by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Study # 75 March 10, 1999 Harlingen, Texas
Thesis:What is the biblical significance of the promise of the nearness of the coming of the Lord?
Introduction:Last week we looked at James' exhortation to the believers to be patient in the face of their difficulties as the righteous who were called upon to exercise a certain passivity in the face of persecution by the wicked wealthy. The focus of our study was upon the question of what "non-resistance" means. We noted that in verse 6, the righteous man does not resist the wealthy wicked even in the face of the death penalty. We also looked into Jesus' requirement that we turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile. The conclusion of our study was that both James and Jesus were addressing governmentally established injustice.
The policy of believers toward unjust government is gracious submission to the point of the boundaries of conscience, and passive acceptance of the consequences when conscience requires disobedience. There is NO basis in Christ for armed rebellion against established government.
However, one of the issues that we did not address in our study of James' exhortation to patience, is his use of the "coming of the Lord" as a driving motivator to the exercise of patience. This evening we want to do this. The question we want to ask is this: what is the true significance of the promise of the imminence of the coming of the Lord?
I. The Typical Understanding of the Ungodly.
A. As illustrated in 2 Peter 3:3-4.
1. Peter clearly teaches that the underlying motivation is the ability to pursue their lusts.
2. He also clearly teaches that the rejection is based upon the human argument that a long time in the face of the promises of imminence means that God has lied.
B. As illustrated by Edward Stevens' capitulation to the erroneous interpretation of the ungodly.
II. The Typical Biblical Explanation.
A. Peter suggests this explanation when he takes the promise of imminency out of the domain of human motivation and understanding.
1. The problem of human motivation is that it is invariably self-centered and self-seeking.
a. Escapist motivation for looking for the coming of the Lord is godless and self-centered just as Peter said ("...following after their own lusts...").
b. The problem with escapist thinking is that there is no consideration of the desire of God in the mix.
2. The problem of human understanding is that it invariably takes the words of God and interprets them according to the categories of human self-interest and then accuses God of failing to live up to what He said.
a. In spite of the fact that the Bible clearly, on multiple occasions, says that our entire lives can be compared to a vapor of smoke, men continue to demand that we understand God's promise of imminence as though our lifetime is exceedingly long and that a couple of millenia is too long for God's words to be true.
b. Peter clearly says that God's promises must be interpreted from the perspective of the Author and not the hearer.
B. James' interest in his readers suggests the same perspective.
1. What is the line of reasoning behind James' statement that the coming of the Lord is imminent?
a. First, that legitimate endurance become a valued characteristic of my life.
1) Clearly not an escapist concept.
2) Clearly not a selfish motivation.
b. Second, that having the witness of having pleased God AFTER the judgment that will come at His coming is THE primary motive of the bondservant.
1) This is not a desire to escape the penalties of failure.
2) This IS the desire to have realized the will of God for HIS pleasure.
c. Third, that entrance into JOY is the focus that bondservants should embrace.
2. The promise of imminence is not James' way of appealing to self-interest, but his way of appealing to genuine love for Christ and His agenda.
a. Embracing the "farmer" illustration means accepting the way God has set things up to operate...this is His agenda.
b. Imminence is a matter of anticipation of glory of the Beloved, not a matter of the anticipation of escape from character development.
3. There is nothing in James' teaching that denies Peter's understanding of imminence.
III. The Significance of Imminence.
A. It declares the possibility, not the probability or the actual.
B. It is a declaration of the necessity of keeping the Truth front and center.
1. As soon as imminency is lost, actuality begins to fade.
2. As soon as actuality fades, behavior slips into disbelief and carelessness.