The largest church fire in modern history was the destruction the Church of La Compania in Santiago, Chile, on the night of December 8, 1863. The service was to be the last of a month-long celebration; and the walls, ceiling and altar were decorated with thousands of yards of muslin, gauze and tinsel and illuminated by 2,000 long candles and 20,000 oil lamps, the latter being strung from pillar to pillar throughout the building.
A moment before high mass was to begin, a bit of the flimsy material swayed too close to the flame of a candle, it ignited and, within three or four minutes, the whole interior of the church was an inferno. As the terror-stricken people frantically struggled in the aisles, the lamps fell and sprinkled them with blazing oil and those who managed to reach the doors and exits found them blocked with tightly wedged bodies. Of the nearly 3,000 worshippers in this congregation, some 2,500 perished in the fire or died from their injuries. Entire families were wiped out. The clean-up of the bodies took about ten days, and since most of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, they were placed in a mass grave at the Cementerio General de Santiago.
James 3:1 -12
Tongues and Fire
Fire can be a very dangerous thing. As I just read you can see that even a tiny spark or flame can be very dangerous and deadly if it is not properly contained. Parents may say to their children, “Do not get too close to the fire or you may get burned.” Since fire has the potential to cause a great deal of pain, damage, and death it is no wonder why James uses fire as his example to describe the destructive powers of the words we speak. Improperly used words have been responsible for starting wars, causing abuse, breaking up marriages, tearing people down, and dividing or destroying relationships.
James uses the tongue as an analogy of the potential harm our words can cause. The tongue of a human is considered to be one of the smallest muscles in the body, and yet it has the potential to cause some of the greatest of damage or destruction if left unchecked and unfiltered.
James 3:1 – 2
Today we will talk about the power of the tongue or the words we speak. Before James tackles this subject, he first gives a warning to his readers. He cautions about becoming teachers. According to commentator and scholar Douglas Moo, “Teachers were prominent in the life of the early church from the beginning… the teacher had the task of expounding the truth of the Gospel on the growing Christian tradition… The teacher in the early Jewish Christian church would have considerable prestige.”
James informs his readers as to why they should not be eager to become teachers; and it is because those who teach will be judged more harshly and notably for the words they speak. I have heard people say that being a preacher would be an easy job; since all we must do is preach a sermon on Sunday, tell people how to live, and guilt people into attending and giving to the church. James tells us differently. The job of a Pastor is to be discouraged (unless one is clearly called by God) because he (I) will be judged more strictly for the words they speak.
Vs 3 – 5: James now gets to the point he is trying to make… the power and danger of our tongues or words. Keep in mind, James is not only speaking to leaders and teachers; he is talking to Christians in general. The tongue is analogous for the words we speak. In this passage, he is talking specifically about the power of words. He compares our words to fire. A fire, if used irresponsibly, or without care will cause great destruction. It’s safe to assume that we all know the power of negative or hurtful words as we probably have, at one time or another, been on the receiving end of some hurtful words. Throughout my 27 plus years of ministry, I have had some hurtful things said to me personally and as a pastor. Hurtful words sting and they stick with you for a long time. The words we use can cause great pain and suffering if not used properly.
Proverbs 18:21: “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences”. This is true! The words we use have the power to leave everlasting positive or negative impact on someone. Evangelist and author Leonard Ravenhill says, “Our words reflect what’s in our hearts. If a man loves sports, he talks about sports. If he loves money, he talks about money. If he loves art, he talks art… Our speech shows where our hearts are.” You tell what kind of person someone is by his or her words. It doesn’t take too long to find out what a person values, or what they are like just by engaging in a casual conversation with him.
Vs 6: James does a good job talking about the potential damage words can cause to others. He equates words with fire, unrighteousness, and hell. He knows and understands our human nature and the tendency to take something beautiful and wonderful and use it for harm and destruction.
When I read this passage, I am often convicted, because I often forget the power my words have. There may be times that I lose my cool with my kids or may speak harshly to my wife and not consider the potential negative impact of my words. I have spoken unkind words and know that I cannot take those words back.
Vs 7 – 8: James says wild animals, reptiles and sea creatures can all be tamed by humans, but the tongue cannot be tamed by any human being. We say what we say because we have no control over that little 20 oz. muscle in our mouths. Can we use this as an excuse though? Can we justify using hurtful words or cursing others simply by saying we have no control over our tongues? Or we rationalize by saying, “I have to say what I say otherwise I wouldn’t be true to who I am.” regardless of who I am harming in the process… I call this as verbal regurgitation. No, we are responsible for every word that comes out of our mouths.
Vs 9 – 12: Our words have the potential to be positive, affirming, and glorifying to God. We go to church, we sing praises, and we proclaim the wonderful love of God to one another. We pray for one another, and we lift each other up for the edification of the body. We tell someone you love them Etc. Yet in the same way we curse our fellow brothers or sisters through gossip, slander, abusive language, and harsh tongue lashings. It is not rare to hear things like “Did you hear what so and so did? I can’t believe she would do that. What a _________.” You fill in the blank. Or we say, “He did what?! What a jerk! I can’t believe he would even call himself a Christian. I hope God gets him in the end.” Or the ever so famous “but” statements, “She’s a nice person, but she annoys the heck out of me. I just walk away from her when I see her walking in my direction.” Then there is the always helpful, “I’m not trying to gossip BUT did you hear what she did?” Some of us have been on the receiving end of some of the harshest words ever spoken, “I hate you!”, “You are worthless!” or “I wish you were dead!” We can say the sweetest of things to one another, but we can also speak venomous and vile things as well.
With our mouths we praise God and with the same mouths we speak evil of those around us. James says, “This is not right!” And I concur. It does not make sense. How can something so wonderful be capable of being so harmful? He writes, “Can a fresh spring produce fresh and salt water? Can fig tree bear olives?” No. These things are not natural. A fig tree should produce figs. A fresh spring should produce fresh water. James is saying “The words we use should be a reflection of the God we serve.” If God gave us tongues, then we should use them for his glory and edification to his children. Or let me put it the way I would have written it had I written this verse…” If you are a Christian then you should not gossip, slander, curse, abuse, or tear people down with your words. You should speak well of one another, be kind to each other, lift your brother or sister in Christ with words of encouragement and blessing.”
So, if I cannot tame my tongue then who can? Only God can give us the power to use our words positively. We need to submit our mouths to Him, and He will give us the power to be disciplined to use our words positively and for His glory.
In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit fell upon the people and tongues of fire were present over each person speaking in other languages. These tongues of fire were evidence of the people being filled with the Holy Spirit. The words they spoke were Spirit driven Words spoken for the glory of God and the edification of the body of Christ. So, to answer the how question, I suggest we pray for the tongues of fire to be present in our speech instead of using the tongue as a fire. The difference between these kinds of tongues is the tongue of fire is driven by the spirit and the tongue as a fire is driven by man.
In Psalm 141:3 King David prayed, “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.” And in Psalm 19:14 he prays, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Let these be your prayers as well as you consider how you use your words. The king of Israel knew the power of his words and he also knew the potential of harm his words could cause. He knew that his tongue could not be tamed so he prayed that God would be the watcher of his words. He prays that God would help him to speak no evil words that would bring harm or destruction to anyone. Ultimately, he wanted his words to be pleasing to God and acceptable to Him as well.
The challenge for us today… Gossip, negative talk, criticism, and back biting are present around us all the time. I know it exists in the church… It is present in any church. However, as believers we have the responsibility to stop harmful speech in the body of Christ. The intent of the church is to glorify God, worship Him and edify one another in Christ.
The big challenge is for us to be conduits of change here in this body of Christ. Let’s begin by putting a stop to the use of harmful words against one another or against others in general. If gossip, negative talk, criticism, and back biting come up then let us put a stop to it. Let’s be honest, the reason it is present is because we allow it to be present. God has given us voices, he has given us intellect, and he has given us new hearts so let us use all these God given gifts for his glory and not the tearing down of the body.
Determine today, will you use your words as bombs of death and destruction, or will you allow the Spirit to be present in your speech to be a balm of comfort to those around you and for praise to God?
 Moo, Douglas: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2000, p.
James is a controversial book and has not always been widely accepted as authoritative by Christians throughout history. Some have even contested that it should be in the Bible. For example, German reformer Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw” because it does not refer to the Apostle Paul’s teaching on salvation by grace (which was the foundation of his faith). He believes James “mangles scripture” and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. It is also believed that up to the 4th century that parts of both the Eastern and Western church did not accept James as a canonical or divinely inspired book.
The author of this letter (as stated in verse 1) is a person named James who refers to himself as a servant of God and of Jesus Christ. Most scholars believe this James is none other than the brother of Jesus, who was also known as James “the just”. There are other James’s mentioned in scripture that some believe could have been the author, however, most of the arguments support the idea that the author was in fact James, the brother of Jesus and this is the position I will take for this message.
James was not only the brother of Jesus, but he was also the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 15). One can imagine that being the half-brother to the Savior of the universe would have been interesting. James was not a follower of Jesus until after his resurrection, so I am sure James knew the Savior in a way that many never had the opportunity to know him. We also know that he didn’t parade around and brag about being the brother of the Savior. He could have used this title to pull some clout but instead he chooses not to mention it and instead calls himself a servant to Jesus.
The letter was probably written around A.D. 49, but some have dated it as late as late as the early A.D. 60s. Regardless the date it is known as the oldest Epistle. If in fact it was written in A.D. 49, we should note that this is only 15 or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The letter of James may receive negative response by holars but this Epistle quite possibly is the most relevant (and popular) letters of the N.T. Not surprisingly it appeals to the common, ordinary believer and deals with real life issues that are still pertinent today.
According to theologian Douglas Moo James appeals generally to believers for three notable reasons...
Today we will look at James 2:14 – 20 and this passage is considered on one hand the most theologically significant statements in the letter and on the other it is probably the most controversial topics brought up in the Bible and it is faith and works.
The topic of faith and works reminds me of a story about a chaplain who walked up to a wounded soldier who had been lying on the ground some time without anyone treating his wounds.
The chaplain asked, "Would you like for me to read to you from the Bible?" "No!" came the angry reply. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" the chaplain asked.
"I'm thirsty!" the soldier said. The chaplain gave him a drink from his own canteen.
"Anything else?" he asked. "I'm cold!" came the reply. The chaplain took off his coat and spread it over the soldier.
"Anything else?" he again asked. "My head is uncomfortable!" was his reply. The chaplain took off his cap and arranged it under the soldier's head.
The chaplain asked again, "Anything else?"
The soldier looked up at him and tears came to his eyes as he said, "I think now I'd like for you to read to me from the Bible."
As you probably noticed in the story; the injured soldier had no desires to hear the words of the God the chaplain served until he saw the God He served was evidenced or present in him through his actions. It reminds me of the words of one of my professors in college, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The argument James introduces in the passage is that a general carefree or verbal faith with a few good works added in is not sufficient to save individuals. Instead, he argues that the genuine faith of a true believer is clearly evidenced by good works or deeds. You see one cannot just tack on good works to any old empty or dead faith and think it is sufficient. This kind of faith (as James states) is futile or useless.
This kind of faith reminds me of a commercial Febreze air freshener commercials from years ago. In the commercial people are blindfolded and brought into a condemned house, smelly kitchen or someplace that would not have a pleasant smell. However, the room had been sprayed down with the air freshener and the blindfolded participants respond with how wonderful the room smells only to find when the blindfolds are taken off, they are in the disgusting room which should reek of stench. The room may smell nice, but it was still a gross room. The point of the commercial is to show their product can cover up any foul smell.
Unfortunately, some believe they can do this with their faith. They may say, “I am a good person. I believe in God. I go to church occasionally. I try to be honest. I give some money to the church.” Yet the way they live Monday through Saturday doesn’t always match up with the faith they proclaim. They believe they can cover up their dead faith by doing some good deeds, but the reality is a dead faith is a dead faith no matter what you put on it to make it look better.
Verse 14 – James asks two rhetorical questions about faith –
Modern day example: Someone presents an immediate need, and you have the means to help them and your response is a flippant, “I’ll pray for you” and do nothing more. It appears “I’ll pray for you or about it” has become our excuse for doing nothing.
It is important to note that James is not contrasting faith and works as if they were two separate options (i.e., one can have a faith without works and another can have faith with works), instead he contrasts the two kinds of faith. One produces no works which is dead and one that results in action which is genuine. There is one that is in word only and the other is evidenced by deeds.
Verse 18 – James introduces a hypothetical character in this passage that is referred to by some as the objector (someone) and he argues... You may have the gift of faith and I may have the gift of works. – The objector thinks the two can be separate. However, James shows that faith and works are not two separate gifts that a believer may or may not possess. Either one has genuine faith that produces good deeds, or he does not have a faith at all. He insists that the objector show him a faith without works (and will reveal a false or futile faith) however the one who is able to show his faith through the good deeds that he produces will reveal a true and genuine faith. The two need each other. Faith and works go hand in hand. If you say you have faith and you have no works, it is meaningless. Saying you have faith is not enough.
Verse 19 – James compares the faith of the objector with the faith of the demons. It is an interesting twist, but James does not hesitate to make his point. He says, “You acknowledge God is one.” And his response some believe should be read with a touch of sarcasm, “Good for you!” Belief is entry level Christianity. However just having a general belief or acknowledgment that Jesus is Lord or that God is one is not true faith. By doing this you are on the same level as the demons. In fact, you are probably on a lower level than them because their belief isn’t apathetic like a person who just says he believes. The stunning truth is at least the demons shutter or tremble when they acknowledge God is one or Jesus is Lord. Those who have a futile faith don’t even do that.
Douglas Moo writes, “The demons perfectly illustrate the poverty of verbal profession in and of itself. They are among the most ‘orthodox’ of theologians, James suggests, agreeing wholeheartedly with the Shema (The most basic Jewish belief... God is one) ... But James might also want to suggest an ironical contrast between the demons and people who have faith without works: At least the demons display some kind of reaction to their ‘faith’!”
Verse 20 – James refers to this objector as a foolish man. Do you need examples? Well, here are two examples of faith from the O.T. about individuals whose faith are evidenced by their actions. This is where things start to get a bit hairy as it would seem at first glance that James contradicts Paul, who states that one is justified by faith and not by works (Romans 3:28). James makes the claim in verse 24 that a person is justified by works and not faith alone.
A true works-based faith is important in a believer’s life, but not salvation. One cannot just have faith to be a believer, nor can one just have h frfworks and be a believer. True Christian faith affects the whole person. When you have genuine faith in Jesus Christ it not only changes the spiritual side of your life (which it certainly does); it also impacts the outer person as well. Good works will flow a plenty from one who has genuine faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith and your works MUST go hand in hand for it to be life changing, genuine, and apparent to others.
Genuine faith affects the whole being thus a person with true faith will endure trials patiently and joyfully, have wisdom in decision making, put no stock in their wealth or status, find their significance in Jesus, overcome temptation, and grow closer to God in the process, be quick to listen and slow to anger, practice true religion that does not show partiality to the rich and neglect the poor. Genuine faith in Jesus gushes forth from the believer’s life and is evidenced by the good deeds we do.
 Moo, Douglas: The Letter of James. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2000, p. 1,2
 1 Johnson, L.T., “The Letter of James” (Garden City: Doubleday, 1995) p. 239
 Moo, 131
In an L.A. Times article titled: A sea cruise on a boat made of kiddie pools and buckets — what could go wrong? Dated May 9, 2021, recounts this story.
Two college students in a homemade boat made from plastic kiddie wading pools, plywood, 20 5-gallon buckets and duct tape were rescued off the coast of Santa Barbara early Saturday.
The two male college students in their 20s set off from Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara sometime Friday evening or early Saturday. Fire personnel received an emergency call at 2 a.m. from someone on shore who saw strobe lights they carried on board.
They appeared to be drifting out to sea, said Mike Eliason, the Santa Barbara County fire spokesman. Fire personnel rescued them about 300 yards from the shore at 2:37 a.m.
The students did not explain why they were out at sea at that hour. Eliason said that alcohol was not involved and that the voyage may have been part of a school project. Their school was not identified.
“If this is happening at 1 p.m., I’m not sure there’s much commotion,” Eliason said. “When you’re going out in the middle of night in a pitch-black environment, the timing is odd.”
The students were not dressed in wet suits in the mid-50-degree weather. In photos, one student had on only swim trunks, while the other was in shorts and a shirt. They were in separate wading pools bonded to a single large piece of plywood and appeared to be paddling out to sea.
Eliason said the natural course and strength of the tides pulled the duo in a southerly direction against their efforts to navigate north.
“They didn’t seem to be in any distress, but they were just floating out there,” Eliason said. “We managed to bring them back to shore and they were grateful. I just wish they had planned whatever they were doing a little better.”
Hebrews chapter 2 contains the purpose in writing this letter. The author saw the great difficulty his readers were facing as he saw many of them were crumpling under the pressure, persecution, and doubt they were facing and he is writing to encourage or exhort the recipients of this letter to stay grounded or anchored in their faith in Jesus Christ
Hebrews 2: 1 - 4
Vs 1: This verse contains a warning to his readers. The writer states that since Jesus is the creator, the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of God, the sustainer of the of the universe, he sits at the right hand of the Father, his name is more excellent than the angels and thus superior to the angels they need to pay attention to the message they received. They are to pay attention so that they do not “drift away” or lose sight of their salvation.
Drift away – The author warns to guard against drifting off course. The overtones to hold a ship toward port, or for to be anchored or fastened to the seabed so they will remain grounded and immoveable. The implication is that the recipients must keep a firm grasp on the truth, so they do not drift away from the faith out of carelessness or apathy. Drifting is subtle. You only need to go to the beach, go to the Gulf and sit in an inner tube or floating device and just float. If you do not pay attention or take measures to stay close to the shore, you are in danger of slowly drifting further from the shore. If you are not fully careful you could be in danger of drifting to a point where you are too far out and need rescuing. This is the picture the writer of Hebrews is painting. Be proactive in your pursuit, understanding, and planting yourself in the firm foundation of the truth.
Vs 2 – 3: “the message declared by angels…” is another way of saying the word of God was spoken through prophets. This message is reliable and proved to be legally valid because it was spoken by God.
There is no indication that Angels were present at the giving of the Law, however Deut. 33:2 does declare that “God came with ten thousand holy ones. Holy ones can be defined from the Hebrew word that means “Set apart ones.”
This critical demand to pay attention to what we have heard in verse 1 anticipates the warning that the message of salvation can be ignored, which resulted in devastating consequences or just retribution. A lack of concern and care for God’s word invites the “just retribution.” Just retribution is a fair payment that is proportional to the offense or crime according to God’s judgment.
“Such a great salvation” The question remains then, if one neglects the message of salvation then they will be faced with greater responsibility and greater consequence. How shall we escape is a rhetorical question and the response no escape is possible.
Hebrews 2:5- 8
Vs 5: ‘the world to come’ is the main subject both of this passage and the letter to the recipients of this letter; and therefore ‘hope’ is a recurring theme throughout the book. A good deal of the argument in Hebrews is that, in Jesus the Messiah, hope has come into the world already, and giving signs of the new world that will eventually come to be.
The continuing theme is that God from the beginning appointed his unique son to be superior to the angels, even to the angels through whom the Jewish law had been given. This time, though, he speaks of this superiority in terms of the future role that has been given to the son. In his coming world, God intends that the original order of creation should finally be realized: the world is to be ruled, wisely and creatively, by human beings who themselves live in trusting obedience to God himself
The author quotes Psalm 8:4 - 6
Psalm 8: 4 – 6
Vs 4: David realizes the “smallness” of man in comparison to the expanse of the universe. He is in awe to know that in our “smallness” God still remembers us. He is not a distant God who is far off. God doesn’t just acknowledge us, but we are on his mind, and He thinks about us.
No branch of science proclaims God’s greatness and man’s insignificance more eloquently than astronomy. The simple fact that distances must be reckoned in light-years (the distance that light travels in a year) illustrates the point. Light travels 186,000 miles per second, and there are 31.5 million seconds in a year, so light travels roughly six trillion miles in a single year! Yet some stars are billions of light-years from the earth.
One would almost think God is too busy running the universe to take time to have any part to play in our lives. Sometimes we think of Him as a busy and distant father who is so involved in his work that he neglects his family (children).
David knows better though; God is not too busy for us. We are always on his mind.
“Son of man” – emphasizes the frail mortality of the human. David’s question is, “Why does an infinite God even care about mortal man?” The answer is found in Jesus… Jesus often referred to himself as the son of man.
This is Jesus' favorite self-designation, indicating the true meaning of his identity and ministry:
“care for him” – pay attention, to visit, to look after. God cares so much for humanity that he became human, the lowest of humans and gave his life a ransom so we could forever be in fellowship with our loving Creator.
Vs 8:5: “You have made him…” We are created by God. We are not an afterthought or an accident of nature, but we are a beautifully crafted creation of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)
“a little lower” … in the created order we are created a little lower than the divine beings (some translations would imply angels, but others say imply that we are lower than God). This is a position of distinction and honor. God has placed humanity in the highest position of honor over any earthly creature. We are a little lower than the heavenly beings, but God has put us in a place of honor. If we are not in awe of the fact that God cares for humanity, then certainly it is awe inspiring to know that we are exalted to a place of honor.
“crowned with glory and honor” … God has placed on our heads the right to be his Kingly representatives. We have the honor to bear the image of God since we are made in his likeness. We represent God… Let that sink in a bit. Maybe that will help you determine how you live your life.
Vs 8:6: “You have given him dominion…” God has appointed humanity to have authority and rule over His creation. This does not mean abusive, careless, and dictatorial authority but as one who is lovingly and carefully tending for someone else’s belongings. (Genesis 1:26-28)
If it wasn’t enough to be thought of and cared for by God, and placed in a position of honor, we are also given charge to care for His creation. He has entrusted us with all He has created.
Hebrews 2:8 - 9
Vs 8: This clearly hasn’t happened yet. Humans are not ruling the world, bringing God’s order and justice to bear on the whole of creation. Everything is still in a state of semi-chaos. The verse corresponds to the divine goal spoken in Gen 1:26–28. Humanity was created in God’s image; we were assigned with the obligation to care for and tend to the earth. This mandate was unfulfilled because of sin and death, but this promise has not been forgotten
Vs 9a: Jesus is the representative of humanity. His exaltation as Lord, after his earthly ministry, suffering and death (in which he was indeed ‘lower than the angels’) has placed him in the role marked out from the beginning for humanity. He has gone ahead into God’s future, the future in which order and justice—saving order, healing justice—will come to the world. The exaltation of Jesus, and the fact that we who follow him can celebrate this and live in the light of it, is one of the major themes of the whole book.
Vs 9b: The author of Hebrews sums up: in his suffering of death, Jesus has, by God’s grace, been enabled “to taste death for everyone”. A good deal of the remainder of this letter is devoted to describing how this comes about, and what it means. Until this day, we need to rejoice in the fact that in Jesus God has already conquered death on our behalf, and he is already ruling the world as its just and rightful Lord.
The world may see Jesus as a man crucified on a cross, dead, and buried… a martyr. Or the world may see him as a myth, legend, or antihero who had the courage to defy the powers of darkness and face his evil nemesis the devil in the boxing ring of hell. Or the world may not even consider Jesus, he is not real and he has no relevance to us to today or in history. He is just a made-up story because people need to believe in something.
But to us who believe, we see Jesus’ coronation and installation into the priestly glory and majesty as hope. Since Jesus tasted death for everyone by the grace of God, it is thus fitting that that he would bring salvation to humanity. God’s purpose is to bring people to glory, and this happens through Jesus. He was the perfect champion to bring this about. Jesus was never imperfect morally, but through his suffering, temptation, death, and exaltation to the right hand of the Father he is now adequate, complete, and fully qualified to carry out salvation and be proclaimed savior of all.
Hebrews is a mysterious New Testament book. It is mysterious because its unknowns. The identity of the author is unknown. The location of the church or community to whom this epistle is written is unknown. The date of writing is unknown. The circumstances as to why the letter is written is uncertain. The nature of the crisis to which this letter was in response to is unclear.
It is believed that the letter is addressed to men and women who realized they can be subverted by adversity and that there is a cost of discipleship. Some have called it a pastoral response to people who were tired, run down, and seriously considering abandoning their Christian commitment. The writer seeks to encourage the recipients of this letter to stand firm in their faith in Christ.
As stated already, the author of Hebrews is anonymous. It is believed the author is within the Pauline circle. He mentions in Hebrews 13:23 that he expects to travel with Timothy “our brother”. It is widely believed and accepted that the author is not Paul, but someone who considered himself as one who is among those to whom “the immediate hearers of the Lord had delivered the gospel” It is almost certain that the author was a Hellenist Jewish Christian. This was one who was a Greek speaking Jew and had adopted in many or some ways the Greek culture. It is also quite certain that it was written by an inspired theologian who was well trained and versed in the exposition of the Greek Scriptures.
Hebrews was most likely written to a house church in an undisclosed city. Christians often met in ordinary rooms in various private residences. They were unquestionably a small group, consisting of the members of a household and some of their associates and close friends. According to the World Biblical Commentary on Hebrews, “The cumulative weight of the evidence points to men and women who participate in a small house fellowship, loosely related to other house churches in an urban setting, whose theological vocabulary and conceptions were informed by the rich legacy of Hellenistic Judaism.”
First Theme in Only One Section: Jesus Superior to the Angels (1:5–2:18)
Second Theme in Two Sections: Jesus, Compassionate and Faithful High Priest (3:1–5:10)
1: Jesus, faithful high priest (3:1–4:16)
2: Jesus, compassionate high priest (5:1–10)
Third Theme in Three Sections: Jesus, Source of Eternal Salvation, Perfected Priest, High Priest like Melchizedek (5:11–10:39) Exhortation (5:11–6:20)
1: Jesus, high priest like Melchizedek (7:1–28)
2: Jesus is the perfected priest (8:1–9:28)
3: Jesus is the source of eternal salvation (10:1–39)
Fourth Theme in Two Sections: Perseverance in the Faith (11:1–12:13)
1: Faith (11:1–12:2) O.T. examples of faith
2: Perseverance (12:3–13) Persevere in faith
Fifth Theme in Only One Section: The Need to be Holy (12:14–13:21)
Conclusion: Final Recommendations (13:22–25)
Hebrews 1:1 - 4
Vs 1: Give some examples of some ways God spoke to Biblical prophets and to ancestors?
He is the “Heir of all things,”. This is a title of dignity and shows that Christ has the rightful and supreme place in all the universe. His exaltation to the highest place in heaven when he was finished with his work here on earth, did not mark some new place of respect but his reentry to his rightful place in heaven.
Vs 3: Jesus radiates God’s own glory… What does this mean?
According to theologian N.T. Wright, “The word used for ‘radiates’ is the Greek word character, the origin of our apparently identical English word… The word character in ancient Greek was widely used to mean just that: the accurate impression left by the stamp on the coin… And this is what our writer is saying about Jesus. It is as though the exact imprint of the father’s very nature and glory has been precisely reproduced in the soft metal of the son’s human nature. Now it is there for all the world to see.”
Jesus is also the sustainer of all things. What does it mean to sustain? How does Jesus sustain?
Jesus is actively holding all things together through the power of his word. Just as the universe was created by spoken word so is all of creation sustained by the spoken word of God.
In what way did Jesus cleanse us from our sins?
Once Jesus gave his life on the cross of Calvary, was resurrected, and eventually ascended back to the Father. Once he ascended to the Father, he sat at the right hand of God the Father. The right hand is a position of honor and authority.
Vs 4: How is Jesus greater than the angels?
Hebrews 1:5 - 9
Vs 5: Jesus is superior to the angels because of his inherited excellent name. The author establishes this truth by citing two OT passages.
This Psalm was an established Messianic Psalm. It was understood and believed to be fulfilled in the future by a descendant of David.
Jesus is and always has been the eternal son. It is believed this passage refers to Christ’s exaltation and enthronement as Son post-resurrection.
2 Samuel 7:14
This is another Messianic prophecy given to David in the Davidic covenant. The prophet tells David his son would build the temple (after his death) and he would establish a royal throne that will endure forever. Solomon did build the temple, but he and all proceeding kings failed to fulfill the eternal throne that endured forever. Thus, the prophets sought after one greater than the kings would fulfill this prophecy. It was only fulfilled through Jesus Christ.
Jesus is superior because he is and has been the Son of God proven by OT prophecies.
Vs 6: Jesus is the firstborn. In the Jewish culture the first born is considered prestigious and honoring. The first born receive twice the inheritance than the siblings.
Jesus was not created, so he is not born, but the title first born is a title of honor expressing priority in rank.
Deuteronomy 32:43 – This verse is not in the Hebrew OT, but in the Greek OT. This seems to be a reference to the Nativity. When Jesus was born the angels came and worshiped Him. Angels do not worship angels; they only worship the one who is greater than they.
Jesus was worshiped in the past and will be worshiped in the future… Rev. 5:11 – 13
Vs 7: Quote of Psalm 104:4
Angels are servants and Jesus is sovereign.
Wind and fire – The meaning of this is not all clear but the writer of Hebrews emphasizes that angels sometimes inhabit the wind and fire to do God’s bidding.
Vs 8 – 9: Quote Psalm 45:6 – 7
Points to Jesus’ sovereignty
Hebrews 1:10 - 14
Vs 10 -12: Quote of Psalm 102:25 – 27
Jesus is eternal… The heavens will perish but Jesus remains forever
The heavens will be rolled up like a cloak and it will change, but Jesus remains unchanging for all eternity.
Vs 13 – 14: No angel has ever had the privilege of sitting at the right hand of God.
Angels’ positions are not for ruling or supremacy. Their role is to serve and minister to those who are saved and will inherit eternal salvation.
Jesus’ role is to rule supremely.
Jesus is superior
 Lane, W. L. (1991). Hebrews 1–8 (Vol. 47A, p. xlix). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Lane, W. L. (1991). Hebrews 1–8 (Vol. 47A, p. lv). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Lane, W. L. (1991). Hebrews 1–8 (Vol. 47A, p. lxxxvi). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
 Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 13.
 Wright, T. (2004). Hebrews for Everyone (pp. 2–3). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
(Emmitt Cornelius Jr.) came to Grace Fellowship while pursuing a doctorate degree in theology at a local seminary. Shortly after (his) arrival, (he) was invited to join the church staff full-time as Christian Education Director. A few years later (he) became the senior pastor upon the retirement of Pastor Doug, the only other senior pastor Grace Fellowship had known. It seemed like a perfect transition. However, upon reflection, it was more like the quiet before a storm. Most of the congregants had appreciated (his) ministry over the years, and (his) installment as senior pastor generated incredible excitement over the future of (their) church.
The biggest problem in the church was one that many churches face: one or more prominent members who are hungry for power. These people often feel their membership, relationship to the founder or financial means give them some sort of carte blanche in exerting control in the church. In this situation, the controlling members belonged to the former pastor's family. Pastor Doug's wife was particularly challenging. From day one, she saw (Emmitt’s) appointment as a threat to the status and control the "first family" had enjoyed. Teaming up with the former "first lady" was her influential and successful son-in-law, Deacon Hall. He believed his status, prominence and influence as a deacon was threatened by the (new Pastors) role. At first, the opposition was insignificant. But as time went on, it became more overt, and more people were slowly but methodically recruited to their cause. Though this was a major problem in itself, there were (some) conditions that combined to make a perfect storm.
Pastor Doug remained in a key leadership position upon his retirement and (Cornelius’) installation. He continued as a voting elder and was given the title "Pastor Emeritus.” Some of the congregants exalted Pastor Doug and his family in such a way that made it difficult to correct them when they were wrong. At one point, Pastor Doug's wife would routinely leave the sanctuary when (the new pastor) preached. When Pastor Doug was confronted about his wife's disrespectful behavior, he defended her actions by commenting that she didn't want to be a hypocrite. the leadership was divided. Division existed at two levels. First, the elders and deacons disagreed over the role of deacons. (Pastor Emmitt) even presented a paper on the roles of elders and deacons, but Deacon Hall was infuriated. Disagreement and power struggle continued for several years.
Eventually, all these conditions collided to produce a perfect storm that caused a devastating church split, and it led to (Conelius’) early resignation.
Church splits and divisions are, unfortunately, far too common place today and throughout history. Some of them are good and legitimate reasons and some are ludicrous. Churches have split over buildings, locations, music, sacred cows, leadership, and just plain ole stubbornness. As I stated it is true that there are some legitimate splits (i.e., heresy preached from the pulpit, sin issues of the pastor, denomination is not holding to biblical truths and so on). One thing is for certain though, church splits or even inner church conflicts rarely happen in a healthy manner, they are almost like a divorce. I know of one church that split and the two churches literally divided everything in half… Each church received half the chairs, desks, office staff, and other assets.
Apparently church conflict is an age-old thing since James is dealing with similar issues that we are continuing today.
James 4:1 - 10
Quarrels and Fights
Vs 1- 3: The beginning of this chapter is not an introduction to a new topic; instead, James shifts his focus from wisdom and words of believers to the worries and woes of the church. Apparently, there were struggling in this community, people were sowing discord among the congregations. They were starting fights and disputes with others for their own selfish reasons and desires without regard to how many people were hurt in the process. This was and is a problem because James addresses the topic and then asks the rhetorical question, “Where do quarrels and fights among you come from?” He answers, “It comes from selfish desires that are at war in us.” Disunity and conflict in a church is almost always the result of selfish desire.
We need only to look at churches in more recent times that were at war over the style of music that is played for the time of worship. How ironic is that? We argue and split over something that is designed to draw believers together into the presence of God. This was was/is all based in preference or selfish desire. Some churches divide over communion, others over where the pulpit should be placed, some fight over whether there should be a pulpit at all? The list goes on.
Conflict often happens because we don’t want to change something because we might not like it even if it is from God. Some peoples’ attitude can be that it doesn’t really matter if God is behind something, I really don’t like it. Now, I have never heard someone say that, but I have sure seen someone believe it. Theologian and Biblical scholar Douglas Moo writes, “The seventeenth century Jewish philosopher Spinoza observed: ‘I have often wondered that persons make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than the virtues which they profess, is the readiest criteria of their faith.’ Some battles to be sure, need to be fought. But even they must be fought without sacrificing Christian principles and virtues.”
The source of many quarrels comes from one place… selfish desires that war within us. Maybe to the individuals James was writing felt justified in their fighting? Maybe they thought they were noble in their efforts or zeal for something to happen or change but apparently, they were not honoring to God.
Vs 2: James expands on the nature of these sinful desires, and he uses some strong words to describe their actions, words like desire, murder, and covet. Now it is uncertain as to whether these people were literally killing one another out of selfish desire (which wasn’t entirely out of the picture) but it’s safe to assume that he is using analogy in the same way Jesus describes a person as a murderer as one who hates his/her brother or sister in Christ. A person who holds animosity in his heart towards another is just as guilty as the person who commits murder. This is probably what James is suggesting.
All this conflict was fruitless because as they were seeking God’s counsel, they were seeking with wrong motives. They were not seeking God’s will; they were seeking God’s approval for what they were doing. They were asking for God’s stamp of approval on their selfish motives.
The Problem: Frenemies
Vs 4 – 10: “You adulterous people!” Some versions say, “Adulteresses!” These are robust words and have deep implications to the body of Christ. Up to this point in the letter James has referred to his recipients with affection by calling them “brothers” and “my dear brothers”. Now, he speaks harshly to them because in all this warring and fighting with each other they were acting like the rest of the Godless world. Christians and the church should be unique because of our love towards one another. However, the recipients to the letter are embracing the world’s ways of doing things and not God’s thus ultimately committing spiritual adultery with the world. Spiritual adultery always ends with those involved becoming enemies of God. Being an enemy of God is a two-way street as it does show God’s hostility towards the believer but also shows the hostility of the believer towards God.
These people have been living worldly lives up to this point by showing partiality to the rich, neglecting the poor, speaking negatively to others, and starting fights in the body to fulfill their selfish desires. When believers start living as the world lives, we are showing where our allegiance lies… to the world, and God will not take backseat to the world.
The Solution: Submit, Resist, and Draw Near
God is always willing to give grace to those who humble themselves, but He is an opponent to those who are prideful and self-dependent. Since God is willing to pour out as much grace needed James exhorts his listeners…
When we follow the words of James, we see that fellowship or friendship can be restored between person and God. We must note that this portion of scripture is not a method for salvation because there are some key components missing (i.e., faith in Jesus and public confession of sins) this is intended for restoring fellowship with God.
Vs 10: James returns to the act of humbling oneself before God. When we recognize our spiritual deficiency without God is when we truly can stand in humility before Him. When we can stand humbly before God in spiritual poverty then and only then will God lift us up and exalt us thus victorious Christian living.
There is a lot packed into these 10 verses and I have merely scratched the surface; but they are very practical to us. We know for certain that church fights, splits and disunity happen all the time. It has happened since the beginning of the Church age. And it will, unfortunately, continue throughout time. However, we have the key right to avoiding and confronting conflict and division right in front of us. It is important for us to seek unity in Christ together, we need to strive to not be divisive in our words, slanderous in our talk and hypocritical in our worship. We should not seek friendship with the world but instead be single-minded in our devotion to God. We must submit to God and his will (not our selfish desires), be Spirit-driven so we can resist the devil in his attacks, draw near to God in our private and corporate times of worship, and lastly humble ourselves before the Great and Mighty King knowing our place before him and in doing this, and in doing so He will lift us up.
 CT Pastors, December 2012 Anatomy of a Church Split Heeding the early signs of conflict can save churches untold heartache. EMMITT CORNELIUS JR.|POSTED DECEMBER 10, 2012
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
Preview or purchase Jeff's Books