Welcome to The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, August 29 (TLW34B). This non-denominational study relies on the Bible explaining the Bible, uninfluenced by any church’s practice or preferences, and it follows the Bible’s sequence of progressive revelation. We recommend that you read the whole passage first and let the Holy Spirit begin speaking to you through it, then go deeper with the verse by verse commentary and reflections. The readings for this week are as set by the Revised Common Lectionary, a resource shared by many different churches and chapels, and the text is the widely-used and contemporary NIV © Biblica.
• A linked article which draws out the teaching from this theme is found here: God’s Heart and Ours
• And a ‘Really Quick Introduction’ video — a short and easy way into the teaching How God changes our hearts
NT gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
NT letter: James 1:17-27
And also read: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9
Theme: The Lord of love changes our hearts from within
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 — God’s heart of love in a love poem
The season of God’s love flowers as His gift to be received joyfully
8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes, leaping across the mountains, bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look! There he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
“Here he comes” — the girl looks out for her lover with eager anticipation; she sees him as like an agile deer, adept at surmounting obstacles. They just want to be together, despite obstacles.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
“Winter is past” — Middle East winter can be a cloudy, gloomy season of rain, but the transition to spring is rapid
12 Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
“Singing” – more likely from the context than ‘pruning’ in older versions.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
“Early fruit… blossoming vines” — all the senses are aroused in this description of the land awakening.
14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face, let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Doves were associated with love; Solomon is saying that in her, he experiences love. The hidden Shulammite girl is the real dove who he wants to see and hear. The words face…voice, voice…face are in the form of a literary mirror.
SUMMARY This is an excerpt from Solomon’s love song with the young lovers pictured on a background of spring blossoming. It speaks to us about being real about love and its emotions and sensuality — all God-given.
APPLICATION It can also be seen as a picture of God’s love for His church – and for us. He wants to capture our hearts more than any passionate young lover can express.
QUESTION What holds you back from revelling in God’s love for you?
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 — Religious tradition can’t disguise the heart
Jesus points out the lack of love for God in the Pharisees’ traditions
1-4 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of His disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
“They observe many other traditions” — in this chapter the Pharisees become more outspoken in opposing Jesus, and the gap between true spirituality and man-created religious tradition becomes more evident.
“Teachers of the law… from Jerusalem” – a delegation of leading Pharisees who had come from the city, probably at the invitation of the Galilean Pharisees. Mark’s readers in Rome needed additional background on the ways of Judaism to understand the dispute.
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t Your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
“Tradition of the elders” – this was a collection of laws and interpretations constructing rules of living that went beyond the Scriptures. At this point it had become a higher religious authority in Judaism than Scripture itself. Jesus was held responsible for His disciples.
“Defiled hands” — there was nothing in the law of Moses about hands being defiled, except a special case for priests and holy offerings.
6-7 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
” ‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ “
“Hypocrites” — Isaiah’s prophecy, here in the Greek version, fits the attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes Jesus encountered. They were ‘pretenders’, like performing masked actors, the original meaning of hypocrites, holding a sham spirituality (like the acting -out of many religious people today) where knowing God had been replaced by unscriptural “merely human rules”. They had turned knowing God and living in His love and faithfulness, into a constructed religion of performing various rituals.
8 “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
“Commands of God…human traditions” – Jesus told them they had abandoned the Ten Commandments and Moses’ summary of Deuteronomy 6:1-6 and Deut. 11:1, for an exclusive and over-complicated religious system. This ‘tick box mentality’ actually cancelled out God’s word, verse 13.
14-15 Again Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, “Listen to Me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
“Listen to Me, everyone” – Jesus makes a bold and clear statement, encouraging His hearers while refuting the legalism of the religious leaders.
21-23 “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
“Outside a person… from within” – it is not living in an impure world that is defiling, but having an impure or evil heart. Sin separates from God, not unclean hands. What a person is on the inside, good or bad, will find its expression on the outside and reveal what they really are.
“From inside” — after the Resurrection and Pentecost, the apostles taught that spiritual rebirth and the empowered life of the Spirit, enabled believers to choose to live in their new nature, above selfish ‘flesh’ motives.
SUMMARY This is clear teaching by Jesus of the falsehood of the Pharisees’ pride in their legalistic religious righteousness, while harbouring hatred and speaking badly and untruthfully about Him.
APPLICATION To ‘major on the minors’ of tradition while missing the point by having resentful hearts, is a lesson for us all. Turning to Jesus and acknowledging His Lordship in personal submission is like having a whole new heart, and the Holy Spirit enables us to live in it and helps us grow more Jesus-like.
QUESTION Have you truly given your heart to Jesus? Is there a part of your heart He is still asking you to hand over?
James 1:17-27 — The word of God is a mirror to show us our heart
It is our responsibility to recognise and rid ourselves of wrong attitudes
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
“Father of… lights” — an ancient Jewish expression. God created the sun, moon and stars, which all move in the sky, vary in brightness and cast moving shadows. But God’s light is constant, Malachi 3:6, 1 John 1:5.
18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.
“First-fruits” – in the OT, an expression for the first and best of the harvest. Christians are to be fruitful showing God’s new creation that is to come, 2 Peter 3:10-13, and be examples of the ultimate restoration of creation, Romans 8:20-22.
19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
“Human anger” – when things go wrong our first reaction is retaliation from the flesh. Until we let go of that first response of, literally, “man’s anger”, we can’t be directed by the Spirit to perceive God’s righteousness coming through our view of the difficulty.
21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
“Get rid of”, literally “put off”, like dirty overalls. More specifically commanded in Eph. 4:22, 1 Peter 2:1.
“Humbly accept” – as those who are teachable. “The word planted in you” – an allusion to the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 which looks ahead to a new covenant, where God promises to ‘write His law’ on His people’s hearts.
“Save you” – sin is never life-giving but rather, death-bringing, first spiritually, then physically.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
“Merely listen” – the teachable spirit wants to learn and apply. Hearing and not responding is the beginning of more serious and systemic deception.
“Deceive” – or delude yourselves. The word used is used in mathematics. Those listening but not engaging have made a serious miscalculation.
“Do” – more literally, “prove yourselves doers of the word” (NASB). As Jesus taught, Matt. 7:24, 26; Luke 6:46, 49.
23-25 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it — not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it — they will be blessed in what they do.
“Forgets what he looks like” – not acting on something in your reflection that needs to be straightened, is to forget to do it. Similarly with the word of God, which is a mirror showing what is askew in our soul.
26-27 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
“Religious… religion” – a play on this word which contrasts ceremonial, rituals and external trappings with genuine faith. Perhaps the third ‘religion’ should be in quotes. Religious acts are no substitute for changed values and a changed, unselfish way of life.
SUMMARY Being made holy (the long word is ‘sanctification’) is truly a life-long process. James highlights the transformative effect of God’s word — God speaking to us now through the Bible. This starts with new birth, v.18, through the “word planted in you which can save you”, as God’s truth being revealed changes our hearts. The divine truth that is God’s word continues its work, bringing change to our deep-seated human independence, and challenging all our attitudes and responses that arise from that source.
APPLICATION We were born in selfishness and independence from God. Coming back to Him in holiness is a long journey, with a big step change we call the new birth. All the time the word and the Holy Spirit are working together to transform us from the inside, with either our willingness or our resistance playing a big part in that. James’ teaching here is about not derailing the good process by “merely listening,” “not doing what it says” and entertaining “human anger” – but, rather, working with God the Father to become people who find ourselves doing, what He would have us do.
QUESTION When you hear God speak to you through the word, what are things that help you to put it into practice? For example, do you keep a prayer journal, or do you belong to a small group where you can test out what you think you are hearing?
PRAYER Lord, help me to purify my heart and make it Yours.
I know it’s a process, but I pledge my willingness to work with You, and to listen when You show me what needs to change.
Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, fill me and grow me to be more Jesus-like and help me to do my part. Amen.
And also read: Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9
Here the king is addressed as God’s representative
1-2 My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.
You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.
6-7 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of Your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
8-9 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honoured women; at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
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