Friday, March 22, 2013

P1 - F.O.C.U.S on Christ's return

James 5:8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

The importance of focusing on Christ's return
The amount of space in the Bible devoted to Bible prophecy (eschatology, i.e study of last things) equals out to 1 out of every 5 Bible verses!1 James is a very practical book, connecting the relationship between one's profession and practice of faith.  When we come to the fifth chapter, James switches his focus from how to live as Christians in this present day world to that of living in light of Christ's second coming. 

The significance of James 5 in the study of Bible prophecy (eschatology)
Without a doubt the key verses in James 5:1-20 are found in James 5:7-8 "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."  The underlined phrases in these two verses are translations of one Greek word (parousia = pay-roo-see-a) that speaks of the "visible presence of the Lord at His coming".  In 16 other places in the New Testament we find the same Greek word in texts that deal with the second coming of Jesus Christ.2  Like a bull's eye, James 5:7-8 is central to guiding James' thoughts before and after the verses, driving home the point that his readers and us are  to exercise living active faith because the Lord is coming back!  

In today's blog we want to begin considering the five benefits of focusing on Christ's return. To aid us in our thinking, we will use the acrostic F.O.C.U.S to show why you and I should be focusing on the second coming of Jesus Christ:

1. Fights against worldliness. James 5:1-6
2. Operates endurance. James 5:7-8
3. Calms the saints. James 5:9-11
4. Undergirds the prayer-life James 5:12-18
5. Strengthens evangelism James 5:19-20

So let's consider that first benefit of focusing on Christ's return, namely that by doing so, we can....

Fight Against Worldliness.  James 5:1-6
How James echoes the outcry against worldliness found throughout scripture
When you read James 5:1-6 in light of James 5:7-8, you can see why James is coming down hard on those who have been seduced by the riches of this world. 3 Anytime we become worldly in our thinking as Christians, we are giving ourselves over in an area to the way we thought, acted or believed before salvation.  Sadly for unbelievers, this life and all of its possessions are as good as it gets.  In the true story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man in torments is reminded in Luke 16:25 "But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish."  Was Jesus against people having possessions? Hardly.  However Jesus was warning his listeners of the overall message touted in scripture: do not love the world.  In other places Jesus warns about what happens when we make the world and its possessions our gods: greed leads to prioritizing this life over one's soul. (Luke 12:21)4

The Apostle John echoes a similar warning in 1 John 2:15-16 "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world." (ESV)

James is echoing the deep concern and danger echoed by Jesus, John and the whole of scripture. In fact, the tenth commandment warns about the dangers of coveting - which is excessive desire for possessions and people not intended for nor belonging to us. The message could not be any clearer: there is nothing wrong with having possessions, just as long as you don't let your poessessions take hold of you.

How James specifically uses the second coming of Jesus Christ as the deterrent to worldliness
James uses the second coming of Jesus to curb the worldly tendencies of his listeners in this fifth chapter of his epistle.  Consider some of the following observations:

5:1 Ignorance is not bliss.  Too much enjoyment of riches can result in misplaced spiritual priorities and threat of judgment

5:2-3 Whatever is done on this earth will pass, but whatever is done for Christ will last.5   James uses the threat of temporal judgment and eternal judgment to shake his readers out of their complacency.  Ironically, James refers to their "gold and silver" having rusted, since precious metals are known for not being subject to decay nor rust. 

5:4-6 James emphasizes the fact that these people have not payed their laborers - likening their attitude to that of Pharoah in the Exodus.  For centuries God's people were under forced labor or slavery in Egypt.  Furthermore, James uses a particular name of God - Jehovah Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts) to contrast the decaying riches of his readers to the endless riches of God Himself.  In passages such as Isaiah 28:29 and Romans 9:29 we see this title "Jehovah Sabaoth" refer to the grandeur and Majesty of God. 6

Conclusion for today
By focusing on Christ's soon return, James gives the reader the antidote to worldliness.  We close today with words from the Apostle John in 1 John 3:2-3 wherein we see this promise: "Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearsa we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure."
More tomorrow.....
End Notes_________________

1. Of those over 6,000 Bible verses dealing with nearly 1,000 prophecies of all sorts of people and places, 224 of them are about Jesus Christ's second coming. 

2. For the informed reader, the Greek word translated "coming of the Lord" is the one Greek word "parousia" (pa-roo-see-a).  The following verses feature this word and it would be advisable for the student of scripture to read each one to grasp all that is said about this thought: Matthew 24:3, 27,37,39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1,8,9; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16, 3:4,12; 1 John 2:28.  Interestingly enough, James was the first New Testament book written, predating Matthew by at least five years. 

3. We know from other scriptures that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. (1 Timothy 6:10) Having things is not wrong - as long as things don't have you. If we were to summarize James' teaching in these verses, it would come from the lips of Jesus in Luke 6:24 - “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." (ESV)

4. In fact, Jesus uses the warning of getting consumed by too much riches as a sign that a person is not truly a disciple but rather lost, for as He notes in Mark 8:46 - "what does a profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses His own soul." 

5. I find it interesting that James does not address the rich people here with the well known title "brethren", indicating that perhaps his readers are uncoverted. The phrase "last days" is used some 15 times in the New Testament to refer to the events surrounding and leading up to Christ's second coming.

6. Certainly other places in scripture indicate that persistent love of this world and its riches is a sign that a person may not be a Christian. (1 John 2:15-17) Althought people from Abraham to David to Solomon had wealth, yet whenever the wealth came to be enjoyed above the giver of it (as in Solomon's case), spiritual decline resulted. 

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