this fine marble representation of a beautiful woman resting in a field and clutching a small sheaf of wheat. It is said to have been taken from a painting on a matchbox, and it can be seen at the historic and serene Town Point Cemetery at Chebogue, Nova Scotia.

I have admired this memorial often, and it always comes to my mind when I read James 1.18:

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

James’ Jewish readers didn’t have to grab their concordances and look up, “f-i-r-s-t-f-r-u-i-t-s.” They would have known exactly what James was saying, and they would have understood why he said it. We, however, may have to do a bit of research.

Leviticus 23.9-12 describes–actually, prescribes–for the Jews the Feast of Firstfruits, the annual festival meant to celebrate God’s faithfulness in providing another harvest for His people. It was a time of thanksgiving and reflection. The feast required each Jewish family to do three things:

  1. Take a small sheaf of grain, such as the one in the sculpture, to the priest to be waved before the Lord as a “wave offering.” This demonstrated the worshiper’s dependence on God for the harvest and gratitude for His provision.
  2. Sacrifice a perfect male yearling lamb as a burnt offering. This was for the purpose of recognizing and confessing one’s sin and receiving atonement for it through the substitutionary death of the animal.
  3. Offer with the lamb a grain offering consisting of fine flour mixed with oil, and a drink offering of wine. No grain or bread could be eaten on that day before this offering was made.

MY LIFE MUST BE AN OFFERING TO GOD

Now, when James tells me God brought me forth–gave us life–by the Word of Truth in order that I should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures, I can understand a bit more what he means. If I am to be a kind of firstfruits, my life needs to be a daily offering of thanksgiving to God, always with the harvest in mind. In addition, my life is to be the “living sacrifice” Paul speaks of in ROM 12.1,2. What can I offer God, really? What do I have that He doesn’t? Nothing, of course. So He has explained that I can love Him by loving others, and part of loving others is proclaiming to them the good news of salvation in Christ.

MY LIFE REPRESENTS COUNTLESS OTHER PEOPLE

Firstfruits are about the harvest. Just as the Marble Lady isn’t holding a harvest, neither did the Jews offer God the entire crop. It was just a token, and it represented everything that was still in the field awaiting the sickle. In the same way, my life is a small part of an enormous harvest–people from the families, languages, ethnic groups and nations of the world. (REV 5.9,10) God wants to use me in the lives of others in the same way He used others in my life–to proclaim the “word of truth,” which alone brings new life in Christ Jesus.

Paul, another one who understood well the concept of firstfruits, uses this word to describe Jesus in 1 COR 15.20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus is not the only one to experience this resurrection and receive a glorified body. But He is the first, and therefore represents all who will come after Him.

I AM ON SOMEBODY’S LIST

If you are a child of God today, think of the many people God used to bring you to faith. People who loved you sacrificially, even in those times when you were supremely unlovable and ungrateful. People who patiently and creatively explained the gospel to you, even when you didn’t really want to hear it. People who modeled godly character. You could write a long list, and would miss an unknown number of people of whom you aren’t even aware.

God didn’t save you just so He could enjoy the pleasure of your company in heaven. James tells us what our purpose is–after all, we’ll be far better able to glorify God and live holy lives in heaven. The reason we’re not there yet is that we are to be “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The harvest isn’t all in.

If you haven’t yet, embark now on a life of firstfruits living.

09 Shadow Maker


The other day we were flying over Lake Superior and I was looking at the clouds below us. Even the wispiest of them cast shadows on the water–dark blotches that appeared to be islands.

Clouds hover outside the window of an aircraft on a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, off Tho Chu islandShadows move and change. The shadow of a tree when the wind is blowing brushes the ground like a broom. Shadows can drive a hunter nearly mad with frustration: Is it an ear? An antler? A branch? Where is it now? Shadows can make a photo portrait appear either dramatic or sinister.

James writes about this in James 1.17, and makes the point that the good gifts we receive come down from the Father of lights, who never shifts like the shadows do. When we know Him, we realize that He is not fickle or capricious or vindictive. His character does not change, and He does not vengefully withhold His goodness like a catty middle-schooler might. Certainly, James never saw his older half-brother, the Lord Jesus, act that way.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

In the Scriptures, the character of God is connected very often with light. At creation, His first command was, “Let there be light.” It wasn’t until Day Four that He created the heavenly bodies, so the original source of light was God Himself.

The psalmist wrote, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (PSA 27.1a)

John the Apostle wrote in the first chapter of his gospel, “[John the Baptizer] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (JOH 1.7-10)

Later, in John 8.12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

chp-shadowIn our text, Jesus’ younger brother speaks of the Father of lights, from whom we receive every good and perfect gift. As the Father of lights, there is no variation with Him, no shadow due to change.

James makes a connection between this idea and the one that follows in verse 18, which we’ll consider next time. What we understand from this text, though, is that God is constant and reliable. There are no shadows with him.

A shadow is cast when something gets in the way of the light. God never does that–He is the light.  John also wrote, “…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 JOH 1.5) God cannot deny Himself, and, as the Father of lights, He cannot obstruct the path of His own glory.

But I can. If I get in the way of His light, I cast a shadow on my own path and on the path of anyone near me.

James knew Jesus never did that.

 

Image is from nypost.com

08 The Lion, the Birds, and the Bees


Though I never saw it, there once was a TV show in which the main character, Flip Wilson, used to routinely justify his mischief by saying, “The devil made me do it.”

Baloney.

The devil never makes anyone do anything. There is not a single act of sin we may commit which we can blame on the devil. That’s not to say he isn’t involved–the Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Peter that he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 PET 5.8b)

roaring-african-lion-wallpaper-2-2560x1600

So, who is actually to blame for our high crimes and misdemeanors, then? James tells us who in James 1.13-15, and then reminds us in verse 16, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” While some translations (my ESV, for one) place this verse in the next paragraph, it seems to make far more sense as a summary warning for verses 13-15, in which it is clear that some of the apostle’s readers were deceived about who is responsible for acts of sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

THE THEOLOGICAL REASON

James first offers a theological rebuttal to the accusation that God tempts people to sin. The fact that sin is possible and available in the world God created does not constitute divine temptation. God was not sadistically using reverse psychology in Eden when He instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. James reminds his readers of two critical theological facts about God: His separateness from sin Himself and his hatred of sin in us. These two facts serve as the backdrop for what he says next. If sin is never God’s fault, whose fault is it?

THE PHYSIOLOGICAL ILLUSTRATION

To allow James to illustrate his point, the Holy Spirit uses an illustration about human reproduction–conception, to be exact–by comparing an act of sin to the process by which life is formed in the womb. He makes it clear that this is what He is doing when he says, “…desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin,” in the first part of verse 15.

Just as two things are required for conception, an egg from the female and sperm from the male, two things are required for an act of sin to occur–desire and enticement, or opportunity. The devil cannot provide the desire–he doesn’t have to. James says that desire is our “own desire,” the cell we provide. Satan can certainly point out opportunities, though–he did that in Eden and has been doing it ever since. When desire and opportunity come together, an act of sin is often conceived. We sin when we allow our desire to dwell on and seriously consider the opportunity. This is what James means when he talks about being “lured and enticed.”

Let me illustrate. If I am an alcoholic and stumble upon (sic) an unopened bottle of whiskey on a table in an abandoned building, I have a problem. Desire and opportunity have met, and they’re climbing into bed. My best strategy is to turn around and run–or stumble–out of the building as fast as my legs can take me! If I have an aversion to alcohol, a bottle of the very best Scotch would not tempt me, even if I knew nobody would see me drink it. On the other hand, if that bottle is empty, I won’t take a drink no matter how badly I want one. I can’t drink what isn’t there.

So it all comes back to us. What are we to do, since the desire to sin is part of our makeup as fallen people, and the opportunity to sin is ubiquitous in our fallen world? Until God removes the desire, we need to run from the opportunity, just as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, leaving his blazer in her hands in his haste to escape.

If we know the Lord, we can be reassured that God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son. ” (ROM 8.29) One of the things conformity to Christ involves is the removal of sinful desires from the heart of the believer. (Remember, Jesus never had any.) Sometimes this removal is immediate and dramatic. Sometimes it is more gradual, a constant struggle to evade the lion who is always on the prowl.

James  grew up with Jesus, who, ironically, was not conceived in this way. Nor did He ever have the desire to sin, though He was “in every respect tempted as we are.” (HEB 4.15) James could never convince him to participate in neighbourhood shenanigans with the other the kids in Nazareth, or to lie to their parents, or to steal matzoh from the matzoh jar. Imagine growing up with a sibling who never once had the desire to do wrong–never!

When you sin, James says–and you will–don’t deceive yourself by saying, as Adam did in the garden, that it’s God’s fault. It isn’t.

Don’t forget about that lion, and don’t forget about the birds and the bees.

07 Five Crowns


We love the word game, Quiddler, produced by Set Games. It’s a fantastic game for people who love words, and we use it with our English students to develop their vocabularies and spelling skills. The same company makes another game, which we haven’t played, called, Five Crowns

 

5 Crowns

 

That’s an interesting name in light of James 1.12:

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

The New Testament speaks of five distinct “crowns,” or rewards, God will give His children for their faithfulness. The “crown of life” is one of them. “The Greek word translated “crown” is stephanos (the source for the name Stephen the martyr) and means “a badge of royalty, a prize in the public games or a symbol of honor generally.” Used during the ancient Greek games, it referred to a wreath or garland of leaves placed on a victor’s head as a reward for winning an athletic contest. As such, this word is used figuratively in the New Testament of the rewards of heaven God promises those who are faithful.”*

In 1 COR 9.24, Paul–evidently a sports fan–uses an allusion to the ancient Isthmian Games to illustrate how these crowns figure in the life of the believer: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” Paul is not suggesting that only one of each kind of crown will be awarded in heaven, but that every believer should view his or her life as a race and run to win.

The crowns mentioned in the New Testament are not the wreaths of the Greek games, which were already dead when they were placed on the heads of the victors. Instead, they are “imperishable” rewards that will last for eternity. (1 COR 9.25)

The second kind of crown is the “Crown of Rejoicing,” (1 THE 2.19) or literally, a “Crown of Boasting.” Paul purposed not to boast in anything but his identity in Christ, and in this text he suggests that the Thessalonian believers will give him cause to boast in the grace of God when he gets to heaven because they will be with him there for all eternity.

Paul writes that the third crown, the “Crown of Righteousness,” will be rewarded to “all who have loved his appearing.” (2 TIM 4.8) He is writing at the end of his life, just before he is martyred by the Romans for his faith in Christ and his earth-shaking  ministry throughout the Roman world. Given the chaos and evil of our day, all believers in Jesus should “love his appearing,” the instantaneous removal of true Christians from the earth just before the horrific “Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” Sadly, some do not.

Given the chaos and evil of our day, all believers in Jesus should “love his appearing.” Sadly, some do not.

1 PET 5.4 mentions a fourth crown, the “Crown of Glory,” which will be awarded to those who faithfully, eagerly, selflessly “shepherd the flock of God.”  While the rewards on earth for this work may be few and small, the reward in heaven will be glorious beyond all imagination.

The fifth crown is the one we see here in James 1.12: the “Crown of Life.” It is mentioned in REV 2.10 in the same way: as a reward for steadfastness in the midst of suffering. First Century followers of Jesus were being put to death by the thousands in unspeakably horrible ways, and all of these writers were well acquainted with this reality. Paul was martyred by the Romans shortly after he wrote his second letter to Timothy. John died alone in exile on the island of Patmos just after writing Revelation. Historians tell us James was killed in Jerusalem  in 62 A.D. by being thrown off the roof of the temple and then stoned.

In our text, James 1.12, we should notice several important things.

STEADFASTNESS IN TROUBLE IS A BLESSING

Just as when he exhorted his readers to “count it all joy” when they encountered all kinds of trials, James reminds them that doing so–remaining “steadfast under trial”–will result in their blessing. Endurance, like joy, is not contingent upon the intensity of the trouble, but on the faithfulness of God. Further, steadfastness in the midst of affliction yields more than “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (PHI 4.7)–a blessing in itself, given the array of things which would rob of us of peace. It also ensures us this mysterious, glorious “crown of life.”

STEADFASTNESS IS ONLY POSSIBLE IN TESTING

Obviously, if there is no test, there is no reason to be steadfast. The very word implies stress, trouble, pain, sorrow, heartache, and any number of other nouns we could use to describe human experience during its darkest hours. Aspirants to the “Crown of Life,” Beware!

STEADFASTNESS DEMONSTRATES LOVE FOR GOD

Notice how James connects endurance and love: the one who remains steadfast in trial will receive the crown of life, which God will give to all who love him. Clearly, then, steadfastness is a way in which we demonstrate true love for God. As it has been throughout history, the crown of life may be inextricably joined to the sentence of death. Our friend Chet Bitterman understood this. He was killed for his faith in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1981 after 48 days in captivity. “There was found an entry in Chet’s journal written nearly 2 years before his death that read. ‘The situation in Nicaragua is getting worse. If Nicaragua falls, I guess the rest of Central America will too. Maybe this is just some kind of self-inflicted Martyr complex, but I find this recurring thought that perhaps God will call me to be martyred in His service in Colombia. I am willing.'”

Even as I write this post, we are hearing reports of the unthinkable brutality of ISIS in Iraq and elsewhere. We have precious friends from Iraq–from the Kurdish region as well as from elsewhere in the country–and our hearts go out to the suffering citizens of this blood-soaked nation. These fanatical, bloodthirsty extremists have demanded that “infidels” convert to Islam or face immediate death, and it has been reported that hundreds of what I call “CNN Christians”–those who claim allegiance to Christianity or who are thought to be Christians simply because they are not something else–have capitulated.

No crown of life for them.

I pray that God would empower those who are truly His to remain “steadfast under trial” and “faithful unto death.”