Adventures in Theology BlogChase A. Thompson: Author, Pastor, Vigilante.
We tend to categorize sins, don’t we? In my household, we have certain “household sins” ranked from high level offenses – capital crimes – to mere misdemeanors. A high level offense is likely to get you grounded, or a spanking, or, perhaps (worst of all), lose your phone. Misdemeanors around here carry a punishment of, “clean up your room,” or “pick up ten items of trash or yard debris outside.” Here’s a list of some of our misdemeanors:
- Not refilling the water on the Keurig coffee machine when you use the last bit in the reservoir.
- Refrigerating the ketchup or mustard. (Or: Spelling “ketchup” as ‘catsup,’ or some other heathen alternative.)
- Jaggedly ripping the cereal bag inside the box so that it doesn’t pour properly and goes stale earlier.
- Putting empty boxes back in the pantry or almost empty soda cans back in the fridge.
- Leaving more than one pair of shoes on the front porch. (That’s my wife’s rule…she’d prefer NO shoes, but I had to flex my legislative muscles to amend the Thompson Constitution to allow for one pair. I’m still usually a violator of this rule.)
- Failure to replace the toilet roll once it is used up. (I believe I am the only one that actually changes toilet rolls, but I could be wrong.)
Those are a few minor annoyances – they won’t get you into huge trouble…some actions, however, carry much stiffer penalties. Being home much later than curfew…playing the piano loudly in the morning before everybody is awake…Watching unapproved shows on Netflix. (I’ve got 13 Reasons Why it Would Be Safer for you to Bathe in Sewage than to Watch This Show about Suicide!) These felonious household sins, carry with them a greater punishment and greater stigma than the misdemeanors. But surely, God isn’t like that…right? Surely God either A. Views all sins as the same, or B. At the very least, He doesn’t worry too much about MY sins, right? No, and No, actually.
I have heard many people (even preachers) over the years say some variation of, “God sees all sins as the same.” This is true in one and ONLY one sense. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “The wages (salary/payment) of sin is death.” That is, every sin – no matter how little or big – brings death, and (apart from the work of Jesus on the cross) separates one from God and eternal life. No sinner will have eternal life, whether they have committed one act of sin or one billion. One sin is enough to disqualify you from Heaven and eternal life, again, apart from saving faith in the graceful work of Jesus on the cross.
In that ONE sense, all sins are alike, in that they all separate a person from God. However, that is NOT the entirety of biblical teaching on sin. It is quite clear in the Bible, that some sins are more egregious than others. Proverbs 6, for instance, lists seven sins that God hates in particular (pride being at the front of the list.) In the Old Testament, different penalties were applied to different sins – from restitution all the way up to death. Jesus, in Luke 12, mentions that some sins will be punished in judgment with “few blows,” and some with, “many blows.” He also taught, in Matthew 11, that Capernaum would be judged more severely than Sodom in the final judgment, because of Capernaum’s lack of belief and refusal to repent and follow Jesus. Other examples abound, but this is not an article about various sins…this is a challenge about one in particular…complaining!
If there is a universal sin among Americans and other countries of affluence, it would be complaining. We ALL complain. I do it. You do it. We (almost) all complain FREQUENTLY. But surely, on God’s list of big, bad sins, “complaining” isn’t a national championship contender, is it? Surely, it’s not even in the top 20 – probably somewhere around South Carolina, or Oregon State, right? That’s what I’ve always assumed…that God isn’t particularly bothered by my complaining, that complaining and grumbling are barely sins at all…right? Well, no, actually. It turns out that complaining is a far bigger deal than most of us realize. At our church in Pinson, Alabama, we are currently knee deep in a series on James. This past week, I was scheduled to speak on James 5:9 – let’s read it:
James 5:9: “Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door!”
That, my friends, is a striking verse. Brothers (and sisters!) do NOT COMPLAIN about who? About one another! Let’s break this down: Christians are commanded NOT to stenazō against each other. That word, in the Greek, means to sigh with grief, or groan, or grudge against. I think “complain,” therefore is a good translation. Christians are not allowed to complain about or against each other. That means friends. It means SPOUSES. And yes, beloved, it means CHILDREN (and parents!) too. I believe we have here, in the God-Breathed, Spirit-Inspired, Word of God, a blanket prohibition against complaining that includes our family members. Wives: DO NOT complain about your husband. Husbands: DO NOT complain about your wife! Parents: DO NOT complain about your kids! Children: DO NOT complain about your parents. It’s right there in black and white…but, ultimately, it’s probably no big deal, right? Complaining is SURELY just a misdemeanor sin in God’s eyes, right?
“Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. Nor should we complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as examples, and they were written as a warning to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” 1 Corinthians 10:9-11
So..people were KILLED in Old Testament times for complaining?! That’s actually kind of terrifying. It is also terrifying that James, in his prohibition against complaining, notes what the punishment for doing it is: CONDEMNATION/DAMNING (the Greek word is katakrinō and it is a legal term.) Note also WHERE the judge is when we complain: RIGHT AT THE DOOR! James is saying, as clearly as possible, don’t complain, because when you do complain, you will be convicted and found guilty by the Judge, who is just outside the door!
It is foolish in the extreme to break the law when law enforcement is right there watching. I remember when I was 18 that I was driving through a rich neighborhood near my house, and a motorcycle police officer drove by my car. Wanting to show off for my friends, I gave the officer what we called the “gas face” at the time. Unfortunately, he saw it and immediately pulled me over. Only the worst kind of criminals commit unlawful acts right in front of the judge, or law enforcement. That is what James is driving at here: When we complain about each other, we are doing so when the Judge is in earshot – He’s just outside the door! So – how does God REALLY feel about complaining? Well, let’s pick a random Old Testament chapter. How about Numbers 11?
- Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship. When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and he prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. 3 So that place was named Taberah, (PLACE OF BURNING) because the Lord’s fire had blazed among them. Numbers 11:1-2
The complaining of the children of Israel caused God to literally BLAZE with anger towards them. That is striking, and jarring! Surely they learned their lesson after that, right?
- “Contemptible people among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites cried again and said, “Who will feed us meat?” (Numbers 11:4)
I guess not – vs. 4 of Numbers 11 indicates that the people were not satisfied with Manna, but demanded meat from God. How did Moses respond…surely in a mature way, right?
- “Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying to me: ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If You are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now. If You are pleased with me, don’t let me see my misery anymore.”Numbers 11:14-15 Yes, you read that correctly – Moses, one of the most respected and impacting leaders in the Bible got so fed up with God that he said, “just kill me now!” If you think Moses was alone in this sort of biblical drama-mongering, please know that Jonah also asked God to kill him, as did Elijah and Job (twice!) How does God respond to this sort of complaining by Moses and the people? Quite strongly:
- “Tell the people: Purify yourselves in readiness for tomorrow, and you will eat meat because you cried before the Lord: ‘Who will feed us meat? We really had it good in Egypt.’ The Lord will give you meat and you will eat. 19 You will eat, not for one day, or two days, or five days, or 10 days, or 20 days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes nauseating to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and cried to Him: ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’ Numbers 11:18-19
That is interesting, and, once again, quite unsettling, isn’t it? God was indeed meeting every need for the Israelites, but not every WANT. They responded with multiple rounds of complaining, and God got…frustrated?…with them, giving them exactly what they asked for, and more besides. Directly after this, Moses (not realizing the seriousness of his predicament) continues to badger God with complaint tinged questions like, “There are 600000 men with us God, where are you going to get meat for SO many people?” God’s answer is quite striking: Is my arm too short to provide?? You WILL see, Moses. And, he did.One last note: What does Kibroth Hattaavah mean (from Numbers 11, above)?? Graves of craving – which might be one of the most horrifying phrases in the entire Bible!
Philippians 4:5 “Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
I am excited to announce the publication of my new book: UnSHACKled: Facing Suffering with the REAL Jesus. It is available now on Amazon as a Kindle book and a paperback. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE AMAZON PAGE AND ORDER (or click on the picture below)
“The Shack” is one of the most popular ‘Christian’ books ever written, seemingly helping and comforting millions…BUT – is it good medicine? Do books like The Shack (and other offerings of pop-culture Christianity) actually give real, biblical and genuinely comforting answers to us when we walk through painful tragedies? THERE IS A BETTER ANSWER.
This book will help you evaluate The Shack and other popular works of Christian culture in light of the always-true, always relevant Word of God. In UnSHACKled, you will find incredible hope and comfort. If you have suffered the death of a loved one, or sickness, depression, anxiety, fear, or addiction, you will be astonished by how God’s son Jesus is PRACTICALLY the answer that you need to endure and overcome.
Do we need a new answer for suffering, or are the answers and hope found in The Bible far better than we could have ever dreamed? Read UnSHACKled and be comforted by what Jesus has done for you, what Jesus is doing for you, and what He will do for you when He returns.
The second half of the book of the book is almost completely focused on the HOPE and encouragement that comes in Jesus, and what He has done for us in the manger, on the cross, on the Emmaus road, on His throne and on His warhorse. Whether you liked “The Shack” or not, I believe this part of the book will be a blessing and joy to you.
I read The Shack in just three days, and was moved to tears more than a dozen times while reading. It was an easy to connect with book, and I enjoyed it. However, when The Shack is held up to the light of truth from the Bible, God’s Word, it becomes clear that the book contains many troubling errors and false depictions of God. If you loved The Shack – I get it! I was moved and entertained by the book too…BUT – the truth of God’s answer for suffering, found in the Bible, is far more comforting and compelling than anything in The Shack. Don’t take my word for it, however – read UnSHACKled and compare what The Shack says to what the Bible says. You will discover the truth for yourself, and in the process learn how to evaluate other Christian movies, books, preachers and teachings in light of the solid bedrock truth of God’s Word.
The following is from a message (on Job 1-2) preached by David Platt at Brook Hills in 2008. It includes some very deep and biblical thoughts on God’s design and purpose for suffering. Does God wish to prevent suffering, but He can’t (open theism), does He allow suffering in our lives, or does He actually design and sovereignly control suffering? Most people would choose the second option as to how God interacts with our suffering. The first option is a heresy, essentially, and proposes a small and weak God. The third option is what Platt advocates here, and I believe that the Bible backs him up:
“God’s sovereign design for our lives on this earth includes suffering. Now I emphasize the word “design” there because I think the picture here in Job 1–2 is deeper than God just allowing suffering. There’s definitely a picture of permission here, but I believe it’s deeper than that. There’s a design here that God has designed suffering in Job’s life.
Think about it: Who initiated Jobs’ suffering in chapter 1? God did. Did you catch it? Verse 8, “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil’ ” (Job 1:8). One author put it this way. It’s like a diamond thief coming into a jewelry store and walking around the store, looking at everything, getting to the back of the store and meeting the owner and the owner knows he’s a thief and the owner says, “What are you doing?” And the diamond thief says, “I’m looking around the store to see all the diamonds.” The owner says, “Well have you seen my most prized diamond in front? It’s the most valuable diamond we have, the most precious diamond we have,” and he shows him where it is and talks about it knowing that he’s a thief.
This is the picture we’ve got, the Lord giving and the Lord taking away, the Lord bringing good and the Lord bringing trouble. God has designed this whole picture. It’s all coming directly. Yes, there’s a work of Satan going on but ultimately this is the work of God. This is hard to really get our minds around…
Revelation 2, God’s sovereign design for our lives actually includes suffering. Look at Revelation 2. This is when Jesus is speaking to the different churches and he’s speaking here to the church in Smyrna and He is actually encouraging them in their faith amidst trial and suffering. Listen to what He says. We’ll start in verse 9 and then see it very clearly in verse 10. Look at Revelation 2:9, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9). Listen to verse 10, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). You see what’s going on there? God’s saying you’re going to suffer. Be faithful in the middle of your suffering. There’s a crown of life waiting at the end of this picture.
You see very, very clearly in Scripture that following God does not mean absence of suffering. But God’s design for our lives may actually include more suffering. This is gospel. Don’t miss this. Did God just allow Jesus to go to the cross or did He design for Jesus to go to the cross? Was He sitting back thinking, “Well I guess, okay, this is the way it’s going to work out and I guess I will let this happen?” No, from the very beginning it was God’s design to take the suffering of His one and only Son and bring about the salvation of your soul and my soul. It was His very design for His Son to suffer.“
Earlier Today, I was asked about the Greek verb form/tense for “ask,” in James 4:2. It is somewhat rare that I get a biblical Greek grammar question (two came in today!), and in this case, the answer to her question indicates something quite important that is not immediately obvious in most English translations. Specifically, a member of our church was wondering if the verb “ask” (“You have not, because you ASK not…”) in James 4:2 functions similarly to the way the verb for “ask” is used in Matthew 7:8. To clarify, she was wondering if “ask,” in James 4:2 was a participle, and thus had an ongoing sense – i.e., “asking/continue asking.” Practically, she was curious to know if James 4:2 was another verse in the Bible that taught continued persistence in prayer. What a great question! If you aren’t familiar with Matthew 7 – one of Jesus’ deepest and greatest teachings on prayer – here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Version:
“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Jesus – Matthew 7:7-8
The Holman translation does an excellent job*** (see below) in communicating what I believe is the primary intent of Jesus’ teaching here on prayer – that we should ask and KEEP ON asking. Prayer is NOT a one time thing. (e.g., Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 18:1-8 or Luke 11:5-13 for a fuller understanding of this exact theme.) Jesus is teaching his disciples in these passages the concept of “importunity,” or bold, persistent and shameless asking. In the Greek, this is shown by the verbs “asks”, “searches” and “knocks” in vs 8 being in the Greek participle form – indicating an ongoing and continuing activity – asking, searching and knocking.
‘Is the same dynamic also going on in James 4:2?’ wondered our dear church member. Interestingly – it is not. James 4:2 has the same verb here as an infinitive in the present tense – meaning “to ask.” That said, I did notice that the verb was in the middle voice – which indicates that a more proper translation might be – “You have not, because you ask not, for yourself.” The middle voice of a verb indicates action that happens to yourself – to wash yourself, to dress yourself, etc. James 4:2 is saying, in essence – you lack many good and spiritual blessings for yourself, because you are not asking for those good and spiritual blessings, for yourself. This is an intensely personal passage that speaks of boldly and unselfishly asking for beneficial things from God. How interesting!
Two more things to point out here, as you ponder that: #1 – The verbs used in James 4 are in the plural sense, as are most command type verses in the New Testament epistles. We miss this in English because, one of the great flaws in our language is that second person singular and plural are both “you.” What does it mean that the teachings in James 4:2 (and most every other Bible passage) are expressed in a plural sense? It means that, primarily, the Bible was written to a people – not to an individual. That certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t take God’s Word as personally and individually applying to our lives – but it does mean that God’s Word was written to His people – plural – His church. We aren’t a bunch of maverick rogues – we are a family, a household, a Body of Christ. #2 James (in vs. 3) gives us one more important qualifier about what we should ask for. According to James, we sometimes ask God for things and don’t get those things, because we are asking God with wrong motives, evil desires or worldly goals. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want to bless us; it does mean that God doesn’t want to destroy us with that which would draw us away from Himself – things like riches (read James 5:1) or other answered prayers that might serve to strengthen our friendship with the world.
“You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” James 4:2-3
Bottom line: James challenges Christians to ask for every good blessing from God. He teaches us that we lack some of those blessings for ourselves (plural…and singular) because we aren’t asking for them. Concurrently, Jesus teaches us, in Matthew 7, Luke 11, and Luke 18, that the way to procure those blessings is to continually ask for them until God answers. This kind of persistent asking in faith, through prayer, not only doesn’t annoy God the Father – it PLEASES Him!
*** One interesting Greek grammar note for you Bible nerds: The Holman translation here has made an interesting call in rendering this passage the way it does – putting the continuous sense in the first part of Matthew 7:7-8, rather than the second part. In point of fact, the Greek does it the other way around (see below.) This doesn’t change the meaning of the passage, but it is a curious translation call. A more literal rendering of the Greek would look something like this:
“To ask for yourself, and [it] will be given to you. To seek, and you will find. To knock, and it will be opened [for] you. For the one asking [repeatedly] receives, the one who is seeking [repeatedly] finds, and the one who is knocking [repeatedly] it will be opened.” Notice here that the participle action – the “ing” is in the second part of the verse in the Greek, rather than the first.
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Here is the final installment of our five-part Charles Spurgeon on Prayer Series. (Scroll down for links to the other four parts of this series) In this section, Spurgeon challenges believers yet again with James 4:2 – and asks them to consider whether or not they are living without an intended blessing from God simply because they have not asked for it. “Never let it be said that your spiritual poverty is your own fault,” says Brother Spurgeon. How could our spiritual poverty be our own fault? Because we do not ask! Beloved – be sure that there are spiritual blessings and victories that God the Father desires to give us and that He purposes to give us; we will do WITHOUT those promises, however, if we do not ASK for them! That is the whole part and parcel of James 4:2. Read below and be encouraged by Spurgeon to Ask, Ask, Ask!
“It may be that many a spiritual thing, for which you may pray without doubt, has never become yours simply because you have never asked for it. Is not that a pity? What!? Nothing to pay; the priceless treasure a free grant, and yet I have it not because I do not ask for it! … Few need to be encouraged to apply for charity; and yet, while spiritual gifts are to be had for the asking, many have not, because they ask not. Open your mouth wide, brother, and ask for a great deal. Begin asking in real earnest, and never let it be said that your spiritual poverty is your own fault.
If it is ever true of us, “ye have not, because ye ask not,” what does it mean? It means that there are needful spiritual blessings which you do not desire with all your heart. In what a wrong condition your heart must be! When a person has no appetite for wholesome food, it is a sign of disease; and if you have no appetite for Divine grace, you must be sick in soul. Healthy children have large appetites; and God’s children, when they are healthy, hunger and thirst after righteousness. Why is it we do not desire these precious things? Very often, it is because we do not feel our need of them; and what a proud ignorance that is which does not know its need! If you were to look at yourself, brother, though you think yourself rich, and increased with goods, and needing nothing, you would see that you are naked, and poor, and miserable. What a sad thing it is that you should miss priceless blessings because you fondly fancy that you already possess them!
Or, possibly, you know your need, and are anxious to be supplied, and yet you do not ask because you have no faith in God upon the matter. How long have you known the Lord? Have you known Him a year? Is not this long enough to have gained confidence in Him? There are many persons whom you would rely upon at once, and hundreds whom you could trust with untold gold after having known them for a few hours. Can you not trust God this way? How is it that you dare to doubt Him? What a sin it must be to distrust One so faithful and true!
Or else it may be that you do not doubt either God’s ability or willingness to help you, but you have grown rusty in the knee; I mean, out of practice as to prayer. It is a very great evil when this is the case. When I have pains in my wrist, or in my foot, I have some hope of speedy recovery, but I am always despondent when the weakness is in the knee; then it is a very serious business. O brothers, well does the Scripture say, “Strengthen the feeble knees.” If we are not at home in prayer, everything is out of order. He who goes often to a room knows how to gain admittance, but a stranger loses himself in the halls. Familiarity with the mercy-seat is a great point in the education of a child of God; be sure that you gain it…
Beloved, let us wrestle in prayer; for untold blessings are to be had for the asking. As a church, we have been specially favored; but we have not exhausted the possibilities of prosperity, or the resources of heavenly power. There is a future for us, if we pray. Greater things than these lie behind that curtain; no hand can unveil them but the hand of prayer. The singular blessings which have rested upon us in the past call upon us to pray; the marked prosperity and unity of the present invite us to pray; and the hopes of the future encourage us to pray. Behold, the Lord says to you, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” Brothers, sisters, don’t lessen your asking; but, for the love of souls, multiply your petitions, and increase your importunity.”
“You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.“ James 4:2-3
Source: C. H. Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting: Forty Addresses at Metropolitan Tabernacle and Other Prayer-Meetings
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