For an introduction to this series, click here.
November 20, 2007
The author of this book is James, the brother of Jesus. He was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. This epistle is most likely the first New Testament epistle ever written, probably written around AD 45, or just a few years after the resurrection of Christ.
This epistle is very practical and has a lot of good instruction in it, although some have criticized it, saying James' teaching of salvation contradicts that of Paul. Similar to Hebrews, James was written to a group of Jews that were influenced by Christianity, but were not all believers.
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (1:1-8)
It's hard to rejoice when trials come our way, but the point is that our trials are proof that God is working in our lives. We don't like to look at life that way, but that is the way God looks at our lives. Double-minded refers to someone having their mind on both spiritual and worldly things. They seem to be ready to serve the Lord, and then a few days or even hours later they are wallowing in the things of the world. The Lord wants us to have a single mind of serving Him.
"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits." (1:9-11)
James has a lot to say in his epistle about rich people and poor people. This must have been a struggle in the early church. Of course it is not a sin to be rich, but a rich person has different temptations than poor people. But don't be deceived: poor people have temptations as well. They are often tempted to covet and to be envious of rich people. I guess I am kind of talking to myself here, since I don't have to worry about the temptations of being rich for a while.
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (1:12-15)
This is an important lesson. God does not bring temptation into our lives. Satan and our own sinful flesh are responsible for that. Even though we deal with temptation, no one makes us sin. James says here that we will be blessed if we endure temptation, and not give in. We have the power through the Lord to resist temptation, but we don't always take advantage of it.
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." (1:22-25)
This is very similar to Jesus' teaching about the wise man and the foolish man. It is important for us to hear and learn from the Word of God, of course. But it is more important for us to apply what we have learned in our daily lives. We do not receive rewards for what we know, we receive rewards for what we do.
"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (1:26-27, ESV)
James' epistle is all about real life, living out our religion. Here we have one of the climaxes of the entire epistle. The most religious person is not the one who uses the most pious platitudes or the one who promotes himself at church. The most religious person is the one who lives out his faith in generosity and purity. There are two elements here of true religion: generosity and purity. Unfortunately, it seems most churches and pastors emphasize either one or the other. It is good and right for the church and for individuals to give to the poor. If you don't put some money in the red kettles this Christmas season, there is something wrong with you. But it is also important to live godly, separated lives. And those churches that emphasize strict separation to the exclusion of charity and good will in the community are also emphasizing the wrong thing. The Lord expects us to do both.