James 1

James is named after its author, rather than its recipient, as in some of the other letters. It is likely that this is James, the brother of Jesus. This letter is also probably addressed to Christians of a Jewish heritage, given its style and its content. (Thank you, Biblegateway plus for the wealth of information!)

The first verse talks about the tribes of Israel scattered among the nations. The original context is a) a play on words (James is English for Jacob, one of the tribes b) reverent c) referencing prophesies. So in that one line, you can see how rich that text is. However, as some reading it in a cafe in Phnom Penh, it has a significance for me: linking both the past and present. It’s often hard to consider ourselves as a part of the story of the Old Testament, but we very much are.

James does not hold back any punches. Between verses 4-8 James addresses:

  • perseverance and joy in the face of temptations
  • perseverance leading to maturity and completion in faith
  • asking for and receiving wisdom in generous portions
  • believing that you will receive the wisdom
  • those who doubt are double-minded and shouldn’t expect wisdom from God.

Then verses 9-11 discuss how those that are humble are exalted, but riches wither and fade humiliating those in high position (this humiliation, James ironically notes, is something to take pride in). James was the leader of the church of Jerusalem, where urban slums would have existed. Furthermore, the Jews during James’ time were persecuted, leading to poverty, so it was likely many of his readers were facing great difficulties.

However, once again, it definitely speaks to me as someone currently living in a country that faces poverty. I don’t want to fall into the trap of simplifying the difficulties of the poor or using the cliched “they are so grateful for what they have”. That being said, the outworking of these verses about perseverance is evident. The faith of the believers in Cambodia, who do need to overcome these struggles, is far richer and deeper and simultaneously more simple in their assertions. They say God helps them. There doesn’t seem to be the caveats or scepticism you might see elsewhere. Maybe it is this that is the humiliation of the rich: our poorer faith.

James, again, not holding back, blames anyone who fails to resist temptation. Circumstances, difficulties and, certainly not, God do not cause people to fall into sin. Our desires and the fulfilment of those desires does.

James reminds us of God’s goodness and generosity. Only good gifts come from God, so the bad is not from God. One of the gifts is grace and rebirth, which we must remember in times of temptation.

Verses 19-26 are also highly practical. It’s based around the idea of listening, but leads onto the idea that we should listen to what the word tells us and act on it. It calls out hypocrisy, saying those that listen to the word but don’t act are like those who can’t remember their own reflections after looking in a mirror.

It also challenges me about the future. I will be doing a lot of training over the next few years (including an MA). This makes me reflect on how I should put these ideas into practise and not treat it just as an academic exercise.

These verses are also interesting, telling people to hush their mouths and don’t be hasty to speak in anger. Given the context of the time was a lot of angry and revolutionary Jewish people, this is counter cultural. It also makes me wonder about how Christians respond to the Black Lives Matter and issues those that are oppressed and persecuted. Again, this gives rise to questions about a theology of oppression and justice, one that I haven’t really thought about or formulated for myself. But, evidently, thoughtless, angry and ill-considered statements aren’t the way forward. I think, however, James asks for a practical response rather than one of just words: in the last verse of the chapter he asks for the care of orphans and widows.

Reflection Questions

The process of blogging about my Bible reading seems to more often create questions rather than answers. I decided to make a note of them here, so I can hopefully go back to them and answer them. I might even do some posts where I try to reflect on them and give my personal thoughts.

  • How do I persevere in times of trials?
  • How do I live with humility despite being from a privileged Western background?
  • Who or what do I blame for my failures?
  • How do I make sure I put teachings into practise?
  • How should I respond with words and action to injustices in this world?

2 Timothy 4

Again, Paul discussed the importance of perseverance and of integrity, especially in keeping with the word of God. It reminds us how important consistent and faithful study of the Word is. It also tells us how we should pursue it expecting the Holy Spirit to inform us, not our culture or those preaching it. There is a long history of people distorting scripture for their own purposes or so that people would want to listen. We must remember that God is the ultimate authority on Scripture, so it’s his opinion on it that matters.

Paul talks about his difficulties again: being poured out, abandoned, cheated by those around him. He still notes how God was faithful in these circumstances. Again, it reminds us that the approval of man is not worth seeking, but it is God, who will sustain and strengthen us, who we should endlessly pursue. I am definitely a people pleaser, and forget that it is God that I should be pursuing, although he is always to pursue me first.

1 Timothy 4

This chapter of 1 Timothy starts with the warning about false teachers and liars, those that give meaningless advice and myths. Then it talks about training yourself to be Godly. This is quite an interesting concept. I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You, which is about self-control and discipline. Dyck writes that the modern church is often resistant to the idea of exerting effort to obtain Godliness and “there have been whole movements in church history defined by their belief that we progress in the Christian life only as passive recipients.” (pp. 141-142) But this verse, with the use of the word “train” definitely makes it sound something more intentional and strenuous.

1 Timothy is also helpful in reminding us the why of the training. It’s very clear about the reason for our efforts:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

(Verse 10)

Paul compares it to physical training, which is helpful. In order to become physically fit, it takes effort over a period of time, which is focused on the type and area of fitness or ability you wish to obtain. These are things I’m not very good at, it seems, so I have to be better at

  • focus,
  • prolonged perseverance,
  • effort.

(If you’ve surmised I’m unfocused, easily waylaid and lazy, you might not be too wrong.) Paul doesn’t stop there either, and encourages Timothy to set an example in speech, love, faith, purity, to devote himself to Scripture, teaching and preaching, to be diligent and to watch his life carefully. It’s quite a task, it seems. I could easily dismiss it as instructions for Timothy, but it would be lazy and silly. God wants us to devote ourselves to the gifts he’s given us and to consider our lives carefully.

There is also a lot riding on this: the final statement extolls Timothy to persevere so that he will save both himself and his hearers. I think I too often forget the task that I’ve been given and the significance of this. Often, you think, “Oh, it’s not a case of life and death” when deciding on whether to follow through with the task or not. Which is sort of right. It’s a case of eternal life and death, for both yourself and for those you are called to serve. That’s very sobering.

Dyck, Drew. Your Future Self Will Thank You. Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 Thessalonians 3

The letters to Thessalonians are almost completed, despite having taken me months to complete them (a global pandemic got in the way). I’ve had to read back on what I’ve read in the letters to refresh my memory. It’s been somewhat sobering as I realise I have been doing exactly what James 1: 22-25 warns against doing: hearing and forgetting. The letters had lots of advice ready for me to use in this time of COVID-19 and yet I followed none of it. So, perhaps they weren’t lessons learnt after-all. ()r this was the lesson – who knows?)

Yesterday, I had a zoom prayer session and was blessed by friends on the other side of the world gathering to pray for me. My final prayer echoed the words of verse one: “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you.” I prayed that the message of the gospel may be heard whatever my situation and that Christ be glorified. Verses 2-4 are very encouraging as well. Verse 5 is an especially beautiful prayer.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Can I get an amen? I certainly need my heart directed into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. It’s been running a on empty recently and my perseverance has been shaky at best. (Nonexistent at worst and probably at its most honest, too.)

Verses 6 to 15 is a rebuke against idleness. I manage to give an illusion of industry, but I’m probably pretty idle. I like a good nap and I sometimes (daily) put off things I should. I’d like to be a pathetic millennial and say adulting is hard but it’s not, especially in my situation. So, I probably should get a grip a bit more. It also might help me in making some rather large decisions about next steps, when I’m looking to make life easier but probably can’t.

Another consequence of COVID-19 is there is plenty of stress and uncertainty happening. So, again, the Bible is timely and relevant. God is good.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Yes, Lord, be with me and give me peace at all times and in every way. Amen.

1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3 talks about how Paul and Timothy were forced to leave Thessalonica due to persecution. This is timely because many friends and colleagues are leaving Phnom Penh, not because of persecution though, but because of COVID-19. Despite the obstacles and difficulties being difficult, it’s helpful to hear from the thoughts of Paul as he had to leave people he loved in a time of uncertainty.

Paul was worried about the faith of the Thessalonians; he feared the oppression would be too much and the believers there would fall away. So that is something to pray for in the uncertainty of coronavirus; that people do not fall away. Rather, we pray that believers across the world can be “standing firm in the Lord” as the Thessalonians did.

We can also pray this prayer for believers, the same one Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

So, during this time, lets pray for

  • strength
  • joy
  • holiness.

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Philippians 2

This chapter begins with how we should respond to being united in Christ: with humility, by being like-minded, putting others before yourselves. We are to consider Christ and his mindset, which Paul tells us in what is perhaps one of the earliest hymns in the church’s history.

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

verses 6-8

The hymn goes on to tell us how God raised Christ, and how every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The next passage is interesting in terms of the idea of salvation. We are clearly saved by faith and grace and not by works. However, verse 12 tells us to “continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.” This still puts the authority at God’s feet, but it’s not passive and we’re not to just kick our feet up and relax. We are to be willing and active participants in the work the God is doing and we should be actively obedient to his will and purpose.

Paul tells the Philippians the way they can be blameless and pure, and it probably surprising what he write. He tells them to not grumble or bicker. I know I’m definitely guilty of grumbling, and if I don’t actually bicker, I know I want to!

The last part of the passage is about Timothy and Epaphroditus. Both are willing, faithful and sacrificial servants to God and both submit themselves to Paul. The testimony here of their faith is an encouragement to us, especially when hearing about their struggles. You get the sense that they are joyful and committed despite everything that happened to them. It definitely reminds us to persevere in unity and love for one another despite what happens.