But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20, NKJV)
James posed a question that still needs asking and answering concerning knowing the truth of God’s word, “Do you want to know?” In context, his query probes the inclination and desire to know that “faith without works is dead.” Entire doctrines have been fabricated to blunt the force of this simple truth. Some reject James as inspired by God. Others contort the definitions of faith and works to justify their salvation by faith only doctrine (which James summarily rejects, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only,” Jas. 2:24). Faith without the obedience that activates and demonstrates it is profitless, dead, unseen, demonic, and incomplete (Jas. 2:14, 17, 18, 19, 22). We should ask ourselves this question about everything God’s word reveals, “Do I want to know the truth? Or, do I want to remain foolish?” Jesus put it this way, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (Jno. 7:17). With a will to do God’s will, we will know the doctrine of Christ. With a desire to learn and know the truth, our faith joins with our works (obedience) and is made complete (Jas. 2:21-22).
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:13–14, NKJV)
The word translated “ignorant” means “not to know.” While knowledge can produce arrogance when one thinks too highly of himself, decided advantages also come with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1-2). Jesus said knowing the truth (His word) “shall make you free” from sin as you abide in His word (Jno. 8:31-32, 33-36). Today’s passage declares knowing the future of Christians who have died removes our sorrow and gives us hope (v. 13). More specifically, knowing and believing Jesus rose from the dead supports our hope (desire and expectation) that Christians will be raised from the dead and be with Jesus when He returns (1 Thess. 4:15-16). Such blessed assurance replaces the sorrow of death’s loss with bold confidence that invigorates our faith when death separates us from beloved saints. God has a future planned for His people. Whether living or dead, when Jesus returns and raises the dead, the saints of God will “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Knowing what will happen to those who have died in the Lord empowers us to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:8–9, NKJV)
It is said that the city of Smyrna in the first century claimed to be “first in beauty, first in literature, first in loyalty to Rome” (Commentary of Revelation, Hailey, 125). It was the seat of the Caesar-cult that afflicted the church during that period. So, Christ assured the saints at Smyrna that He is the First and the Last. No doubt, His primacy of deity and His power over death emboldened them in the face of what they were about to suffer for the name of Jesus (Revelation 2:10). Jesus knew their works (toil), their tribulation (distress and oppression), and their poverty (they were rich in faith, James 2:5; Matthew 6:20). Jesus also knows the words and deeds of the enemies of righteousness, just like He knew those who claimed to be God’s people (Jews) but were not His people (cf. Romans 2:28-29). Those who oppose and oppress Christians and their faithful service to Jesus are a congregation of Satan, serving his evil intents and aims. Take heart and be strong, Christian, when the world hates you. Know they hated Jesus before they hated you (John 15:18). Christ is Lord, not Caesar or any other ruler on earth.
20 But you have not so learned Christ, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: (Ephesians 4:20–21, NKJV)
Knowing Jesus Christ is not instinctive or automatic. We cannot know “what would Jesus do” unless we learn from His word what He would do. Yet, what Jesus personally did while on the earth is not necessarily what you and I must do. For example, Jesus kept the Law of Moses (its feasts, its offerings, its dietary restrictions, etc.), yet we are not obliged to do so today because that law has been removed (Colossians 2:14). We know Jesus always did the will of His Father, and that is the very thing we must also do (John 5:30; 6:38; 8:29; Matthew 7:21). The Father’s will is that we hear and follow Jesus (Matthew 17:5; John 8:31-32). The Scriptures teach us about Christ. We hear Jesus by hearing the words of those He sent into the world to preach His gospel (Hebrews 1:2; Luke 10:16). Jesus told His apostles to teach the disciples “to observe all things” He had commanded them (Matthew 28:20). The apostles fulfilled their mission by teaching the truth that is in Jesus. Learning Christ from them illuminates our path toward God, it does not turn us back to the spiritual blindness of lewdness, uncleanness and greediness we lived in before we were saved in Christ (Ephesians 4:17-19).
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47–48, NKJV)
Knowledge brings increased responsibility. At the same time, a person cannot plead ignorance to escape his or her personal responsibility to God. The master tells his servants what is expected of them, therefore, a servant ought to know his master’s will. So, even when the servant who failed to know his master’s will “committed things deserving of stripes,” he did not escape punishment. The “faithful and wise steward” is watchful and careful to do his master’s will (Lk. 12:37-46). Similarly, Christians are responsible for knowing the Lord’s will and being watchful to carefully do His will. We are warned, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Sins of ignorance are still sin against the Master’s will which call for repentance and conversion (Acts 3:17, 19; 8:18-24). Disciples of Christ have great spiritual blessings, and along with them, great responsibilities. The Lord expects us to faithfully do His will, especially since we know His will and have His blessings. To do otherwise brings upon us punishment with unbelievers (Lk. 12:46).
17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19, NKJV)
Paul next prayed that the saints in Ephesus would be able to comprehend the greatness of the love of Christ. We grasp the meaning and scope of love by seeing it in practice; by experiencing it. We know love because “God is love,” and because “He loved us and sent His Son” to die for us (1 Jno. 4:8, 10). Experiencing fellowship with Christ and the love of God that stabilizes and secures us, enhances our ability to comprehend Christ’s love – a love that surpasses knowledge. A full complement of God’s blessings are offered and attainable in Christ. What love we should have for God for the boundless love of Christ. We are drawn closer to God and enlivened in faith as we realize that we are the objects of God’s love in Christ. Yes, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jno. 3:16). That is the greatness of Christ’s love for you. Live by faith and experience the magnitude of God’s love, and be filled with God’s abundant blessings – the fullness of God (Eph. 1:3).
Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. (John 8:43)
The New Testament is the word of Christ Jesus. Jesus wants us to listen to His word so we can understand it. To do so we must have a desire to understand His word plus the willingness to do what He says. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (Jno. 7:17). Jesus spoke the very word of God. Are you able to listen to His word? If so, you will understand His teaching. Then you are ready to believe and obey Jesus.