What is the Old Testament about? part 1

10 Dec

I thought we might take a little time to talk about the Old Testament.

Now that might excite you. Or, I guess, that might scare you.

Some people love the Old Testament. Some people hate it. But honestly, love it or hate it, most people are pretty confused by it. 

To a certain extent, you can understand why.

After all, it’s a pretty big book. I mean, it’s really, really long. It’s got about six times as many words as the New Testament, and the New Testament already seems long, for a lot of us. 

And, it’s not just long either.

It’s old. 

Even the part of the Bible, they call New, actually, the New Testament was written a couple thousand years ago, and, the Old Testament is even older. And, to make it even more difficult, it’s not even just one book, really. It is thirty nine different books, written by many different authors, written in another language, mostly Hebrew, but with a little Aramaic in there as well to people of different cultures, containing all kinds of different writing styles. 

There are ancient peoples you have never heard of before and others you don’t know much about: Amalekites, Edomites, Jebusites, Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines and on and on. 

There are strange laws and customs that are very unfamiliar to most of us. As you are reading through Leviticus, you will find a whole chapter dedicated to explaining what to do in situations for example, when a man or woman has a disease on the head or the beard, and there are different suggestions based on wither there is yellow hair, or black hair, or white spots, reddish white spots. We have got chapters in other books on the kind of clothes a priest should wear, laws concerning cities of refuge, concerning warfare, what to do with unsolved murders.

This is a big, old, complicated set of books, the Old Testament. 

And so obviously, you can understand, someone picking it up, and wondering, what is going on? What is this all about? 

That’s a good question actually.

The first step to understanding what the Old Testament is about, is understanding, what the Old Testament is. 

If, you picked up a book of quotes and didn’t know what a book of quotes was. Maybe, you think it’s supposed to be this story, and, you pick it up. You are going to be confused, why are there, these random sentences, with names under them? Until, you understand oh, this is a book of quotes, and then, at that point, you can figure out, what’s going on, and even how you are supposed to read it which is true with the Old Testament as well. 

Some people think the Old Testament is a rule book. After all, it’s got all these laws. Some people think it is a magical book. Like if they just quote it, without understanding it, it can do something for them. Some people think it is a book of various teachings. Almost like, it were made up of different articles you could read on how to live your best life. 

But, really, the Old Testament is much bigger and better than that. 

While the Old Testament does have rules, it’s not primarily written to give you a list of things to do. While it does contain teachings, it’s not ultimately written to give you advice on how to live a good life. And while it is not magic, it is powerful. 

A much better way to understand what the Old Testament is,  fundamentally, is to say, the Old Testament fundamentally, is a story. 

A big story. 

The most important story. 

A true story. 

But, a story. 

What is happening in the Old Testament is, God is telling a story. 

It’s a story with a beginning. 

If you go to the very first page of the Old Testament, what does the very first sentence say?  It says,  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That’s how you start a story. 

It’s a big way to start a story, but it is a way to start a story. 

And it’s got an ending as well. The ending of the Old Testament is actually given in the New, the Old Testament ends on a cliffhanger, it’s not completed, but, you do get glimpses of the ending of the story, throughout the Old Testament as well. 

Previews.

If you go to the very last page in the book of Isaiah, as an example. 

Isaiah 66.

It says, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord.”

In the beginning we had a heavens and an earth, and now we have a new heavens and a new earth, that remain, that last. 

And it’s not just this place that lasts either. 

God continues,“So shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me.”

In the end, we have a world that endures, a people that endure, and we have everyone, coming to worship before God. 

And we also have judgment.  

Isaiah ends, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Which is quite an ending. 

Judgment. Salvation. 

The Old Testament story has a beginning. 

It points toward an ending.

It has a plot. 

The Old Testament is not just a bunch random details and facts and quotes and ideas, it’s telling us a story, with a plot, as we read the Old Testament, we see how things start, we see where things are supposed to go, and we see, something’s gone wrong and we learn what God’s doing to fix it. 

It moves, slowly but surely, the Old Testament from this story about creation, ultimately, to new creation.  

And that’s important, to understand because the Old Testament has a lot of stuff in it. And honestly it can feel overwhelming at first when you pick it up with all its poetry and laws and proverbs and prophecy, but all its poetry and laws and proverbs and prophecy become more clear when you understand, that, fundamentally, the Old Testament is telling a story. 

It’s a huge story. 

It isn’t a simple story. 

Like, Jack and Jill ran up the hill or something. 

The story it tells, goes from the beginning of the universe until the end.

So it’s a long story. And it contains all kinds of different characters, so it is a big story. And there’s a lot we need to know to understand what’s going on in the story, which is actually, why sometimes, as we are reading the Old Testament, it’s almost, like God puts the story on pause.

Have you ever noticed that? 

You are reading Genesis, story. The beginning of Exodus, story. Then pause. Leviticus. And what God’s doing is pausing the story in order to give us the information we need, to understand the rest of what, we are reading, which is why, there are also, all these little stories and poems and laws and rituals, you read.

They, are all, somehow coming together, to help us understand this one BIG, HUGE story. 

About God. About the universe. About why everything exists. And about where everything is headed. 

And that means if you are going to get anything from it, you have to understand what the story is basically about. 

 It’s a little like going to a movie and, you come home and someone asks you, to tell them about the movie, you saw. 

If you say a bunch of details. The main character wore black. He dressed up like an animal. And he had a cousin. And the cousin had these strange tattoos. 

What are they going to say when you are done? They are going to say, “That’s not helpful. What was the movie about?” 

Or if they ask, and you start quoting random lines from the movie. 

Like. “My son, it is your time.” Or. “Guns, so primitive.”They’ll have no idea what you mean. 

Because, those lines, no matter how many you quote, or how loudly you quote them, aren’t going to help them, by themselves, just like the details, don’t help them, by themselves, because, to understand the lines or details.

You have to know, what first? 

The story. 

One of the best illustrations I’ve heard is of a photo mosaic. 

You know what a photo-mosaic is?

It’s a collection of various individual pictures. And you can do this online, if you don’t know what I am talking about. So you have all these individual pictures, grouped together, and if you look at the individual pictures, you are like what is this, there is a picture of you at a picnic, a picture of a dog, I mean, you can imagine all kinds of individual pictures, and yet all those individual pictures are brought together, so that, when you step back.

You can see a bigger picture, which is how the Old Testament works as well. 

God’s bringing all these individual pictures together, to show us one big picture of what He’s doing in this world.  

Which means we need to be able to answer, what is this story, about? 

Now obviously there are different ways we might do that. 

One way we could summarize the Old Testament is just to say, it is about God. 

It’s fitting, I think, that, it opens, in the beginning God, not in the beginning man, because the Old Testament is ultimately about the greatness of God. 

There are some who even describe it as the biography of God, though it probably would be better, since He is ultimately, the author, to call it the autobiography of God. 

And one reason God wrote this book about Himself is so that we could see how beautiful He is, which is important, because we can be pretty selfish and so in general the person we tend to most be interested in, most of the time, is ourselves. 

It’s actually kind of funny, I think, in a sad way, because, you know, we live in a big universe with lots of amazing things, and yet, with how big this universe is, and all the things that are in it, and all the stuff that is happening, in the universe, while there’s lots to think about, the person most of us are interested in hearing about and talking about os ourselves and that, is going to seriously mess up our reading of the Old Testament. If we read it, as if it were first and foremost about us because, while it has stuff to say to us, the Old Testament is first and foremost about God. 

You might say that’s its purpose, it’s about the glory of God. 

The story the Old Testament is about glorifying God. 

That’s the reason for the Old Testament. 

Though I suppose, if you wanted to get more specific, another way you could summarize the Old Testament is, to say, that, it is, especially, designed by God, to get us ready for Jesus. 

What God’s doing through Jesus is so important that he takes thousands of years and all kinds of pages in our Bibles to get us, ready, to understand it. It’s kind of like if I want to teach you algebra. That’s an advanced subject. I have to teach you all these fundamentals of math, to get you ready, for it. In the Old Testament story, God’s laying the groundwork, so we can appreciate, what He’s doing through Jesus. 

In Luke 24, Luke, actually, tells us that. 

Apparently, after his resurrection Jesus was walking with a couple of his disciples, who were unable to recognize him.

And so, he took them back to the Old Testament. And, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” Luke says, “Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

I told you a couple weeks ago it’s funny how much of the New Testament is the Old Testament.  

Something like 10 percent of the New Testament is either a quote or a direct allusion to the Old Testament, and that’s, because one of the primary things the New Testaments writers were doing, was trying to help people see Jesus, there. 

So if you want to summarize the Old Testament, you might say it is about God, or it’s about Jesus, but there’s at least, one more way, you might, summarize it and it’s the way Jesus Himself, most often, did.

Which is significant, since he’s the author. 

The main author of the Bible is God.  And so, I wonder, if you ever thought, how helpful it would be, if God who wrote the Bible, explained it? Like, what if he came into the world and went around and summarized the main message of the Old Testament for us?  That would be huge.

And that’s exactly what Jesus did. 

Jesus is God, and He went around preaching, and when Jesus went around preaching, He went around preaching primarily, about one thing. 

And do you know what, that one thing is? 

What was Jesus’ main message? 

Like, if you were a Jew, living in Jesus’ day, and, you got to go hear Jesus preach. 

You get there and it’s crowded, so you aren’t able to get very close. But, you can listen in. And as you listen. What do you hear? 

What do you think? What is Jesus talking about?

Because we actually kind of now the answer to that question because, the gospel writers tell us over and over. 

Jesus went around preaching, the kingdom of God. 

Like in Luke. 

In my Bible, Luke is 41 pages long, and Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, 40 times. 

That’s basically once every page. 

And in the gospel of Matthew, he records Jesus talking about it even more. I think it’s 1 and a half times every page. 

According to Jesus, the Old Testament is about the kingdom of God. 

That’s its’ theme. 

The reason is the glory of God. The purpose is to get you ready for Jesus. And the theme is the kingdom of God. 

Which is helpful, I think. 

But for that to be really helpful, obviously, you have to know what the kingdom of God, actually is. 

If Jesus went about preaching the kingdom of God. 

What is the kingdom of God?

Now. 

How do we figure that out?

One way you might answer that question is by looking, the word, up in a Greek dictionary, that’s what we usually do, when we don’t know what something means, we look it up in a dictionary, and since the New Testament was written in Greek, we might look it up in a Greek dictionary.

And when you do you see kingdom primarily refers to ruling, or reigning, or exercising authority. 

In other words, there’s a big emphasis on the King part of kingdom. 

In the Bible, Psalm 103:19 is a verse that helps us get the idea. It says, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.”

So what does his kingdom do? 

It rules. 

Which sounds funny to us. I think. But king is an unusual word, actually. 

There are a lot of words like say, runner. If you are a runner, what do you do, you run. If, you are a teacher, what do you do, you teach. If you are a preacher, what do you do, you preach.

But if you are king, though.

God is a king. 

So if you are a king, what do you do? 

You king. 

Now we don’t say it like that, obviously. He rules. He reigns, which is what the heart of the word kingdom. 

It’s the rule or reign of God. 

But, we can’t just leave it at that, because if someone asks, what is the Old Testament about.

And you say, it’s about God ruling. 

While that’s true. You are right. The question is, how does God rule?

It’s a story about God glorifying Himself through exercising His rule, the Old Testament, yes, but it’s a little more specific than that. 

Like iIn Luke 17.  

When the Pharisees ask, in, verse 20, when the kingdom of God would come, when the rule of God would come, they are not wondering, when is God, going to start being in charge.

Because, they totally believed that. They believed God was in charge, and yet they are still, asking when is the kingdom going to come, because clearly, they are talking about something a little more specific, than God just, ruling over the world as a King, from heaven and to understand what they specifically are talking about, I think we have go from looking at the definition of the word kingdom, back to the Old Testament story.  

The Old Testament story defines the kingdom of God. 

And if you want to know how the Old Testament story defines kingdom, you know where you have to start? 

I don’t know, maybe, if you are ever in a Bible Trivia contest and someone asks you, where the first place in the Bible, the kingdom is described.

Do you know the first place?

The first place we find the kingdom? 

It’s on the very first page.

Page one.

The Old Testament opens with this beautiful picture of the kingdom of God. 

It’s a story about the kingdom of God, and on the first couple of pages, it gives us a picture of what that means. 

In Genesis 1, verse 1. It says,  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

It’s boom. Here it is. 

And a lot of the rest of the Old Testament is going about Israel, but the Old Testament doesn’t start with Israel, it starts with God creating the world, which is going to tell us, that what God’s doing with Israel, is bigger than Israel, it’s about what He’s doing in the world. 

And as you read the rest of this chapter, you see God taking this world that He created, “that was without form and void.” Which means, at the very least, that it didn’t have order and it was empty. He created it, but it wasn’t a place that you could inhabit, and enjoy, and so like an artist, He sets about, giving it order, and filling it as he’s crafting it into exactly what He wants it to be. 

Which is good. Which is perfect. Which is beautiful. Which is exactly how we would dream the world should be. 

And God said, Moses writes. And it was so. And God saw that it was good. 

That’s, day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, and day, 5. Over and over and over. We are seeing the power of God on full display.Like a King He speaks, and the universe obeys.And yet, at the same time, over and over, as we see this King work, we are also seeing His artistry, as He’s making this incredibly, beautiful place. 

But the question we are asking, when you open your Bible and see God at work as He’s crafting a world and making it good is why? For what purpose?  

It’s like if we were reading this story for the first time, we would be anticipating, what is God going to do?

And on the sixth day.

We find out what He’s up to, as he creates man, and says, exactly what He was, creating him for. 

In Genesis 1:26-28.

And these next verses are really important for understanding what the story of the Bible is about. 

As God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, he created him, male and female he created them.”

And you know the kind of language that, God is using there, as he’s describing, man’s role?

This is huge. 

He’s using KINGLY language. 

And, for us, that’s probably most obvious in the word dominion. Because, dominion means rule. Let man rule, God says. But that kingly language is also, embedded in the idea of being made in the image of God, as well. Because, what does it mean to be made in the image of God? 

It has to do with man’s role on this planet. 

As someone has said, “Image carries the idea of representation.” 

The word literally means statue. A statue represents someone. And we were made in such a way that we do represent God, and we were put on the planet to represent God. 

That’s who we are and what we are supposed to do. 

It’s actually the same word, image, that’s used in the rest of the Old Testament for idol. 

When someone saw an image or idol, in the Old Testament, that idol, pointed the person back to the supposed god, it represented, and that’s part of why we are here, we were created in God’s image, designed in such a way, to serve as representatives of the one true King, pointing all of nature, and the universe, back to Him. 

And do that. 

Specifically, as we rule over this world, on his behalf. Like He did, I suppose originally. 

You remember how. The earth was without form and void, and so God set about, bringing order, and making it beautiful, and now. 

God’s tasked man with that responsibility, which is huge. 

Because obviously, God could have chosen to create a world, and then rule over that world Himself, directly, but He didn’t, He chose instead, to rule over this world, through humans. It’s almost like the King placed us here, as his governors, he wants to rule this planet through us, and that becomes, even more clear in verse 28. 

Where it says, “And God blessed them.”

Which is a big word for Genesis 1, and the book of Genesis actually. 

Blessed.

Listen. God’s plan was blessing, blessing, blessing. 

And how did God bless them?  

“And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In other words, God’s good plan was to establish a kingdom here on earth, which He would rule through human representatives. 

It’s like, in the very first chapter of the Bible, we’re getting a big picture, of how God originally designed the world to be, and as we look at that picture, what do we see? 

We see God the King, the artist. We see a good world. We see blessing.  And we see man, functioning as God’s representative ruler, and you know what else we see?

At the end. We see rest. 

God’s made a perfect world. 

God’s set man apart.  

And. 

God’s declared the world very good. 

I love that in Genesis 1:31. 

“And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good.”

And then God rests. 

I guess technically, this is the beginning of chapter 2. But at the end of creating this kingdom, God rests.

It says, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day” and you know why he rested, it’s not because he was tired, obviously, that’s not what the word rest means here, so much.

It’s more like, God stopped and enjoyed. Like, he relaxes. 

And it’s a picture, I think of how the world was designed to be. And pretty much every day from that point on, would have been a day of rest and of enjoyment.

That’s a big picture view of the kingdom. 

Genesis 1 and in chapter 2, God goes on, to give us another more precise picture of exactly how it was all to work.

It’s kind of like he zooms in.  

And, we see God creating man, and planting a garden, and taking man, and placing him in the garden, which we call the Garden of Eden. Eden means delight. The Garden of delight. 

“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Now one thing I’ve sometimes gotten wrong, actually, and I think it’s important, and kind of obvious, is, that, at that point, the whole world wasn’t the Garden of Eden. 

The Garden in Eden was a place in the world.

Later on in the Bible it’s described as a mountain. In Ezekiel 28. The holy mountain of God. Which is, a very special place.

It’s. 

A little like a temple actually. Or maybe you should say, later temples, were like a like Eden. A place where man could serve God, and enjoy the presence of God.

In Genesis 3 we see it talks about God walking in the garden. 

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

And that’s a way of describing, God being somewhere in a special way. 

For example, in Leviticus 26, God will tell His people.  “And I will make my dwelling among you…And I will walk among you and will be your God.”

And in 2 Samuel 7, David tells God he wants to make him a temple and God tells David, all these years, he’s been walking about in his tabernacle. 

Which may be why in Ezekiel, the Garden of Eden is called the Garden of God. 

Obviously, we know God is everywhere, but, He doesn’t reveal Himself everywhere in the same way, there are certain places, where He is near to His people, in a special way. 

Which is how He was present in the Garden of Eden.

And that’s exciting because, the Garden of Eden is a small picture of what God intended the whole world to become. It’s like a prototype of the world planned by God. 

A blueprint. 

Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden to extend the borders of the Garden, you remember, they were to multiply and fill the earth, and have dominion over it, until the whole world became a kind of Garden of Eden basically. 

But first, it’s like God puts man in this Garden, and gives him a trial run.

To practice serving as His representative.

And here clearly, we God delegates kingly responsibilities to Adam, as he brings the animals to him, and Adam, must name them and, naming something, in the Old Testament world, was an authoritative kind of act, it’s what kings did and yet, along with this responsibility, God also gave Adam a test.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.”

As a king, obviously Adam and Eve would have to make decisions. That’s part of what’s required to bring things into submission. 

This is good. And this is not good. This is what we should do.This is what we shouldn’t do. 

And God wanted Adam and Eve to trust Him and submit themselves to what He said was good, because God knows good. 

You remember the first chapter? And it was good, and it was good, and it was good. 

And so God gave them a test designed, to see, whether they would rule under God’s authority, trusting God, obeying God, or would they try to take the authority of deciding what was good and evil for himself?

And this is the first two chapters of the Bible. 

If we were wondering, what the Old Testament is about we only need open up to the first couple of pages. 

It’s about God, glorifying Himself, and it’s about Jesus, and it’s about this kingdom, and if we want to know what kingdom means, it’s almost like God pulls a picture out of his pocket here to give us a glimpse of God as the ultimate king making a perfect place filled with blessing for His perfect people to live where they could enjoy a perfect relationship with Him and with each other as they serve as His representatives, pointing the world back to Him, by exercising authority, on His behalf and enjoying His goodness. Forever. And ever. And ever. And ever. 

And.

That’s pretty much the kingdom of God. 

And, that’s pretty much God’s plan as laid out in Genesis 1 and 2, and yet, of course, we know, that’s not the way the world is right now at all. 

That’s the problem. 

If we get a picture of God’s plan in Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 3, begins to explain, the problem. 

And it’s huge, as well. 

Right at the beginning of God’s kingdom plan, man and woman rebel.

All this perfection doesn’t last long, it’s only like two pages, because at the start men and women, essentially declare, that, they will not submit to God’s authority, and trust that He knows what’s good, and so instead of listening to God’s counsel, they choose to go out on their own, and allow evil being, we call Satan, to define good and evil for them.  

And I’m sure you know the story. 

But in Genesis 3:1, Moses says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that God had made.”

And it’s funny, serpent. That’s a snake. 

And. 

I wonder, if you ever thought why Satan came in the form of an animal, like a serpent, because we know it’s Satan, later in the Bible, it tells us that very clearly, so why use an animal?

Why not just show up as an angel of light? 

There’s a reason.

It’s because God’s plan was to rule over the animals and the rest of the world through humans, but what does this animal do, he rejects that plan, and he gives commands to man. 

In other words, he seeks to rule over man.

Which means this is not just a temptation. This an attack on God’s kingdom plan.

And as God’s king in the Garden, what should Adam have done? He should have crushed the snake under his foot, because, kings protect the kingdom, and yet, he doesn’t, and instead, the man and woman listen, to the animal, that man himself named.

And as a result, they are both cast out of God’s presence and instead of experiencing God’s blessing, sent into exile, you might say, where they experience God’s curse and an angel is put at the edge of the garden to do what Adam was supposed to do, to guard it. And, at first, it looks a little like, that whole kingdom plan, we were seeing, got turned upside down. 

If we just walk through the consequences, of man’s rebellion. 

Though we were created to experience a perfect relationship with God, NOW, we are born sinners, and as a result, God’s enemy. Later in the Bible we’ll see Paul say, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

So, there are problems in our relationship with God. 

And though we were created to experience a perfect relationship with this world, it was good, it was good, it was good, the world itself is now cursed. God tells man in Genesis 3:17 “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’ cursed is the ground because of you.’

So there are problems in our relationship with the world. 

And though we were created to rule over the animals, and the picture in the perfect world, is of a peaceful, happy relationship with animals, lion with the lamb, kind of thing, after the fall, we see, animals have become afraid of man, and we’re told, we are allowed to eat them, and so, even that relationship, is broken. 

There are problems in our relationship with animals. 

And yet, worse.  

Obviously. 

Worse. 

Though we were created to experience a perfect relationship with one another, and yet, now, we are constantly at one another’s throats. I mean, it’s only one chapter after the fall, that, we find brother murdering brother. 

There are problems in our relationships with each other. 

And then finally. 

Though we were created with access to the tree of life, meaning, we were created, with the potential for living forever, after the fall, God cut us, off from that tree of life, which meant, we would all, most certainly die. 

And now, even our own bodies are broken by the fall. 

In fact, if you keep reading in the Genesis story, you will come to Genesis 5. 

Which is a long genealogy. 

But it’s a sad one. 

Because as Moses lists the names of all these various men, he concludes over and over and over. 

“And he died.”

“And he died.”

“And he died.”

As we look back at Genesis 1 and 2 and see this picture of God’s great kingdom plan, it’s beautiful.

The kingdom of God. 

It’s absolutely, everything is the way, we want it to be.

The world.

Relationships. 

And yet, that’s not at all how the world is, right now, it’s like Adam and Eve, as our representatives, absolutely smashed that picture.

They took it and they broke it into a thousand little pieces.

And so we might ask, of course, now. 

What next?

Can God fix this?

Does God want to fix this?

After man turned his back on God, did God turn His back on this great plan? Man sins, and he is sent into exile, but does God have a plan, for restoration? For bringing man out of exile? For getting man back into the garden? 

And the answer the rest of the Old Testament (and New), gives, is most definitely. 

YES. 

God hasn’t given up on the plan started in the Garden of Eden. 

While the first chapter of the Bible gives us a picture of God’s kingdom at creation, if we fast forward, to the the closing chapters of the biblical story, we get another, picture of this beautiful kingdom. 

The beginning of the story and the end i f you go to Revelation 21 and 22 look similar. 

Only the final picture is so much better, that we might call it new creation. 

And, that’s the timeline, really of most of the events in story of, the Bible, you might say, the story of the Bible goes from creation to new creation, and a big part of the purpose of the Old Testament is to help us know how as God slowly but surely reveals through His promise, exactly how He is going to fix, what man has broken. 

It’s incredible. 

You have the plan. 

First. 

Of. 

God glorifying Himself by sovereignly ruling over creation through human representatives. 

And.

Then.

You have the problem. 

Man now. 

Can’t rule over the kingdom, because he’s been kicked out. There’s this evil force, whose opposing God and his kingdom. There’s death, suffering, sin, all this stuff, that’s  not able to exist in the presence of a holy God.  

And.

So.

As you are looking at all these problems, and wondering if that plan’s over. 

The third thing. 

The Old Testament gives you. 

Is this promise. 

And that’s actually most of the Old Testament. 

In fact, I like how one author summarized the message of the Old Testament. 

Promises Made. 

That’s the Old Testament. 

And that’s what we are going to spend most of our time looking at in our next post.   

But.

I can’t leave you without mentioning.

The first big promise. 

It comes right as God is explaining the consequences of man’s rebellion. It’s amazing. Because, even as, God is describing the way man’s sin has impacted everything, he’s also promising, to do something to fix it. 

Which is a hint, to keep in mind, as you read this story. 

You should know every time, man does something, that you think will make the establishment of God’s kingdom impossible, God comes in and He judges, but if you look carefully, in the middle of that judgment, you will also see that He makes some promise, that actually advances His kingdom plan forever.

It’s awesome. 

Like in Genesis 3:15, Moses tells us. “The Lord said to the serpent,” God’s explaining the consequences of man’s sin.And here’s he talking to the actual serpent. To the snake, itself. Which may seem weird because, obviously the snake itself is an animal, and doesn’t talk, so, it’s not the snake itself that decided to tempt Adam and Eve. The snake was being manipulated and used by a supernatural being called Satan, but he’s still experiencing some consequences.

Sort of like I guess in war.

An army might use an animal, like strapping a bomb to a dog, and that dog, will take the bomb into the enemy camp.And if the enemy sees the dog coming with the bomb, they are going to do something, the dog is going to experience consequences for being the used the way it was, and the snake experienced consequences as well, for the role it played. 

God says. 

‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field, on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.’

Because man listened to the snake, he returns to the dust, you know, we die, and maybe, it’s like God saying, don’t think the snake won, Satan, won, I am still in charge, and I’ll show you how in charge, I am going to make the snake eat dust. 

And then, m.  ore importantly, I think, God moves from speaking to the snake, to speaking to the supernatural being, using the snake, in verse 15. 

And He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

And, He’s talking now to Satan. Not the snake. And this is huge, because Satan’s goal was somehow to overthrow God’s plan by deceiving the woman, and so, God is going to use the woman, and specifically the offspring of the woman to defeat Satan. 

It’s like God telling Satan, you will not win. 

And, as we read the rest of Genesis and Exodus and the Bible, we’ll see there are going to be people who align themselves with Satan, followers of Satan, offspring of Satan, and who war against God and against God’s plan, I think of Cain, I think of Pharaoh, I think of the King of Moab, I think of Herod, that’s basically human history, but in the end, God says, there will be one descendant of the woman, who will go to war against Satan.

And win. 

“I will put put enmity…between your offspring and her offspring.”

That’s plural. 

Now. 

Listen.

“He”

That’s singular. 

We moved from plural to singular. 

“He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

And so. 

What God’s promising, is to preserve one line from Eve, and from that line, will come, an ultimate champion, who will go to war with the leader of the opposing line.

And take him out, forever.

 

Since.

Man’s problems began by listening to this evil supernatural being, God promises, through man, He will one day defeat Satan. Though Satan seemed to believe he could manipulate man to overthrow God’s kingdom plan, God promises, Satan, God will one day use man, to crush Satan. 

And.

That, starts to give us hope, that God’s plan isn’t over, and yet, still even, as you read that promise, I wonder if you notice, what’s missing?  

Or better. 

Who’s missing?

You. 

You are missing in that promise. 

The first promise God makes is about how God’s going to defeat Satan through one of Eve’s descendants. 

You see. 

God knows how to tell a story. 

And He doesn’t tell it all at once. 

While this promise makes us want to keep reading, at this point in the story, there still are a lot of problems to be dealt with, beside Satan. 

Like the problems we have with one another. 

And. 

The problem in our relationship with God. 

And.

The problem with the world itself. 

If God’s going to really establish His kingdom, Satan needs to be taken out of course, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen which of course is why we keep reading. We keep reading to discover how God’s going to glorify Himself by saving sinners, judging sin, and accomplishing exactly what He intended to accomplish, all the way back in the beginning. 

In other words, we keep reading, to discover the story, of how God wins.

A Mack Family Special Request

6 Dec

I thought I could share something exciting, something amazing and something just a little bit scary.

Click here for reasons for thanksgiving and prayer: https://spark.adobe.com/page/7YlgGrAPluTML/

Faith and Favoritism Don’t Mix, part three

28 Nov

Favoritism is a serious sin.

Why?

One reason according to James is because when you show favoritism, ‘you become judges with evil motives.’

In other words, when you show favoritism you are setting yourself up in God’s place as a judge.

The Bible says there is only one Lawgiver and judge, but when you make decisions about people based on external factors alone, you are saying, I am judge. I get to make the call here, who deserves kindness and who does not.

And you are not just a judge, James says you are a judge with evil motives. 

That word for evil is the strongest word James could have chosen.  Your motives are not just wrong, or even evil, your motives are actively wicked.  You are being motivated by the same things that motivate the world. 

Now stop here.

I know some of you may be thinking I don’t have a problem with favoritism to the rich.  

But really, think about this, what is at the root of this kind of favoritism?  Why show favoritism to the rich?  What’s at the root of that?  You are looking to that person for what you can get out of them.  I will be kind to the rich person because he can give me something.  But I will treat the poor person with disdain because he’s got nothing for me.  

That’s why this verse is so convicting. 

You look at it at first and you think what’s this got to do with me, I don’t really care about a person’s money but really the problem is deeper than that, and it’s a problem we all struggle with:

When you respond to people on the basis of what they can do for you, you are being motivated by worldly values.  

This is not about respect, this is not about friendship, this is about what’s in it for me? 

That’s how the world makes evaluations about people. 

And that’s evil.  

To live as the world lives is not just unwise or a poor decision, it’s wicked. We’re so in to minimizing our sins and our actions.  C’mon it’s not that big of deal.  James you are going overboard.  What’s so wrong with looking out for yourself?  It’s not that bad.  

Don’t fool yourself about sin.  Don’t fool yourself about worldliness.  Don’t rationalize your sin, don’t try to put a spin on why you are preferring the rich over the poor, your motivation is absolutely evil.  God says when you think about life from a selfish perspective, when you make an idol out of this world and what it has to offer, and when you become proud and think you have the right to make these judgments, that’s not just a mistake, that’s not just a minor little problem, that’s not just a faux paus, that is not just inconsiderate, that is evil.  That’s evil. 

Faith and favoritism do not mix.

We are involved in a battle.  And one of the enemies we fight is the world.  We must resist its influence.  Just because we are a church, just because we have gathered together, just because we say our faith is in the Lord Jesus doesn’t mean  we automatically are not going to be affected by the world’s values.  

Here James is writing to a group of professing Christians and he says you are doing this and this is wrong, you have evil motives.  You are coming to church, you are listening to sermons, but your heart is wrong, and your motives are evil.  That means as individuals and a church we have to do some serious self-evaluation.  We can’t just assume that because we wear our suits and dresses and look nice on Sunday that we are thinking about things the way God does.  

We need to ask ourselves some questions. 

As a church what really is determining our decisions and setting our vision?  Is it God and His Word or is it the world and it’s agenda? 

It’s easy to say that our faith is in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ and that we are living for the world to come, but the proof is in the pudding.  If you asked the people receiving this letter if they went to church to worship God, I’m confident they would have said yes.  If you asked them where their faith and confidence was, I’m confident they would have said it was in Jesus Christ.  But James says here that their actions were saying otherwise.  They were saying with their lips that their faith was in Christ, but they were favoring the rich, which proved that they were just blowing smoke.  It’s possible for us as a church to be going through the motions saying all the right things when in reality the world is setting our agenda.  We don’t want to be a church that is wavering, making distinctions among ourselves, facing both ways.  This church is about Christ and His glory.  That means we’ve got to set the world’s wisdom aside.  

To get more specific, the church is made up of individuals, and we as a church aren’t going to set the world’s wisdom aside, unless we as individuals war against it. 

We need to each ask ourselves, what really is most important to us: Jesus Christ or our own selfish desires?  

Why do we do what we do?  One test is how we treat people.  That’s the test James gives us here. 

Faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ is incompatible with personal favoritism.  In other words the faith is incompatible with evaluating people on the basis of externals alone, and it is incompatible with selfish motivations. 

Do we love people primarily because of what they can give us?  Do we only make friends with the people who are easy?  

The fact that God forbids favoritism tells us something about God.  God is concerned about your attitude.  There are certain attitudes that are absolutely incompatible with true authentic Christianity.  Your faith in Christ is to affect everything about you.  Sometimes people relegate their faith in Christ to one little compartment of their lives, one that they bring out on Sunday mornings when they sing their songs and listen to sermons, but James makes it clear here you can’t do that, your faith in Christ has to do with every part of your life, even down to how you treat other people who are different than you are.  Your faith in Christ has to do with how you respond to a poor person.  Your faith in Christ has to do with how you treat someone whose personality you don’t prefer.  Your faith in Christ has to do with how you react to people at work.  The unbeliever has a perspective on life and it affects everything about them.  We as believers have put our faith in Christ and it should affect everything about us.  

We as a church should stand out.  When people walk in our doors, and when we go out those doors and interact with unbelievers, they should notice a radical difference in the way that we treat people.  We’re to love others the way God loved us. “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love…”(Ephesians 5:1) How did God love us?  Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  We were reconciled to God while were His enemies.  God did not love us on the basis of anything good in us.  If He chose to love only those people who deserved it, guess what, none of us would be loved.  Think about the sacrifice that Christ made to save us.  If I could somehow take one of you to heaven, you would never want to leave, you would want to stay there forever.  What could possibly tempt you to leave?  Yet Christ came down.  Why?  Why would He come to earth?  Love.  What a sacrifice.  “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”  We’re to go out and imitate that love in the way we serve one another.   

Our lives shouldn’t make sense to the world. 

You are sacrificing for that person who hates you?  You are showing kindness to the person who can’t give anything back?  You are laying down your life for that hurting, needy person?  Why?  Why would you do something like that?  You are loving your enemy?  What are you thinking?  What do you get out of it?  

It’s not about me.  That’s the point.  It’s about my Savior.  I live by a completely different standard.  I’m not bound by the world’s wisdom anymore.  

The problem with the church today is that it is too normal. 

The world looks at us and sees that we are professing Christ, we’re good at that, and we’re good at sticking to our little list of do’s and don’ts but besides that the basic pattern of our lives is not all that different.  The world’s agenda is still guiding us.  

Real practically, we’ve got to stop looking at people in terms of what can I get from them; and start asking how does Christ want me to view them, and how can I show the love of Christ to them?  

“My brethren don’t hold your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism…”

Faith and Favoritism Don’t Mix, part two

21 Nov

We’ve seen James condemns favoritism in James 2.

But what does favoritism look like?

He illustrates.

Picture this scene in your minds.   

The church has gathered together. They’ve come to worship.  In enters a man who is obviously very wealthy.  You know he’s wealthy because he is wearing gold rings.   Literally James calls him a gold-fingered man.  So don’t think wedding ring, think Mr. T.  A man whose hands are just loaded with rings.  And the reason he is wearing so many rings is to let you know that he is rich.

The gold ring was a status symbol in James’ day.

Kind of like driving to church in a Mercedes Benz.  Somebody has a Mercedes Benz you know they are pretty wealthy. And, somebody walks in with gold rings all over his fingers you know he’s got some cash.  It’s funny, sometimes people lease expensive cars to look like they are wealthier than they really are; and that even happened in James’ day, you could rent these gold rings to look like you were wealthier than you really were.  Things haven’t changed all that much.

But he’s not only wearing gold rings, he’s also got fine clothes. 

If you look at this phrase in your Bibles you’ll probably see a little 2 right by it, and you check down in the footnote and you see that this word fine literally means bright.  He’s wearing literally a shiny garment.  This guy is just emanating wealth.  Brightly dyed clothes were very expensive so you can imagine that he’s wearing the Armani suit, the brightly polished shoes, one look at him and you know, boy’s got bank!  He looks like he just walked off the cover of GQ.  

Immediately after he makes his entrance, a poor man shuffles in.

 He’s wearing dirty clothes.  You smell him before you see him.  Picture the typical homeless person, his clothes are all mismatched, he’s got holes in his outfits, he’s got dirt under his fingernails, he hasn’t shaved in weeks, he doesn’t look like he’s taking a shower in a few days. 

O.k., maybe years.  

So how do they respond?

James says ‘you pay special attention to the one who is wearing fine clothes…’  You know who catches your eye.  You are sitting there getting ready for worship and immediately your face is lifted.  I mean here you are a refugee living in a foreign land, you’ve got no real connections, you are suffering, and in walks your ticket out.  You’ve got to make sure that man feels comfortable, that he has a good time, you need him to come back.  He’s got so much to offer the church.  Imagine if he just started to tithe!

In the synagogues of that day, there were only a few benches to sit on.  There were a couple up front and then probably some that were scattered around the outside walls.  Most people were standing.  But you know what to do.  This guy needs the good seat, he needs to be able to hear what’s going on.  So you say to him, “You sit here in a good place…” 

Now there’s nothing wrong with giving a good seat to someone. 

The problem is why they did it.  You find out their motives real quickly, look how they treated the poor man.  “and you say to the poor man, ‘you stand over there, or sit down by my footstool…”  You can just hear the brusqueness in their voice.  “You, yeah, you over there, or you know what even better, here’s my footstool, yeah, what I put my feet on, why don’t you sit under that.”  The NASB reads by, but the preposition literally means under.  Could you hide yourself?  Could you try to stay out of the way as much as possible?  I mean it’s kind of distracting, it’s embarrassing, the smell and all.  

That’s favoritism. 

That’s what it looks like.  

Making decisions about people on the basis of external factors alone.  

Now try to put yourself in the place of the people who originally received this letter.  Can’t you hear the excuses the people in the church might give? 

“This seems like such a minor issue.” 

“We’re just looking out for the good of the church.” 

“Nobody is going to be attracted to the gospel because of that poor man, but if we can just get that rich person to attend, then think of all the people we can help.”  

And perhaps you are looking at these verses and you are thinking, what’s the big deal here, why you getting all worked up James?  

But what James is pointing out is that although you think this is a minor issue in reality it is a major issue, because that action, showing favoritism, flows out of a much deeper and more significant problem, a problem in your heart.  

It’s not just a what you do problem.

It’s a why you do it.  

Favoritism reveals something about you.    

This is what you have done, James explains, when you show favoritism you have made distinctions among yourselves and you have become judges with evil motives.  

Let’s think about the first.

You have made distinctions among yourselves.  Remember that word distinctions?  It’s the same term used back in chapter 1 to mean ‘facing both ways.’  When you show favoritism as a believer you are facing both ways, you are professing your commitment to to Christ, but in reality you are actually committed to the world’s values.  You are thinking like the world thinks, and valuing what the world values.  As Joseph Mayor explains, when you show favoritism, “you are divided…?  You have made distinctions among yourselves.  You have not a single eye, but you are influenced by worldly considerations.  You look to the world and not Christ only.”  

You ask a non-Christian about this passage, and they say this makes sense.  It only makes sense to show some special consideration to the rich person, because the rich person is going to be able to do something for you that the poor person cannot.  But the point here is that we are not non-Christians.  We live our life by a totally different set of principles.  We’re believers, and that changes everything.  

God is impartial and He wants His people to be.  

The way Christians and the world evaluate people ought to be drastically different. Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty and the awesome God, who does not show partiality or take a bribe.”  Jehoshaphat explained to the judges of Israel, “Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you, be very careful what you do, for the Lord your God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” (2 Chronicles 19:7)   Since God is impartial we ought to be.  Leviticus 19:15 lays it down, “…you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.”  God’s people are to be radically different than the world around them in the way they treat others.  We as a church should stand out as completely different than the world, we should be a unique place, a haven, where there is no partiality.   

God’s perspective on the rich and poor is completely different than the world’s.  Because what does God’s wisdom say about the poor man and about the rich man?  2:8, “Love your neighbor as yourself…” Love them both sacrificially regardless of what they can do for you.  When you show your contempt for the poor, you are showing contempt for God.  Because God tells us back in 1:27 that pure and undefiled religion is this to visit orphans and widows in their distress.  God is concerned about the poor. 

True faith and favoritism do not mix.  

Favoritism reveals that you’re trying to live for both worlds, this one and the one to come.  And what’s Jesus say about that?  No man can serve two masters.  Either he’ll love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other.   When you make judgments about people based solely on external factors, you are proving you are not concerned about what God is concerned about, and the world’s wisdom is really what is dominating your behavior.   

You are serving the wrong master. 

Video

Why Christians Must Be Courageous

19 Nov
Image

It is good to do right…

16 Nov

B18D6054-1E4A-43BA-BA72-B0779754A858

Faith and Favoritism Do Not Mix, part one

15 Nov

Ever had a rude awakening?

I have nine children, so I have had plenty.

Honestly, probably more of them, have been cute awakenings, actually. Like the time, I awoke to my two year old daughter singing, I may never march in the infantry, ride in the Calvary, shoot the artillery, but I am in the Lord’s army.

A rude, cute, awakenening.

And, you know, even though I wasn’t incredibly excited to hear it around five on Friday morning, that song does remind us of an important truth.  We as believers are involved in a war. And the Bible tells us our conflict is against three great enemies; the flesh, the devil and the world.

We began to look at what the Scripture teaches us about the world last week.

And we saw that God has not called us to withdraw from the world, but to resist its influence.  Jesus Himself prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”   

This means God has called us to be holy in an unholy world.  That’s not always easy because the world we live in is not neutral towards biblical truth.  It’s hostile towards it.  And so it’s not content to allow believers to think and live biblically.  It wants to influence us. It wants us to think the way it thinks.  We have a responsibility to resist its influence.  That’s why Paul says, ‘be not conformed to the world…’  

So we as believers are involved in a great struggle.  We struggle to keep ourselves unstained by worldliness. We don’t want to think the way the world thinks, and we don’t want to live the way the world lives.  It’s not always easy, but we struggle. Now if there’s no struggle, we know we’re not believers.  Because true believers war against worldliness.  

That’s exactly what we see in James 1:27. 

Remember that in verses 26 and 27 James is giving us three tests to help us evaluate whether or not our religion is real.  And this is one of them, look at verse 27, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Worship that is pure comes from people striving to keep themselves pure, and worship that is false from people who are false.  

Now, there’s something interesting about this particular test. 

It’s a bit different than the first two.  When James says that your religion is worthless if you don’t bridle your tongue, and that true religion visits orphans and widows in their distress, it is difficult to wiggle your way out of the conviction.  Either you are bridling your tongue or you are visiting orphans and widows in their distress or you are not.  These are very specific, black and white tests.  But this third test is not nearly as specific, it’s much more general and so there are some who when they read ‘keep yourself unstained by the world,’ may think they pass this test when they don’t because they are unaware of specific ways that they have been stained.   

But have no fear.

Because, James is ever practical. 

He doesn’t allow you to wiggle your way out of the conviction.  Instead he keeps pressing his point home.  One of the ways he does that is by providing practical illustrations of the truth he is teaching.  1:2-4, ‘Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials…’ what’s that look like? 1:9-11, ‘let the poor man glory in his high position and the rich man glory in his low position…’ 1:22, ‘prove yourselves doers of the word and not hearers only…’ what’s it look like to be a hearer only? 1:23,24 ‘a hearer only is like a man who looks in a mirror, goes away and forgets what he looks like…’  Here is the truth, here is what it looks like.  

And that’s what he does again for us here in 2.

Remember when James wrote this letter he didn’t divide it into chapters.  That came later.  What he writes in 2:1-13 flows out of what he has just written in 1:26,27. He doesn’t stop by simply calling us to keep ourselves pure from worldliness, he continues by giving us a very down to earth example of how worldly thinking so often infects the church. 

This is one illustration of what worldliness looks like.  

We often evaluate people using the world’s standards.  We show favoritism. The world is partial, which means that they make decisions about people on the basis of external factors alone.  And when the church shows favoritism you know it’s being stained by the world.  

Honestly this issue might not seem all that important to us, but it’s obviously very important to James.  So important that he spends thirteen verses arguing against it.  And although this particular topic might not be high on our list of issues to discuss, God shows His wisdom by including it here in the book of James, because we find that it is a major problem throughout history.  

In fact you could argue that this problem of favoritism is one of the major problems throughout history.  Think slavery, think civil rights, think caste system, think Oliver Twist, think the parable of the Good Samaritan, think World War 2, think Hitler, think Aryan nation. All just extreme forms of this very common problem: the sin of partiality, or favoritism, making decisions about people on the basis of external factors alone. 

And anytime you see the same problem occurring repeatedly throughout history it should cause you to put your guard up, because you realize, that biblically speaking, the same sin nature that resided in those individuals resides in you.  

Man because of his sinful nature is instinctively prejudiced.  I remember how this was driven home to me when I went to Latvia for a missions trip.  I found as I traveled throughout Latvia that many Latvians were incredibly prejudiced against Russians.  Now I couldn’t tell the difference between a Latvian and a Russian, but they could.  And it finally struck that racism is not about color.  If we were all the same color we’d still have problems with racism.  Because the problem is deeper than color, it’s in our hearts.      

It’s this sin of partiality or favoritism.  Making evaluations of people on the basis of the world’s standards, not God’s.  

This was a particular problem in the early church.  God commanded His people to be impartial, but it was difficult, because the church was the one place in all of society where it wasn’t about social status.  Slave, master, rich, poor, male, female, one in Christ.  Besides that most everyone in the early church was poor, so if a rich person was converted it would be very easy to get real excited not about his conversion but about what he had to offer the church.  

That’s the issue James is addressing here.  He’s writing to believers who are suffering.  And they are struggling in how they are responding to that suffering.  And he’s aware that one of the sins they are going to struggle with in particular is this sin of partiality.  Evaluating people the way the world does. And so he presents an air tight argument against favoritism.  

He begins with his thesis statement in verse 1:

Favoritism and True Faith don’t mix. 

“My brethren do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”  He addresses these believers with a term of affection, my brothers. Perhaps he does so to soften the blow they are about to receive.  I love you and that’s why I am about to rebuke you. 

Notice exactly how James puts it. 

He doesn’t merely say “Don’t show favoritism.”  He says, “Don’t hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”  This verse is not a suggestion.  So it must not be read that way.  It’s a command.  James is laying down the law.  To put it another way – he’s saying – true authentic faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely incompatible with an attitude of favoritism. 

Favoritism is not merely being discourteous. It’s not just bad manners. It is anti-gospel.  

In most of our Bibles the term favoritism comes at the end of the verse.  In the Greek, it’s right up front for emphasis.  Imagine it in bold print, almost like a title for the essay that follows.  The word for favoritism is a ‘distinctively Christian word.’  In fact, many scholars suggest that the writers of the New Testament actually coined it.  John MacArthur explains that “perhaps the reason they had to come up with this new word is because favoritism was such an accepted part of most ancient societies that it was assumed and not even identified as it still is in many cultures today.”  It literally means ‘receiving of face’ or ‘lifting of face.’  And it came to be a well-known term denoting the partiality of a judge who made biased judgments based on external circumstances, and more generically of preferring a person because of something you are enamored by.

Here favoritism is in the plural, which means that James is not just talking about an isolated act of favoritism, but instead about a pattern of life and a problem with wide-ranging applications.  That means he’s forbidding favoritism of any kind.  He’s about to show us one example of favoritism in verses 2-4, preferring the rich, but that is not the only kind of favoritism that’s sinful. 

Christians must not make a practice out of favoritism and they must not show favoritism in any way.  

The grammar of this passage strongly suggests that he’s calling on the church to stop a habit or action that is already in progress.  In other words, he’s not merely telling them to not do something in the future. He’s commanding them to stop something they are doing now.  

Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are perfect, and we constantly need to humbly evaluate our lives and our church in the light of God’s Word, to determine whether or not we have slipped into worldly patterns unaware.   Wordliness is especially dangerous when it is subtle.  It often sneaks into our lives through the back door and instead of showing up in what we wear or what we do, shows up in how we think and what we desire.  And that’s what seems to have happened here to these believers.  They were going about their religious activities, while thinking the way the world thinks.  

James is going to tell us exactly why favoritism is such a serious sin down in verses 5-11; but for now I want you to notice the hint he gives us here in verse 1. 

He says our faith is in whom? The glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 

When you say you put your faith in Christ what are you saying?  One of the things you are saying is that He is glorious.  That He is worthy of exaltation.  That He is famous.  That He is worthy of our honor. 

When you show favoritism you are glorying in the wrong person.

These two terms Christ and glory go together.  They are inextricably linked.  We serve a glorious Savior.  Our Savior is exalted far above all.  There is no one and nothing here on earth that even compares to Him.  When you think awesome, when you think worthy of respect, when you think glory, you need to think Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 2:8 calls Him the Lord of glory.  Colossians 3:4 says that Christ is now in glory.  2 Thessalonians 2:14 explains that glory belongs to Him.   1 Timothy 3:16 says that he was taken up to glory, and Titus 2:13 tells us that when he returns that day will be full of glory.  Glory belongs to Jesus Christ.  He is the very definition of glory.  

True believers shouldn’t be overawed or bedazzled by passing temporary worldly glory because our faith is in someone whose glory far outshines anyone or anything here on this earth, the Lord Jesus Christ.   Your faith in the glorious Jesus Christ is incompatible with favoritism because when you show favoritism what are you doing?  You are giving glory to man that belongs only to Christ.  When you show favoritism you are giving the glory Jesus Christ deserves to some man who doesn’t.  

I like how one pastor puts it, “We know the glory of God when we look by faith into the face of Jesus Christ. In any Christian congregation there is only one glory and that belongs to Jehovah Jesus, and we have to make sure that that is so. We have nothing else to offer men and women except Jesus Christ. Isaiah saw him in the temple and we see this same one by faith. All the wealth and fame and power of sinners is less than nothing compared to him. The name of Jesus does not borrow a thing from us – all the glory of men is like the flower of the field, withering and perishing….If a congregation were full of millionaires, and beauty queens, and the Philadelphia Eagles, and had the leadership of Mensa men with their IQ’s going through the roof – all that would give no additional glory to Jesus Christ. It would, of course, detract from it. In the presence of his glory all earthly achievements are less than dust. If you reject my Jesus Christ I cannot say to you, “Well, what do you think of these moral guidelines, family counsels, our choir, ideas about government and social action ?” My one task is to persuade you of the Lord’s glory, and if you see that than everything is new. If you don’t see that then our church being full of beautiful people will not help you at all. I cannot discriminate and highlight the wealthy, and tell you where the talent is in the congregation. If you become a Christian all this congregation will be your family. For your brothers and sisters there will be very different kinds of men and women. I have to point you to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.”

That’s why Favoritism and Faith Don’t Mix.  

The church is not about the glory of man.  It’s about the glory of Christ. 

Now you know James.  He’s not going to stop with just giving you the principle, or stating his thesis.  He’s got to move on and give us an illustration of just exactly what favoritism looks like, which we will look at next time.