Week 100 - Read James
Key Concepts: The key concept in James is that faith and actions cannot be separated.
Background: No one is certain who wrote James, but it is a sermon couched as a letter. The sermon focuses on how Christians ought to live.
Brief Summary: Salutation and Dealing with Trials (1:1-1:18) The greeting is from James which is followed by words of encouragement to those facing trials. Believers are to know that trials yield steadfastness, not defeat. Those who are tested and remain faithful will receive the crown of life. The temptations that test us are not from God, for God does not tempt but gives humanity only good and perfect gifts.
Real Religion (1:19-1:27) Real religion consists of being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, putting away wickedness, doing the Word, bridling the tongue, visiting orphans and windows, and keeping oneself unstained by the world.
Dealing with Class Differences (2:1-2:13) One of the great issues within the life of any church, including the early church, was the different treatment given to those who are rich and those who are poor. The writer begins by reminding the church not to show “partiality” between classes. The example given has to do with how people are treated when they come to church. If the wealthy are given preferential seating and the poor and told to stand in a corner, then the poor have been disrespected. By showing this kind of partiality, the church members have violated the rule to love our neighbors as ourselves. This section concludes with the reminder that those who show no mercy will receive no mercy, yet mercy will triumph over judgment.
Faith means Works (2:14-2:26) The writer makes it clear that one cannot have a faith that does not show itself in works of love and compassion. The example offered is of a hungry person coming to the church and the church merely saying, “Go in peace.” Not helping them shows that the faith of the church is dead. This is summed up in the fact that works are what demonstrate the existence of faith. Abraham is lifted up as one who proved his faith by what he did (seemingly different from Paul’s use of Abraham as an example of faith).
Real Wisdom (3:1-3:18) One of the essentials for a Christ-like life is to have wisdom. Wisdom is demonstrated in mastering one’s tongue (the tongue can be a deadly fire and be filled with poison), doing good works, avoiding jealousy and selfish ambition, and being pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good works and setting aside uncertainty and insincerity.
Worldly Living is the Problem (4:1-5:6) Greed, pride, speaking evil against others, judging and boasting are at the heart of the evils of the world. These problems bring about war, murder and fraud as people do whatever it takes to acquire more and more. The warning is offered that those who store up for themselves, living in luxury while others suffer will see all they have becoming rotted and moth-ridden. A central admonition is “whoever knows what is right and fails to do it, for him is sin.”
More Encouragement (5:7-5:20) The sermon concludes with a reminder to be patient and wait for the coming of the Lord. In the meantime, believers are to be straightforward (your yes is your yes and you no is your no), prayerful, cheerful, worshipful, willing to call upon the elders for assistance, willing to confess one’s sins and willing to work to bring back into the community those who have fallen away.
1. What is your favorite piece of advice from this letter?
2. How do you square James’ statements about faith and works with Paul’s focus on faith alone?
3. How might this letter help us be a better church?
Week 101 - Read Hebrews
Key Concepts: The key concept in Hebrews is that Christianity is preferable to Judaism.
Background: The reason for this sermon is that the church to which it is written is composed of Jews who were being tempted to leave Christianity and return to Judaism.
Brief Summary: Statement of Argument (1:1-1:4) The author states the central premise of the argument which is that God spoke to the world more clearly through the Son (Jesus) than God had spoken through the various Judaic patriarchs and prophets.
Jesus is superior to angels (1:5-2:18) Even though angels serve God, Jesus is superior because he has been given dominion over all of creation, including the angels. Even though Jesus was once lower than the angels (when he was on earth), his being on earth was so that he would “taste” death for everyone in order to pioneer the way through death and to salvation and eternal life.
Jesus is superior to Moses (3:1-3:6) While Moses was faithful to God, in God’s house (tabernacle) Jesus was faithful over the house as a Son who is both an apostle and a high priest.
Warning #1 (3:7-4:13) Having just declared that Jesus is superior to Moses, the writer makes it clear that any of those who fall away will be punished as surely as were those who refused to obey Moses, meaning the lost generation who died in the wilderness and never saw the Promised Land.
Jesus is the new High Priest (4:14-5:14) Jesus is the high priest who has been divinely appointed and who can sympathize with our weaknesses. He was without sin and so did not have to offer sacrifice for his sin, as did the human high priest. Though he was a son he learned obedience through suffering.
Warning #2 (6:1-6:20) The church is warned that it will be impossible to restore to God’s favor those who had experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit and then ceased following Jesus.
Jesus’ Priesthood and New Covenant is Superior to that of the Levites and the old Covenant (7:1-10:25) The Melchizedek Priesthood (of which Jesus is a priest) is shown to be superior to that of the Levitical Priesthood because the Melchizedek Priesthood is eternal while the Levitical is temporary. In addition, Jesus, through his onetime sacrifice, can save people once and for all. Thus the new covenant with Jesus is better than the old one because it is based not on the sacrifice of animals offered on a recurring basis, but is based on the blood of Jesus, shed, again, once and for all. His sacrifice also changes us from the inside out so that we can be obedient to God, be forgiven and gain eternal life. Because of Jesus’ work we can draw near to God with full confidence because our hearts have been made clean. We are therefore to hold fast to our hope, stir up one another in love and meet together regularly.
Warning #3 (10:26-10:39) Once again the people are warned that by sinning deliberately after coming to know Jesus there can be no sacrifice which will cover them.
List of those who kept the Faith (11:1-12:24) The writer describes the “Cloud of Witnesses” who remained faithful even in tough times. These people should give us courage to run the race as we look to Jesus for support. We should also be encouraged to put up with discipline from God.
Warning #4 (12:25-29) This is a final warning not to refuse Jesus who as spoken to them.
Conclusion (13:1-13:25) The people are to show brotherly love, offer hospitality, remember those in prison, hold marriage in honor, do not love money, be content with what one has, remember their leaders, share what one has and pray for those who wrote the letter.
1. How do Paul’s comments about the Jews and their covenant differ from those in Hebrews?
2. What do you make of the warnings?
3. How does this letter encourage or discourage you?
Week 102 - Read 1 Peter and 2 Peter
Key Concepts: The key concept in 1 Peter is the call to find courage in the face of persecution. The key concepts in the second letter are a reconfirmation of the second coming of Christ and a warning to the church to beware of false teachers.
Background: These letters are written to Gentile churches in Asia Minor who were beginning to come under persecution as well as pressure to abandon their faith.
Brief Summary: Salutation and Celebration (1 Peter - 1:1-1:12) Peter opens with the usual stylized greeting and then reminds the people, who are enduring trials, that they had been born anew in Jesus into a living hope through his resurrection and into an inheritance that will never fade away.
Be Holy (1 Peter - 1:13-2:10) Peter calls the church to holy living rather than the type of living in which they engaged before they became Christians. They are to do so during their “exile” because they have been ransomed by the blood of Christ who was destined from the foundation of the world to set them free. Because of this they are to love one another and put away all malice, guile, insincerity, and envy. He also tells them to come to Christ, the living stone in order to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s own people.
Instructions for Life (1 Peter - 2:11-4:11) The Apostle calls upon the people to abstain from passions of the flesh, be subject to ruling authorities, honor all persons, care for fellow believers and fear God. Slaves are to be subject to their masters. Wives are to be “submissive” to husbands even if the husbands are not Christians (in hopes of converting them), dress plainly and have a gentle and quiet spirit. Husbands are to bestow honor on their wives sine they are joint heirs in Christ. Believers are to have unity of spirit, sympathy of love, a tender heart and mind.
They are to respond to evil with blessing. And even if believers suffer for doing what is right they should be ready to make a defense of what they believe. And even though it may surprise their former friends, those who follow Jesus are to give up their old ways and habits that were contrary to Christ’s commands.
Summary and concluding Remarks (1 Peter 4:12-5:14) Peter reminds them that they are not to be surprised when the “fiery ordeal” comes upon them but are to rejoice that they share in Christ’s sufferings. They are also to humble themselves, cast all of their cares on God, be sober and watchful and trust that one day God will restore them to their rightful place.
Salutation and call to Holiness (2 Peter 1:1-1:21) Peter opens with the usual greeting and then a reminder that God has given believers everything that they need that pertains to life. This means that believers can become partakers of the divine nature. To assist in so doing they are encouraged to put on a list of seven virtues. Peter can say these things because he was a witness to Christ’s earthly glory which confirmed the prophecies of the Old Testament.
The False Prophets (2 Peter 2:1-2:22) Even with the Apostolic witness to Jesus, false prophets arose and are attempting to lead the church astray. They will however be punished for their lies. Believers who follow them are worse off than they would have been if they had not ever believed.
The Return of Jesus (3:1-3:18) Peter reminds the church that even though Christ has not returned it is because of forbearance, but like a thief in the night he will return and judge the world. The church then is to faithfully wait for the new heaven and the new earth.
1. What do you make of Peter’s contention that we should celebrate suffering for Christ?
2. How do you react to Peters traditional views of the relationship between husband and wife?
3. How do you understand the second coming of Jesus?
Week 103 - Read 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude
Key Concepts: The key concept in the John letters is that the primary duty of Christians is to love one another. Jude is a warning against false teachers.
Background: The three letters of John are either authored by the same writer as the Gospel of John or come from the same community. They contain much of the same language and theology as the Gospel. Also these are not letters but sermons. Jude is a letter attributed to the brother of James (an early church leader and possibly the brother of Jesus).
Brief Summary: Introduction (1 John 1:1-1:10) the writer opens by noting several of the important themes of the Gospel of John; Jesus was from the beginning, was life made real and that believers are connected to God through Jesus. In addition the writer notes that God is light and that we are to walk in that light. Finally there is a marvelous passage about the fact that we have all sinned but if we confess we will be forgiven.
Reminders of what Matters (1 John 2:1-2:17) The writer offers his reasons for writing; that the believers should strive not to sin, but instead should keep Christ’s commandments, love one another, know that believers have overcome the world, and to love God rather than the world.
Warnings (1 John 2:18-29) Evidently there were former members of the church who had left and now returned with the message that Jesus was not the messiah. The letters recipients are instructed to abide in Christ because in Christ they know the Father and have eternal life.
Love One Another (1 John 3:1-24) The writer returns to the theme of loving one another. Those who do not love, are from the devil. But those in the church have passed from death to life in Christ and so are capable of and are called to love.
Testing the Spirits (1 John 4:1-4:6) The church is to test the spirits (messages) because there are false prophets who proclaim a different message about Jesus, that he is not God.
Love One another (1 John 4:7-21) Once again the sermon returns to love, and this time makes it clear that we love only because God first loved us, that God is love, that those who abide in love abide in God and that perfect love casts out fear.
Summary (1 John 5:1-21) This final section reminds the reader that one is a child of God and has life by believing that Jesus is the messiah and obeying God’s commandments. He then states that there are witnesses to this (the Spirit, the water and the blood), and that those who believe have eternal life.
Stay Faithful (2 John) this very short letter is addressed to a single church and it carries within it two reminders. First, the people are to continue to love one another. Second, they are to maintain the doctrine that Jesus is the messiah, because those who do not believe this do not have God.
To the Elder (3 John) This letter is directed to a specific person (Gaius) who is commended for maintaining the truth and welcoming traveling Christians into his home. There are some other comments concerning a particular church member who is not doing as he ought to do.
False Teachers (Jude) The letter from Jude is a warning against false teachers who have infiltrated the church. They not only teach unsound doctrine but their style of life does not conform to that of Jesus. The faithful are then reminded that the Apostles predicted the rise of these false teachers and made it clear that those teachers were bound for destruction.
1. What similarities do you see between 1 John and the Gospel of John?
2. How do you demonstrate your love within the church?
3. How do you understand the comments in Jude about the Devil?