The Difference Between Peter and James

I was reading some time ago and I came across in interesting passage in Acts. In Acts 12:1-3, I read: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” As I read further on in the text, I discovered that although James was killed, Peter was delivered from prison in a miraculous way! It was at that point I started asking myself questions: Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Did Peter have more faith than James? Did the church pray for Peter’s deliverance and failed to pray for the deliverance of James? What was the difference between Peter and James? 

Now before I go on, I think it would be well to caution that it is usually bad hermeneutics to formulate any doctrine or principle based solely on the Book of Acts. The reason is because Acts is a record of the beginning of the church. There are things that happen in the “beginning” that don’t need to be and can’t be repeated! The doctor may have had to slap our butts to get us to breathe the first time, but after that, there was no need for a continuous butt-slapping! So, there were things that happened in Acts, at the inception of the church that have not been and really have no need to be repeated. For instance, there are some who teach today, based on Acts, that we should tarry or wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the reason the disciples waited, per Jesus’ instructions, in the Book of Acts for the coming of the Holy Spirit was because, prior to that time, the Holy Spirit had not come to dwell within men. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person to empower them, but after the task was completed, the Holy Spirit would leave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised that after he had left, the Holy Spirit would come, not only to be with the disciples, but to be “in” them. So, the waiting on the Day of Pentecost was for the fulfilling of that promise. However, there is no need for the believer to “wait” anymore for something that has already happened! The Holy Spirit came to indwell within believers on the Day of Pentecost, but He did not leave! He’s still here! So, there is no need to wait for someone who is already here! The Holy Spirit is NOT the Second Blessing or some additional blessing from God for the believer. He is essential and fundamental to the believer’s relationship and standing with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (KJV) Having or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not optional or additional; it’s basic and essential! Every believer has or is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit is not in them; they are not a believer or they are not saved at all! But, I digress, so let me get back to my point! I just brought that out to illustrate the danger of formulating doctrines or principles solely from the Book of Acts.

Was it a matter that Peter had more faith than James? I think not! I think it was just a matter of God’s sovereign will! There are those who teach today that faith can overcome any obstacle and that faith has the power to overcome any negative situation. But, faith cannot and will not, change, circumvent, or subjugate God’s sovereign will. Now, we need to understand that when it comes to the will of God, there is God’s sovereign will and there is God’s permissive will. We could look at it this way; God’s sovereign will is God’s overall and unchanging purpose. God’s permissive will is the minor flexible details of His sovereign will. God’s permissive will is subject, to a certain extent to our faith and our actions, but God’s sovereign will is steadfast, unchangeable and uninfluenced by our faith or actions.

The killing of James and the deliverance of Peter was a matter of God’s sovereign will. And in like manner, there are things that happen in our lives that are beyond the scope of our faith and actions. They are beyond our ability to influence by our faith or actions! I know there are some who teach today that people can control what happens to them by their faith, but that’s not completely true! Often those same people will use Hebrew 11 as a “proof-text” to validate their point. They cite the first thirty-five (35) verses as proof of over-coming faith. There is a summation of “over-coming” faith in Hebrew 11:33-35a, where the author wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. . .” I stopped at 35a because that’s where most of the “faith-teachers” stop! But beginning at 35b, we have, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story! Beginning at 35b, the rest of the chapter reads: “. . . and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:35-40 KJV) Were the believers cited in the first 35 verses more faithful than the others cited in the last five verses? No! Not according to the text! All were faithful; but some were delivered and some weren’t!

The difference between Peter and James was that, through His sovereign will, in Acts 12, Peter was delivered like those in Hebrews 11:1-35a, but James was numbered among “the others” mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40. But in the end, the difference between Peter and James was not of any real ultimate importance, because (for the record) Peter was eventually killed also! By the way, whether or not we are presently delivered or healed from some affliction or disease is not of ultimate importance in the grand scheme of things (It is to us because, naturally, we want to be delivered and healed). In the end, we will all leave this world! Faith might heal us of a disease or illness presently, but faith cannot and will not cancel our eventual death! Because of his prayer, repentance and faith, God’s permissive will added fifteen years (15) to King Hezekiah’s life (1 Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-5), but after that, Hezekiah died! What was the difference between Peter and James? James died then; Peter died later! What is the difference between believers who are healed and those who are not? It’s a matter above all of our pay-grade! It’s a matter of God’s sovereign will! From a purely human point of view, the only difference is; some die now and some die later, but eventually; we all will die!   

Does God ‘Need’ Us In Heaven?

heavenly cloudLet me preface this discussion by affirming the fact that, in the truest sense, God doesn’t need us or anything period! God is the All-Self-Sustaining Being! But I raise this subject in light of a post I shared recently by Pastor Robert Houston (“My Problem with Angels”). In that post, Pastor Houston beautifully lays out the premise that humans do not “morph” or are not transformed or changed into angels when they die. I concur whole-heartedly with his findings and I too am distressed and disturbed by the various false theologies that are being promoted concerning death and dying.  Now I can understand when it is coming from posts on Facebook and other social media outlets (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen depictions on Facebook of people who have died hovering in the clouds with angel wings). But what is even more disturbing to me is some of the things I hear at funerals (Oh I’m sorry, they are not ‘funerals’ anymore, they are ‘home-going celebrations’ and ‘celebrations of life’) from preachers, pastors, and supposedly seasoned saints! I was almost floored recently when I attended a funeral service for an elderly mother of a church. The church clerk read a resolution from the church and all was going well until. . . .She read: “Whereas God, in His wise providence, decided to take out of this world a lovely flower that He needed for His Heavenly Garden. . .” I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be overly critical, but that’s just bad theology and church folks should know better!

First of all, by implication, the statement is saying that God killed or allowed the mother to die just to enhance or beautify Heaven! What a ridiculous idea! God is not in the business of taking people out of this world for Heaven’s benefit! Jesus said that he came that we might have life and that we might have that life more abundantly! Secondly, God really doesn’t need us in Heaven! In fact, we are actually of more use to God on earth than in Heaven! If God really wanted or needed us in Heaven, then it really was a waste of time and effort to create a physical world in the first place!

Now, I’m about to say something here that many orthodox and traditional theologians and church folks might gasp at: I really don’t think “Heaven” as we traditionally know of it, is God’s ultimate destination for us! Now, before you pick up rocks to stone me or call a ministerial counsel to revoke my preaching license, allow me a few moments to argue my point. If we are to take the Bible as the revelation of God, then we must deal with the reality that according to the Genesis account, death was not part of God’s original plan. According to Genesis, God created man as a combination of spirit and flesh with the intentions of man living in a physical state upon the earth forever! Death only came about as the result of sin. And death in the Bible is never extinction; it is always separation. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they immediately died spiritually (that is, they were separated from God) and they began to die physically. So my point is this; the only reason people die is because of sin, and sin and death were not part of God’s original intent!

Now, let’s fast-forward to Revelation 21, where the Apostle John talks about the culmination of the age. He said: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4 ESV) Notice in the text that John said he saw the holy city “coming down out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to? The new earth! Notice also that according to the voice John heard, the dwelling place of God will be ‘with man.’ “He will dwell with them.” He makes the same statement in other words with the very next breath: “God himself will be with them as their God.” He says it three times in very short order: God will be with them! We think the ultimate goal is for us to be with God, but according to the Bible, the ultimate goal is for God to be with us!

Also, let’s consider the purpose of the resurrection. According to the Bible, the purpose of the resurrection will be to reunite the spirit/soul with the body. Now, if it’s God intent for us to spend eternity in Heaven with Him in a spiritual state without a body, then the resurrection has no purpose! Why will we need a body? Because as God made us; our bodies are part of who we are! We are not complete without our bodies! Our loved ones who have died and who are in Heaven right now, even though they are in the presence of God, they are yet incomplete because they do not have their bodies! Remember 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18? Paul told them that God would bring with Jesus those who had died in Christ. And then he says that “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Wait a minute! Aren’t those who died in Christ that God will bring with him when he comes and the dead in Christ who shall be raise first the same people? Then how can they be brought with Christ and be raise up out of the graves at the same time? Answer: Christ will bring their spirits with Him and will resurrect their bodies from the grave. Why? To reunite their spirits with their bodies! And why will they need their bodies? Because they will spend eternity, not in a strictly spiritual state as angels in Heaven, but rather they will spend eternity on the new earth in a redeemed spiritual-physical combination, which was God’s original intent for man in the first place!

I really didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but I really wanted to bring out the point that God wants us to be in good health and live as long as possible so that we might influence people to accept His Kingdom! Our task is not just to wait, but to work while we wait! Being saved is not just about getting ‘fire insurance’ or securing a ‘Heavenly retirement package,” it’s about influencing as many people as we can, while we can, for the Kingdom of God!

No! God doesn’t ‘need’ us in Heaven! God has no needs at all! God is self-sufficient and self-sustaining! But if there is something that we can do for God, then the Bible indicates our service is more profitable now, here on earth, than in Heaven! The old hymn writer had it right when he wrote: “To serve this present age, my calling to fulfill! Oh may it all, my power engage, to do my Master’s will!”   


God greater than“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”                                                                                            Ephesians 3:20 KJV

I am sure if you go to church, you have heard this passage used as a benediction at the end of a worship service. But have you ever thought about what it actually means? Have you ever thought about the astounding implications of this passage?

According to this passage, God is able to do, not just more, but exceeding abundantly above! Exceeding means God is able to go beyond the limits! Abundantly means God is able to provide more than enough! And “above” means that whatever the exceeding and abundant is, God is able to do even beyond that! Wow! That’s amazing! God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think? Do you know what that means? That means there is nothing you or I can ask or think of that is beyond God’s ability to do! That means our wildest dreams are mild in comparison to what God is actually able to do!

Now, the last part of the passage states a condition! God is able to do all of this, but God is able to do it according to the power that works in us! And what is that power that works in us? It is faith! Jesus said: “All things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23 KJV) You must activate the power of faith in your life! Most of the people I know, even those who claim to be Christians, are living boring and defeated lives! They have no power and no joy in their lives! Why? Because of the lack and littleness of their faith! Oh! What peace we often forfeit! Oh! What needless pains we bear! All because we have little or no faith in God’s ability and willingness to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think! I think that much of the problem lies in the fact that they focus too much on their problems and not enough on their God! You see, whatever you focus on and whatever captures your attention will grow and multiply in your life! Most people spend their time looking at their problems instead of looking at their God! As a consequence, their problems appear to be bigger and greater than their God! So when they pray, they don’t have the faith they need for God to do anything spectacular in their lives!

But just think about this for a second! The God we say we believe in is the same God that created the universe! The God we say we believe in is the same God that created the world and everything therein! Surely, if God was able to do all of that, then God is able to help us with our minute problems! But for many people, it is really not a question of whether God is able; they believe God is able, they just don’t think God is willing! But the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? (Romans 8:32 NLT) In other words: God gave us Jesus and that was the greatest gift that God could give! Therefore, since God has already given us the greatest; it’s no big deal for God to give us any and everything else!

So the question is not in God’s ability, nor is it in God’s willingness, the question is in our faith! The $64,000 question is: Can you believe? Will you believe? Now, God operates in our lives according to our faith, but God is not restricted in God’s overall activities by our faith! God is even greater than our faith! Our lack of faith does not hinder God from blessing; but it does hinder us from receiving God’s blessing!

I felt led to write this post because somebody reading this post needs to know that God is greater! God is greater than any problem you might be experiencing in your life! God is greater than any situation or circumstance you might be facing right now! I don’t care what it is; God is greater! But if you want God to help you; you’ve got to shift your focus from your problems and focus on your God! As you pray, thank God in advance for God’s help! Stir up the gift of faith that is in you by reading the Bible and other inspiring books! Hear the word of God preached and the testimony of others who have overcome great difficulties in their lives by the power of faith!

As you consistently do this, you will begin to experience a joy and an excitement in your life that you’ve never experience before! You will begin to do great exploits and people will be amazed at your calmness and peace in the midst of the storms of life! Your Christian walk will be much more than just the routine trip to church once a week, it will be a daily walk with the Lord wherein you and God are routinely slaying Goliath and the other giants that used to defeat you! No! Your life doesn’t have to be dull and boring! You don’t have to settle for a life of defeat and mediocrity! You can walk in joy and victory, once you realize and internalize the fact that God is able and willing to do exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think, according to the power that is at work in you!

The God of the Bible is NOT a Magician!

cosmic magicanThe God that is revealed in the Bible is NOT a magician! I say that emphatically because it seems that many church people think that God is! Let me show you what I’m talking about! As we look in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, every since the creation of man, whenever God wanted to do something in the earth, God used men to do it (I am using the term “men” to denote species, not gender). It is God’s modus operandi to involved human agents to perform God’s will upon the earth. When it was time to liberate the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, God used Moses to lead them out. When it was time for the Children of Israel to inherit the Promised Land, God used Joshua to lead them in! When the people needed deliverance, direction or to hear a word from the Lord, God used judges, prophets, prophetesses, preachers, shepherds, farmers, fishermen, and common everyday people to do it! Whatever God wanted done on earth in the biblical text, God did it through human agency!

So why is it that many Christians today think that whatever God wants done on the earth, God is going to magically do it Himself? In the Black Church (my neck of the woods), I can’t count the number of prayers I have heard and still hear in which the petitioners ask the Lord to “Go by the hospital and see Brother __________ and Sister _________.” Sunday after Sunday, the Lord is summoned to “Go behind the prison walls” and to “Visit the widows and orphans!” Can you imagine what would happened if the Lord actually answered those prayers? If the Lord actually went by the hospital to “see” the sick and the sick were able to “see” the Lord when he came to see them, they would die from fright!

No! The God of the Bible is not some “Cosmic Bellhop” waiting for orders to come and go at our beck and call! God WILL NOT do what God has given for us to do! God is spirit, but we live in a material world. Therefore, in order for God to operate in the material world, the Spirit of God influences the spirits of those who have material bodies designed to operate in the material world! God does not go by the hospital to see anyone, but God does influence and empower human beings to go in his name! Those who have submitted to the will of God are God’s hands, feet, and mouth! In fact, the primary reason for the creation of humanity was for humanity to be the visible and practical representation and agency of the invisible spiritual God upon the earth!

If God is going to do anything in your house, God is going to do it through you! If God is going to do anything in your neighborhood, in your community, in your town, in your city, in your country, in your world, God is going to do it through you and people like you! Therefore, if God seems to be inactive, it is because God has chosen to limit God’s self to a certain extent to the actions or in-actions of human beings! All that is needed for God’s will to be done is for the people of God to get up off of their “blessed assurances” and do the will of God! All that is needed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven is for the people of God to quit believing in magic and start believing in and start working with the God who does His will on earth through them!