Ask in Faith

Bible Passage: James 1:5-8

In v. 2-4 James taught us how trials produce endurance and how continued endurance leads to maturity. It is a heavenly logic which requires heavenly ‘wisdom’ in order to implement it in one’s life. And probably that is why James continues by saying that if we lack that wisdom then we should ask God. But having started with the subject of wisdom, this passage goes beyond it and talks more about God’s willingness to give and the need to ‘ask in faith’. Here are three important points that we learn from this passage:

God gives single-mindedly and without finding fault (v. 5): James makes two important claims about God in this verse. That he ‘gives generously’ and ‘without reproach’. The word ‘generous’ hints at God’s attitude towards giving. That he is absolutely ‘sincere’ about the task of giving. He never has second thoughts about giving i.e. ‘should I give or not give’. He is ‘single-minded’ about giving (notice the underlying word play when you compare it with Jas. 1:8, ‘double-minded’). No wonder another translation says ‘he is always ready to give’ (Living Bible). James’ second claim is that he gives ‘without reproach’ i.e. ‘without finding fault’. He does not ‘revile or mock or insult’ the one who is asking. Based on the testimony of other scriptures, this certainly does not mean that the one who is asking is ‘faultless’ but that God gives despite our faults (Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9).

To those who ask in faith (v. 6a): But how is that in sync with God’s perfect nature? Will he always keep giving to sinners? No! And that is why James reveals a condition, according to which, the one who asks must ‘ask in faith’. Here James goes beyond the Jewish faith to ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ because that is the common faith shared by him and his readers (Jas. 2:1). James’ confidence about God’s ‘single-mindedness’ or ‘sincerity’ in giving is based on the fact that God did not hold back his beloved Son in order to save us from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23). This is in sync with how Paul argues in Rom. 8:32 that if God gave us His Son, ‘will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’. And James’ confidence that God gives ‘without reproach’ is also based on the fact that He gave us His Son, ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom. 5:8). And that is how God continues to give to His people because now all our sins have been taken away by Jesus and we are now ‘righteous’ before God (2 Cor. 5:21).

But not to the doubter (v. 6b-8): Our asking is further qualified by James, that we should ask ‘with no doubting’. Just as he is talking about ‘faith’ in Jesus Christ, the doubting also is with regard to Jesus Christ, who is mentioned as ‘the Lord’ in Jas. 1:7 (cf. Jas. 1:1). There are people who claim to believe in Jesus but their loyalty towards him is not consistent. It changes with every new circumstance ‘like a wave of the sea’ (v. 6b), they are ‘unstable’ in all their ways (v. 8b). In other words, the doubter is split in his heart between Jesus and other things (like ‘money’ Matt. 6:24 or ‘self-righteousness’ Lk. 18:9-14). He is experiencing a ‘spiritual schizophrenia’ and therefore called ‘double-minded’ (v. 8a). Such people, according to James, will have a fruitless prayer life (v. 7).

Application: Hold fast to the unchanging truth that God gives single-mindedly without finding fault. That should give us the confidence to pray much more than what we are doing right now. And this confidence is not based on anything else but what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. In Jesus all God’s promises are ‘Yes’ and it is through Him that we utter our ‘Amen’ (2 Cor. 1:20).

The Lord’s Supper

Bible Passage: Mark 14:22-25

In this passage Jesus and his disciples are celebrating the Passover, the most important festival on the Jewish Calendar, which commemorates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt after many years in slavery. But in doing this Jesus gives new meaning to various elements of the celebration and institutes the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is about:

1. Remembering Jesus’ suffering for our salvation (v. 22): Like any Jewish household, where the head of the house would take the bread, bless it, break it and distribute it among those eating at the table with him on a Passover night, Jesus also keeps the tradition. The bread represented the ‘suffering’ that the Israelites endured during their hasty exodus from Egypt. That is why God designated the Passover bread as ‘the bread of affliction’ (Deut. 16:3), but its ultimate purpose was to remind them of their salvation from Egypt.

But Jesus renews the meaning of the bread when he says, “Take; this is my body” (v. 22). The giving of his body amounted to the ‘Giving of his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). A ransom paid to God to release those who stood under his wrath on account of their slavery to Sin and Satan. Through the suffering endured by Jesus on the Cross, we have received salvation and therefore the ‘bread’, reminds us of the ‘sorrow in Jesus’ suffering’ and the ‘joy of our salvation’.

2. Thanking Jesus for the benefits of the New Covenant (v. 23-24): Jesus then continues the tradition of taking the cup of wine, giving thanks and passing it to those at the table with him (v. 23). Just as he renewed the meaning of the ‘bread’, he renewed the meaning of the ‘wine’. He says in v. 24, “This is my blood of the covenant”. On the original Passover night, God symbolically made a covenant with Israel by shedding the blood of an innocent lamb. Its blood smeared on their door posts ensured God’s favor on Israel, even as HE poured out his wrath on Egypt. In the same way God sealed/ initiated a New Covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). Under this New Covenant, God poured out his favor/ Grace on us in the form of ‘forgiveness of sins, His steadfast love and the granting of a believing and persevering heart empowered by the Holy-Spirit’ (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:40; Ezek. 36:26-27). So, we thank Jesus for all these sanctifying benefits that we enjoy today which were bought by the precious blood of Jesus.

3. Looking forward to Jesus’ Second Coming (v. 25): In this verse Jesus predicts that this will be his last Passover celebration before he renews it again at His second coming i.e. at the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is also a looking forward to the fulfillment of this great promise made by Jesus. On that day we will be joined at the table by people from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages (Matt. 8:11; Rev. 7:9-10). And all those who participate in it are called blessed (Lk. 14:15) because it will be a much greater experience of being both the ‘privileged guest’ and ‘the righteous bride’ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). An eternal existence with Christ, when every tear from our eyes will be wiped away, death shall be no more, no mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:3-4). So, the Lord’s Supper is an occasion for the church to look forward with great hope because it points to the consummation of all these promises.

Experiencing Joy in Trials

Bible Passage: James 1:1-4

Immediately after greeting his readers (v. 1), apostle James (ref. Gal. 1:19), in his epistle to Jewish Christians who had fled the persecution in Palestine and were now living in desperate economic conditions in the Diaspora, says “Count it all joy, when you meet trials of various kinds” (v. 2). The word ‘Count’ means to ‘think or consider’. He was calling them to alter their thinking about ‘the trials they were suffering’. He was asking them to be not surprised or sorrowful when they ‘fall in to’ trials, rather to consider it is an occasion for ‘All or Great or Complete or Unadulterated Joy’. He has two reasons to say so:

(1) The testing of our faith produces endurance (v. 2-3): The word ‘trials’ in v. 2 refers to ‘an attempt to test the nature or character of something’. That is why he equates ‘trials’ with the ‘testing of faith’ in v. 3. Just as Gold or Silver is tested by the furnace fire (Prov. 27:21), our faith is tested by the trials of life (1 Pet. 1:6-7). And as Gold and Silver come out ‘purer’ from the furnace (Ps. 12:6), faith comes out ‘stronger’ from trials because it produces ‘endurance or perseverance or steadfastness’. The word endurance is literally the ability to ‘stay under’ a heavy load for a long time. Like strong men who are able to carry heavy weights because their muscles were made strong by the heavy lifting in gyms every morning, our faith is made strong by undergoing the trials of life. In order to strengthen our faith in Jesus, God sends trials in to our lives. In this way we are prepared to face the continuous and greater trials in the journey of faith.

(2) Consistent endurance will lead to perfection (v. 4): Life is a long journey consisting of many trials. Many people could stop enduring through trials after some time. They can begin to question God and confess their lack of faith. Therefore, James asks us to “let endurance have its full effect”. He calls us to consistently endure the trials. And James adds that when we continue to endure under trials, it makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. Perfect and complete in what? James is talking about ‘Christian maturity’ or ‘formation of Christian Character’. That is how Paul also sees it in Rom. 5:3-4. Through consistent endurance, God wants us to ‘mature’ or develop ‘Christian character’ so that we are made ready for the purpose that God has for us. After setting a very high standard for Christian ethics, Jesus says in Matt. 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Although we cannot be perfect till we see Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2), we certainly need to aspire for it. By continuing to endure through trials we will come very close to that ideal.

Application: We must consider or think about every trial as an occasion for ‘Great Joy’ rather than being surprised (1 Pet. 4:12) or complaining or murmuring about it. In doing this we will find our inspiration in Jesus Christ who for the ‘joy’ that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, so that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb. 12:1-4).