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Posted By Nan

Today I commence a study on the Letters of John. They are considered to have been written after the Gospel of John, at a time when John was thought to be living in Ephesus. It was thought that he was exiled from Ephesus to Patmos, from where he wrote Revelation. The letters were written towards the end of the first century AD, when John was an old man. At the time, the false doctrine that was later to grow into Gnosticism was beginning to appear in the congregations of followers. The Gnostics believed that flesh was bad and spirit was good. As flesh was bad, then our bodies were evil. Salvation was not the payment for our sins, it was the escape from our body. This was achieved, not by faith in Jesus but but special knowledge known only to the inner circle of Gnostics (Greek for knowledge is gnosis). The Gnostics denied Jesus humanity by either saying he only “appeared” to have a body – it was an illusion or that the human Jesus was joined by the divine Christ at his Baptism and left him before he died. The Gnostics treated their bodies badly as they believed the body was evil. They also argued that as they lived in evil bodies and were therefore sinning then sin was of no moral consequence. In effect, the Gnostics denied Jesus was the Son of God and did not consider salvation came through Him but only through the “special knowledge” of the Gnostics.
When this background is known, the first four verses of 1 John can be seen in their true beauty and intent.
1 John 1:1-4
These verses, like the first few verses of John 1, are exceptionally beautiful. They speak of “That which was from the beginning” (v1 NIV). This is a beautiful echo of “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2 NIV). From the very first sentence of this letter John proclaims that Jesus was from the beginning.
To qualify his authority to proclaim this, John then adds “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” (v1 NIV). He states that not only he, but others, heard Jesus, saw Him with their own eyes, observed and also touched. This last reference to touching includes them touching the resurrected Jesus. If Jesus was not real, as the Gnostics claimed, he could not have been touched.
John continues in verse 2 to testify to having seen the life that appeared, that was real, and the eternal life demonstrated in the resurrected Jesus, that John and others also witnessed. In this he emphasised that he was not the only one to witness Jesus’, there were others as well.
He proclaims here what he and others saw and heard, because he wants the readers to share in that good news of Jesus’ salvation. He wants the readers to have fellowship with those who witnessed Jesus saving ministry. But not only will the readers have fellowship with John and his fellow witnesses. They will have fellowship with God the Father and Jesus His Son. This fellowship will make John’s joy complete.
These verses set the tone for 1 John. This is a relating of the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the true doctrine, not the false words of the Gnostics. This is life. It is our completion and our eternal joy.

 
Posted By Nan

James 5:19-20
These final two verses conclude the letter. James closes by telling his readers why he has written the letter. Some of the readers have “wandered from the truth” (19). When he uses this phrase, he is not describing relatively minor sins, he is describing behaviour that has taken the believer away from faith in Jesus. He admonishes the readers to seek to restore these fallen brothers in Christ, rather than condemn them. James considers the result of bringing a fallen brother back to Christ reduces the amount of sin in the world, as well as saving the person from eternal death.
For James this restoration and decision to not condemn is the result of love. It is also God’s love that atones for our sins and this restored brother has needed his sins atoned for. The brother has been saved from a place of hatred, which is also where condemnation, gossip, rumours and stirring up strife reside. That restored brother can also know that he has been able to overcome the trials and tests set before him and has been able to bring his sin to Jesus and continue to live in Jesus, rejoicing in those tests and his restored faith.
A wonderful conclusion to a powerful and inspiring letter.
In the next blog, I will be commencing a study of the three letters of John.

 
Posted By Nan

James 5:13-18
This section is a prayer for health. In the format of the standard Greek Letter, it is one where the writer wishes the reader good health by the gods. However, James is offering something much better. He is offering God and the provision He has made for our healing. Of course this is not new for the letter’s recipients. He is merely reminding them of what they should be doing.
In the blessing for health, James divides health into two categories. The first is tests or trials that come from outside us. These are the trials and tests James has mentioned throughout this letter. He reminds those suffering in this way to pray. He does not necessarily instruct them to pray for deliverance, as many think, but for patient endurance (James 1:2-18). As an additional point, James reminds those readers who are not suffering trials and tests to pray also, but this time prayers of praise.
The second category is that of physical illness. James admonishes those who are spiritually mature amongst the fellowship to pray over those who are ill and anoint them with oil as a physical reminder of Jesus’ healing. The prayers and anointing are done in the name of the Lord and it is He who will provide the healing. Sometimes this will take time and may not take the form we expect it to take. When talking of the physically ill, James makes a connection between illness and sin. As noted in John 9:3, not all illness is the result of sin but sin can cause illness (1 Corinthians 11:30). The illness James particularly discusses in this passage is that caused by sin. For healing to take place the sin at the root of the illness needs to be dealt with. To prevent this form of illness, James reminds the readers to confess their sins to each other. We are not required to do this always. Not every Christian is in a position to find others to listen to their confession. If it is possible, the acknowledgment of sin to each other and praying for each other, helps in knowing that the sin has been forgiven.
As a final note, James encourages those who feel they are too ordinary to pray for another person so remember that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16b). He cites the example of Elijah who prays for no rain. For three and a half years there was no rain in Israel. When he prayed fervently again for rain God answered his prayer (1 Kings 18:42-46). As human beings we are ordinary and ineffective. However with the Holy Spirit within us and our lives surrendered to Jesus we can perform mighty acts in His name.

 
Posted By Nan

James 5:12
In The Message, Eugene Peterson introduces the instruction not to swear or make an oath by heaven or earth because we know God cares and our language should show it. A beautiful illustration of the point James has been making that we act out of gratitude and awe at God’s love for us.
“And since you know that He cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way your language can’t be used against you.” (The Message)
James writes this verse very simply and with no ambiguity.
“But above all [things], my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath; but let your yes be [a simple] yes, and your no be [a simple] no, so that you may not sin and fall under condemnation. (The Amplified Bible)
This section follows on from the summary of the previous verses. In Greek format, this verse would be an oath certifying that what James has written is true. What James does is refer to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:33-37
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the men of old, You shall not swear falsely, but you shall perform your oaths to the Lord [as a religious duty]. But I tell you, Do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; Or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black. Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one.” (The Amplified Bible)
Jesus’ statement refers to Leviticus 19:12 “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (NIV)
Jesus was also referring to Numbers 30:2 which states that if we make a vow to the Lord we must not break our word. To break your word is to swear falsely by God and profane His name. Pretty strong stuff! We must be careful not to take our promises before God lightly because it shows how little respect we have for God and how little respect we have for our Lord.
James argument here is that if we follow Jesus we should not take oaths. Taking an oath is not wrong, but they divide our speech into statements that may be true and those that are not. But in Matthew 12:36 Jesus tells us that we will be judged for every word we speak. Therefore we should consider our words carefully and take everything we say as seriously as we would an oath. This doesn’t mean we have to always be serious, but we should always take seriously anything we say we are going to do.

 
Posted By Nan

James 5:7-11
James set out his letter in the form of formal letters written in the Greek of the time. As the Greek letter drew to an end there would be a conclusion. This would include a summary, oath and a health wish, although as this is a Christian letter, the health wish is a prayer.
This section then is the summary of what James has been saying. James has spoken about how we are tested in this life. He also spoke about the correct response to our testing being to pray and seek God. Finally he spoke of how wealth impacts the Christian, both in the effect being wealthy has on us and the effect on us of others who are wealthy and seek to harm us.
In summary, James reminds us to persevere and be patient. These are after all some of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). As an illustration he refers to the patience of the farmer who waits for the rain to grow his seed and the rain to bring his crop to maturity. In our case the harvest we await is the return of Jesus. In this James also reminds us that we live in the constant unknowing of when Jesus will return. Many throughout the centuries have grown impatient and tried to predict His coming, and it has caused harm to many people. James cautions us to wait patiently.
Waiting patiently also involves living in peace and resolving conflicts in a timely and appropriate manner. In other words, no grumbling about each other, which is a classic sign of an unresolved conflict. If you have a problem with a fellow believer then lovingly discuss it with them. And if someone wants to discuss a problem with you then lovingly listen. Do not bully others into doing what you want and disguise it as “them behaving like a good faithful Christian”. That is intimidation and bullying not Godliness. Seek to not hold on to anger and hurt but seek to hand it over to Jesus before it diverts you from your faith. Remember to keep a careful watch on that unruly tongue of yours and forgive others when they fail to watch theirs.
As inspiration  we should look to the example of “our mentors”, the Old Testament prophets who suffered at the hands of those in positions of power in Old Testament times and even into the time of Jesus. James reminds the readers that the persecutors of the Old Testament prophets are long forgotten, but the prophets’ messages and names are not. To reinforce this, James mentions Job, who although not a prophet, at the time of writing of this letter was considered to be a wonderful example of patient endurance.
The recipients of the letter of James were facing persecution and difficulties and James sought to remind them that God had not forgotten them. Just as He watched over the Old Testament prophets and blessed Job tenfold, so He shows us His mercy by allowing the testing in our lives to develop character and ensure we store for ourselves eternal treasures in heaven.
I am away until next Saturday on a long awaited holiday so there will be not blog posted on Wednesday. The blog will return on Saturday. May God bless you in your time of trial and may it bring you closer to Jesus.

 


 
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Nan
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