How Now Shall We Live?
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?
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.
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These promises are superseded by Jesus’ promise of ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10, GNT).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.
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?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.
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.
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.
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.
2 ‘“… woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
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.
15 I myself will tend my sheep and have 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... I will shepherd the flock with justice.
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:
Strengthen the weak
We do this through good teaching, encouragement, prayer and building community.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
In James 2:13b it says, ‘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.’
Thought for the Day
‘Never turn your back to the poor, for in turning your back to the poor, you are turning it to Christ.’
Action for the Day
Live out your faith with love.
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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.