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Run the Race December 21, 2017

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” (Hebrews 12:1)

I am writing this at the end of 2017. I like to take the end of the year to reflect on the year and plan for the year ahead. As I have been thinking these past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am and what I am “called” to do in life. I could write a lot on that topic alone, but for now, I want to focus on the general idea of fulfilling your purpose. Hebrews 12:1 encompasses a lot of what I want to say on this topic, so I want to look at it through the lens of calling.

First off, I want to set the context. This verse is in a section (Heb. 12:1-3) that is specifically talking about enduring suffering and overcoming sin. He looks back (“therefore”) to the previous chapter where he had just given a bunch of examples of people who had faith in God even though they didn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promise in their life. The author uses the analogy of a race to talk about how they should live the Christian life. They are to cast off sin and “run with perseverance” the race marked out for them. They need to look to Jesus’ example of enduring suffering, who was able to endure the crucifixion because of the “joy set before him”. By following Jesus’ example they too should “not grow weary and lose heart”.

This is the basic idea of this passage, but I want to look at it from a different angle and draw some applications to our lives, specifically in regards to our purpose. I want to break this verse down and look at it piece by piece to see how it can apply to our calling in life.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,”

The first thing we need to realize is that we are being watched. This idea of “witnesses” is that of a group of spectators watching a sporting event. I don’t want to get  into who these “witnesses” are, whether angels or former saints who have died. For me, it is enough to recognize that people are watching my life. My friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, and random people who come across my path are all watching my life. Some of these people are more invested or interested in what I do than others, but nevertheless, there are plenty of people watching.

In looking at this from the perspective of a race, it is like these people are cheering me on. They are watching and hoping that I do well. To take it a step further, there are people whose lives will be impacted as I step into the calling I have on my life. Whatever calling or purpose there is in my life, it is not solely for me. There are other people who will benefit as I step into this calling. On the flip side, there are people who are missing out on what I have to offer, if I don’t move toward my calling.

For example, let’s say someone is called to be a teacher. If this person either doesn’t realize this is their calling or make choices that don’t enable them to fulfill their calling, there will be plenty of people who will miss out on having the specific influence of this teacher in their life. Even the simple act of fulfilling a goal can be inspiring for someone who has unfulfilled goals in their life. By you fulfilling your goal, it can inspire someone else to reach higher and fulfill their goal also.

Whatever calling we have on our lives, will not just be for ourselves. That is too small. As we pursue that calling we should think of those who will be impacted by our lives. There are people watching and they are waiting for us to fulfill our calling.

“let us throw off everything that hinders”

As a runner, it is important to be as unencumbered as possible.  For a runner, you want to be carrying as little as possible and not wearing extra layers that are going to hinder your mobility. As such we need to get rid of the things that weigh us down. I could make a huge list of the things that hinder people from their calling, but I want to focus on three categories – negative thoughts, negative habits, and negative people.

First we need to throw off negative thoughts. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul talks about taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ. Our thoughts are one of our biggest enemies. We can move to a place of fear and discouragement simply by thinking negative thoughts.

The great thing about thoughts is that we have control over them. We can choose what we dwell on. Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair”. What he meant was that in the same way birds fly over our head, there are thoughts that come into our minds. We can’t stop that. What we do have control over is what we do with the thought once it is there. If a bird tried to land on your head, or build a nest there, you would naturally shoo it away. We need to be just as vigilant with our thoughts. When a negative thought comes to try and build a nest on our head, we have the right and obligation to swat it away. Don’t let negative thoughts build a nest in your mind. They will cripple you with self doubt, anger and shame.

Second, we are hindered by our habits. We are by nature creatures of habit. Some things we do, not because we want to, but because it is what we have always done. Not all habits are bad, but we need to be aware of those that are keeping us from living out our purpose. The good thing about habits is that they are changeable. You can get in the habit of, say, going to the gym everyday or getting rid of negative thoughts when they come into your mind. We have a choice of what we do.

At the very least it is important to get rid of our bad habits. We need to be aware of the things we run to when we are anxious or bored. What I’m talking about is intentional living. Think about the life you want to live and set up your life so that you do things that move you in that direction. Do some positive things on a regular enough basis that they become habits.

Finally, you need to get rid of negative people. There are some people that will discourage you from moving toward your calling. If you are constantly around people that are negative and dragging you down, you may have to change your environment. You can’t surround yourself with negativity and expect to move forward toward your goals. Find people that will encourage you and push you to excel and let the others go.

“and the sin that so easily entangles”

If you want to know the best way to derail yourself from your calling this is it. Get “entangled” in sin and you are guaranteed to fall short of your calling. If you were running, this would be like tying your shoelaces together. You will end up falling on your face. In the Greek the word here for “entangles” gives the image of a competitor preventing you from running or thwarting all your efforts.

If you are in any ministry position, sin can get you removed. There are countless pastors,  worship leaders and youth ministers who have had to step down due to sin issues. This is a big problem. It not only keeps a person from fulfilling their calling, but it also breaks trust with those who the minister was serving. This can be devastating. People can get bitter or cynical or even walk away from the faith based on someone else’s sin problem.

But this isn’t just an issue in the Church. Any leadership position can be derailed by sin. There are plenty of politicians who have lost their position based on sinful behavior, whether lying or sexual misconduct. There have been CEO’s of companies who have stolen from their own company and so ruined the lives of their employees.

We need a revolution of holiness and purity. If you want to fulfill your calling, you need to make integrity a priority. There are some things that you wouldn’t be able to handle right now because your character is lacking. Make getting rid of sin a priority whatever it takes. Get into an accountability group, go to counseling, pray, fast…whatever, just get rid of it.

“And let us run…the race”

When it comes to a calling, or a dream, or even just a goal, we need to run towards it. There are times of rest, but for the most part we should be pursuing our dreams. We need to be running towards them. This isn’t just a casual stroll through the park; this is a race.

There are so many people that never make their dreams a reality. They never enter into their calling. I think a big part of it, is that for a lot of people their dream is just a hobby. They don’t pursue it with intentionality. It is more of a hope or a wish. In order to make it to your calling you actually have to work towards it. Having a strong desire for something to happen isn’t enough if you don’t put some action into it.

In a race, there are people competing to win. We aren’t necessarily competing against other people, but when it comes to our calling we do need to bring a certain amount of competitiveness into our lives. We should try to “win”. This means we need some intensity in what we do. It also entails a drive to fulfill our dream. It’s not just that we are moving toward our goal, but that we are doing it with a sense of urgency.

“with perseverance”

I’ve heard it said that the Christian life isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. This applies to pursuing our calling. Although, we need to pursue our calling with intentionality and urgency, this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily going to be a short process. And it definitely doesn’t mean it will be easy. Whatever calling we have is going to bigger than ourselves. And, for Christians, it will be something that is going to be outside of our natural abilities and talents. If we can accomplish our dream apart from God, then it isn’t big enough.

For a runner, perseverance is running at a steady pace and continuing to do so until you reach the finish line. This is how we should live our lives as well. No matter what happens we just keep on moving forward. On the road to fulfilling any dream there will be obstacles. There will be setbacks and problems. We can’t stop these from happening, but we can choose how to react to them. We can let problems halt us from moving forward or even give up on our dreams altogether, or we can push past the obstacles of life and make our dreams come true. As long as we keep running, we can eventually make it to our goal.

Part of perseverance is finishing what we start. There are things we can learn by starting and finishing a project. There are people out there who can barely finish a book they started reading, let alone fulfill their calling. If we are going to reach our dreams, we need to be able to finish smaller tasks. This is how we build character. If we get too bored or sidetracked by smaller goals, how do we expect to fulfill our larger goals?

“marked out for us”

When running a race, usually everyone runs together all toward the same finish line. As it applies to calling though, we are not all going toward the same goal. God has uniquely gifted each person and set before them a unique “race” for them to run. This is why it is so important to be in communion with God. We need to seek Him and allow Him to reveal what our specific calling is, what our “race” is. If we guess, we might end up in something that God never intended for us. Our goal should be to determine what our calling is, and then spend the rest of our lives pursuing it.

This idea of running our own unique race eliminates jealousy. If we realize that our path is not the same as everyone else’s (or anyone else’s) then we are free to go at our own pace and make decisions based on what we feel called to do. When we enter into jealousy, we end up seeking positions or callings not our own. This will ultimately lead to disappointment. Also, when we are running our own race, we can be happy for others when they succeed, instead of bitter that we didn’t do the same thing they did.

In conclusion, seek God to find out what He would have you do. Work hard to pursue your calling, but work just as hard to live a righteous life, because to the extent that your calling impacts others, is the extent that you need to have the character to handle it. Don’t try and live out someone else’s calling and keep going until your dream becomes a reality.

Let us not settle for average living, but press toward the greatness that God has planned for each of us. If we can make it to our calling we can not only live a more fulfilled life, but greatly impact the lives of people around us.


Should Christians Date Unbelievers August 8, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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For those who know me, it should be obvious where I stand on this issue. My goal in writing this though is not to just give my opinion, but to see what the Bible actually says. One of the biggest problems in the Church today is that people do not take the time to search the Scriptures for themselves and see what it actually says. Sermons, teachings and books have replaced Bible study as our source for truth. We would rather eat a pastor’s regurgitated revelation than come to the source directly and put in the time and effort necessary to discover truth for ourselves.

I am going to use a lot of Scripture as I talk about this topic. Some verses I am just going to mention without quoting them directly. I encourage you to grab a Bible so you can look up these passages for yourself. Hopefully, through this you will gain a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches on this subject. Even if you don’t agree with my conclusions, take the time to look at these verses, or any others that may apply, so that you are forming your view from the standard of truth found in the Bible.

Old Testament

Before we get into the New Testament and the key text on this issue (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), I want to start with the Old Testament. Since the writers of the New Testament built a lot of their ideas from the foundation of the Old Testament it is important to understand the background of the OT.

God was clear with the Israelites that He did not want them to intermarry with the peoples from the surrounding nations.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— 2 and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.
Deut 7:1-4

Here in Deuteronomy, we can see part of the reason for this. In verse 4, they are warned that foreign wives would turn their children away from following God to serve other gods. This is in direct violation of the first commandment that they should have no other gods before Him. God knew that their hearts would be led astray if they united themselves to the peoples around them. The Israelites were to be to God a holy (set apart) people. The natural result of two people getting married who worship separate gods is compromise.

Again we see, in Nehemiah, the seriousness of this offense.

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
Neh 13:23-27

Nehemiah rebukes some of the men of Judah who had married foreign women. He uses Solomon as an example of how people can be led astray. Solomon was the wisest man who had ever lived and yet, even he, ended up building altars and worshipping foreign deities because his heart was drawn away by his wives. (The account of Solomon’s compromise is found in 1 Kings 11).
One of the strongest men who ever lived was Sampson. (His story is found in Judges 13-17.) Sampson fell in love with a woman (Delilah) from a foreign nation. If you remember the story, she coerced Sampson into giving away the secret of his strength and then exploited that secret for money. She clearly did not have his best interest in mind, but he was blinded by his emotions. She gives us a clear example of the problem with mixed allegiances. Her heart was not to follow after God, and her morals were corrupt. She ended up nagging Sampson so much that he compromised the very source of his strength.

These are two negative examples of people in the OT marrying people who weren’t part of the people of God. For a positive example let’s look at Proverbs 31. At the end of the book of Proverbs is a description of an ideal wife. The description is summed up in verse 31, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”. Having a great personality or looking good is not what is important Biblically. These are superficial characteristics and potentially misleading. What is important in a wife (or husband) is her relationship to God.

New Testament

Now that we have taken a brief look at the Old Testament, let’s look at what the New Testament has to say about this issue. As we look at the New Testament we can see that the idea of dating is completely absent. Dating is a relative new concept. In Biblical times, people simply got married. The idea of short term intimate bonding with a lot of different people to find out who you are compatible with is a foreign one. If you are not even interested in getting married to the person you are dating then it doesn’t matter if you are dating a Christian or an Unbeliever. This type of “trying people on to see if they fit” mentality is completely secular and should be avoided, if nothing else at least to preserve your heart from the cycle of bonding and severing that results from becoming emotionally/physically attached to people. Also, these type of short term relationships train us to be led by our emotions and undermine the values of commitment and faithfulness. When people lose interest or things get hard they simply break up. This type of dating is basically just training for divorce. Don’t get involved with someone unless you would consider marrying them.
The question the Bible answers is if you should marry an unbeliever or not. As we saw in the OT, God did not want the Israelites marrying those who were not part of the people of God. The same is true of the New Testament. I want to look at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. This is the “unequally yoked” passage. (I have broken it down into phrases to help see the message of the text and so that you can have an example of what I do when studying a passage. I like breaking verses into smaller units to see the conjuctions and transitions more easily.)

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers;
for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness,
or what fellowship has light with darkness?
15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial,
or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
For we are the temple of the living God;
just as God said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God,
and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Although this is fairly straightforward, I want to comment on a few things. First, I am using the New International Version (NIV) for this text. Their translation of verse 14 has the phrase “bound together”. This is a translation of the Greek – heterozugeo, which is better translated as “unequally yoked together”. You can see the two parts of the word heterozugeo, “hetero” and “zugos”. “Zugos” is the Greek word for “yoke” and “hetero” is the word for “different”. Unfortunately, this word only occurs once in the New Testament. The only other use in the Bible is found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Leviticus 19:19. Here it is used to forbid the mating of two different types of animals. A yoke is used to join two things together, and in the Corinthian passage Paul is using it to forbid the joining of two different people.

Although this is the only NT use of the word heterozugeo, there is another word made from the same word that helps shed some light on what this word means. The word “sunzugeo” has the same root word “zugos” – yoke. In this case it has the prefix “sun” which basically means “together”, so whereas heterozugeo is unequally yoked, sunzugeo is joined together. This is the word used in Mark 10:9 for joined together.

7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh. ’So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (cf. Matt. 19:6)

The context of this Mark passage is clearly about marriage, and because of the similarity of these two words, we can at least say that marriage is in the range of meaning for “heterozugeo”. The question we need to answer is what Paul was referring to by the phrase “unequally yoked”. This contrast between believers and unbelievers (in v. 15) is also found in the first epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:12-16), where Paul gives instructions to Christians who are already married as to how they should relate to each other. This context shows how the terms “believer” and “unbeliever” are used by Paul in discussions about marriage. So, both the word translated unequally yoked (heterozugeo) and the idea of believers vs. unbelievers both have ties to marriage. Even if Paul has other things in mind, he at least has marriage in mind. In fact, he probably does have other unions in mind. He uses a lot of different terms to emphasize the oppositeness of the union – righteousness and lawlessness; light and darkness; Christ and Belial; believer and unbeliever; temple of God and idols. He is saying that things that are opposite do not go together. Someone who believes in God and someone who does not are opposite, and therefore should be joined together.

Verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 6 gives us a reason why. We are the temple of the living God. God has called us to be holy. He desires for us to be separate from the world around us – “come out from their midst and be separate” (v 17). Holiness is one of the main attributes of God. We cannot house God’s presence while putting our time and energy into someone who doesn’t even believe in God.

Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 7. In this discussion on marriage Paul states that, “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:30). Paul says, if your husband dies you are free to marry again, “only in the Lord”. Someone who does not believe in God can not fit under the category of “in the Lord”. Mark 10:9 says, “What God has joined together let no man separate”. How can someone seek God’s blessing in marriage when they are in a relationship God does not approve of?

In 1 Peter 3:1-7, Peter gives instructions for both husbands and wives on how they should live together. The instructions to the wives does not make sense if the wife is not a believer. Likewise, the instructions to husbands only makes sense in the context of two believers joined in marriage. In verse 7 he says, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Not only is prayer assumed by husbands, but the husband and wife are coheirs of the gracious gift of life (i.e. salvation).
We need to understand what the purpose of Christian marriage is. It isn’t just to make us happy or meet our emotional needs. (By the way, if you are looking for another person to fill a need that only God can meet you will remain unfulfilled.) Marriage has a few purposes, one of which is to be an example of Christ and the Church. Ephesians 5 lays this out for us.

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:21-32

This passage has a lot to say about marriage and the roles of husbands and wives. I would encourage you to read it and study it (including the context around it) to understand marriage the way God intended it. We misrepresent God when we enter into relationships with unbelievers.


There is a lot more that can be said on this topic. I have tried to just give a brief Biblical basis for abstaining from relationships with unbelievers. This issue comes back to what we believe about the Bible. If the Bible says that this is wrong and we do it anyway, then we have set ourselves above the authority of the Bible. Our own personal happiness is not reason enough to trump Scripture. Following Christ is worth far more than the temporary pleasures of this world. I want to leave you with one final Scripture to meditate on – 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good character”.

A lot of my thoughts on this issue were informed by teachings from Voddie Baucham. Here is what he has to say about Christians dating unbelievers.


What did you come out to see? (Luke 7:24-26) June 1, 2014

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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I was thinking about a passage recently: Luke 7:24-26. I want to talk a little about this specific section, but I wanted to put the rest of the passage so that you could see it in its context (see below). I have heard a lot of sermons in my life, and there are certain passages that get preached over and over again, while others get skipped altogether. I personally have never heard anything on Luke 7:24-26, although I have at least heard pastors mention some of the Scriptures around it. I’ve heard pastors talk about verses 18-23, usually making the point that Jesus’ proof that he was the Messiah was found in the miraculous things he did.

I’ve also heard a lot about verse 28 – “…the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (speaking of John the Baptist). This is somewhat of a difficult saying, but I think he is talking about the beginning of the new covenant. John the Baptist was the final prophet before Jesus came. He preached repentance and holiness, but it wasn’t until Jesus came and ushered in the Kingdom of God that people had the opportunity to be fully and completely cleansed of their sins. All those after John who believe in Jesus are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6) and don’t have to worry about continually offering animal sacrifices to be cleansed from their sins.
All that is interesting stuff, but I want to talk about this middle passage (vv. 24-26). Jesus asks the people what they came out to see, a reed swayed by the wind, or a man dressed in fine clothes. This is actually a rhetorical question. He knows that the answer is “no”. He is trying to get them to think about why they actually came out.

By looking at the comparisons Jesus makes, we can get an idea of what he is talking about. First, the two images he gives of a reed and a man in fine clothes are most likely parallel to each other, meaning that they are talking about the same topic. The question then is, what do a reed swaying in the wind and a man in fine clothes have in common? But, whatever the answer to that question is, also has to contrast what he says later, that they came out to see a prophet.

The idea of a reed blowing, contrasts its rigidity. It is soft, flexible and flows with the wind. The idea of a man in fine clothes contrasts well with John the Baptist’s clothes, which consisted of camel’s hair and a leather belt. The idea that Jesus is conveying here is the contrast between what they were coming to see. He is contrasting the softness of a reed, or the luxury of a man in fine clothes with the roughness of John the Baptist. They weren’t there, to see something fancy, they were there to hear a prophet. The people obviously weren’t going out to the desert to see John’s clothes or to be entertained. They were there to hear the word of the Lord.

For the people who heard Jesus speak these words, they probably thought about why they came out there. They would agree that they weren’t looking to see something that would entertain them. They were there to hear what God wanted to say to them. Even though the message (check out Luke 3) was pretty harsh, it was truth. It was this message that they were seeking, not the person.

For us today, we don’t have to go out to the desert to hear God. We have His word, the Bible, readily available. We need to ask ourselves a similar question, “what am I coming to the Bible to see?”. Are we just reading the Bible to hear some cool stories? Do we have some preconceived doctrine that we are trying to find support of in the Bible? Or, are we actually coming to the Bible because we believe it is God’s word to us? Are we willing to hear what God would say to us, even if it is uncomfortable, or might make us have to change? Are we even willing to ask God to speak to us through His word, or is it just something we do because we feel we have to?

Luke 7:18-32
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

27 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
29 (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

As you read the Bible, I would encourage you to pray before you start. Ask God to speak what He wants to speak to you as you read. Come with expectancy. God wants to speak to you. When He does, take that message to heart. These are the words of God. If we let them, they will transform our lives.

James 3: Teachers, the Tongue and True Wisdom March 23, 2013

Posted by TJ Friend in Specific Passages.
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This post is a brief overview of my thoughts on James 3. In order to understand what I am talking about it is necessary to actually read that chapter. For this reason I am placing the English Standard Version (ESV) below. If you prefer another translation, read that one, and use it to follow along with as you read this post.

James 3
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Wisdom from Above
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Before I get into my thoughts on this text, I want to show you a few observations I made which helped me come to my conclusions. Hopefully, this will help you to be more aware of things to look for when reading a text of Scripture.

As you may have noticed, I left in the subtitle of verses 13-18 of “Wisdom from Above”. This obviously is an addition made by the translators of the ESV. I am guessing that if you are reading a different translation (NIV, KJV, Message, etc.) you will encounter a similar heading. The book of James was a letter written by James to the Church at that time and, just like letters today, he did not put in any chapter or sub-chapter headings. In fact the original manuscripts did not contain verse or chapter numbers either. So, the question I had was if that heading was actually necessary.
The structure of the book of James is difficult. It seems that he jumps around from topic to topic without connecting his ideas together in a logical fashion. For this reason people study this book thematically, tracing out the themes of rich and poor, wisdom, the tongue, suffering, faith and works, favoritism, prayer, trials and righteousness. As I have been studying this passage I am becoming more convinced that the ideas in this chapter are connected.


I want to point out some of these thematic and linguistic connections so that you can see how I came to this conclusion. Some of these are obvious in the Greek, but even reading it in English you can see some of the similarities.
First off, it is helpful to recognize that this chapter breaks down into three sections. The first section is just the first two verses (vv. 1-2). These talk about why not many people should be teachers. The second section (vv. 3-11) talks about the power of the tongue and the third section (vv. 12 -18) is about wisdom.

If we just look at the similarities between the first two sections it is clear that James is continuing his thought. In the first verse James says that not many people should become teachers and then he gives his reason for this in verse 2. In verse 2 he talks about stumbling, but especially stumbling in speech. This second section is all about the tongue and different illustrations of its power. If you compare just verses 2 and 3 you can see the parallel between being able to bridle one’s whole body and using a bit for a horse to guide its whole body. The words bit (v. 3) and bridle (v. 2) are actually from the same root in Greek. This idea of guiding the entire body is then exemplified again with a rudder steering an entire ship. I think from this evidence it is clear that the first two sections are one connected idea, namely that the tongue is powerful and if used for evil can send a person’s life off course.
Are there connections between this second section (vv. 3-11) and the final section (12-18)? I can see three points of connection. First, verse 5 says that though the tongue is small it boasts of great things. Then in verses 14-16 he talks about natural wisdom which “boasts”. He rebukes them for their envy and selfish ambition which again show their pride.

Second, in verse 12 he states that salt water cannot come from a fresh spring. The word translated as “salt” is the same word used translated as “bitter” in describing their jealousy (v. 14). It is as if he is saying that the jealousy in their hearts is polluting the water of their soul and making it bitter.
Finally, in verse 15 he describes one type of wisdom as “demonic”. This is parallel to when he is describing the power of the tongue. He says that it is “set on fire by hell” (v. 6) and is a “restless evil” (v. 8). These are very similar ideas. The tongue is a tool of the enemy to destroy people’s lives and “natural” wisdom is a tool of the enemy to bring “disorder and every evil practice”. Both of these tools together can ruin a person. And, if this person is teaching others, they are in danger of being ruined as well.
James 3 Overview

I want to try and give a brief explanation of how the three sections of this passage fit together and come to a conclusion on what James’ main point in this chapter actually is. As I mentioned earlier James 3 divides into 3 sections: teachers (vv. 1-2), the tongue (vv. 3-11) and true wisdom (vv. 12-18). Rather than three isolated ideas, these three topics are interwoven by James into one main point which he states at the beginning of the chapter. Evidently a lot of people at that time wanted to be teachers. James was warning them that they need to check their motives. Teachers at that time (and still today) had a high status. Wisdom was an esteemed virtue and people looked up to them.

James basically sets forth a two-part argument on why they shouldn’t be teachers. First, they shouldn’t be teachers because their words show that their hearts are evil. They are both speaking praises to God and cursing people around them. Jesus had a similar rebuke to give to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33-34.
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (NIV)

He tells them that because their words are evil, their hearts are also evil. James is telling them that their hearts are evil and their words show that they are actually controlled by Satan (v. 6). Not only this, but they are actually poisoning those they teach (v. 8). I think James alludes to the root cause of this when he says that the tongue makes great boasts (v. 5).
The second part of James’ argument is that they shouldn’t be teachers because their motives show that they are not wise. If wisdom is a pre-requisite to teaching, James is telling them that they are seeking after the wrong kind of wisdom. Their actions reveal that they are boastful and arrogant and that they are full of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (vv. 14, 16). Rhetorically, James asks them “who among you is wise and understanding?” (v. 12) I imagine if they stopped at that point and answered his question honestly, a lot of them would have claimed to be wise. But, James goes on to say that true wisdom is not found in what you know, it is in how you act and live your life. They were disqualified from teaching not because they didn’t know the material, but because at their heart they were wicked. Because they were living out of this false wisdom, they were creating a breeding ground for “disorder and every evil thing” (v. 18). They didn’t want to be teachers so that they could bring people closer to God. They wanted to prove how wise they were and how much better they were than others.


If I were to summarize James 3, I would say that James is warning people against becoming teachers if either their words or their pride reveals their evil heart.
This message applies to everyone. We need to guard our tongues. When we don’t we are literally allowing Satan to guide the course of our lives. Along with our tongues we need to check our motives. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that we should do everything for God’s glory. We can get ourselves off track when we start to do things for our own glory.