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What the Bible says about Hearers and Doers
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 27:26

This last curse is a clincher, more expansive in scope by far than the others. By its substance as well as its position, it serves to point out that the previous eleven curses serve in aggregate as an encapsulation of all the laws of God. In fact, the curse will come to any person who violates any of the precepts of God's law. There is no room for hypocrisy. The apostle Paul may have had the twelfth curse in mind when he wrote to God's people in Rome: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).

Confirmation of the law does not take place through word but through works, works of overt obedience. As a second witness, consider God's own orders to His prophet Jeremiah:

The Lord said to me, “Listen to the terms of the covenant. Tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I, the Lord God of Israel, have placed a curse on everyone who does not obey the terms of this covenant. It is the covenant I made with their ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, the land that was like a blazing furnace to them. I told them to obey Me and to do everything that I had commanded. I told them that if they obeyed, they would be My people and I would be their God. Then I would keep the promise I made to their ancestors that I would give them the rich and fertile land which they now have.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5, Good News Translation)

Through the same prophet, God tells us that appearances do not fool God. He sees through the mask, recognizing reality clearly: “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Matthew 21:28-32

These five verses are a parable, not to the disciples, but to the chief priests and elders of the people, whose heritage or fine credentials alone would not give them the right to continue to rule. He tells the story of a son who says he will work and then does not as opposed to a son who says he will not but repents and does his father's wishes. The former son is the leadership of Israel who agreed to the covenant but rejected it. The latter son is the publicans and harlots whose lives were sinful but who were willing to repent. Similarly, in I Corinthians 1:26-31, Paul attests that Christ will build His church through the weak and base, not the ones men think should be first.

Staff
Who Are the 'Guests at the Wedding'?

Matthew 21:28

The character of each son is vastly different. One son is independent, disobedient, and insolent, but after thinking about his ways, returns to carry out his responsibility. The second is a big talker, full of promises but no action. In these two men, Christ describes, on the one hand, sinners of all types, who, when convicted by John the Baptist and Himself, turned away from their iniquities, repented, and obeyed God. On the other hand are the scribes, Pharisees, and other self-righteous people who feign a zeal for the law but will not receive the gospel.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Two Sons

Romans 2:13

Lawkeeping alone will not justify them, but God expects that someone who has faith in Christ to keep His law. Therefore it is good to do it because works are evidence of what one has faith in. Without works, God would never be sure.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Five)

Galatians 3:6

In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.

This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.

Paul explains further in verses 21-25:

And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.

But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:

But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)

Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.

As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.

James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.

Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.

Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.

David C. Grabbe

2 Timothy 3:6-7

The word "self-control" does not appear in these verses, but its lack is a major part of these women's problem. Their exact problem is unknown, but what we see here makes a good illustration.

Many modern versions change "the knowledge" in verse 7 to "acknowledge." Spiros Zodhiates says regarding this Greek word, "In the New Testament, it often refers to knowledge which very powerfully influences the form of religious life, a knowledge laying claim to personal involvement." Put another way, this word indicates not mere agreement with or admission of truth newly found but of truth already affecting the seeker's life. The knowledge these women received was not affecting their lives for the better.

Our challenge in life is not to become a tremendous reservoir of information that indeed may be true, but to control and rightly use what we already have while continuing to seek yet more. We acknowledge truth only when we use it in our lives, something these ladies were not doing. Considering the flood of information we have at our fingertips in this computer age, it is vital for us to understand that God judges us according to how well we use what we have.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Six)

James 1:22-25

An old Yiddish proverb reads, “Der Spigel iz der greste farfirer,” meaning “The mirror is the greatest deceiver.” We find this statement especially true when we use mirrors that distort the image. How many of us have:

  • seen mirrors at amusement parks that make us look taller or fatter than we really are?

  • tried to shave or perhaps to insert contact lenses using those stainless steel mirrors at Interstate highway rest areas?

  • tried to judge whether to pull out into traffic using a side-view mirror with the warning etched onto it, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear”?

Jesus' brother, James, advises us that looking into God's law—“the perfect law of liberty”—and becoming a faithful doer of the Word is the only accurate and reliable mirror to evaluate spiritual progress (James 1:22-25). But many of us prefer to judge our spiritual progress by making comparisons with one another, something the apostle Paul points out in II Corinthians 10:12 as being unwise.

Human nature, very standardized and predictable, seems to have a blind spot to its own faults and shortcomings. Like the car mirrors mentioned above, human nature distorts what we see in ourselves. This mirror is the great deceiver when we apply it to ourselves, but so clear when observing the faults of others.

Jesus' admonition in Matthew 7:1-5 reflects this principle:

Judge not, that you be not judged [Jesus refers to condemning or passing sentence, something we are not authorized to do]. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

In Romans 2:19-24, the apostle Paul gives a parallel warning to Jewish religious leaders for hypocritical condemning:

. . . and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.

In both instances, the topic of judging is ancillary to the egregious evil of tolerating sin in oneself. In other words, the anger both Jesus and Paul express is far more intense against concealing or tolerating sin in oneself than against judging. As we learn in the first chapter of Amos, the sins of Israel's enemies were hideous and disgusting, but the concealed hypocritical sins within Israel—from the people who allegedly made a unique covenant with God—produced a more noxious stench in God's nostrils.

Other people's sins do and should make us angry. But the things that intensely annoy or anger us about other people's behaviors should serve as warning indicators of the very things that God finds offensive in us.

David F. Maas
Specks as Mirrors

James 1:23-24

Here is a person who is going only halfway, hearing God's Word but doing nothing with it. How often do we hear a message, seeing it only as it applies to others, not to ourselves? Such a person may be able to hear the truth but filters it only through his clouded eyes, or worse, never sees how it relates to him at all.

We see these extremes in God's church today. Some people spend endless hours studying and conveying their discoveries to others, yet hypocritically do not follow their own advice or God's. They may even have understanding that could help others, but potential hearers see only the problems that drown out what they may be trying to say. As the saying goes, "Your actions speak so loudly that I can't hear a word you say." God wants well-rounded individuals in His Family, those who understand His way of life and cooperate with the rest of His family—not extremists who may be right in their knowledge but wrong in their overall viewpoint, including proper interaction with others.

Another extreme exists in those who are mere spectators, allowing others to preach at them without doing anything about it or even proving or disproving it for themselves. They take a "nothing ventured, nothing compromised" stance, which, though it may be technically correct, reveals a person who will not venture outside his "comfort zone." It is a stance guaranteed to produce no growth whatsoever, either in doctrine or in personal relationships. All this person sees is his own little world, a perspective that runs contrary to what God purposes for us. He is preparing us to be kings and priests in the world to come, both of which demand an outward, growth-oriented attitude.

Still another extreme behavior occurs in those who believe because they are told to, not because of their own involvement with God and His Word. They see what others tell them to see, not what they should see aided by God's Spirit. While it is good to be submissive, God wants us to seek Him (Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 55:6; Amos 5:4; etc.) and prove all things (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1). A true Christian must be actively involved in pursuing God's way of life.

All these positions show an inability or lack of desire to see and respond to God's truth as we should. This is true physically. A myopic person cannot see things clearly enough to react properly. For instance, a nearsighted baseball player cannot see a pitch clearly enough to take an effective swing at the ball. A myopic Christian cannot see the truth clearly enough to use it in his life.

Staff
Christian Myopia

Revelation 1:3

In James 1:22, the apostle admonishes us to be obedient doers, not just hearers, of the Word. One implication of James' comment is clear: When it comes to prophecy, we are to obey the commands so often embedded in the prophetic word. James' command to act, rather than just to hear, is frequently echoed in prophecy, as in Revelation 1:3: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words [logos] of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near."

The "and" in this verse is very important. God does not say that we are blessed simply if we hear and if we read. This is not to suggest that we should not study God's prophetic word; of course, we should. All Scripture is given for our edification and our inspiration (II Timothy 3:16). It is all inspired for that purpose. However, we are to read or hear and to keep.

What do we keep? Do we keep predictions about horsemen and beasts? How does one do that? What we are to keep are those commands that are liberally sprinkled throughout the word of prophecy—in the book of Revelation and in the prophetic sections of the gospels and epistles, as well as in the prophecies of the Old Testament. For instance, the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 contain several commands to repent and repeated commands to overcome.

The prophetic word is not just a collection of mind puzzles that we are somehow supposed to unravel. God's prophecies are not that at all, but they are calls for change. They are calls for our growth. Remember, the blessing comes to those who keep, who do what God commands whether or not we understand the details of the prophecy.

God is faithful. A Christian reading this passage a thousand years ago, who had no idea of what we know of history or of the technology that we understand now, could receive the blessing through obedience, just as we can. Again, knowing is not the issue, but obedience is.

The word "keep" is a command that appears ten times in the book of Revelation. It is the same word that is translated in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." We will notice just a few of its appearances. The first three are written to three of the seven churches: Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, respectively:

  • Revelation 2:26: ". . . keeps My works until the end. . . ."
  • Revelation 3:3: ". . . hold fast and repent. . . ." [Here, "hold fast" is the same Greek word as "to keep" in the other examples.]
  • Revelation 3:8: ". . . have kept My word. . . ."
  • Revelation 12:17: ". . . who keep the commandments of God. . . ." [This is written to the remnant of the seed, that is, to God's elect.]

As we can see, God has sprinkled this command to "keep" all over the prophecies of Revelation.

Charles Whitaker
To Watch and Keep


 




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