How to Receive More Grace

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

James tells us why everyone needs more grace. Even as believers in Christ, we sometimes still have cravings and passions within us that rob us of our peace by making war within us. The war within us then spills out and harms others, even those we love. Some crave something so badly that if they cannot have it, they engage in disputes and conflicts. Sadly, James recognized that some, even in the church, could let their ruling passions lead them to commit murder (or at least lie about someone to assassinate their character). When some pray, James wrote, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). Hence, we need more grace and power to overcome our temptations to pray wrongly and do wrongly. We need more grace to give us peace within, peace with God, and peace with others. When we feel cravings and conflicts within us striving for mastery over us, our praying the Serenity Prayer can open the door to our receiving more grace from God: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” In addition to praying the Serenity Prayer, we need to humble ourselves to receive the grace we need. James wrote that recognizing our wrongs should move us to mourn, weep, and seek grace to help us make the changes we need to make. When we draw near to God, God will draw near to us, and He will lift us up and help us purify our hearts.

Thinking Further

Read James 4:1-10 or Go to the James 4:1-10 Commentary and Lesson

1. What is one cause of troubles in the church?

2. Why can coveting lead to fighting and quarrelling?

3. Why doesn’t God give us everything we ask?

4. What does a friend of the world make himself?

5. What does James tell sinners inside and outside the church to do?

Begin a 12 Week Study of the Letter of James

Faith Is Possible After Failures

“‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered”’ (Mark 14:27).

Jesus came into the world as the Messiah and He took on the role of the Good Shepherd. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). On His way to lay down His life on the cross, Jesus told His disciples that according to the Scriptures the shepherd would be struck down and the sheep would be scattered. He would die and they would fall away and disown Him. They all denied that they would disown Him, and especially Peter who declared that all the others might disown Jesus, but he never would. No matter how much Peter protested, the Scriptures would be fulfilled, and Jesus foretold Peter that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice, and it was so, exactly as Jesus told Peter. Jesus also told His disciples that after He rose from the dead that He would go before them into Galilee. However, they were so unbelieving they remained huddled in fear in Jerusalem until Jesus appeared to them and proved that He had risen from the dead. Later, exactly as Jesus foretold, He met them in Galilee by the Sea of Tiberius (also called the Sea of Galilee: see John 21); thus proving in another way that He who was crucified and buried had risen from the dead. Here, Jesus said three times to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” The sheep who fled when the Shepherd was struck became shepherds themselves, and flocks of Jesus’ sheep have spread around the world under the guidance of faithful shepherds.

Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew and Mark
or
Begin A Study of the Complete
Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

What Were Mary’s Expectations? — Luke 2:1-17

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

The Bible does not reveal many of Mary’s thoughts after the angel told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Because God had shown her favor as the mother of the one and only Son of God, she might have expected that her life would become easier; however, many events made her life more difficult, especially as the time of Jesus’ birth drew near. Instead of relaxing at home and preparing for Jesus’ miraculous birth, an emperor decreed that she had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Instead of God leading her to a comfortable palace where He could give His Son the best of everything, Joseph found no place for them in an inn. Instead of a bed of luxury fit for the mother of a newborn king, Mary had to rest on a bed of hay. The nearest thing available for Jesus’ bed was a manger in a stable. Instead of rejoicing with their family at Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary probably celebrated alone in the company of curious animals. Reality may have contradicted all of Mary’s expectations, and she may have wondered with Joseph, “What has gone wrong!” Unexpectedly, God reassured them with the arrival of some shepherds. They told Jesus’ parents what the angel of the Lord had told them about their child, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Those who commit themselves to serving God sometimes find their life more difficult, but God always finds ways to reassure them with His peace, power, and presence.

Thinking Further

  1. Why do you think God used the decree of Emperor Augustus so Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem instead of just sending the angel Gabriel to tell them what to do?
  2. What might Mary have expected when she went to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus? Do you think she left Nazareth expecting the King of kings to be born in a stable? Give a reason for your answers.
  3. If Mary had concerns or questions about the humble location of Jesus’ birth and what that might mean, how do you think God helped her answer her questions?
  4. What three titles did the angel give Jesus? What do these three titles mean to you?
  5. What kind of peace does Jesus give to those who trust in Him?

Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
or
Begin A Study of the Complete
Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Is Jesus Christ God? — Luke 1:46-56

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Luke 1:46-47).

The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, to ask Mary, “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Luke 1:43). Through her inspired question, the Holy Spirit revealed to Elizabeth that the child within Mary was her Lord. Mary’s first words to Elizabeth were, “My soul magnifies the Lord;” the child within her, Jesus the Messiah, was Mary’s Lord too and worthy of adoration. Mary magnified the Lord by proclaiming truths about God that would enable Elizabeth and all who would hear or read her words to see more clearly and understand with greater detail how God, the Mighty One, the holy and merciful God, would work in the world to bless and save people.

When Mary magnified the Lord, the first fact she revealed was how her spirit rejoiced “in God my Savior.” Though she did not know exactly how God would work in the world, she knew that in some way her child Jesus would grow up and be involved in saving her and all of His people. She knew that God her Savior would work in and through her Son because the angel Gabriel had said that her son would be the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35). An angel of the Lord had also told Joseph that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In the days and years ahead, Mary would learn more from others and from Jesus himself about Jesus and how He would accomplish God’s saving work. As her Savior, Mary would follow Jesus to His cross and see Him raised from the dead.

Thinking Further

  1. What truths in Luke 1:46-56 have been magnified for you as you have studied this lesson so you understand these truths of God better?
  2. When someone first realizes that God is their Savior through Jesus, what new reasons do they have for rejoicing in God?
  3. When someone has followed Jesus as their Lord and Savior for a long time, what additional reasons might they have from experience for rejoicing in God?
  4. What type of person does Mary say God will be merciful toward?
  5. What are some of the actions God will take to help those He will be merciful toward?

Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
or
Begin A Study of the Complete
Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

The Holy Spirit Creates New People — Luke 1:26-40

“The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were too old for Elizabeth to conceive and bear John the Baptist; therefore, God used supernatural means to help them. Even though John had human parents, the Holy Spirit supernaturally indwelt him before he was born (Luke 1:15). For this reason, the Holy Spirit called John “the prophet of the Most High,” and John prepared the way for Jesus and His successful ministry (see Luke 1:76).

Unlike John, the angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be called “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). When Mary asked how this could happen because she was not yet married to Joseph, the angel explained that the Holy Spirit would achieve this miracle when the power of the Most High overshadowed her. Just as the presence of God overshadowed the tabernacle Moses set up and later the temple King Solomon built, so the presence of God would conceive Mary’s child without the need for human intervention. She only needed to wait in a way similar to how Jesus would tell His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. The Spirit of God actively participated in the creation of the world, in the conception of Jesus the Messiah, and in the new creation of everyone who trusts in Jesus as the Son of God and their personal Lord and Savior. Because of the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit all believers can now serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness” (Luke 1:75).

Thinking Further

  1. If you were God the Father, what type of girl or woman would you want to choose to be the mother of Your only begotten Son?
  2. What does the angel say to Mary so she will not be afraid?
  3. What does the angel say about Mary’s Son that makes Him special and what are some of the ways Jesus is different from John the Baptist?
  4. How is Mary’s reply to the angel a good example for all who claim to be Christians?
  5. How would many churches be different today if every church member had the attitude of Mary each day?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
or
Begin A Study of the Complete
Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Who Were the Magi? — Matthew 2:1-12

“The Magi asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:2).

Some believe that the Magi were Gentile wise men and the first Gentiles to worship Jesus. But the Magi could easily have been descendants of the Jews who did not return to Jerusalem after their seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Daniel and his three friends rose to high positions in the Babylonian court, and there is every reason to believe that they and others like them advised King Cyrus of Persia and many other subsequent rulers in the East where their descendants made their homes for the next 500 years. Some Jewish Magi probably knew to look for the Messiah and His star. The Hebrew Scriptures prophesied: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). When some of them saw the special star that announced the Messiah’s birth, they traveled perhaps 800 miles to find and worship Him. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem, King Herod, the high priests, the teachers of the law, and the people were disturbed to learn of the Magi’s expectation of finding the newborn Messiah. The chief priests told King Herod and the Magi about the prophecy that predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. King Herod wanted to murder the Messiah, and we have no indication from Matthew that anyone other than these Magi sought Him to find Him to honor Him. When the star appeared again, the Magi found the house where Jesus and His family stayed. They were overjoyed, and they worshiped Him.

Thinking Further

  1. What does the name Jesus mean and what name was Jesus to be called? How did He get this name and why was He to be called by the other name too? See Matthew 1:18-25.
  2. What are Magi and from where did they come? Do you think they were Jews or Gentiles?
  3. Describe some features of the star and its purpose and appearances.
  4. Who did King Herod and the Magi consult to find where the Messiah was to be born? Why were they given accurate information?
  5. Where did the Magi find Jesus?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
or
Begin A Study of the Complete
Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Facing Liars in the Church — 3 John 1:10

So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church (3 John 1:10).

Remember these encouraging words: “Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13). When persecuted, Christians can face persecution the way Paul did: “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (1 Corinthians 4:12). The Apostle John suffered persecution from a powerful church leader, who even expelled from his church those who disagreed with him. Different translations reveal that Diotrephes spread “false charges” or “wicked nonsense” or “malicious words” about John and others. Not content with just lying about John and others, he refused to pass on John’s letters to his church and he refused to welcome the true believers that John sent to his church. Indeed, Diotrephes was going “from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.” Because Diotrephes was destroying the spiritual well-being of some, preventing others from being saved through a true faith in Jesus Christ, stopping the spread of the Gospel through Christian missions, and not walking in truth and love, John wrote that if he visited Diotrephes’ church that he would “call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges.” We do not know if Diotrephes repented of his sins and turned from putting himself first to a true faith in Jesus Christ. We do know that Gaius and Demetrius were prepared by God to replace a godless church leader.

Thinking Further

  1. Give some reasons John loved Gaius.
  2. Why do you suppose it was well with Gaius’ soul?
  3. What gave John “no greater joy”?
  4. How did “the friends” conduct their ministry?
  5. When we support true Christian workers, what do we become?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Or Begin A Study of the Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Living Truthfully in Love — 2 John 1:4

“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father” (2 John 1:4).

In John’s letter to an elect lady and her children (the church), he reminded Christians of two commands. First, the Father commands Christians to walk in the truth. Second, the Father commands Christians to walk in love. John wrote that the Father had always commanded people to love one another—this was no new command. Then, he explained that Christian love involved “walking” or “living according to” the truth and the Father’s commandments (which God revealed in the Bible). When Christians sincerely love God and one another by living according to the truth and commands of God, they treat others rightly. Like a good parent, John rejoiced greatly when he saw his spiritual children living truthfully in love.

As their spiritual parent, John also expressed concern that though they were walking in truth and love, they might become misled. He wrote that many deceivers had gone out into the world. These deceivers taught false things about God and Christ; for example, some denied that Jesus had come into the world in the flesh as a real human being. John wanted Christians to abide in the teachings of Jesus and not add to or subtract from them or believe and trust anyone who misrepresented what the Bible taught. Indeed, John warned that if a believer greeted a false teacher or received him into their house, then they took part in his “wicked works.” Practicing obedience to the Bible’s teachings can help us avoid being misled and sinning; especially if we will remember that the Father will never command anyone to do anything contrary to His commands in the Bible.

Thinking Further

  1. Reread 2 Thessalonians 3:1, how might the church and world be different if every Christian’s first prayer request each day was the same as Paul’s?
  2. Reread 2 Thessalonians 3:5, what did Paul pray for the Thessalonians? How might that prayer be answered in your life?
  3. How are Christians supposed to live (walk) and why should they live (walk) that way?
  4. According to John, what are some characteristics of a deceiver?
  5. What are some of the things people are doing when they welcome a deceiver into their home or church?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Or Begin A Study of the Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

The Believer’s Assurance of Eternal Life — 1 John 5:13-21

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

The Apostle John stated his reasons for writing his gospel and his letters. As he concluded the Book of John, he wrote in John 20:31, “But these (signs) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The Spirit of God inspired John to write so people could hear the good news about God’s Son; then, believe in Jesus the Messiah, and have eternal life. John went two steps further as he concluded his first letter. He wrote so the followers of Jesus would know and have assurance that they have eternal life. No follower of Jesus Christ needs to doubt whether they have eternal life now and will live forever with God. John wrote to remove all doubts. The children of God experience eternal life now as the Spirit of God loves, comforts, empowers, and gives them the assurance that Jesus abides with them and will remain with them forever. John also wanted his readers to know that God always hears and answers their prayers. In 1 John 3:19-24, John wanted believers to know that they will receive from God whatever they ask because they “obey His commandments and do what pleases Him.” John wrote that believers could come boldly before God in prayer, ask for anything according to the will of God, and “know that he hears us in whatever we ask,” and because He hears us “we know that we have obtained the requests made of him”  (1 John 5:14-15).

Thinking Further

1. Who did John write His letters to? Did he also write His letters to you? Explain your answer.

2. Why did John write 1 John?

3. Having studied 1 John, did he achieve his purpose in your answer to
Question 2. for you? Explain your answer.

4. Why do the followers of Jesus have boldness when they pray?

5. How do the followers of Jesus know they have obtained their requests?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Or Begin A Study of the Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Three Testimonies for Jesus Christ — 1 John 5:6-12

This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth (1 John 5:6).

In 1 John 5:1-5, we learned that those born of God believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. Furthermore, we learned that those who believe in Jesus as the Bible reveals Him overcome this world through faith in Him. John taught that belief or faith comes from historical evidence that can be examined and testimony that can be evaluated. Then, he wrote about three that testify regarding Jesus. John particularly chose these three because he and the Church needed to overcome false teachings. Some of these false teachings centered on whether Jesus came in the flesh as a human being. Because Gnostic teachers thought the human body was evil; they believed the Son of God would never contaminate himself by coming into the world with a real human body. We do not know all they taught, but John refuted them with historical evidence. First, John testified that Jesus came by water—Jesus was born of a woman. When Jesus was baptized in water, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and His Heavenly Father declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17). Second, after Jesus died, a soldier pierced Him and John saw water and blood flow from Jesus’ side (John 19:34). Mercifully, Jesus shed His blood to cleanse believers from all sin (1 John 1:7). Third, the Holy Spirit testifies directly to people so they can evaluate truths He reveals, believe in Jesus Christ, and know they are born of God.

Thinking Further

1. How did Jesus come into the world?

2. What do you think John meant by how he described Jesus’ coming?

3. In what way or ways did Jesus come by the first way John taught? How did the first way testify to us about Jesus? How do we respond?

4. In what way or ways was it important that John stressed the second way? How did the second way testify to us about Jesus? How do we benefit?

5. How did John describe the third way that testified about Jesus? Why do we believe in Jesus because of this third testimony?


Study the International Bible Study
Commentary and Lessons On Matthew
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.

Or Begin A Study of the Gospel and Letters of John
by L.G. Parkhurst, Jr.