Five Ts of the Christian Life
The Christian life is multi-faceted. At any given moment, I find there are a number of different things going on at the same time. In the passages for today we see five of these aspects, which all begin with the letter T.
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
The Christian life is not meant to be one of self-dependent toil, but of dependent trust. With trust comes peace and sleep.
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves’ (vv.1–2). As Victor Hugo wrote, ‘When you have... accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace; God is awake.’
It is easy to get caught up with our own plans for our lives, families and ministries. This psalm is a wonderful reminder that ultimately you are totally dependent on the Lord.
This is a message of great comfort, but it is also a challenge. Is God part of everything you do? Are there any areas of your life where you are going it alone, and therefore ‘labouring in vain’?
God wants to be involved in every area of your life. If you want your work to have lasting value, you need to make sure you are partnering with the Lord and not going it alone. Trust God with your children as well. Children are a blessing (vv.3–5) and you have to trust God for them and for their future.
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Trials and Temptations
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Listening and Doing
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
One of the things that you have in common with all Christians everywhere, is that we all face ‘trials of many kinds’ (v.2b). The letter of James is written to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (that is, to all Christians everywhere).
In one of the strangest verses of the New Testament, James says, ‘consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials’ (v.2). Rejoice in difficult situations. This turns the world’s view upside-down. ‘Trials’ are the challenges of life that test your faith and develop perseverance (vv.3–4).
As has been said, ‘Every storm is a school. Every trial is a test. Every experience is an education. Every difficulty is for your development.’
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘I finally realised that God was not going to do things my way. He placed people and situations in my life that caused me to want to quit this whole process, and he did not want an argument from me. He only wanted to hear, “Yes, Lord. Your will be done.”’
In the midst of your trials you need wisdom. As Eugene Peterson says: ‘Wisdom is not primarily about knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living.’ James says, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you’ (v.5).
There are two ways to handle a problem. One is to go it alone – that is the natural way. The other is to ask God for divine wisdom to help you to know what to do.
James speaks of ‘the testing of your faith’ (v.3). He goes on, ‘blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him’ (v.12). It is almost as if James is saying that the whole of life is a test. After you have stood the test, you will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Lord, please give me wisdom for all the decisions I have to take and all the trials that I face.
‘Temptation’, wrote William Shakespeare, is ‘the fiend at mine elbow.’ Somebody else said: ‘Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.’ Temptation is when we feel like doing the wrong thing. Temptation itself is not a sin. Rather, it is a call to battle.
Where does temptation come from? Certainly not from God. James says, ‘when tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone’ (v.13).
Often, in the Bible, temptation is seen as coming from the devil. Jesus was tempted by the devil. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent. Job was attacked by Satan.
However, the devil works on our own evil desires: ‘Each of you is tempted when, by your own evil desire, you are 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’ (vv.14–15).
Sin is always a deception. James writes, ‘Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters’ (v.16). Good things come from God: ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows’ (v.17).
You are deceived when you think that you need things that are not good. The deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve thought that they needed to experience evil as well as good. God only wants you to experience good. Every time you feel like doing the wrong thing and choose to do the right thing, you grow in maturity, strength and wisdom.
Lord, thank you that every good and perfect gift is from you. May I not be deceived into wanting to experience things that are not good.
One of the tests of your character is your tongue. James has a great deal to say on the subject of the tongue. Keep a tight rein on the tongue. Get your mouth under control (v.26).
He writes, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you’ (vv.19–21).
The word of God has the power to transform you. You need to allow time for God’s word to be planted firmly in you, to hear it and then do what it says. Rather than speaking too much, listen to God’s word and get rid of all the bad stuff in your life.
Listening in itself, though, is not enough. ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’ (v.22). If you do what it says, you will ‘be blessed’ (v.25). This includes looking after orphans and widows and keeping yourself from being polluted by the world (v.27).
A Lament Over Pharaoh
32 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month on the first day, the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:
“‘You are like a lion among the nations;
you are like a monster in the seas
thrashing about in your streams,
churning the water with your feet
and muddying the streams.
3 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘With a great throng of people
I will cast my net over you,
and they will haul you up in my net.
4 I will throw you on the land
and hurl you on the open field.
I will let all the birds of the sky settle on you
and all the animals of the wild gorge themselves on you.
5 I will spread your flesh on the mountains
and fill the valleys with your remains.
6 I will drench the land with your flowing blood
all the way to the mountains,
and the ravines will be filled with your flesh.
7 When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens
and darken their stars;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
and the moon will not give its light.
8 All the shining lights in the heavens
I will darken over you;
I will bring darkness over your land,
declares the Sovereign Lord.
9 I will trouble the hearts of many peoples
when I bring about your destruction among the nations,
among lands you have not known.
10 I will cause many peoples to be appalled at you,
and their kings will shudder with horror because of you
when I brandish my sword before them.
On the day of your downfall
each of them will tremble
every moment for his life.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“‘The sword of the king of Babylon
will come against you.
12 I will cause your hordes to fall
by the swords of mighty men—
the most ruthless of all nations.
They will shatter the pride of Egypt,
and all her hordes will be overthrown.
13 I will destroy all her cattle
from beside abundant waters
no longer to be stirred by the foot of man
or muddied by the hooves of cattle.
14 Then I will let her waters settle
and make her streams flow like oil,
declares the Sovereign Lord.
15 When I make Egypt desolate
and strip the land of everything in it,
when I strike down all who live there,
then they will know that I am the Lord. ’
16 “This is the lament they will chant for her. The daughters of the nations will chant it; for Egypt and all her hordes they will chant it, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Egypt’s Descent Into the Realm of the Dead
17 In the twelfth year, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, wail for the hordes of Egypt and consign to the earth below both her and the daughters of mighty nations, along with those who go down to the pit. 19 Say to them, ‘Are you more favoured than others? Go down and be laid among the uncircumcised.’ 20 They will fall among those killed by the sword. The sword is drawn; let her be dragged off with all her hordes. 21 From within the realm of the dead the mighty leaders will say of Egypt and her allies, ‘They have come down and they lie with the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.’
22 “Assyria is there with her whole army; she is surrounded by the graves of all her slain, all who have fallen by the sword. 23 Their graves are in the depths of the pit and her army lies around her grave. All who had spread terror in the land of the living are slain, fallen by the sword.
24 “Elam is there, with all her hordes around her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword. All who had spread terror in the land of the living went down uncircumcised to the earth below. They bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 A bed is made for her among the slain, with all her hordes around her grave. All of them are uncircumcised, killed by the sword. Because their terror had spread in the land of the living, they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are laid among the slain.
26 “Meshek and Tubal are there, with all their hordes around their graves. All of them are uncircumcised, killed by the sword because they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 But they do not lie with the fallen warriors of old, who went down to the realm of the dead with their weapons of war—their swords placed under their heads and their shields resting on their bones—though these warriors also had terrorized the land of the living.
28 “You too, Pharaoh, will be broken and will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.
29 “Edom is there, her kings and all her princes; despite their power, they are laid with those killed by the sword. They lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.
30 “All the princes of the north and all the Sidonians are there; they went down with the slain in disgrace despite the terror caused by their power. They lie uncircumcised with those killed by the sword and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.
31 “Pharaoh—he and all his army—will see them and he will be consoled for all his hordes that were killed by the sword, declares the Sovereign Lord. 32 Although I had him spread terror in the land of the living, Pharaoh and all his hordes will be laid among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Renewal of Ezekiel’s Call as Watchman
33 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. 5 Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’
7 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die, ’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.
10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live? ”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ 13 If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. 14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live.
17 “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. 18 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, they will die for it. 19 And if a wicked person turns away from their wickedness and does what is just and right, they will live by doing so. 20 Yet you Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to your own ways.”
God’s will is for ‘all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4).
The word ‘turn’ or ‘turns’ appears seven times in Ezekiel 33. God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman. He was to be held accountable. God told him to ‘warn the wicked to turn from their ways’ (Ezekiel 33:9).
Provided you speak the message God gives you, you are not responsible for the results. Ezekiel was only responsible if he failed to give the warning (vv.8–9).
This is an important reminder about family, friends and those you know who are not followers of Jesus, for example, guests on Alpha. Your responsibility is to love them, encourage them and give them the opportunity to hear the gospel. It is hugely disappointing when they do not respond positively. However, do not take the burden of their decisions on your own shoulders.
The message Ezekiel was told to give was this: if a righteous person leaves the path and turns to wickedness, their former righteousness will not help them. Yet, however ‘wicked’ a person has been, if they turn to the Lord, they will be forgiven (v.12).
God says, ‘I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live. Turn your life around! Reverse your evil ways!’ (v.11, MSG).
God wants everyone to repent of their sins and start ‘living a righteous and just life – being generous to the down-and-out, restoring what \[was\] stolen, cultivating life-nourishing ways that don’t hurt others… living a just and righteous life’ (vv.15–19, MSG).
James 1:27 says, ‘... keep [yourself] from being polluted by the world.’
Someone once told me it takes two weeks to get pollution out of our lungs.
It is even more important to keep our spiritual lungs clean. It doesn’t mean we can’t work in a polluted area, but we have to be more careful not to get contaminated. We need lots of spiritual fresh air and input.
Verse of the Day
‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life’
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Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords, 2018), p.2060
Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to James' (NavPress, 1993), p.1669.
William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act II scene ii (1596–1599).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.