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.

2 Chronicles 24 and Revelation 15

Read 2 Chronicles 24 and Revelation 15 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 24:22 “King Joash did not remember the kindness Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had shown him but killed his son, who said as he lay dying, ‘May the Lord see this and call you to account.’” That was a plea for God’s justice.

But the Bible is clear that sometimes bad things happen to good people. God will dispense perfect justice in eternity but injustice sometimes (often?) happens in this life because we live in a fallen world.

So it is with Zechariah here in 2 Chronicles 24:22. Joash had been a good king for Judah while the Jehoiada the priest–Zechariah’s father–was alive (v. 17). After his death, however, Joash changed his ways and he and the people of Judah “abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols” (v. 18). Zechariah stood for the Lord and called his people back to obedience (v. 20) but Joash ordered him stoned to death. 

If there were perfect justice in the world Zechariah would have lived a long life for his faithfulness to the Lord. God’s will, however, was to allow him to die at Joash’s order.

But, as Zechariah said, King Joash died prematurely. He was wounded in battle (v. 25a) and then was assassinated by members of his own government (v. 25b). They conspired against him “for murdering the son of Jehoiada the priest” (aka Zechariah) so God did answer Zechariah’s prayer (v. 22) and give him a measure of justice. But Zechariah had to wait for the judgment day to receive his reward.

Remember this when a godly person dies prematurely. God’s word says that there is the promise of long life for those who honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) but God in his sovereign wisdom makes exceptions as he did in this case. God may will for his servants to suffer injustice in this life but there will be justice someday. Just as Zechariah left vengeance up to God’s will in verse 22 so God’s word tells us to “leave room for God’s wrath” instead of taking revenge (Rom 12:19). 

Are you perplexed when God allows something that is seemingly unfair to happen to a good person in this world? Are you holding a grudge against someone who has harmed you? Can you leave it in the Lord’s hands to judge instead of holding a grudge? God’s justice is perfect but, like many things in life, we often have to wait on his timing and will.

The best demonstration of God’s justice was the death of his son for us. Our prayer, then, should be for the salvation of those who have mistreated us just as Stephen, the first Christian martyr prayed for God’s mercy toward those who killed him (Acts 7:60).

1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, 1 John 1.

Read 1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, and 1 John 1 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal.  The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” That sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under the king described in this chapter, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of an unredeemed world. Christ will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, John 20

Read 1 Chronicles 13-14, Zechariah 7, and John 20 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 7.

During the 70 years that Judah was captive to Babylon, the Jewish people began a tradition of fasting in the fifth and seventh month of each year (vv. 3-4). The purpose of this fast was, on the surface at least, to beg the Lord to end the captivity, return his people to the promised land, and restore the temple. But the temple was now being rebuilt and many people were returning to Judah, so this delegation wanted to know if the fasting was still necessary.

Zechariah’s answer was long and did not conclude until chapter 8, but his entire answer challenged the questioners more than it answered the question. The Lord asked the people, “…was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” (vv. 6-7). A fast of true repentance would have honored the Lord but a mere ritual that everyone observed as a matter of custom meant as little to the Lord as it did to the people observing the fast. Likewise, their “normal” days of eating and drinking were done without any regard for the Lord. They did not give thanks for the food he provided or enjoy it as an act of worship from grateful hearts. Both their religious observance and their daily habits were done for themselves, not as servants of God seeking to please him.

Instead, God wanted his people to live like him daily, showing justice, mercy and compassion (v. 9) by caring for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor rather than using the vulnerabilities of these groups as levers to exploit them (v. 10). That is the kind of worship God wants, not because he expected people to work to earn his favor but because these ethics were evidence of a truly changed heart.

Think about your daily choices–to eat or not to eat, to read God’s word and pray or not, to attend church or sleep in, to be kind and helpful to others or to ignore their needs. Does your walk with God drive the decisions you make on these (and other) things or do you choose what you will and won’t do based on your own personal motivations?

When you have the opportunity to help someone in need, do you do it as an act of worship and obedience to the Lord?

2 Kings 13, Micah 6, John 7

Read 2 Kings 13, Micah 6, and John 7. This devotional is about Micah 6.

I was named (unjustly) in a lawsuit once in my life. The suit was withdrawn a few days later after the two main parties worked out a deal. Those few days when I thought I was getting sued were stressful, especially because the plaintiff suing us was a lawyer.

If you’ve ever been sued or even been on a jury or served as a witness, you know how stressful lawsuits can be. But imagine being sued by the Lord! That’s what’s happening here in Micah 6. This is a covenant lawsuit brought by God against his people. Verse 1 commanded Micah to initiate the lawsuit with the mountains serving as the jury. The earth was created before humanity was, so the mountains were personified in this chapter as witnesses to all that the Lord had done for his people (v. 2).

In verse 3 God asks the people of Israel why they have broken faith with him. The question in the second line, “How have I burdened you?” is an interesting one. It assumes that God’s people looked on his laws as burdensome and felt that serving him was difficult. God responds in verse 4a-b by reminding them that he relieved them of a true burden–the burden of slavery in Egypt. He also reviewed how he sent them leadership in Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (v. 4c-d). Then he told them again how protected them from the oracles of Balaam (v. 5a-c) and in their journey to the promised land (v. 5).

Israel responded in verses 6-7 like a defendant would in a lawsuit. The implied question of these verses is, “Okay, Lord; how much do you want to settle this out of court?” The offer kept escalating. Verse 7 says, “How about thousands of rams? No? Ok, how about 10,000 rivers of oil (v. 7b)? Not good enough? OK, then how about a human sacrifice (v. 7c-d)?”  

Verse 8 responds that the Lord wants a few basic things from his people; namely

  • justice
  • mercy and 
  • to walk with God. 

Justice is about doing what is right and fair to others regardless of whether they are rich or poor, family or enemy. Mercy is about showing kindness to people who deserve justice but are repentant. It also means showing kindness to people in need even though you don’t have any legal or family obligation to them. Walking with God means loving him, worshipping him daily, and following in his ways.

The concepts outlined in Micah 6:8 are easy; living them out daily is hard. It is hard because of our sin nature; we like to favor people we like or people who can help us. We like to punish people who have mistreated us even if they are repentant. We also like to, sometimes, ignore people in need. Finally, walking with God is tough because we are, naturally speaking, enemies of God because of our sin nature.

This passage, then, describes the absolute need we all have for God to save us. We can’t save ourselves; we are guilty and unable to give our way out of the guilt. In Christ, however, we have both the forgiveness of sins that the gifts described in verse 7 could never buy for us and the ability now to walk with God by faith and to do justice and show mercy.

2 Kings 9, Micah 3, John 4

Read 2 Kings 9, Micah 3, and John 4. This devotional is about 2 Kings 9.

In God’s original plan for Israel, there was to be one nation ruled by a descendent of David. God decreed that Solomon’s sins would lead to a divided kingdom, but the rulers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were not typically anointed by prophets as Saul and David were.

So, when Elisha sent one of the prophets in his prophetic school to anoint Jehu king over Israel in this chapter (vv. 1-3), that was a highly unusual move.

Furthermore, Jehu was not a godly man nor did he begin a great spiritual reformation in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. He was just like every other king of the Northern Kingdom in the sense that he was an unbeliever who left in place the idolatry created by Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom.

So, then, why did God send a prophet to anoint Jehu? It was to bring Ahab, Jezebel, and their descendants to justice. Verse 7 says, “You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.” The violence that God commanded in this chapter and that Jehu carried out is difficult for us accept. Why would God anoint a man to wipe out another man’s entire family? Here are a few things to consider:

  • First, kings in this era of time had no legal check on their power. There was no legislature or court to bring Ahab to justice for his many sins. If there was going to be justice, it would have to be carried out by another king. Jehu’s killings in this passage were not acts of first degree murder; they were done to uphold the Law of Israel given through Moses which mandated the death penalty for the things that Ahab and Jezebel did.
  • Second, Ahab was warned repeatedly (1 Ki 20:41-43, 21:21-24, 22:17, 28) that his sins would lead to his death and the death of his wife and descendants. Although he expressed some remorse and received a merciful delay (1 Ki 21:25-29), he did not fundamentally change like he would have if he had truly repented.
  • Third, the descendants of Ahab were included in both the prophecy (1 Ki 21:21-24) and the fulfillment here in 2 Kings 9:8. It does not seem fair that they died for the sins of their parents. But the life of their son Joram shows a continuation of their godlessness and unbelief. Surely there would have been mercy for one of Ahab & Jezebel’s descendants if they had repented and followed the Lord. But even after they had been given the prophecy of Elijah that their would be justice for them, they continued in their sinful ways.

God is just and he established human governments to uphold justice and enforce the penalties of disobedience to his laws. The Bible says that unbelieving government leaders who exercise just judgment are God’s agents for good (Rom 13:4a). Jehu would answer for his own sins but, to the degree that he acted justly, he was doing God’s will. 

1 Kings 19, Amos 5, 1 Peter 5

Read 1 Kings 19, Amos 5, and 1 Peter 5 today. This devotional is about Amos 5.

Many religions are built around rituals. Rituals may involve memorizing words and saying them at certain times. They may involve lighting candles or attending gatherings or giving money. Religious rituals can center on what someone eats, what kind of clothing (or underwear) they wear. Most religions have certain expectations that followers of that religion must do or should do or are supposed to do.

Judaism was no different; in fact, Old Testament worship had many, many rituals. It regulated how often and when people gathered, how much they gave, what they wore, what they ate, and on and on. 

Rituals can be meaningful but they can also just become habits. Like most habits, we can perform rituals without thinking or caring very much. This is especially true if someone equates their relationship to God 100% with the performance of the ritual. If someone thinks that God is pleased because he or she performed a religious act or consistently performed a bunch of religious acts, that person needs to look more closely at scripture. 

And, if we do rituals in God’s name while also practicing sinful habits the rest of the time, we are deceiving ourselves.

Here in Amos 5:21-24, God condemned the observance of Jewish religious rituals in the harshest of terms. “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” he said in verse 21. Forget the sacrifices, too (v. 22) and your worship music, no matter how emotive it is or how skillfully you play it (v. 23). 

Instead, God wanted those who loved him to do what is right: “…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (v. 24). Christ has fulfilled the sacrifices so that we can be declared righteous and God can be just. But if we name the name of Christ and diligently do what Christians are supposed to do yet we break God’s commands routinely in our daily lives, we are deceiving ourselves about the state of our relationship with God.

How about it? Are you living a life that is right with God in your home, your workplace, and in our community? If someone from one of those contexts found out that you are a Christian, would they be surprised? God wants living sacrifices; our daily choices, ethics, values, how we treat people, and the words that we say reveal far more about our faith than does our church attendance, giving, and Bible reading. Those things–church attendance, etc.–are designed to help us live a more righteous life. They are important for growing and strengthening our faith, not for measuring our compliance with Christian expectations.

God judged his people for many things including religious performance without righteous living. Let’s learn from their painful example and truly walk with God.