The Living Word for Sunday, September 19, 2021, is a non-denominational Bible study which relies on the Bible explaining the Bible, uninfluenced by any church’s traditions or preferences, and following the Bible’s sequence of progressive revelation. 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 week’s readings are as set by the Revised Common Lectionary, an inter-denominational resource shared by many different churches and chapels. The Bible version, widely used in contemporary churches, is the NIV © Biblica. Ref TLW37B
Proverbs 31:10-31 — Greatness comes through character, diligence and wisdom like this picture of compassionate and spiritual wife
Mark 9:30-37 — An argument about status leads to the profound teaching, that greatness is about being willing to submit
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a — True greatness comes from humility, not pride, when we put godly dependence above selfish ambition
And also read: Psalm 1
Theme: Greatness in God’s kingdom is living for others as Jesus did
• See also this week’s linked article drawing out the teaching that Wisdom with Humility is the Path to True Greatness and the Really Quick Introduction video, Status or Greatness?
Proverbs 31:10-31 — Greatness comes through character and diligence
Wisdom is like this picture of a gentle, but gifted and spiritual wife
10-12 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
“Noble character” — this poem goes through the alphabet of excellent moral, spiritual and practical attributes. Elsewhere the term is used for the military exploits of men. Her husband can trust her because she is godly.
“Who can find?” — no one without God’s help, Proverbs 18:22.
“She brings him good” — this kind of woman knows how to grab heaven and apply it to earth for the benefit of everyone under her influence.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
“Wool and linen” – wool spun from the fleece, linen woven from flax fibres. A linen garment sold for half a month’s wage and a woollen garment for four times that.
14-15 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.
“Like the merchant ships” – she is enterprising, remarkable in a male-dominated culture and also considerate, the opposite of Proverbs’ sluggard, Proverbs 6:9-10, 26:14, not having servants attend her in bed.
16-19 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
“Considers a field… sees that her trading is profitable” – showing independent judgment and financial wisdom, not the norm for women of that time. “Her lamp does not go out” – not working through the night but a sign of a well-run house where the lamp was kept burning all night as a sign of life.
“Sets about her work” – to plant a vineyard and build a press in stony ground was an arduous undertaking. This is contrasted with the skilled and delicate work of drawing wool thread from the distaff stick on to the spinning wheel.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
“The poor…the needy” — in Proverbs, being generous to the poor is a characteristic of wise people.
For further study: generosity and wisdom, Prov. 11:24-26; 21:13; 22:9,16,22-23; 28:27.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
“Clothed in scarlet” — implies dyed wool and good quality. She provides well-made clothing for her household.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
“Her husband is respected” — gaining some of his status because of his wife’s reputation.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
This woman’s hard work and good judgment brings security and respect to the household and also her husband, who is valued as a decision-maker “at the city gate”.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
“Speaks with wisdom” — her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness,” NLT. She isa person who can counsel others. Real beauty in God’s sight is a product of a good heart.
• For further study, read 1 Peter 3:1-5.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
“She watches over… her household” — as a skilled manager of the home, not an idle critic of others, Titus 2:3-5.
28-29 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30-31 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
“A woman who fears the Lord” – the poem concludes that the reward of wisdom, personified as the woman of wisdom, comes from honouring the Lord as first priority, a simple but profound statement, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33. Being willing to listen to and defer to the Lord is perhaps a more feminine trait, as in this depiction, which wise men do well to acquire.
SUMMARY Proverbs begins and ends with wisdom, which it explains in terms of personality and character — a God-fearing, submitted, spiritual woman. It is more than having skills, it is having the character and sense of direction to know what to do with them.
APPLICATION In a world which prizes knowledge and puts a high value on information, something called wisdom looks like a ‘soft skill’. Proverbs begins with the voice of wisdom, a woman’s voice, and ends with the personality and character of a God-fearing, submitted, spiritual woman. All can learn from what may be seen as a more feminine trait, being willing to listen to, and defer to, the Lord.
QUESTION Should you ask God for wisdom or just rely on Him to provide it?
Mark 9:30-37 — True greatness comes through being able to defer
An argument about status leads to a profound teaching for the disciples
30-32 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” But they did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it. ”
“He was teaching His disciples”
— in this phase, preparing for Jerusalem, His focus was teaching the disciples to help them understand how His death would be part of God’s plan. They expected the resurrection of mankind at the final judgment foretold in Daniel 12:2; the resurrection of an individual was difficult for them. Luke’s explanation is that “it was concealed from them so that they could not grasp it”, Luke 9:45.
33-34 They came to Capernaum. When He was in the house, He asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
“Capernaum… in the house” – probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew, Mark 1:29.
“But they kept quiet” – they expected disapproval of the argument. It would surface again, Mark 10:35-37. Because they had not yet understood Jesus’ destiny, they didn’t grasp the implication for themselves.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
“Sitting down” – assuming the role of a teacher (like standing up for us).
“Want to be first…last… servant” – (here and below) Jewish society emphasised rank and status. Jesus confronted the culture by teaching that in God’s kingdom, true greatness comes through being the servant, not the master. Finally He demonstrated this conclusively in His death as the Suffering Servant.
36-37 He took a little child whom He placed among them. Taking the child in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me does not welcome Me but the one who sent Me.”
“Whoever welcomes one of these” – children had no status, and welcoming a child was putting yourself last in line in an dramatically unexpected way.
SUMMARY Jesus’ life on earth made Him the greatest human being who has ever lived and at the same time a suffering servant to provide a salvation path for mankind at the cost of His life and reputation. In His terms and example, true greatness has nothing to do with our imagined ideas of status. It comes as we learn to conquer human pride and self-sufficiency, and embrace dependence on God in a servant spirit.
APPLICATION The disciples belonged to a Jewish society riven with distinctions of aristocratic and common, rich and poor, politically powerful and powerless. Status and hierarchy was much discussed and in our world ‘being a celebrity’ is a thing. But all of this flies in the face of God’s kingdom order.
QUESTION Think of someone you know who is different because you can see Jesus in them? Why is that?
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a — True greatness comes from humility, not pride
Teaching about dealing with ambition and embracing godly dependence
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
“Humility” – literally ‘meekness’, prautes and rendered ‘gentleness’ in Gal. 5:23 was considered a weakness by Greeks but Jesus made it a fundamental virtue, Matt. 5:5, 11:29. It is not passive or timid but an attitude of trusting God and therefore having no need to self-promote.
“Humility that comes from wisdom” – true wisdom has nothing to prove. James writes to Spirit-filled believers in the churches about deeds done in the humility of the consequential fruitfulness of faith in their day by day experience of God.
14-16 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
“Selfish ambition… disorder” – worldly teaching based on man-centred values is unspiritual and invites the conflict and division that is the hallmark of the devil, James 4:1-3 below.
17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
“Peace-loving… considerate” – the list parallels the character qualities of the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 with more than a nod towards the Royal Law James has already mentioned, James 2:8.
4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
“Desires that battle within” – the life of the Spirit that is peace-loving and fruitful in the unity He brings, contrasted dramatically with the bitter church conflicts and character assassination that result from jealousy and the desire to control.
7-8 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
“Resist the devil” – setting out forcefully the opportunities we give to the devil by unholy attitudes. So is the remedy where we invite the rule and reign of God in willing submission to His values. This ‘repent and resist’ teaching is the same as in 1 Peter 5:8-9, a different letter written at a different time. That gives weight to this important teaching.
• For further study: the ‘wearing holy attitudes’ teaching in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Eph. 6:10-18.
SUMMARY In the Gospel passage, Jesus brings the principles alive in His own life and teaches His kingdom values to the disciples. It still needs to be earthed in everyday spiritual life. The epistle is written to believers in the churches who are learning to live in their new life and new identity, as those who are new creations “in Christ Jesus” and who have the Spirit of Christ Jesus in them.
APPLICATION The believers are empowered, they are guided, they have the original Scriptures and the new records of Jesus’ teaching. But they still have to make it work in their lives and their relationships, with all the tensions of a community. They have new life, but as we all find, the test is whether we can avoid being pulled back into what the Bible calls the flesh, or selfish nature. In this case it’s rivalry, envy and desire to control and like the weeds in your garden, it’s ready to spring up in every church fellowship to be a vehicle for the conflict and the disunity the devil wants to sow. That’s his strategy to disable the advance of the kingdom of God.
QUESTION What do you feel entitled to control? Where do you have the need to be in charge? Where is the lordship of Jesus in those perceptions?
PRAYER Lord, looking into Your eyes is looking into life itself. Help and empower us to be people of the New Life – and life-givers to others who in their pain may need our faith exercised on their behalf. I pray this in and through Jesus. Amen.
PRINT EDITION You can download a PDF of the print edition from the link below. It prints on A4 paper to produce a four-page Bible-size folder. Permission given to copy for your own use, for your Bible study or home group, or for inclusion with your church bulletin.