But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.—James 1:22
This text emphasizes the importance for Christians to conduct their lives in conformity to biblical precepts, if they desire to receive the heavenly Father’s approval.
Although many believers attend Bible studies for purposes of doctrinal instruction, encouragement, fellowship, and sharing Christian experiences, the manner in which these benefits of worshiping together are applied in one’s daily conduct and activities determines the fruitage, as well as Christlike character. “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
As new creatures in Christ, one concept that we must adopt is that of sacrifice. The royal priesthood must first sacrifice before it can bless. In a society such as ours, where we are inundated with advertising about various creature comforts, the word sacrifice may seem foreign. Yet, if we are followers of Christ and engaging in self-denial, we should be wary of the accumulation of personal possessions or of cultivating earthly interests at the expense of the new creature. Many of the Lord’s people have family responsibilities and obligations which cannot be legitimately sacrificed. With regard to our own personal time and needs, however, if done in a proper spirit, the Lord would be pleased to accept such sacrifices as a demonstration of our love for Him. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14).
There are many distractions all about us, to keep us from bending our energies towards maintaining this sacrificial course, and putting as much on the altar as we possibly can. They include good things that are pleasing to the eye, that are pleasant to the flesh and things which every natural man, who is rightly exercised, has a right to enjoy. A simple guide to determine what we should or should not do can be found by asking ourselves whether the experiences we desire and would like to participate in enhance the new creature, or whether they simply satisfy our flesh. If they are designed to promote the growth and development of the new creature, we are surely doing what merits God’s approval. Each believer has the liberty to determine for his own self the rights and privileges to be sacrificed. “All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial, all things are lawful, but not all things build up, … so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 31, NRSV).
There are many Scriptural exhortations to guide believers toward submission to the will of God. “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, ASV).
Subjugating our personal wills to that of the heavenly Father’s is an extraordinary accomplishment. While each of us may unintentionally have ideas not necessarily supported by Scripture, our Lord consistently began with, “It is written.” Part of God’s will for us is to submit to certain circumstances that we may not especially like, as part of our crystallization of character. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
Did you ever have a difficult experience and think “I don’t have to take this?” Since we are to put on the mind of Christ, do you think the Master ever manifested resentment towards those who attacked his righteous character? If we ever tire of submitting to the Lord’s will in our lives, we need only to remember we have not yet resisted unto blood (Hebrews 12:1-14).
Avoid Criticizing Others
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). We are to emulate the spirit of Christ as closely as we can. Although the Master could read the hearts of others, he died for all, including the Pharisees whom he rebuked for their hypocrisy. Our actions and attitudes should not manifest self-righteousness towards others. As long as we are in the flesh we need to continually strive against such a propensity, and, through prayer and repentance, seek the prompt removal of any such defilement of character.
A principle set forth by the Master is to remove the beam from our own eye before trying to remove the speck we see in our brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). We are not authorized to be judgmental regarding the heart of any other individual. Additionally, we are to be so filled with the spirit of Christ that evil surmising is to be recognized as a work of the flesh and is to be striven against. Since love “thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5), we should not harbor suspicions of wrong doing when the behavior of other brethren seems to be inconsistent with their professions of consecration. It would be far better to assume the seeming misconduct might have been a misperception, and then to inquire in a non-judgmental manner about the incident. Almost everyone has at some time been improperly charged with wrong-doing; such a realization should make the Lord’s people strengthen their resolve not to speak evil, nor surmise evil, concerning others.
Compassion is a quality that characterizes believers who live and apply the spirit of truth in their lives. The following definition is given in the Illustrated Bible. “Compassion is a combination of love, care and the desire to help. Sometimes the word pity is used as a synonym for compassion. But true compassion goes far beyond pity and includes a willingness to get involved in the problems of suffering people.”
In Scripture, it is often used to describe the good that God manifests towards mankind in various ways. “But thou, O Lord, [art] a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). His great love and mercy towards the Church are also declared in the Bible. “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6,7).
During his earthly ministry, Christ showed great compassion and was touched with a feeling of humanity’s infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). He saw the degradation, imperfection and sorrows of mankind. Similarly, our training to become members of the sympathetic high priest class, should make us sensitive to the needs of the groaning creation. Although the ultimate good cannot be done for them until the promised kingdom is established – when God’s will shall be done on earth as it is done in heaven, – let us remember that while we are to do good especially to the household of faith, we must not forget to do good to others as we have opportunity (Galatians 6:10).
In this connection, let us reflect upon Joseph’s experiences in Egypt, after his brethren had abused him because of their hatred, and he was now second-in-command of that empire. When Joseph revealed himself unto his brothers, after testing them by indicating he would keep Benjamin as his servant and noting their change of heart, he wept and embraced them. Following Joseph’s reunion with his father, Jacob, all of his brethren and their families prospered in Egypt. After Jacob’s death, however, Joseph’s brothers feared he would now take out his vengeance upon them. Joseph’s response was: “Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them” (Genesis 50:21).
What a marvelous spirit this faithful member of the house of servants demonstrated. Can we as new creatures in Christ extend ourselves less toward any member of the household of faith or the world of mankind and still merit God’s approval?
Have we developed to the point that we appreciate any opportunity to serve others because we see a need that we might fill in doing them some kindness, even at the cost of our own personal inconvenience? Compassion is surely a quality that we must internalize if the spirit of Christ is within us and we are putting into practice the benefits of our Bible studies.
One of the greatest privileges afforded to new creatures is access to the heavenly Father through the medium of prayer. Our faithfulness in coming often and tarrying at the throne of grace is indispensable to Christian development, and so we are encouraged to seek out Scriptural instructions concerning the things for which we should petition our loving Creator.
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). After having petitioned the Lord for his blessings, we need to demonstrate determination that we will exercise ourselves in ways which are pleasing to him, through study and careful scrutiny of our thoughts, words and deeds, to the intent that we will be pure in our hearts.
Jesus lived a life of prayer in his earthly sojourn and left us an example to follow. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). So it is that we want to be delivered from the hour of temptation, to be delivered from danger. We can exercise ourselves along those lines which will keep us out of harm’s way, by touching not those things which are unclean, but by staying close to the Lord, his word and his practices.
We are admonished to pray for wisdom (James 1:5). The interesting thing about our petitions is that the Lord expects us to work at them, to seek the answers to these prayers. If we desire wisdom, under the guidance of the holy spirit we should engage in those activities of study, meditation, devotion, and discussion of spiritual themes with others of the brotherhood that we might be instructed aright from the very oracles of God.
We should pray for our brethren in their efforts to spread the gospel, and prosper their activities as ministers of God. Prayers which seek only self-interest are not acceptable to the heavenly Father, for we are all part of one great body.
We are even to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44). When we can do this heartily, without rancor, bitterness, vindictiveness, or railing in our being, we will have reached the fourth quarter-mark of love. Such was the love the Master had for all mankind. In the resurrection even his enemies will come back and be ashamed and mourn, because they will see the one whom they had pierced.
“The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:3,4). Because of our fallen nature, we are impatient in many situations. We may become irritated with others because they do not do things the way we think they should be done. Perhaps we have had dealings with merchants who disappoint us in the manner or speed in which they provide a particular service. Was such an experience permitted to test our patient endurance, to see if we would complain that they lacked a sense of responsibility or pride in their work?
In the minds of some, there has been a delay in the establishment of the righteous kingdom to bless all the families of the earth. Could this be a trial of our faith, especially if our failed expectations lead us to discard the many evidences that we are living during the time of our Lord’s second presence, and the time when faithful saints are being changed in a twinkling of an eye to meet him and the other risen saints beyond the veil?
In thinking about the heavenly Father, is he impatient with Satan’s wickedness, and will he determine that conditions are presently so terrible that there is no time to wait for the completion of the church, but that Christ will have to take as his bride only those who have already completed their course?
What should the Creator do to us when we make repeated failures during our Christian sojourn? We surely need God’s patience extended towards us, as we come short of his requirements on many occasions, and we need to maintain patient endurance ourselves. Let us examine ourselves along these lines and be diligent to our calling, and at the same time not make excuses for our failures where we could and should do better. Let us continually call upon our merciful God for needed grace to help in time of need. Let us also extend to others, both our brethren and those in the world, the same patience we desire God to extend to us. Perhaps no other quality shows our growth in the Christian character better than the grace of patience.
Brethren, we must appreciate that Bible study should not be merely an intellectual activity but promote real personal application. Bible study should change our character and our behavior, not just our brain. God’s word is like a mirror, and as we view our conduct in the light of its precepts with consistency, we will be edified, and our spirituality will grow to a high level. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). May we heed the Master’s words so that our lives will conform to his example as well as to his teachings.