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Eerdmans is having a very good sale on their Two Horizons commentary series for Kindle. Check below and see if anything interests you. I’ve placed in bold commentaries and volumes I have read and know are good or those I’d like to get and think are good.
Two Horizons Commentary Series
18 (good) commentaries under $50. I’ve placed three in bold because (1) I’ve read through them and so (2) I know they’re good. I’ve heard only good things about this series, although the only one I would be uncertain of would be the Ecclesiastes volume by Peter Enns, as he has a very uninspiring view of the Scriptures.
Have you ever been so sick of your sinful self that you tried just to let go and let God? Did your walk with God become easier? For how long? Did you find yourself bewildered and delirious at the remaining sin and your continued struggle against it, disappointed that God didn’t take it away? Did you declare Jesus him as your Lord again? Are you afraid that you’re a carnal Christian instead of a spiritual Christian who pleases God?
Higher life theology (coming from the early days of the Keswick [pronounced KEH-zick] theology, though distinguished from the Keswick Convention today) promotes a quick fix to the Christian life. Rather than growing in one’s sanctification and walk with God, Higher life theology says that you can be with out (intentional) sin now if you would only consecrate your life to Jesus. He may be your Savior, but he needs to be your Lord.
Naselli divides his book into two parts, two chapters per section. Part one explains the story and history of higher life theology (ch. 1) and what this theology teaches (ch. 2). This is no witch hunt. Naselli isn’t writing this book to disagree with a theology that’s different from his own. In part two, Naselli looks at the fundamental reason why higher life theology is harmful (ch. 3) and follows up with nine more reasons why this theology is harmful for the Christian life (ch. 4). Naselli wants to help those who have taught or have been taught higher life theology to know what the Bible teaches about the Christian life, and he wants to expose higher life theology to those who have no experience with it so they can better minister to those who have been influenced by it.
“Higher life theology has two main influences: Wesleyan perfectionism and the holiness movement” (8). For John Wesley, a Christian could receive a second work of grace that would bring “salvation from all sin” along with “entire sanctification, perfect love, holiness, purity of intention, full salvation, second blessing, second rest, and dedicating all your life to God” (9). Later Christians believed Christian perfection began “the instant a believer experiences the outpouring of the Spirit, is baptized with the Spirit, is filled with the Spirit, or receives the Holy Spirit as the promise from the Father” (10).
Higher life Theology was popularized by many people, some noteworthy ones being Charles Finney, H. C. G. Moule, F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Frances Ridley Havergal (who wrote “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace”  and “Take my Life and let it be” ), D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and even Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary (though not anymore). At DTS, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles C. Ryrie promoted these teachings. Chafer taught that “Believers are in one of two distinct categories: (1) those who are not Spirit-filled and (2) those who are Spirit-filled. The first are powerless, and the second are powerful (21-22). However, “unlike Moody, Torrey, and Meyer, he insisted that Spirit-baptism occurs at conversion for all Christians” (22).
In higher life theology, there are three kinds of people in the world:
carnal (converted but characterized by an unconverted lifestyle)
spiritual (converted and Spirit-filled)
Unfortunately, a Christian who consecrates his life to Christ, received the filling of the Spirit, and is relinquished from a life of sin can still choose to unconsecrate his life. This is strange considering what Naselli says later, that “after you ‘let go and let God,’ God is obligated to keep you from sin’s power” (40). When the Christian is loosed from sin how would he be able to intentionally choose to not be under the Lordship of his Savior and, thus, sin? And why would he want to?). Doing so stops the sanctification process and will lead to the believer needing to consecrate his life to God again.
“A Spirit-filled Christian must not ‘relapse’ and experience ‘spiritual leakage.’ That would require ‘a refilling.’ There is no guarantee that a Christian who is Spirit-filled will remain Spirit-filled” (43).
The biggest reason why higher life theology is harmful for Christians is its division of Christians into “carnal” and “spiritual” categories. Carnal Christians have the Spirit, but spiritual Christians are filled by the Spirit. Again, Naselli is not on a witch hunt. He presents five commendable characteristics of higher life theology: It exalts Christ, it is warmly devotional, it emphasizes spiritual disciplines, it affirms fundamental orthodoxy, and it has a legacy of faithful Christian leaders.
However, Naselli spends the second part of his book explaining higher life’s theologydefects. He lists ten reasons (though I’ll only give a few of them). Higher life theology emphasizes passivity, not activity, as God is 100% the one who keeps us from sin. there is truth to this, but it severely downplays our role in fighting against sin. “It portrays the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification” (a form of Pelagianism, though not the full-fledged heretical Pelagianism) (48, 84, 99). It does not interpret and apply the Bible accurately, and it assures false “Christians” they are saved by telling them they are just carnal. It frustrates those who aren’t “filled” with the Spirit because they still struggle with sin (which is actually normal to every Christian). It also misinterprets personal experiences. Sometimes a Christian may have a spiritual experience of some kind, a great sense of God’s overwhelming presence. Just as one remembers Christmas dinner more than Tuesdays leftovers, these experiences leave a lasting impression on our lives. Yet that doesn’t mean that we have received a second filling or are now free from sin. Naselli looks at texts in Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2–3, 12, Ephesians 5, and John 15 for evidence of progressive sanctification in the normal Christian life and how all Christians are filled by the Holy Spirit.
No Quick Fix ends with a lengthy and solid afterword by John MacArthur and an appendix with a list of twenty-eight resources on the Christian life.
With numerous charts throughout Naselli’s book which helpfully portray the beliefs of both higher life theology and what the Bible teaches, Naselli’s book is short enough to get a hold on what higher life theology is and why one shouldn’t hold to it. Higher life theology is pervasive, but the Bible shows us a better way: walking and growing with the God who saved us, redeemed us, walks with us, and promises to return for us. This God can be understood and known (Jer 9.24), and he is fighting for us and with us.
After commending higher life theology’s emphasis on the Christian’s devotional life, J. I. Packer, says,
It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you. (98)
This is a book I wish I would have had in high school. I heard it occasionally in school, in church, and a bit in Bible college too. Knowing what higher life theology is and how to reason against it biblically will save you and others a lot of worry over having to “consecrate” themselves all over again… again.
Where did John get the idea to call Jesus the Word (logos)? While there are some links to both Jewish and Greek ideas which John is playing off of, Michael Heiser, in his new book The Bible Unfiltered, says that John is working off of Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. Why Aramaic? By Jesus’ time, “Aramaic was the Jewish people’s native language” (166). While the Septuagint is what we call the Greek Old Testament translation, the Aramaic translations are called Targums. So because they spoke Aramaic, the Jews would have been very familiar with the Targums. Targum Onqelos, the Aramaic version of the Pentateuch, “was sanctioned by Jewish religious authorities for use in the synagogue” (166). Heiser gives two examples to show how the Targums portray God as the “Word” (memra).
The second examples he gives, which I will show first, comes from Targum Neofiti Genesis 3.8:
English Standard Version ……..Targum Neofiti
And they heard the sound……….And they heard the sound
of the Lord God….….….….……….of the Word (memra) of the Lord God
walking in the garden……………..walking in the garden
Heiser says that “memra is used hundreds of times in the Targums to describe God, often in passages where the language presumes God is present in physical, human form” (167). Using “Word” in this way so early in the Targum will evoke this idea of a physically present God later on in other instances.
This is not too difficult to believe, for this kind of physicality is present in the Hebrew scriptures.
Genesis 15:1, After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Genesis 15:4,And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
1 Samuel 3:21, And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (cf. 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 1 Kgs 6:11; 13:20).
Jeremiah 1:4, Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying… (cf. 1.11, 13; 2.1).
Although in many of these instances the word of the Lord could “come” through a prophet of the Lord, although that seems less likely to be the case in Genesis 15, 1 Samuel 3, and throughout Jeremiah.
The next example comes from Targum Neofiti Numbers 14.11:
English Standard Version ………………..
And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will this people despise me?
And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signsthat I have done among them?
And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will they not believe in the name of my Word
in spite of all the signs of my miracles that I have done among them?”
In Targum Neofiti, the Lord refers to himself with the Aramaic term memra, “my Word.” John may be referencing Numbers 14.11 in John 1.14, “the Word became flesh.” Why would John do this? John “does this because the translations he had heard so many times in the synagogue had taught him that God was the Word—the memra—and he believed Jesus was God” (167). This becomes more plausible when we look at John 12.36–37, which seems to echo Numbers 14.11 again.
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believein him.
How did God perform signs among his people? Both Yahweh, the Word, and Jesus, the Word, performed signs, and yet his people did not believe them.
God walking about in a physical (albeit, veiled) manner wouldn’t have been shocking to the Jews reading John’s gospel (cf. Gen 18.1). However the Word was Jesus, the Son of God, the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, the second eternal person of the divine Godhead. “The Word of the Old Testament had been made flesh (John 1:14) and walked among us” (168).
For more on the Angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Jesus read here:
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What is so “good” about Paul’s good news? What was the good news he brought tohis churches? “Are you sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven?” “All you need to do is to confess Jesus as your savior and believe in his name, and you can be sure that you’re saved”? These are questions we often hear, but is that what Paul was asking? Should these be what we are asking others? Is “heaven” the good news?
In the first volume in the Snapshots series, David A. deSilva gives us Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel. What does Paul’s gospel entail? DeSilva argues that Paul didn’t separate justification from sanctification like many do today. David deSilva teaches at Ashland Theological Seminary (since 1995) and has been named Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek since 2005. He is an extensive writer and is well-versed in the cultural and social context of the New Testament world, having written books on Hebrews, Revelation, 4 Maccabees, the apocrypha, an Introduction to the New Testament (review), and a closer look at the rhetoric of the New Testament (review).
When it comes to the salvation questions above, DeSilva’s concern is “that Christians often fail to connect these statements with passages in Paul’s letters that flesh out his larger understanding of how God has provided—out of his sheer goodness and generosity toward us—for our reconciliation, restoration, and rescue from the consequences of having participated in our race’s rebellion against God’s rule” (1). Paul’s message is about change because “faith, to be faith at all, entails a wholehearted commitment to the person of Christ that must also transform the life of a person” (5). This is seen in Jesus’ call for his followers to deny themselves, pickup their cross, and follow him. Losing your life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel means that you will gain your life in the life to come (Mark 8.34–35; 9.1). This is also seen in
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
and 2 Corinthians 5:15,
and Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
What is God seeking to bring about through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit? Paul emphasizes the transformation of individuals, communities, and even the whole cosmos itself.
“Foundations for a Broader Understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation” Chapter one focuses on the necessity of our transformation. Why should we assume that just because we claim to be “friends” with the Son that God will judge us differently than the rest of the world? It is Christ who died for all “in order that those who continued to live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). “Paul’s gospel, however, remains good news: it is the message about how God has undertaken to work out our transformation. It is about God’s provision for our transformation so that by means of his gifts we might become righteous and thus be approved at the Last Judgment without God himself ceasing to be just” (24).
If deSilva’s description of the Last Judgment sounds like God’s judgment is based purely on our works, deSilva goes on to explain what he means by justification. God is transforming us to be like his Son through his Spirit. If you don’t care to live like Christ, if you live like someone who remains opposed to what Christ says and to how he lived, then you have no true faith. You don’t really believe Christ is the sovereign King. (For similar perspectives, read Justification [Wright] and Covenant and Commandment [Green, for a critique of Wright]).
“The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Individual” Through Christ and the reception of God’s Holy Spirit, we were freed from our sin to serve God willingly. We are able to be transformed for we have “put on” the new man in Christ. We no longer need to fear death for we are being made like Christ, and we will live forever with him in all of his beauty.
“The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Community” Paul does not spend the majority of his letters writing theology for individuals, but on how individuals are to live together as Christ’s body before the world that watches. The community’s transformation is to be from one of individuals who are opposed to one another to living together as a family. We are being reconciled to one another (2 Cor 2.5-11), and are to be others-centered (Phil 2.1-11). Living in this way breaks through the barriers of culture, race, gender, and class. DeSilva lays out ways in which Paul was thinking along these lines.
“The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Cosmos” Here deSilva looks at the interpretive difficulties when we run upon the word “world.” The wisdom of God was revealed through the death and resurrection of the son of God. We have this wisdom in our possession, and we are to live in this wise way, always dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We are transformed and relate to the kosmos (“the world”) in a different way now, and we are looking forward to the time when the creation itself is renewed (Rom 8.19–24a).
There are so many interpretations of Paul: apocalyptic, Old Perspective, New Perspective, and more. But what is Paul’s main goal for his churches? What lies behind his thirteen letters? DeSilva believes, as do I, that Paul wants his readers to be transformed. If not, they would be just like Old Testament Israel—making empty claims while living like the other nations, causing God’s name to be spoken ill of among the Gentiles (Isa 52.5). DeSilva is refuting easy believism. From his NT Introduction, grace is more than just a gift from God. “Reciprocity is such a part of this relationship [between ‘the client and patron,’ or ‘us and God’], that failure to return grace (gratitude) for grace (favor) results in a breach of the patron-client relationship.” We receive grace from God, and we give grace (gratitude) by living “for the one who died and was raised on [our] behalf” (2 Cor 5.15).
Many will think deSilva is blurring the lines between justification and sanctification, but he quotes Mark Seifrid who, in speaking about Luther, a Reformer, said, “because [Luther] regards justification as effecting the new creation, he is able to encompass the whole of the Christian life within its scope.… In contrast to later Protestant thought, in which salvation was divided up into an ordo salutis, it remains for Luther a single divine act” (9). Despite any quibbles or issues people might and do have with this book, I find that there is much to gain from Transformation, because if we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, then there is a transformation that takes place and one that must continue to take place.
Logos has been putting put Mobile Ed(ucation) videos lectures for a few years now. The purpose of m.Ed is to give you a new theological education where the people behind Logos have edited down scholars’ lectures “into digestible segments.” Each lecture is fused into your Logos library with a smart transcript. You can add notes, jump to commentaries, dictionaries, language tools, and you can share you insights too. And learn how to do more in-depth research on Logos through your course.
From January 20-23, anyone with a Faithlife account can stream every Mobile Ed video and what is on FaithlifeTV for free (until Monday night). You can only stream them here, but this is a great way to spend your weekend. If you’re going to binge, you might as well learn something exceedingly great in the process. As I’m writing this I’m listening to Jonathan Pennington teach through the Sermon on the Mount.
Below is a list of the Mobile Ed courses and its respective lecturer. This deal ends on Monday, January 23, at midnight.
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Why is good preaching so difficult to accomplish, and why is excellent preaching so herculean a feat?
In this short book, Craig G. Bartholomew, the H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, and the principal of the Paideia Centre for Public Theology, explains how to land a plane. Every Sunday you might feel like you’re on a repeat viewing of “Airplane!” It’s like you’re speaking jive and no one understands you. You have a message, it’s based on the text of the Bible, but now you need to land the plane and get God’s truth to sit in the lives of your congregation. How do you impact their hearts and thoughts? You do you penetrate their lives and get them to think about how to live in a transformed way?
And often times, even when you do land the plane, you either land it upside down or two engines blow and you have to land in the water. Can this really be so difficult?
I’ll say this book has five “chapters,” although the word chapter isn’t used in the book to designate chapters.
The Bible is extremely relevant in our day. Thee is suffering, hopelessness, turmoil, meandering, greed, selfishness, a lack of wisdom, and a need for salvation and knowledge of God in Christ. Liberal preachers “aim right at contemporary life in their preaching,” though many aren’t “always sure where [the] sermons have come from!. . . . By comparison, evangelical sermons originate from the Bible, but they tend to be aimed at nowhere in particular” (4–5). How does the pastor ground his sermon in Scripture while being sure to penetrate the hearts of his congregation?
The Destination, the Plane, and the Cargo
Just as on Mt. Sinai, our ultimate destination is Godward. He is our home. He is the destination. The pastor always needs to have that in mind when preaching to his congregation. “As Barth observes, within the Church God’s ordained means to speak is the Bible, the canon of holy Scripture, and all extrabiblical ‘speakings’ must always be tested alongside Scripture,” and where we meet God is through our hearts in his word (11). The word is central to the proclamation that brings us to him.
The pastor is the one who preaches. The pastor cannot neglect his own spiritual life either. A rich prayer life must be in order so that the pastor can lead God’s people “ever more deeply into the very life of God” (13). The pastor keeps the congregations attentive and focused on God. To do so, he himself must be focused on him too.
The View From Arrivals
“There is always only one destination, and the view is magnificent” (17). That view is of God’s whole creation. The Bible transforms our thinking of all of life, including God’s glorious creation. To understand better the God who created all of this, we must grasp the story of Scripture—it’s metanarrative.This alerts us to:
the unified story of the Bible
the story as the story of the whole world
this story as the true story of the whole world
Each of these sections are developed more fully within the book.
The Airport: Contextualization
Scripture provides us with a hermeneutic for understanding our world. But it narrows down from there. God’s people are scattered throughout the nations, and the age we live in is one of missions. We live in the 21st century AD which is a farcry from the 1st century AD (and even the 19th century!). Then there is your own culture, whether it be western or eastern. Do you know what your culture is like? Bartholomew goes through an explanation of modernity and postmodernity, even showing how much his discussion has to do with preaching and understanding our own congregations.
The most important contribution our congregations play is “to receive the Word, and we need to create the space for this to come to the fore” (53-54). We need to figure out to to engage them “as fully as possible in listening to the Word” (54).
Landing the Plane: Some Examples
Barthomolew gives four examples on how to “land the plane.” These examples come from Galatians 1:10–2:21, Genesis 1:16, Exodus 20:3, and Ephesians 6:10–20.
Preaching is not the only thing the pastor does, but time must be carved out and effort must be put in. Pastors must get to know and become familiar with research done in other areas of life, such as cultural studies, sociology, and media. Prayer, the Word, and discipleship and mission must be a focus, along with the recognition that spiritual warfare is going on all the time, all around you. Preaching is costly.
Appendix A: Suggested Reading
Appendix B: An Expanded Apostles’ Creed
This short book will not give you a chapter called “Three Tips on How to Structure Your Sermon and Grow Your Church.” Instead, Bartholomew, who has many years of experience in preaching and teaching, gives a more holistic view of what preaching entails, and what the preacher must keep in mind. It is imperative. We can’t let our sermons fall flat and settle for that. We need to learn to land the plane, and to land it right-side up withour passengers intact, engaged, and reaching their destination (of course, what they do with the information is up to them). This would be good to read alongside of Keller’s Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.
How often do Christians read Revelation? Do you think when you read it? Are you intrigued? Do you feel fear? Anxiety? Confusion? Does it lead you to praise and worship our Lord and Savior, the Lion-Lamb King? Revelation is a very difficult book, especially so for the modern day. The further along into time we go, the farther we get from the culture John write Revelation in. Should Revelation be taken literally? Are there symbols, how many, and what do they mean?
Emerson summarizes the book of Revelation and it’s application to the church in eight chapters.
Chapter one is the Introduction. Revelation isn’t a decoder ring you get out of your Sunday morning cereal box. “Rather, it is a book that was and is vital for the Church; it assures us, even as we face tribulation, of the triune God’s victorious reign and the imminence of Christ’s return” (1). Emerson says, “Most, if not all, of the book [Revelation] uses figurative images and language” (1). John draws these images from the Old Testament so that we can understand the conflict going on between Satan and God and his people.
Emerson provides his outline and the theological center of Revelation. Despite all of the persecution, it is God who rules on the throne, not Satan. Jesus suffered, died, and is the victorious King who will one day come to crush his (and our) enemies. “We can stand firm because he has already stood firm, and we can fight the Dragon’s servants because Christ has already bound their master” (5-6).
In chapter two Emerson guides the reader in seeing Revelation as a work of literature, a work that is a letter made up of prophecy and containing apocalyptic elements (figurative imagery, a focus on the end of history). Emerson takes a closer look at some of the literary devices, such as John’s use of numbers.
In chapter three, “The Drama of Redemption,” Emerson adds a fourth genre category, narrative. John sees his book “as the completion of the entire biblical narrative, connecting Christ’s work in his first and second coming with the story of creation and the fall (Gen 1–3).” The new heavens and new earth (Rev 21–22) “is the consummation [completion] of Christ’s work of redemption to restore and renew creation from the effects of the fall.” John uses repeating patterns throughout Revelation to highlight different aspects of God’s judgment and mercy on the world and his faithfulness to his own people.
In chapters four and five, the reader is given two portraits. First, one of God and his people. Second, one of God’s enemies. Emerson believes that the church is seen all throughout Revelation. The reader is given a look at some of the images of God (“the seven spirits of God” and “the Lamb and Lion”). In writing to the seven churches, “‘[t]o the one who conquers,’ also reminds the church that they are being called to persevere” (40).Emerson takes a quick guide to some of the phrases that describe the church in Revelation. When looking at the enemies of God, Emerson looks at “the unholy trinity” (made up of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet) and the harlot of Babylon.
Chapter six looks at the specific time periods (i.e., 1,260 days, 42 months, and “time, times, and half a time”), with Emerson saying that “the book’s time frame is especially structured around the events of Jesus’ first and second coming” (59). The war of the Lamb occurs during this period, where we see the dragon’s destructive dominion, the Lamb’s judgment, and the testimony of the church conquering over the dragon.
Chapter seven show us how to think about Revelation today in our modern world. The word has it’s agenda on how to shape people into its mold, “and it also has the practices to accomplish that purpose” (73). But believers today need to resist the world’s pressure and allow our worship of the crucified and risen Lamb to shape our minds and bodies to react in faithful trust to Christ.
Chapter eight draws the book to a close, reminding us “remain faithful to God in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit until he returns in glorious victory over all his enemies” (77).
Each chapter ends with some suggested Bible reading and questions for the reader to reflect on which would also be good to use in a group setting.
This is highly recommended. It’s an easy introduction to Revelation. If you’re one who is put off by long, dense books, especially ones written on Revelation, then you really ought to pick up this book. It’s smooth reading, and was honestly hard for me to put down.
For the more academic, this book will be very light. But even still, if you’ve never studied up on Revelation and you’re neck-deep in biblical studies for other subjects, Emerson’s book would be a good side read to help become acquainted with the Apostle’s fantastic book. It’s hard to read this book without wanting more. Hopefully Emerson will provide us with more in the future.
Besides being one of the administrators to a number of “nerdy” Facebook groups (I should add that they are wonderful groups which have helpful discussions on biblical languages and theology), William Varner is a Professor of Bible & Greek at The Master’s College and Seminary (where John MacArthur serves as President).
In the EEC series, “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights (even 20 years from now).
Though highly neglected for much of church history, the “last forty years . . . have witnessed both James and the writing attributed to him emerging into the brightness of a new day for Jacobean scholarship” (1). There have been at least thirty major commentaries since the 1970s. Why do we need another commentary on such a small letter? To quote Varner, “I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because ‘God yet has light to spring forth from His word,’” and “the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages” (1, fn 4).
Varner believes James to have been both the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church, the Jerusalem church and of the entire Jesus movement. The letter was written in Jerusalem in the mid-to-late 40s AD for Jewish-Christian congregations “in or around Syria” (18). Some of James’ main themes are God, the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, faith, wisdom, and eschatology. Both a kingdom and a judgment are waiting for us in the future, but also a part of that future kingdom is here now. We have the King’s “royal law” (2.8) now, and we experience the “new birth” (1.18) now too.
The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes (for more detail, check out my review on the Ephesians volume). Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.
Biblical Theology Comments
Application and Devotional Implications
There are also 3 excursuses at the end of the commentary.
Scot McKnight’s Treatment of James 2.18
James 3.1-12: Can the Tongue Really Be Controlled?
Wisdom in James
Sometimes when I review a commentary, knowing that a commentary can’t do everything, I try to suggest at least one other commentary to pair the reviewed copy with. I’m not really sure who I should suggest here. Moo’s PNTC volume is a wise choice, and Blomberg’s ZECNT volume will likely have great practical points. But when I really compared them to Varner, I found Varner to have more clarity and better application.
And really, the biggest difference was something small, simple, and often overlooked in a commentary: his outline. It’s not just the outline itself that is impressive, but his argument for it. Varner believes that 3.13-18 is the “thematic peak” of James (where it brings all of the themes together), and 4.1-10 is the “hortatory peak,” a section filled with exhortations, commands, loving rebuke, and encouragement to James’ readers to cut off their friendship with the world, to stop their selfish bickering, and to humble themselves before the majestic King of glory.
Martin Luther accused James of borrowing “a few ideas from the apostles” and then afterwards he “‘threw them on paper.’ Luther thought that the organization of the book was as bad as its doctrine” (62). Many others have found James’ structure to be equally elusive. Varner shows that the leader of the Church did know what he was talking about, and it sets this commentary apart from the rest as Varner guides through the commentary, showing us the word-signs that point backwards and forwards to reveal and to herald what has been and what is to come.
Varner’s commentary is technical, but in the Grammarian Desert you will also find equally refreshing pools of theology, theology that is biblically practical. He follows the flow of James’ river of wisdom and smoothes out gnarled passages (e.g., James 4.5). This should be on your shelf. Better yet, this should be open on your desk.
If you haven’t been able to tell, or if you haven’t seen the eight other posts I’ve written up about Baugh’s new Ephesians commentary, I’ve certainly enjoyed his new volume in the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. “Each of the authors affirms historic, orthodox Christianity and the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures” (xi). The EEC series is also the first series to be produced in electronic form. Besides being linked up with your other Logos resources, the benefit with this is that the authors can add and change their insights when they gain new insights. Unlike physical copies, the Logos volumes can be updated by their authors 20 years from now (not to downplay the physical books too much).
S. M. Baugh is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, California. He ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and he is mindful of the toils in both scholarship and the pastorate. Baugh didn’t set out to create brand new interpretations on Ephesians when he began working on this volume. Instead he used his particular interests and areas of study to illuminate the text for scholars, pastors, and students. His horde of interests include the classics, ancient history (especially Ephesus), Greek grammar, textual criticism, Greek literary composition and rhetoric, and, finally, biblical theology.
These interests come together to make a powerhouse of a commentary. As a technical commentary, this is one of the best (if not the best). But don’t think that this commentary was spit out to split hairs on Greek grammar. There is much to gain from this commentary for both the pastor and the student (see my Previous Posts below), not only the scholar.
The layout of the series works pretty much the same for all volumes. Generally, each section is separated into 9 different sections.
Introduction: A brief overview of the section (e.g., 2.1-10) and where Baugh gives his periodic arrangement of the Greek text for that section.
Outline: A simple outline for the text.
OriginalText: The text as it is in Greek
TextualNotes: Differences between manuscripts
Translation: Baugh’s English translation
Commentary: A full explanation of the text.
BiblicalTheologyComments: How the teaching in the text fits with the rest of the Bible, or the New Testament, or Paul’s own teaching, etc.
Application and Devotional Implications: A few paragraphs on how the reader can think about the text in their own personal life, or how a pastor could preach this to his congregation.
Selected Bibliography: Bibliography of books mentioned throughout the chapter
Eight Additional Exegetical Comments sections are strewn throughout this volume. A few of the subjects covered are Redemption; Magic; Faith in/of Christ; and Wine in Ephesus.
Baugh agrees that Paul is the author of this epistle, and that Ephesians is one of “generic” character. There are “no serious problems or concerns with his addressees that led Paul to write Ephesians” (31). Ephesians has a “positive” and certainly “less polemic” tone than most of Paul’s other letters (31).
Baugh believes the main theme of the letter “is easy to summarize with the phrase unity in the inaugurated new creation” (35).The church’s unity is rooted in the Triune God’s counsel and redemptive love. The Messiah has complete sovereignty over the old powers of creation, especially magic. The new creation is entering this world.
While Baugh does give a special attention to magic in Ephesus, you would do well to pair his commentary with Clinton Arnold’s ZECNT volume on Ephesians. Arnold has done a lot of work on the influence of magic in the Greco-Roman world, and his commentary is extremely skilled in putting forward the main ideas of Paul’s letter while remaining very practical too.
Those who have a handle on Greek will be the ones who benefit the most from this volume. But while Baugh certainly goes into detail into his commentary, he also agrees that “it is important to keep the theological center of ‘unity in the inaugurated new creation’ in view . . . The trees are beautiful in themselves, but the whole forest is where the vision of majesty dwells.”
Again, if you want one of the best technical commentaries on Ephesians, then you need to pick up Baugh’s commentary.
Ephesians 2.8,“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”
Another way to read 2.8b would be, “and this does not originate from you.” Baugh points out there is a temptation to read this as pointing to faith. This would read “this faith is not your own doing – it is the gift of God.” What is not our own doing? Is it God’s grace? Our salvation? Our faith? All of it? Baugh believes that the whole event (“being saved by grace through faith”) is God’s gift.
Rather than quoting about obscure Greek grammar, I want to look at some of the examples that Baugh gives.
Eph 5.5, For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
So who won’t inherit the kingdom of God? Those who are impure? Sexually immoral? Covetous? No, all who do those things have no inheritance in God’s kingdom.
Eph 6.1, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
What is right? The Lord is right? Children are right? It is right that they obey the Lord by obeying their parents.
Phil 1.27-28, Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . . I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
The clear sign is that they are standing firm, in one spirit, living with one mind, striving side by side, for the faith of the gospel – all together.
1 Thess 5.16-18, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
What is God’s will for our lives? To rejoice always, to pray always, to give thanks always.
What can we glean from this? Baugh says that
All the components of the event are also referenced as originating not from human capacity or exertion but as God’s gift. This means that even the believer’s act of believing comes from God, as is said more explicitly by Paul elsewhere: ‘For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him . . . but also suffer for his sake’ (Phil 1:29) . . . Humans contribute nothing of their own to this salvation, since even believing (which the elect are indeed enabled to do) is a divine gift (cf. Rom 3:24–25). The key to this in the context of Eph 2:8 is what Paul had been driving home so forcefully up until now: Before God’s gracious intervention believers were hopelessly dead, with their wills imprisoned by nature . . . in acts that led only to transgression and sin (2:1–5a, 12). (160-161)
In his book What About Free Will?,Scott Christensen points out, “The point at which unbelievers are ‘made alive’ is when they ‘were dead,’ not when they exercised faith.”He says “it is impossible to exercise saving faith unless God grants it as part of the gift of receiving new life (cf. Phil. 1:29)” (185).
None of these redemptive realities proceed from our own wills. It is impossible for spiritually dead people to engage in an action that is as full of spiritual life and power as exercising saving faith. God’s choosing of people to salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). This does not mean that our will is not involved later. But Paul’s point is that the exercise of faith doesn’t incite God to act with grace and save us. Rather, it is his grace that incites us to act in faith whereby we willingly receive the benefits of salvation. (185)
As Ephesians 2.10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God prepared beforehand the adoption of both Jews and Gentiles into his family. We have been prepared for good works. God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.4).
Ephesians 2.1-3,“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
After telling the Ephesians that they were dead in their trespasses, that they deliberately walked in their sins, they followed the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience, and they lived according to the passions of their flesh, the desires of their body and mind, just like the rest of mankind they deserved God’s wrath – by nature. They were born into it. It was natural for them to live a life that deserved God’s wrath. That’s not something you’ll hear on Dr. Phil.
And since we wouldn’t hear this from the likes of Dr. Phil, Oprah, Dr. Oz, Rob Bell, or most of the world, Baugh rightly states, “We have lost the appreciation of just how shocking v. 3f would have been” (152). As Baugh points out, Paul was a Jew “by birth and not [a] Gentile sinner.” He was a “son of Abraham” (Lk 19.9) and a “son of the kingdom” (Matt 8.12). He would not have been a “son of destruction” (Jn 17.12) or a “child of Gehenna” (Matt 23.15). He would have considered himself a child of God, not of the devil (Jn 8.39-44). He certainly wouldn’t have been like the unclean Gentiles (Gal 2.15).
Now Paul rightly understands that . . . the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, stands condemned before God apart from Christ . . . If he had simply said that “we were children of wrath,” it might be supposed that this was a state humans happened to fall into or could climb out of themselves, but when Paul says that this state belongs to all “by nature,” he is saying that all—excepting only Christ Jesus . . . were conceived in sin” (152).
We were not “dead in our trespasses,” but we still had enough good moral capacity to choose Christ. We were dead weight, and we were sinking deeper and deeper into an ocean that doesn’t give up it’s dead.
The Good News
In lovehe predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph 1.4-5).
“The Christian is an adopted son of God [see my post here] and [a] natural . . . son of divine wrath; he or she derives ‘nobility of birth’ from only the one Father” (153).
This new life we have “is inaugurated in this life by an operation of the Holy Spirit . . . who somehow mysteriously brings the believer into fellowship with the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ such that Paul can say that the believer is ‘co-made alive,’ ‘co-raised,’ and ‘co-seated’ with Christ Jesus in the heavenly realms” (156).
This period flows out of what was said before and anticipates what will shortly be said. The church is God’s redeemed, prized possession (1:14), rescued out of thrall to the prince of the power of the air (2:2–3) and included in the host-given gifts out of the bounty of Christ’s victorious ascent to heaven (1:20–23; 3:10; 4:7–10). Hence, in v. 7 Paul says that the church will be the trophies of battle on display “in the ages to come” (157).
In Job 1.8 Yahweh, seated before his divine counsel, asks the adversary, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” Baugh says that the church will receive a similar, but much better, recommendation. “But by being a redeemed and washed, resplendent church (5:27), Paul says more particularly that God’s heavenly sacred treasury will be filled with the ‘surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’” (157).
As Baugh remarks, and as I can attest, I usually hear (and have also taught) that God’s divine grace is defined as his “undeserved favor” toward us. Yet if we’re not careful, this can sound more like a friendly neighbor loaning sugar to the always-forgetful neighborhood.
“As this whole passage shows, God’s grace, which is emphasized here by putting it first in the colon* (v. 8a[, read about the importance here]), is actually God’s favor granted to those who deserve his wrath (v. 3). It is not just undeserved, as if the people whom God befriends were neutral. It is [an] act of immense favor bestowed on those who lie under God’s just condemnation as transgressors and sinners. Hence, a better quick definition is: ‘God’s favor despite human demerit.’”
Welcome to a world of lucky charms, incantations, amulets, and divination. Welcome to the daily life of an Ephesian. Acts tells us that magic was prevalent throughout the Roman world.
Acts 8.9 tells us about Simon the magician, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.”
And Luke tells us Acts 13.6 about Bar-Jesus, “When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.”
Yet it was in Ephesus where, after turning to Christ, “a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19.19).
It’s hard for most westerners to imagine a life (even a day) where people lived in fear of the dark, unseen forces that surrounded them. In his commentary on Ephesians, S. M. Baugh gives us a few examples into the Greco-Roman and Ephesian mind.
One of Greece’s earliest poets, Hesiod, advised people to “take nothing to eat or to wash with from uncharmed pots, for in them there is mischief” (133).
But nobody cleans a pot and calls it a day. Theophrastus said that the superstitious man “is apt to purify his house frequently, claiming Hekate has bewitched it” (133).
And while many today like turtles (I grew up with plenty in and around my house) because they’re cute, in antiquity the “discovery of a tortoise is particularly lucky, for this animal was ‘a bulwark against baneful spells’” according to the Homeric Hymns (133).
Baugh says that “[f]amous witches like Circe or Medea dot Hellenistic literature with their use of ‘noxious roots of the earth,’ the evil eye, and mystic incantations and rites too fearful even to recount” (134).
These witches were devotees of the “night-stalking Hekate.” The Hymn to Hecate describes Hakate as, “Lovely Hecate … reveling in the souls of the dead … monstrous queen … of repelling countenance.” She was a “fierce mistress of the black arts who had an active cult* throughout Asia Minor, including many references in the remains from Ephesus” (134).
Simply because one became a Christian did not mean that person was no longer tempted to believe in the effects of magic. There was always a pull to conform to the rest of society, to partake in the discussions and practices of warding off the evil spirits with various spells and amulets.
Early postbiblical writers repeatedly warn their readers to stay away from the “black arts.”
In the Epistle of Barnabas 20.1, the author says, “But the way of the BlackOne is crooked and full of a curse. For it is a way of eternal death with punishment wherein are the things that destroy men’s souls—idolatry, boldness, exaltation of power, hypocrisy… witchcraft, magic, covetousness, absence of the fear of God.”
And Didache 3.4 says, “My child, be no dealer in omens, since it leads to idolatry, nor an enchanter nor an astrologer nor a magician, neither be willing to look at them; for from all these things idolatry is engendered.”
In Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians, he said that Christ’s incarnation “has dissolved all magic practices… and the bondage of evil and ignorance; the old kingdom of the prince of this age has been destroyed” (134).
“From that time forward every sorcery and every spell was dissolved, the ignorance of wickedness vanished away, the ancient kingdom was pulled down, when God appeared in the likeness of man unto newness of everlasting life; and that which had been perfected in the counsels of God began to take effect. Thence all things were perturbed, because the abolishing of death was taken in hand.”
Christ, Who Has All Things Beneath His Feet
Baugh quotes Clinton Arnold (who wrote a commentary on Ephesians) from Arnold’s book Power and Magic on the background of the Ephesians and their culture of magic. Arnold says:
God’s superior power is available to believers and is working for their best interest—he desires to mediate it to his people for their protection and growth. Believers are depicted as having been transplanted from one sphere of power (kingdom, or dominion) and placed in another. This transfer forms the basis for their access to the power of God. There is therefore no need for believers to seek any additional protection from the “powers” by any means. This would include the devising of ways to manipulate the demons or the invoking of angelic assistance. (134-35, fn 289)
This is simply one of the gifts given by the grace of God our Father which comes through faith in Christ alone. It is Christ who sits at the right hand of God (Eph 1.20). It is Christ who sits in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (1.20-21). And it is Christ who has “all things under his feet” and who is “head over all things to the church, who is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (1.22-23).
Ephesians 1.3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….”
Ephesians 1.16-18 says,“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may grant you…”
In Ephesians 1, both vv3 and 17 express the genuine humanity of Christ. Paul speaks of God the Father as Jesus’ God (as does John in 20:17, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”). Was Jesus not divine?
Yet we must hold this truth with what the Bible says elsewhere of Jesus’ own divinity.
Who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [or ‘exploited’](Phil 2.6).
What gives? Is God the “God” of Jesus? We worship Jesus, and Jesus worships the Father?
Baugh explains Paul’s idea, and it just takes a bit of knowledge of the OT. Paul speaks of Jesus’ humanity here in Ephesians for two reasons.
1. Exclusive Human Mediation
Jesus is the only way to the Father. There is no other way to get to the Father.
1 Tim 2.5,“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
In the OT God was known by those whom he had covenanted with.
Ps 41.13,“Blessed be the Lord, theGod of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.”
Ezek 11.22,“Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.”
Lk 1.68,“Blessed be theLord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people“
1 Kgs 18.36,“And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.”
Acts 3.13,“TheGod of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.”
But God is no longer known as “the God of Israel” or “the God of Abraham.” Now his covenant name is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Cor 1.3,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (cf. 11.31)
1 Pet 1.3,“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, Mark Seifrid remarks,
In speaking of God as “the God and Father of Jesus Christ,” Paul . . . identifies Jesus Christ with God . . . in Jesus God has revealed himself as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” As Paul makes clear shortly, all the promises of God find their Yes in him (v 20). The Christ is Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God (6:2; cf. Isa 49:8). He is the one in whom the hope the patriarchs is fulfilled. His name therefore replaces theirs and that Israel in the apostolic benediction. We know God and give him thanks only as the God of Jesus Christ. (17-18)
God is no longer a single-national God, but “the God of all nations (including Israelites) who come to the Father through the incarnate Son” (Baugh, 116).
Because they lived in the Hellenistic pagan culture, the NT authors stressed Jesus’ humanity.
Acts 14.11-12 lets us catch a glimpse of this. “And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “Thegods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the leading speaker.”
“The ancient Greek gods were thought to appear on earth in human guise,” says Baugh (116). Edward Schnabel states, “As the citizens hail Paul and Barnabas as deities, they would have made sure that the two ‘gods in human form’ understand that they [the citizens] have recognized them [the ‘gods’].”
Schnabel tells of an ancient legend with a town neighboring Lystra,
A legend connected with neighboring Phrygia relates that two local gods, perhaps Tarchunt and Runt… —in the Greek version of the legend Zeus and Hermes—wandered through the region as human beings. Nobody provided them with hospitality until Philemon and Baucis, an older couple, shared their supplies with the unrecognized gods. The gods rewarded the couple, making them priests in the temple of Zeus, eventually transforming them into sacred trees, while inflicting judgment upon the other people.
Baugh says that of the more famous of these appearances was that of “Athena as trusted old Mentor to Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, in the Odyssey.” There is also the evidence that Artemis Ephesia was “thought to manifest her appearance to her worshipers in the Ephesian Artemisium” (116).
Yet none of these appearances are true incarnations. The gods simply appear before people (albeit in a fleshly form). Jesus was not only in a fleshly form, he was human, just like you and me.
Hebrews 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For . . . he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
How do we make sense of James 4.5 when very few Bible translations agree with each other? Is it really that difficult to know what James is saying? Apparently, yes, it is.
In his rewarding commentary on James, William Varner presents 6 questions that comes up when reading James 4:5. A few of them are below*:
How should the phrase “for envy” be taken? Can God ever be said to do anything “enviously”?
Is the “yearning” seen positively or is it a sinful lusting?
Is the “spirit” God’s Spirit or the human spirit (and is it viewed neutrally or negatively)?
Did the original read either “he dwelt” or “he caused to dwell”? (420)
A fifth question would be, “Where does Scripture say this? Is James quoting a specific text, or is he speaking generally?”
* I’ve taken the Greek text out for easier reading.
What is Going On Here?
In James 4.4, James rebukes his readers who have followed the wisdom of the world and who have preferred friendship with the world over friendship with and loyalty to God.
Then James brings up the Scripture which speaks to us all, and the spirit which God created in us. Varner believes that James asks two rhetorical questions. Varner says, “Such questions are not meant to search for an answer but to function as a more powerful statement” (418).
Varner translates the James 4.5a as saying, “Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks to no purpose?”
if we remove from our thinking that this is a citation from Scripture, canonical or not, and read it as a question that expects a negative answer, the answer to the question would be as follows: “No, the spirit which God has caused to dwell in us . . . does notlong enviously.” In other words, God did not create man this way, i.e., with a spirit that longs enviously. This is because God is the source of only good (1:13–18). (421-422)
Of course the Scripture doesn’t speak in vain. Our good God didn’t create man with a spirit that jealously desires to be better than everyone. In fact, James 4.6 tells us what God does give, “But He gives more grace.”
We must not forget what James has told us about God earlier. God tempts no one, but we are all tempted by our own desires.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Jam 1.5).
“Everygoodgift and everyperfectgift is from above, coming down from the Fatheroflights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jam 1.17).
“God is not only associated with light rather than darkness, with stability and consistency rather than with change and alteration, but (as in 1:5) with the giving of every good and perfect gift, rather than with the attitude of grasping that is characteristic of [“desire”]” (176).
So while James’ readers (which includes us) desire, covet, quarrel, and fight amongst each other, all they (and we) have to do is ask. We can come to God and ask for what is good and right. But there’s a problem. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jam 4.3). So if I can’t go to God and get what I want, why should I ask at all?
What the “Scripture” Does Say
James’ flow of thought from 4.5-6 could be explained like this:
“Does the spirit that He has caused to dwell in us long enviously?”
Then be humble! God gives more grace. He gives you a chance to submit to him.
“God opposes proud people, but gives grace to humble ones” (Prov 3.34).
Here we have the Prouds facing off against the Humbles. If this were a football game you could already bet on the winner: the Prouds. They’re strong, they’re fast, they’re confident, and they’re not afraid to show it.
But there’s a catch here. James tells us this game is fixed. The Prouds can’t win. They won’t win because “God opposes” them. Their wisdom does not come “from above.” Instead it “is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3.15). But God does give grace to the Humbles.
In fact, the Prouds will most likely destroy themselves. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (3.16). They desire and do not have, so they murder (4.2a). What they do receive, they spend it wrongly. They spend all that they have on their passions (4.3), which give birth to sin, and when full grown, death (1.14-15).
The main message announces that “arrogant and proud people do not acknowledge their dependence on God but choose to live according to the order of the world and as enemies of God. By contrast, God gives grace to lowly people . . . who are acknowledging their dependence on God” (424).
Varner translates James 4.4-6 (below), and I’ve added some of what we talked about above and other parts of James’ to hopefully show more of James’ meaning.
You adulteresses! Do you not know that friendshipwith the world means enmitywith God?
Do you want to be friends with the world which will pass away (1.10), which brings death (1.15), and which when it tries to do something good, its religion is useless (1.26)? Do you want to be opposed to the God who gives every good and perfect gift (1.17)?
Therefore whoever decides to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.
Q: Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks to no purpose?
Does the spirit that He has caused to dwell in us long enviously?
A: No, God did not create us to jealously desire for other things. To yearn over and fight with people. He created us to know him, and to humbly serve and honor him as our Father who gave us life (1.18).
But He gives more grace.
God gives more grace. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands of your sin and purify your hearts. Follow God alone (4.8). Confess your sins to him and to each other (5.16).
Therefore it says, “God opposes proud people, but gives grace to humble ones.”
If you are reading this letter, you still have a chance to submit to God. Know that you live in the last days (5.3), and that the best earthly treasures are corroded and molded in the sight of God (5.2), the Judge (4.11-12). Instead, seek wisdom from God on how to live. Be pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. Make peace, and reap peace.
Varner says, “God’s people are indwelled by a spirit from God and there is no way in which that living presence is compatible with promptings of self-interest that are destructive of peace among the brothers” (426).
We the Church have been chosen (Eph 1.4) and adopted (1.5) as sons and heirs to the Father above. We were dead in our sins (2.1), we followed the course of this world (2.2), and we deserved God’s wrath (2.3). Now we are alive in Christ (2.5), created to walk in good works which God already prepared for us (2.10) who are citizens of God’s household (2.19). We are a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2.22). Christ won the victory, and he gives gifts to his people (4.8). In the end, we will, together, all see God’s face, and his name will be on all of our foreheads (Rev 22.4).
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1.3-6a).
Predestination has a long history of discussion (read: arguments) behind it, and it’s certainly not something that I’m going to dive head first into in this post (there are other posts for that). Instead, if you read my post about the Pauline sentence then you would have seen my arrangement of the text of Ephesians 1.3-14 on the bottom of the post. In writing about Ephesians 1.4e-6a Baugh says, “What is most remarkable about the period… is that it consists entirely of six prepositional phrases” which qualify and show the focus of the act of predestination (84).
No Dictionary Provided
You can learn a good deal about a word from it’s definition. The verb topredestine means “to make a previous determination about something or someone” (84). But you learn even more about a word by the way it is used. This is especially true when you’re learning another language.
In English, many things can run. I can run. My nose can run. You can be “in the running” for an award. If you car is almost out of gas you are “running on fumes.“ Boys in elementary (and high school) fear being told they “run like a girl.”
Each use of run here has a different connotation from the rest, even the last one.
God’s motive:in love
Mediation:through Jesus Christ
Interrelation of adoption:to himself
Standard governing the act:according to the good pleasure of his will
Result:for the praise of the glory of his grace
Because of God’s love, he chose those who were “dead in their sins” (2.1) to become adopted sons and daughters through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. And it was through Jesus Christ that we would be brought to the Father, and he would become our Father.
“God’s gracious bestowal of the believer’s position as son-heir is entirely due to the Father’s own will and grace, independent of any sort of qualifications or attractiveness inherent in him or her“ (88) – qualifications we did not have.
Deuteronomy 7:6–8, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”