Letter of James
Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter of James (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: The Letter of James is one of the "general, universal or catholic" epistles, so named because the letters are addressed to a broad audience, in this case to Jewish Christians dispersed from Jerusalem by the persecution which followed the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1).
Of the four persons in the New Testament mentioned by this name it is most likely the letter was written by James the half-brother of Jesus shortly before the Council of Jerusalem (AD 49, Acts 15). In the Council of Jerusalem James similarly emphasizes simple theology and practical expressions of faith.
The themes addressed in this letter do not appear to be organized in any particular way, flowing rather from James's passion that we, like Jesus, be "doers of the Word" (James 1:22).
God's Good Purpose: God purposes to bless us, hold us steady and give wisdom in trials and to conform us to His Word in a continual process of sanctification.
God never tempts us (v. 13) but gives only good (v.17) as He produces the first fruit of salvation in us (v.17).
Faith: Faith (trust in Christ) is the channel God uses to connect us with His salvation, both initially and throughout the journey. In this journey faith produces endurance in trials (v.3), wisdom to keep us steady and on course (v.6) and empowers us to be "doers of the Word" (v.22).
Doers of the Word: God Word brings control over anger (v.19), practical help to the neediest among us (v. 27: orphans and widows) and serves as a mirror to keep us from deceiving ourselves (v.23-25). All this results in blessing to ourselves and others (v.25). "Prove yourselves doers of the Word, not merely hearers who delude themselves (v. 22)."
Practical Application: I will not resent trials but appreciate them as means of strengthening me and causing me to seek wisdom from above. I will look for a point of immediate, practical obedience every time I open the Word so as to benefit from it as God's mirror and be a "doer of the Word" (v.22) daily. I will not blame God for temptation but recognize temptation originates in my own lust which, like a hunter or fisherman, seeks to lure his prey from its safe retreat in the Lord (v.15).
My Prayer: Father, help me look into the mirror of Your Word with a clear eye, willing to face the truth about myself and to be a doer of the Word for the joy set before me.
Doing Faith: Authentic faith has practical effects and it is futile to try to separate faith from its good effects. This was true for Abraham (v.21-24) and Rahab (v.25).
Demons (v.19) don't follow through on their belief in the existence of the one true God and so are spiritually dead. Faith cannot be separated from it's effects, just as the human body cannot be separated from the human spirit (v.26) without death ensuing.
Examples of the practical effects of true faith include mercy (v.13), care for the poor (v.15-17) and valuing poor and rich persons equally (v.2-9).
Full-Orbed Faith: The ethical effects of faith do not save us without "faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" (v.1); speculative efforts to separate the two are merely theoretical and of no use (v.14). God desires a full-orbed faith which includes love for our neighbour (who may be weak or poor or desperate), rich and overflowing mercy, thanksgiving and a multitude of other natural expressions of the dynamic relationship between God and humanity in the Kingdom of Heaven lived out on earth.
Personal Application: I will not pander the rich or ignore the poor. I will show mercy as I pray I will be shown mercy (v.13: judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.)
My Prayer: Father, what a wondrous relationship You've given us. We rejoice as faith and it's natural consequences work together in life and prepare us for eternity. Thank you. Deepen me in Your glorious purposes.
James and Paul: Some have expressed confusion by a difference in emphasis when James and Paul use the phrase "justified by works" in different contexts (James 2:24; Romans 4:2). When Paul uses the phrase he means "to declare a sinner righteous in the sight of God." When James uses the phrase he means "to demonstrate for the world to see the righteousness than comes by faith." Both are true and important emphases in the Christian life.
The Root of the Matter: James reflects the teaching of his half-brother Jesus (Matthew 12:32-37) reminding us that our tongue reflects what is in our hearts and we are responsible for the consequences. This is especially true for teachers (v.1). What we speak can alter the course of human existence in that our tongues can draw on the fires of hell (v.6) destroying people and relationships, or our tongues can draw on God's wisdom, speaking peace and purity, reasonably and gently (v.17). From these seeds of peace grow just, right relationships (v.18) honoring the Lord.
Impulsive speaking, especially when emotionally low, hurt or angry, can be controlled by the Lord as we surrender our hearts and then our tongues to Him.
Fork in the Road: Everything we say is ultimately received as that which encourages (brings light, hope, love, wisdom) or that which discourages. Even truth which sometimes convicts, when motivated by love, builds up.
Personal Application: I will surrender my heart and tongue to the Lord each time I sense slippage. As I speak I will consciously look up and down, asking myself from where I am drawing my words. I will encourage and not discourage. I will be a peacemaker. I will look for wisdom from above, seeking the fruit of righteousness.
A Focus Verse: 17: Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
My Prayer: Father, how my heart needs Your wisdom from above to flow through me. Make me a channel of encouragement, grace, hope and truth.
Worldliness: does not refer to God's good creation but to that world turned against Him. Friendship with the world (v.4) is a reciprocal relationship (philia) in which unfaithful people love the world and the world loves them. Worldly goals and desires however have consequences producing awful outcomes (v.1-2). Divided allegiance is worldliness. God is jealous for our single-hearted love and devotion (v.5). Worldliness is also an expression of having of put oneself above God's law, so treating it with contempt (v.12), beneath us, not worthy of our attention.
Single-heartedness: The path to the single-heartedness God desires is in 10 strong verbs in vs. 7-10 calling for the necessary decisive break with the old divided-heart life which is worldliness.
Struggle: The struggle with worldliness is lifelong but winnable. Gratefully, the draw of the world weakens with age, especially as we come to grips with the fact nothing gained by worldliness can be kept.
I will draw near to God (v.8) before attempting to plan for the future (v.15) and submit to Him in all things (v.7).
I will not set myself above God's Law or Word but do it (v.11).
I will resist the devil till he flees (v.7).
I will be aware that my life is but a vapor and live for His Kingdom and glory (v.14).
My Prayer: Father, the world offers only false promises leading to death, You are gloriously greater and I seek You always and only. In the precious name of Jesus.
Warning: Jesus will return as Lord of heaven's armies (v.4). He will judge both those who horde wealth unjustly gained (5:4) and selfishly used (5:5-6), and those in the church who don't love one another (grumble, v.9). Let us live so as to be ready and eager for His return.
Waiting rightly: Waiting Christ's return requires the patience and perseverance of Job in righteousness and in suffering (v.11).
Christian Community: To help the Lord provides Christian community to share life, rejoice with and pray for one another. Further, health - personally and in community - flows as we keep short accounts and confess our shortcomings to one another (v.13-16). In Christian community also we show love to one another by helping those prone to wander to return to Him who alone is Eternal Life (v.19-20).
Prayer for the sick: Oil is a symbol of the presence of God, sometimes applied to the forehead in the form of a cross. Confession relieves the burden of guilt restoring hope which aids healing. The Catholic rite of extreme unction developed out of this practice but now focuses exclusively on forgiveness and spiritual healing before death.
Personal Application: I will be thoughtful and deliberate whether I say "yes" or "no" - viewing my word as solemn promise. I will pray for the sick and discouraged when they ask and offer when they don't. I will urge a believer who is enticed by the world to return to Christ who is our only worthy calling and eternal hope.
My Prayer: Father, draw your children into Godly Christian community that we might be challenged, restored and healed. Refine Your church to reflect Your holiness, power and grace.