James 5

Read James 5.

We live in a free society. Freedom makes it possible to make a living and even become wealthy through innovation, making quality products and/or delivering quality service. A business owner usually will employ other people but he or she must pay them wages that both the owner and the worker have agreed are fair. If a business owner refuses to pay wages in our society, employees have several ways to seek justice.

When James was writing this chapter, however, workers were much more vulnerable to exploitation. Owners could enslave others or cheat workers out of their wages. James 5:1-6 condemns the wealthy who made their wealth by cheating others.

Notice, though, that James speaks as if the judgment of these wealthy people has already happened. Verse 1 says they should “weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” Verse 2 says, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” This description of coming judgment continued in the rest of the verses in the present tense, as if it were already happening.

But verse 7 reveals to us that the judgment described in verses 1-6 hadn’t happened yet but would happen when Jesus returns. Verse 7 says, “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.” The implication is that if these believers were being exploited by others, they should look to God in faith because he will settle in justice at the coming of Christ. The patience James counsels us to have is compared in the rest of verse 7 to the kind of paticence a farmer must have while he waits for his crops to grow. The point is that we must trust God–and keep trusting him–until he returns just like a farmer keeps trusting that the crops will grow and ripen.

Are you discouraged because someone has wronged you? The Bible repeatedly tells us not to seek revenge but to trust the Lord to make things right. Sometimes he uses repentance and restoration to make things right (see verse 19-20). But in many cases, we have to wait for the judgment day for justice to come.

Whether we are rich or poor, owner or worker, we need to remember that at the end of this age we will stand before Christ in judgment. If we’re in Christ by faith we will escape the eternal judgment of hell by his grace and through his death on the cross for us.

But all of us will answer to God for everything we do, think, and say. Because we love God we want God to be pleased with our lives. The coming judgment of God should motivate us to make godly, righteous choices while in this life so that we will be rewarded in the next life.

Do you have any unreconciled relationships? Any sins you should confess to someone you’ve wronged (v. 20)? You and I will answer to God for everything we’ve done with our lives. Isn’t it best to do the righteous thing in this life now, even if it is hard and wounds our pride?

Let the coming interview you will have with the Lord guide what you do today, what you say today, and how you treat others today. Let the coming of Christ guide you toward a righteous life for his glory.

Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12.

Does it really matter what you say?

How often do we say things that are mean, unkind, and hurtful and then follow those words with, “I didn’t really mean it”?

How often do people use words that are crass, crude, rude, condescending, demeaning, and/or untruthful? But we give them (or ourselves) a pass by saying, “I/He was just letting off steam” or “S/he’s really a nice person but just has a temper.”

I think that many Christians today think sins of speech are less of a problem than other kinds of sin.

Jesus said otherwise. Words were very important to him because they reveal what is in a person’s heart.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (vv. 34c-35).

In context, Jesus is addressing the sin of the Pharisees in saying that Jesus “drives out demons… by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 24). In our culture, someone who heard that might say, “They’re just jealous” or give some other excuse for what the Pharisees said.

To Jesus, however, the way the Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus’s miracles was a statement of faith, an expression of their beliefs about Jesus. Or, rather, their unbelief about who Jesus is.

Words are not empty in God’s sight at all. They are the basis on which either you will be acquitted or condemned when you stand before God in judgment (vv. 36-37). Evil words, untruthful words, harsh words, unkind or unbelieving words all reveal what you really think, the ideas that you mull over in your heart. Your words and mine let us see inside the mind; they reveal what conclusions you’ve come to in your heart. They show what is important and valuable to you. They demonstrate how little (or much) you value God and other people.

Each human being with will be judged by his or her words. Yet Jesus’s prescription for an evil mouth was not to watch what you say.

Instead, Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (v. 33a). Since what you say comes from your heart, the only way to clean up your speech is to cleanse your heart.

Jesus came not only to atone for and forgive our sins of speech; he also came to change our hearts so that the words we speak are true, kind, loving, gentle, and good. As you grow in your faith in Christ, your words should reflect it.

How are your speech patterns? Do your words fit with your profession of faith as a Christian or do they reveal a heart that is filled with–or still struggling with sin?

Ask God for the grace to speak words that are pleasing to him. Ask him to help you grow and to cleanse your heart so that whether a believer or an unbeliever speaks with you, he will see the life-transforming work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

And, fill your heart with good things, with godly truth and the word of God itself. As your heart is purified, your words will be better for, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v. 34).

One more thing: Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for what I said to you and/or about you?” Is there someone you need to say those words to today?

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14 today. This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

2 Chronicles 13 and Revelation 9

Read 2 Chronicles 13 and Revelation 9 today. This devotional is about Revelation 9.

In chapter 8, Jesus opened the seventh seal. Then John told us, “I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them” (v. 2) and “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them” (v. 6). Four of those angels sounded their trumpets in Revelation 8; today we read about what happened when angels five and six sounded their trumpets.

What happened was painful torture to those not protected by God’s seal (vv. 4-12) and death for 33% of the world’s population (vv. 13-19).

One would expect that this kind of devastation would cause people to cry out to God for mercy. Instead, those who lived through these horrific events “still did not repent” of their false worship and disobedience to God. Their stubbornness demonstrates that sin nature is deeply planted in us all as are the sinful habits that we cultivate. Neither God’s judgment on others nor the threat of it can cause a person’s mind and heart to change. It is only God’s gracious working within any of us that changes our minds and causes us to turn to God in faith.

Thank God, though, that he does this gracious work in the hearts of many, including in our hearts when we came to believe in Jesus.

And this is one reason why we are here to give the gospel to others. Through the gospel message God works in hearts to open them to his gracious gift of salvation. Through that salvation, God delivers them from the coming days of his wrath like those described here in Revelation.

So keep looking for opportunities to share Christ with others. It is the only means of hope for humanity.

2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, John 9

Read 2 Kings 17, Nahum 3, and John 9 today. This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we read yesterday in Nahum 2 and again today in chapter 3, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. The kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression.

Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes Ninevah, the capital city of Assyria, as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive. 

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1

Read 1 Kings 13, Joel 2, 1 Peter 1 today. This devotional is about Joel 2.

The locust plague described in Joel 1 was a devastation brought by literal locusts.

Here in chapter 2, however, many commentators see Joel using the locust plague of chapter 1 as a metaphor for the invasion of the Babylonian army upon Judah.

After describing how horrible the invasion of the Babylonians will be (vv. 1-11), Joel turned to urging his people to repent in verses 12-17. Verse 12 holds out the promise again that genuine repentance was still possible even with the Babylonian threat so close at hand. Verse 13 described the repentance God was seeking: “rend your heart and not your garments.”

It was not the symbol of repentance such as tearing their clothes or some other outward work that God wanted. Instead, God wanted a broken-hearted repentance, a complete turning away from the idolatry that was so common in Judah and a “return to the Lord your God” (v. 13). That was the way avoid the judgment of God that the Babylonians would bring.

Verse 13 also described the reason to return to God: “for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

We have read so much in the prophets about the promise of judgment and the delivery of that promise to Israel and then to Judah. It is easy to conclude, from those prophesies, that God is difficult, hard to please, and unreasonable toward his people.

The truth is just the opposite: God wanted nothing more than to be reconciled to his people. The judgment they experienced was due to their absolute refusal to be reconciled to him.

Although Judah did fall to the Babylonians, verses 18-32 hold out a promise of much greater hope. God would allow his people to be punished, but eventually he would bless his people with abundance (vv. 18-27) and with the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 28-32).

The Lord began keeping this promise on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-21) but the consummation is still to come. While we wait for Christ to return and finish fulfilling the promises, the promise for today is, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved….” This is why we are here and why the Lord has not returned. God is being reconciled to people as the Holy Spirit brings true conviction of sin and repentance and people put faith in Jesus Christ.

1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27, Proverbs 20:16-30

Read 1 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 27,. and Proverbs 20:16-30 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 27.

Tyre was an incredible place to live. Its location on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea made it a pleasant place with sandy beaches and expansive views of the water (vv. 1-3).

Its location on the coast also made it a profitable place to be. Merchants would dock their ships there bringing goods from far away places. People—like the Israelites, for example—who were further inland would go to Tyre to buy what the ships brought; they would also go there to sell what they had to offer. It was a key marketplace for the nation of Israel and her neighbors (vv. 12-25).

Because there was so much interesting merchandise coming and going and so much money changing hands, Tyre was not only a naturally beautiful lakeshore, it was beautiful for human reasons as well. The very best building materials and the best craftsmen constructed an incredible city to live in and to visit (vv. 5-9).

Imagine what it must have been like for the people of Israel to travel to Tyre. They would arrive loaded with wheat, honey, olive oil and balm (v. 17). After selling it all off, they had money in their pockets so maybe they strolled the beaches for a day or two and enjoyed the food and entertainment the city offered.

All that Tyre had, however was taken away from them because of their wickedness (vv. 27-36).

The prosperity they enjoyed could not protect them from the wrath of almighty God.

It is an important lesson for us, too, given that we live in a prosperous nation. As Jesus told the Laodiceans: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

When someone has financial prosperity, many material things to enjoy, and a beautiful home situated near a picturesque setting, it is easy to forget God. May God’s word of warning and judgment to them cause us to fear him instead of depending on prosperity.