Day 322

How Now Shall We Live?

Wisdom Psalm 128:1-6
New Testament James 2:1-26
Old Testament Ezekiel 33:21-35:15

Introduction

How Now Shall We Live? is the title of a book by Chuck Colson, former ‘hatchet-man’ of President Nixon, founder of Prison Fellowship, whose life was completely changed as a result of an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Centuries ago, when the people of God were in exile and despair, they cried out to God, “How should we then live?” (Ezekiel 33:10, KJV). The same question rings down through the ages. As ‘believers in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (James 2:1), how now shall we live?

Wisdom

Psalm 128:1-6

Psalm 128

A song of ascents.

  1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
   who walk in obedience to him.
  2 You will eat the fruit of your labour;
   blessings and prosperity will be yours.
  3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
   within your house;
  your children will be like olive shoots
   around your table.
  4 Yes, this will be the blessing
   for the man who fears the Lord.

  5 May the Lord bless you from Zion;
   may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
   all the days of your life.
  6 May you live to see your children’s children—
   peace be on Israel.

Commentary

Bask in blessings

God promises peace, prosperity, long life and blessing on family life for those who walk in his ways: ‘Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways’ (v.1).

You will eat the fruit of your labour (v.2). Some people slave away for money and success but never enjoy what they have earned.

But, ‘all you who fear God, how blessed you are! How happily you walk on his smooth straight road!... Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!... Stand in awe of God’s Yes. Oh, how he blesses the one who fears God! Enjoy the good life...’ (vv.1–6, MSG).

These promises are superseded by Jesus’ promise of ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10, GNT). Our life on this earth may be short and, for many, full of trouble and difficulty. But the blessings are even greater and eternal (17:3). Eternal life is a quality of life that starts now and goes on for ever.

Bask in his blessings. Walk in his ways and lead others to do the same.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for these amazing promises. Help me to bask in your blessings today.

New Testament

James 2:1-26

Favouritism Forbidden

2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Faith and Deeds

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that —and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Commentary

Live with love

The poor come to us in many forms. Mother Teresa said, ‘Never turn your back to the poor, for in turning your back to the poor, you are turning it to Christ.’

Love for the poor is not an optional extra. It is at the heart of the New Testament. It is evidence of living faith: ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right’ (v.8). Your love is shown especially in what you do for the poor (vv.2–7), the hungry (v.15) and the needy (v.16). ‘Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time’ (v.13, MSG).

Treat the rich and the poor equally. If we discriminate against the poor, then we have ‘become judges with evil thoughts’ (v.4). God’s bias, if anything, is in favour of the poor (v.5).

James goes on to say, ‘Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’ (vv.15–16).

As believers in Jesus, you are called to live differently. Your faith must be evidenced by your deeds. All the way through the New Testament, these two go together. As do words and actions; proclamation and demonstration; the conversion of individuals and the transformation of society.

James writes, ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them?… Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (vv.14,17): ‘Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-action is outrageous nonsense?’ (v.17, MSG). In other words, if your faith does not change how you live, it is not real faith at all.

James continues, ‘You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove’ (v.18, MSG).

He proves that mere intellectual belief in God is not enough: ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder’ (v.19).

Interestingly, like Paul, James uses the example of Abraham. Paul used the example of Abraham to show that justification comes by faith. James uses his life to show that ‘his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did’ (v.22).

James’ second example of this ‘seamless unity’ is a more unusual one. He looks at the actions of Rahab, who is described as a prostitute. She demonstrated her faith in God by helping out two Israelite spies (see Joshua 2) and was ‘considered righteous’ as a result – though she can hardly be described as a model citizen!

By using her as an example, James makes clear that he is not talking about earning our way to God by being good people. Rather, he is demonstrating that there is a ‘seamless unity of believing and doing’ (James 2:25, MSG). Rahab acted on what she believed. James concludes, ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ (v.26).

As John Calvin put it, ‘Faith alone justifies, but faith which justifies is never alone.’ You cannot earn your salvation. You are not saved by your good works, but you are saved in order to do good works (Ephesians 2:9–10). The book of James does not contradict the apostle Paul (as some have suggested). James’ point is not that you can earn your salvation by good deeds. Rather, he is saying that genuine faith will be evidenced by how you live.

Prayer

Lord, help me to live a life of love and to act urgently on behalf of the poor – locally and globally.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 33:21-35:15

Jerusalem’s Fall Explained

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen! ” 22 Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was on me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent.

23 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’ 25 Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? 26 You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbour’s wife. Should you then possess the land?’

27 “Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. 28 I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.’

30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

33 “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them. ”

The Lord Will Be Israel’s Shepherd

34 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

25 “‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

A Prophecy Against Edom

35 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Mount Seir; prophesy against it 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Mount Seir, and I will stretch out my hand against you and make you a desolate waste. 4 I will turn your towns into ruins and you will be desolate. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

5 “‘Because you harboured an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax, 6 therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you. 7 I will make Mount Seir a desolate waste and cut off from it all who come and go. 8 I will fill your mountains with the slain; those killed by the sword will fall on your hills and in your valleys and in all your ravines. 9 I will make you desolate forever; your towns will not be inhabited. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

10 “‘Because you have said, “These two nations and countries will be ours and we will take possession of them,” even though I the Lord was there, 11 therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will treat you in accordance with the anger and jealousy you showed in your hatred of them and I will make myself known among them when I judge you. 12 Then you will know that I the Lord have heard all the contemptible things you have said against the mountains of Israel. You said, “They have been laid waste and have been given over to us to devour. ” 13 You boasted against me and spoke against me without restraint, and I heard it. 14 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: While the whole earth rejoices, I will make you desolate. 15 Because you rejoiced when the inheritance of Israel became desolate, that is how I will treat you. You will be desolate, Mount Seir, you and all of Edom. Then they will know that I am the Lord.’”

Commentary

Shepherd the sheep

The Lord spoke out against the leaders of Israel – ‘the shepherds of Israel’ (34:2). He accused them of only taking care of themselves and not taking care of the flock (v.8). ‘You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost’ (v.4).

The Lord said, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I myself will tend my sheep… I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice’ (vv.11,15–16).

God’s message to his people through Ezekiel had a very similar theme to that of James. The Lord said to Ezekiel, ‘They listen to you speak, but don’t do a thing you say... They love to hear you talk, but nothing comes of it’ (33:31–32, MSG).

How now shall we live? When we compare the good shepherd to those who have failed to look after the flock, it is clear that there are a number of things that you are called to do:

  1. Strengthen the weak

    We do this through good teaching, encouragement, prayer and building community.

  2. Heal the sick

    Honour all those in the medical profession and all those involved in the healing of the sick. You can lay hands on the sick and pray for them in Jesus’ name.

  3. Bind up the injured

    There are so many broken people in our society – in the prisons, homeless on the streets and even in the boardrooms of companies. The Spirit of the Lord enables you to bind up the broken-hearted as you pray for them, embrace them, listen to them and care for them in your community.

  4. Go after the strays

    There are many prodigal sons and daughters who have strayed from the Father, like lost sheep. Help them come back to the Father’s arms.

  5. Search for the lost

    At times, you may have to leave the other sheep to search for the one who is lost, to bring them back to repentance and cause more joy in heaven. (Luke 15:1–7).

  6. Shepherd with justice

    Seek justice on behalf of the oppressed, the needy and the poor. We should rescue children, women and men from slavery, bring the perpetrators to justice, set the captives free and care for them.

God’s promises to tend his flock become intertwined with the promise of a new shepherd, ‘my servant David’ (Ezekiel 34:23). This promise points back to the historical king David, who was Israel’s best shepherd to date, but it also points forwards to an even greater ‘David’ who will fulfil all these promises – Jesus, our King and Shepherd.

Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd’ (John 10:14). Through him you receive the ‘showers of blessing’ (Ezekiel 34:26) and salvation (v.27). He says, ‘You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.’ (v.31).

Bask in his blessings. Live a life of love. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, search for the lost and look after people with justice. This is how you should live today.

Prayer

Lord, let me not just hear your words, but put them into practice.

Pippa adds

James 2:13

‘Mercy triumphs over judgment.’

It is more important to be forgiving than to be right.

Verse of the Day

James 2:13 (MSG)

‘Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.’

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References

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.

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