Acts 16-18

After Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways, Paul and Silas travel overland through Asia Minor visiting the churches planted during the first missionary journey. In Derbe they add the young disciple Timothy to their traveling group. Timothy was most likely a convert during Paul’s first visit, since that time he has grown in his faith, prophecies were spoken about him and he received a spiritual gift that brought him to the attention of Silas and Paul. Paul required Timothy to be circumcised in order to accompany them, he was ethnically Jewish but had a Greek father so therefore had never been circumcised. Timothy was circumcised for outreach purposes, not for ‘salvation issues’ as discussed in Galatians. His circumcision would allow him to minister to both Greeks in the marketplace and Jews in the synagogues.

As the trio traveled through Galatia, they intended to go west towards Ephesus, but the Holy Spirit stopped them, after that they attempted to go north but they were stopped going that direction as well. So instead they traveled northwest to the port city of Troas. We don’t know what circumstances, travel conditions or prophecy prevented the group from travel where they wanted to go; what we do know is that God planned for the gospel to go to those places at a later time.

In Troas, Paul has a vision where he sees a Macedonian man standing on shore across the sea begging him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us”. Then Paul and company leave for Macedonia and Greece to preach the Gospel, Luke joins the group at this point.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke travel along the Roman road, the Via Egnatian, their first stop is Philippi. This is a Roman colony, a mini-Rome with the same rules and regulations for Roman citizens. On the Sabbath the travelers go to the river to look for the Jewish place of prayer. Instead of the ten men needed to form a synagogue, they found many God-fearing women receptive to the Gospel. The leading woman was Lydia, a Roman dealer in royal purple cloth; after she and the members of her household were baptized, she invites the travelers to stay in her home.

Paul and Silas continue to go to the place of prayer to preach the gospel, they were continually harassed by a demon possessed slave girl who followed them around saying, “these men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. This distraction continued for many days until Paul lost his patience, turned to the girl and removed the demon in the name of Jesus Christ. Immediately she lost her ability to tell fortunes and was no longer of any value to her owners. The slave owners seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the local authorities. Because they were Jews, they were accused of advocating practices unlawful for Romans, the authorities had them stripped, beaten and imprisoned without a proper trial.

That night in the jail, Paul and Silas are singing and praying with the other prisoners listening to them. At midnight there was a great earthquake, the foundations of the jail are moved, the doors fly open and the prisoners’ chains fall off. The Roman jailer thinking that all the prisoners had escaped prepares to kill himself, but Paul calls out to him to stop saying we are all here! His grateful response is to fall at their feet and ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Remember what the slave girl was saying, “they are telling you the way to be saved”; through singing, prayers and earthquake God’s way is revealed.

Meanwhile the magistrates meet and attempt to send Paul and Silas out of town but Paul protests that they had been beaten and imprisoned in public without a trial which was a violation of their rights as Roman citizens. He demands that the magistrates must publically apologize and escort them out of prison to show that the magistrates were in the wrong. Paul and Silas were not seeking a public display to sooth their injured pride, but rather a declaration of innocence to protect the new church in Philippi.

After meeting with the church, the travelers leave for Thessalonica, which is a Greek city about 90 miles away. Thessalonica has “favored” city status, which would make them very sensitive to losing that position by any perceived conflict with Rome. Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue for three Sabbaths, but as they gaining converts the Jews again become jealous of their success and instigate a riot, they enter Jason’s house looking for Paul and Silas. Not finding them they take Jason and some other brothers before the city officials accusing them of defying Caesar’s decrees. The officials require Jason to post a bond, which meant that if another riot happened they could confiscate his property and even put him to death. After dark, the brothers sneak Paul and Silas out of the city to avoid any more riots and trouble.

The group leaves Timothy behind with the new church in Thessalonica and travel 50 miles to Berea. Berea is a small mountain town, with many open-minded Jews, who eagerly accepted the gospel and examined the Scripture for confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah. But again the Jews came to incite riots against the brothers, so Paul is quickly taken out of town and across the water to Athens. It is interesting to note that even though the Bereans were very responsive to the gospel, God moves Paul on to Athens, to a resistant people.

Paul is alone in Athens, every day he goes to the marketplace and the synagogue to preach. He is greatly disturbed by the amount of idols in Athens; his troubled spirit leads him to begin conversing with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the marketplace. Athens was the center of Greek culture, pagan worship, philosophy and democracy; it was much smaller in size than Thessalonica or Corinth. Epicureans were atheists, their highest ideal was the pursuit of pleasure and happiness, pain and suffering was to be avoided always. In contrast the Stoics were pantheists, worshipping countless gods and believing they should be “free” from all passions. They were subject to the whims of the gods, who demanded they denied themselves pleasures and happiness. However what the Athenians loved more than anything was a good debate, “they spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas”.

The leading philosophers of Athens bring Paul to a meeting of the Areopagus, he was not there to stand trial; he is there to deliver his “new” teachings for their deliberation. Paul approaches with a respectful attitude, he notes that they are “very religious”; they even have an altar “to an unknown god”. The Greeks believed that the gods constantly interfered in the lives of men, therefore they were afraid of offending even a minor god or they might be subject to their anger. Paul proceeds to introduce the Greeks to what they call “the unknown god”, He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, who made the world and everything in it. Paul points out that the LORD does not live in temples, and is not served by human hands, because He made everything, He gives life and breath to everyone. Paul continues by quoting two Greek poets, who seem to confirm his point. Then he states that we should not think that the LORD is an image made by human skill or imagination. He finishes strong saying that there is coming day when the Lord of Heaven and Earth will judge the world, by a man (Jesus) who he designated having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.

For the Athenians, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a concept they wouldn’t accept; Luke records just a small number of new believers. Yet this great speech on Mars Hill, give us a clear example of preaching the gospel clearly even in a culturally different setting, the foundation of the gospel message rests firmly in the certainty of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

From Athens Paul travels to Corinth, Corinth is a large Roman colony known for their slave market, sexual immorality and self-promotion. Paul arrives in a discouraged mood; he meets Priscilla and Aquila, who are Jews, recently expelled from Rome and is soon joined by Timothy and Silas. The brothers bring news and a monetary gift which allows Paul to spend each day preaching in the synagogue. Once again the Jews oppose Paul; but this time God reveals to Paul that they would not be harmed so Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months. Paul’s opponents eventually drag a new Jewish believer before the proconsul Gallio, accusing them of advocating an illegal religion under Roman law. Before Paul can mount his defense, the Roman governor delivers his ruling, “settle this among yourselves”, Rome will not intervene. The rabble that the Jews stirred up then turn on Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, and beat him in front of Gallio, who does not defend of stop the abuse, emphasizing the hands off policy of Rome!

After staying in Corinth for a year and a half, Paul begins his return to Antioch; Priscilla and Aquila travel with him, they remain in Ephesus and Paul continues to Jerusalem then home to Antioch.

Galatians

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written after the 1st Missionary Journey with Barnabas around the same time as the Jerusalem Council when the debate about circumcision was intense in the early church. This was a major turning point in church history, would new believers be required to covert to Judaism in order to become full members of the emergent Christian community.

Paul begins his letter without his typical friendly greeting, and immediately defends his authority as an Apostle. Paul states that his authority comes from the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel he preached came by revelation from Jesus who called him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul expresses astonishment that the Galatians would be so quick to desert the gospel of grace for a system of works. It is inconceivable to Paul that these brothers and sisters would turn away from God’s gracious gift. He describes the false teachings that infiltrated the church as “a different gospel”; it is not the same gospel that he preached and by which they were saved.

Paul is very clear; he repeats this judgment twice so we get it clearly: “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell!” It is not difficult to understand why Paul reacted so strongly; the Judaizers were teaching that the work of Christ, his death and resurrection, was not sufficient to save the Gentiles.

Paul returns to the topic of his authority and calling, from this section we discover details about Paul’s life and ministry. First the gospel of grace that Paul preaches was not something that was man-made, he did not receive it from any man, nor was he taught it by another, Paul received this by revelation from Jesus Christ. Instead Paul relates how in his previous life he was quite ambitious as a Pharisee, advancing in prominence in that community, even persecuting the church. Paul knew the Jewish laws and traditions even better than the Judaizers! But God called him from that hate filled life to preach Christ to the Gentiles.

Paul continues with his history in ministry, upon his dramatic conversion he immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus, when a plot formed to kill him he escaped and went to Arabia for three years. After that he returned to Damascus and at some point made a personal visit to Jerusalem for 15 days, during this visit he only met with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. He states that he was unknown to the churches of Judea and that he wouldn’t be in Jerusalem again for 10 years. In the meantime Paul moved to Antioch, where he worships and ministers with Barnabas. Fourteen years after Paul’s conversion, he travels to Jerusalem this time taking Barnabas and Titus with him, Titus is an uncircumcised Gentile believer and Barnabas is a former priest. The purpose of their visit was to report on their preaching among the Gentiles and possibly deliver the prophecy of the coming famine. This appears to be the first time the whole circumcision issue comes up; some false brothers insisted that all Gentile believers must be circumcised and follow the laws and customs of Jews in order to be saved. Paul reports that they did not “give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” It was at this meeting in Jerusalem that elders agreed that Paul and Barnabas would take the gospel to the Gentiles and Peter, James and John would continue to preach the gospel to the Jews.

The issue of being an observing Jew in order to be saved escalates when Peter visits the church in Antioch. Peter enjoyed full fellowship with Gentile believers until a group of Jewish Christians arrive. At that point he separates himself, and would not eat or worship with ‘unclean gentiles’ according to Jewish laws. We can imagine what great distress and division this caused in the community. When Paul realizes what is happening, he confronts the Jewish Christians including Peter to their face in front of the entire community.

Paul says, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul uses the example of Abraham to prove his point, God promised Abraham that a son would be born to Sarah; Abraham believed God and was counted as righteous. “Understand that those who believe are children of Abraham”, and God declared the inclusion of the Gentiles when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” Paul continues with this logical argument saying that the covenant made with Abraham, and the promises made to his descendants cannot be canceled or re-written by the Law that came 400 years later. Contrary to the claim of the Judaizers, obedience to the Law was not necessary to gain the inheritance. God’s way of salvation has always been by grace through faith.

So then why did God give the Law or what is the purpose of the Law? The Law was given as a restraint against sin, the Law shows us how Holy God is and how far we are separated from the Holy God by our sins. The Law was given as a temporary necessity and functioned until the Promised Seed came, after which it was no longer needed.

Paul states, “Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith.” In Roman culture, the heir apparent of the household was put under the guardianship of a slave, they were severe disciplinarians and were charged with guarding the child from the evils of society and giving them moral training. This was like the Law’s function until Christ came and when people could be justified by faith in Him. Additionally, Paul states that “you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” When a Roman youth came of age, he would be given a special toga that indicated that he had received the full rights of the family. Paul uses this example to teach that when we believe we are clothed with Christ, receiving all the rights and privileges of first born sons of the Living God. Why then would you choose to put yourself back under the guardianship of the Law or wear old clothes?

Paul makes a clear statement that “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” No one believer is superior over another, a believing Jew is not more privileged than a Gentile believer, a slave is not greater than a free person and a man is not more worthy of grace than a woman. “So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.”

Paul calls the Galatians to stand firm in their freedom in Christ; do not allow yourselves to be subject again to the yoke of slavery. If they allowed themselves to be circumcised then Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! If it is not Grace alone by Faith alone then it is not Grace at all. To rely on works to save diminishes grace alone, therefore minimizes the power of Christ to save us completely and turns his suffering into something that was not necessary.

Next Paul warns the Galatians to not use their freedom to indulge their flesh, but to live by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh. He says that our flesh, our human nature, is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit is opposed to the flesh, you cannot do what you want! Paul writes that the works of the flesh are obvious, and lists evil practices; they roughly fall into three groups of sins: sexual sins (immorality), idolatry (pagan worship) and the common evils we do to each other. Paul’s warning is clear anyone who continually lives with these moral corruptions gives evidence that they are not a child of God.

Instead believers are to live by the Spirit and the result of this is obvious as well: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the obvious characteristics of a believer who is relying on the Holy Spirit to shape their life.

Victory over our sinful natures is possible in Christ! In today’s culture we seem to spend more time denying that our vices are actually sin, therefore if they are not sin we have no logical need to deny ourselves what we want. Alternately, some of us embrace the self-help culture that relies on human effort in an attempt to save ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in us that tests us, convicts us of sin, which leads to repentance, restores us in relationship to God and each other and produces the good fruit that brings glory to our Savior.

Galatians finishes with encouragement for the church, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Paul’s 1st Missionary Journey 44-50AD

The land of Judea and Palestine are suffering under a famine, it is during this difficult time that the Church in Antioch was fasting and praying for God’s guidance. Jerusalem is the “Mother Church”, but it is the Antioch church that answers God’s call to go to the ends of the earth. Therefore, the Apostle Saul, Barnabas a Levite and his nephew John Mark set out on a journey that would take about two years. Their first stop is the Island of Cyprus, which is Barnabas’ home; they travel across the island visiting the Jewish Synagogues in each town to preach the good news of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior.

Their teaching comes to the attention of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, a governor appointed by the Roman Senate. Sergius Paulus’ advisor was a Jewish wise man known by two names; Bar-Jesus meaning son of Jesus (Joshua) and Elymas a Semitic name meaning magician or wise man. The Governor sends for Barnabas and Saul because he wants to hear the word of God. As Paulus is responding to Saul’s preaching Elymas attempts to turn the Roman ruler away from God’s truth. Saul speaks up forcefully and with authority he calls Elymas out for being a child of the devil instead of his given name son of Yahweh is Salvation (Joshua). He denounces Elymas as an enemy of the righteous, and declares that God would strike him blind; for a time “you will be unable to see the light of the sun”. This demonstration of God’s power through Saul convinces Sergius Paulus to believe, this is a precursor of the responsiveness of the Gentiles, and additionally this event marks the beginning of Paul’s leadership on their journey.

The trio sails from Cyprus to Asia Minor’s port city of Perga, it is here that John Mark leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. We don’t know why Mark left, but what we do know is that Saul considers this a desertion and his judgment is harsh against John Mark. Saul and Barnabas continue their journey; Saul now goes by his Roman name of Paul and assumes the leadership role. As they travel they preach in the Synagogues on the Sabbath addressing the Men of Israel and Gentiles who fear God. The initial response is positive, with the elders asking them to return the next week to preach again with the result that many believed. The following week almost the entire town came to hear Paul speak; this would have included not just God fearing Gentiles but pagan Gentiles as well. When the Jewish leaders saw the great response of the crowd they were filled with jealously and stirred up “God-fearing women of high social standing and the prominent men of the city to persecute Paul and Barnabas and throw them out of the region”. Even though they were abused, Paul and Barnabas are filled with joy and continued on.

This same scenario happened in Iconium, they started in the Jewish Synagogue and when large numbers of Jews and Gentiles believed the Jewish leaders responded with persecution. Paul and Barnabas spoke with courage, and God blessed them with signs, wonders and works of the Holy Spirit. Their persecutors attempted to stone them, but Paul and Barnabas were warned and escaped just in time.

In Lystra Paul healed a man who was lame since birth when the pagan crowd saw this they declared the Paul and Barnabas must be Zeus and Hermes come to earth. They gathered the crowd and attempted to sacrifice offerings to Barnabas and Paul. When the Apostles realized what was happening they tore their clothes in grief and repentance and tried to stop the crowd. Paul explains that they are men just like you and confronts the pagans to turn from their worthless idols to the Living God. At this moment Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrive to stir up trouble against Paul and Barnabas, this is quite the feat, some would have traveled for 30 days to oppress Paul and Barnabas. They convince the crowd to stone Paul, and they drag him outside the city gates and leave him for dead. In response, at great risk, the disciples surround Paul and pray; he quickly recovers and returns to the city then leaves the next day for Derbe. After Derbe, Paul and Barnabas retrace their route in their return to Antioch, stopping in each town to strengthen the new disciples and appoint leaders for each new church.

In 49AD, the Emperor Claudius expels all the Jews from Rome, Roman historians’ record that the Jews were rioting over the various views about Christ. Rome has had troubles with the Jews in Alexandria, in Judea and now Rome. Since Christianity was viewed as a sect of Judaism in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans, all Jews, Christian and non-Christian are suspicious, potential revolutionaries and were discriminated against.

Acts 15 records a meeting in Jerusalem with the Apostles and Elders; it has been named the Jerusalem Council. The account begins when Jewish believers arrived in Antioch from Jerusalem to teach that the new Gentile believers must be circumcised and follow the intricate Mosaic Laws in order to be saved. This resulted in a major debate between Paul and Barnabas and a division in the church. The church elders decide to send a delegation to the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem to settle the disagreement. Along the way Paul and Barnabas give reports of their mission trip in each church along the way. They tell the joyous news that God was turning the hearts of the Gentiles to belief in Jesus Christ. Arriving in Jerusalem, they give the same report which was received with great joy, but then some Pharisee believers challenged them and claimed it was necessary for the new Gentile believers to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. A debate follows, and then the Apostles and Elders meet separately to continue the discussion, finally the Apostle Peter stands to address the group. He recounts his experiences and what God revealed in a vision, the conversion of Cornelius and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He relates the voice from heaven announcing, “What God has made clean, you must not consider ritually unclean!”, that “God has granted the repentance that leads to life, even to the Gentiles” and that God has made no distinction between them and us. The Apostles and Elders rejoin the assembly and give their decision, James the head of the church in Jerusalem speaks; he summarizes Peter’s declaration and agrees with Peter stating clearly “we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God”.

Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch with a delegation from the Jerusalem church and a letter from the Apostles and Elders. They will not place any additional burdens, specifically circumcision, on the Gentiles, but ask for the sake of Jews and Gentiles living and worshiping together that they would abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood and from sexual immorality. This section ends with Paul and Barnabas deciding they would return to Asia Minor with the letter from the Apostles and visit the churches. However they had a sharp disagreement when Barnabas wanted John Mark to accompany them again; the conclusion was that they would part company, Paul and Silas would visit the churches in Asia Minor and Barnabas and Mark would go the Cyprus. This disagreement would not last forever; Paul will be reunited in ministry with John Mark who goes on to become Peter’s assistant recording his sermons for our benefit in the Gospel of Mark.

Just as God placed “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven” in Jerusalem on Pentecost it was God turning the hearts of the Gentiles towards faith in Christ. We are blessed that the Apostles and Elders of the early church recognized God’s work and responded by not hindering any from coming to faith.

James

It is about ten years since the resurrection, the church continues to grow; following the LORD’s command they have taken the Gospel from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria. In Antioch the believers are called Christians by their Greek speaking neighbors, meaning Christ’s people. The believers refer to themselves as The Way and believers in Judea are known as Nazarenes. During the summer of 43 AD a prophet named Agabus arrives in Antioch from Jerusalem, through the Holy Spirit he prophetically predicts that there will be a great famine spread over the entire Roman world. The famine arrives in Judea in 45-48 AD; these were hard years of turmoil and suffering. In 44 AD the Apostle James, the brother of John one of the sons of Thunder is beheaded by King Herod Agrippa. The Apostle Peter is arrested too, he narrowly escapes the same fate, but an angel of the LORD wakes him up, his chains fall off and then he passes miraculously through opened gates to escape Jerusalem. Later that year King Herod Agrippa dies a dramatic death; on a day determined in advance, Herod puts on his royal robes and makes a speech to the crowd. The crowd shouts their approval, saying “this is the voice of a god and not a man!” Immediately Herod was struck dead and eaten by worms, “but the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying”. Many people in Judea saw these events as a signs of the end times, additionally Josephus records a series of messianic-pretenders, each dealt with increasing severely by the Roman governors.

It is during this heighten time of turmoil that James the Just, writes a letter to be circulated to Jewish Christians living in Judea and Samaria. James refers to himself as slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ; a servant who completely belongs to his master, a master that he has chosen. James is Jesus’ brother, he along with his brothers Joseph, Simon and Judas did not believe in Jesus, they were not disciples of Jesus and actively worked against him. We know that after Jesus’ ascension that Mary and Jesus’ brother were with the disciples awaiting the Holy Spirit (Acts 1) and that Jesus personally appeared to his brother James after his resurrection. (1 Cor. 15) James went from doubter and critic of Jesus’ teachings to become the head of the church in Jerusalem, known as James the Righteous.

The early church was facing trials that were testing their faith; James said consider these trials as “pure joy”. Were the persecutions, the hardships of the famine and the rise of messianic pretenders causing them to doubt their faith in Jesus? James explains that trials of every kind develops perseverance, and perseverance under trials results in mature and complete believers and those who have stood the test will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James encourages them to believe and to not doubt; do not act as a double minded man, unstable in everything he does.

Next James warns against being deceived by temptation; while trials are hardships that come from outside of a person, temptations come from within a person. “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James reminds the believers that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father who does not change; God does not tempt us nor can God be tempted by evil – therefore do not be deceived! Were the new Christians being tempted to follow false Messiahs? Or perhaps they are being tempted to fall back into trusting on their own works for their Salvation?

James quickly gives a list of do’s and don’ts for the church; be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger, put away moral filth and evil, act humble and live your faith, don’t just listen but live out the gospel message, keep control of your language, care for the less fortunate and keep yourself from sin. What practical advice for all of us, I find when I follow James’ counsel; the disturbing news and strife of our daily lives can be lived out in God’s grace rather than in anxiety.

James addresses a serious issue that has arisen in the church community, namely their showing favoritism to the rich and ignoring the needs of the poor. James is teaching against decades of cultural thinking; the common thought was that the rich were blessed because they were righteous and the poor were being punished for their sins. But James admonishes the believers to live differently. Showing favoritism towards the rich violates the Royal Law to “love your neighbor as yourself”; it is sin to show favoritism, and mercy always triumphs over judgmental attitudes.

James continues with this same world-shattering thought in discussing faith and works. Jewish Christians were raised in a culture that focused on good works that would bring salvation. The belief that your good works are measured against your sins, if the good outweighed the evil and you were a descendant of Abraham, then you were saved. James is teaching a revolutionary concept – a reversal in thinking. It is Faith in Christ that produces good works, not good works that result in a saving faith. Martin Luther describes this as: A man is justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Genuine faith will produce good deeds and righteous living, but only faith in Christ saves. James states, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead”.

On to the next issue in the early church that is a current problem today. “With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness”. Our language, the way we speak to each other and about each other is causing division; instead we should speak with humility, without bitter envy and selfish ambition. The wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and not hypocritical. James is very clear, the angry language, the bitter jealousy, proud attitude, unkindness and selfishness is not from God, this behavior reflects an earthly wisdom and it is demonic.

James then poses the question, how then do we stop the quarrels and fights? The answer is simple yet hard for us to do; submit to God and resist the devil, draw near to God, mourn, grieve, weep and make your hearts pure. Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up. “Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?” James 4:11, The Message

Take a deep breath, pause before you post that snarky response on social media about fellow Christians. You do not need to agree with them but God calls us to guard our tongue, curb our angry replies and respond with grace and love.

James concludes with: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t to it, sins”. We are to be patient and stand firm, don’t grumble against each other, be an example of patience in suffering and perseverance and PRAY! When we are in trouble and suffering – Pray! When we are happy – Rejoice in Praise! When we are sick – Pray for healing! When we are convicted of our sins – Confess and pray for Forgiveness! James who was known for his constant prayer, justice and righteousness tells us: “The prayers of a righteous man is powerful and effective”.