October’s Bible Reading Challenge
The Epistle of James was written by the half- brother of our Lord. James eventually becomes the leading Elder of the Jerusalem Church. It is probably the first divinely inspired writing of the New Testament church era. This epistle has been called the “The Proverbs of the New Testament.”
As you read this letter you will see that James main theme is how believers are to live their lives out as believers. This letter is extremely practical and applies to every area of our life in Christ as we live in this world. I realize all of us are waiting for that sweet by and by but the reality facing us is that we live in the nasty now and now. This letter instructs us with practical wisdom on what true faith is, to understanding God’s will, how to respond to trials, persevering in this sin-sick world, to even controlling our tongue.
James – Chapter One
Verse 1 – contains the typical greeting of a letter in these times. Almost every letter written during these times contained three (3) elements. These elements were the author, the audience, and an address. The author would normally name him or herself, the person (s) to whom the letter was written to and then gives a greeting usually relating to the health or well-being of the letter’s recipient (s).
In this case we see James is the author or writer of this letter. He designates himself as a servant of God. Notice two (2) things; first, he acknowledges that he is a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ without “name-dropping” that he was the half-brother (same mother/different father) of the aforementioned Jesus Christ. James was a humble man and now knew that Jesus was in fact Lord. Second, James uses the word δουλος – which is the Greek word for the lowest of the low. James recognized he was nothing but a bond-servant; a slave with no one who gives himself up to another’s will, namely the will of God.
The audience or the recipients of this letter are Jewish believers who have been dispersed throughout the world as a result of persecution. Some of these Jewish believers may have even left Jerusalem after the church had been founded in AD 33 due to the persecution of Saul prior to his conversion.
The address or greeting in this case was simply “greetings.” This word could mean “to rejoice” but probably was used to convey well wishes to James’ readers.
Verses 2 – 18: deals with the testing of the faith of these believers who have been scattered by persecution. The theme of this section assures James’ readers that trials test their faith in order to develop their spirituality. Trials are actually gifts given by God in order to shape believers into the image of Christ.
2-4 assures the readers that trials are designed by God to produce spiritual maturity and should be embraced with joy. It is not that James is masochistic and thinks that we should be joy in pain or suffering. James states we should embrace our trials since we know that God is using them to mature us. In other words God uses trials as the means to develop us therefore knowing the end result or purpose of trials causes us to embrace them with joy.
5-8 gives us the avenue of seeking wisdom from God through prayer in order to remain faithful and not be tempted to utilize worldly means to circumvent our trials. Please listen carefully, as we pray for wisdom, we can ask God why we are experiencing a trial, but God is under no obligation to offer an explanation and in some cased He may never reveal to us the reason for a particular trial. If we can learn from our trial great, but the wisdom we are encouraged to seek is wisdom to remain faithful, to have a single faith undivided between the world and God.
9-11 sheds light on the relationship of the rich and poor in God’s plan. Riches and poverty puts a tremendous amount of pressure on believes to be tempted to sin and ignore God. The rich should not trust in their riches since riches are temporary and can be lost at any time. Riches cannot secure a place in heaven for anyone. So the rich should boast and trust in their relationship with Christ. The poor believer should not think they are any better because of some convoluted sense of the value of poverty but they too should glory or boast in their relationship with Christ. One day they will be elevated from a state of poverty into the glorious riches of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church actually turns the values of the world upside down and reverses the values of this world. James seems to be saying that the challenges of wealth and poverty can be a great test of our faith. The rich want more and trust in their wealth and come to love it more than God. The poor want to be rich and despise their poverty and become angry that they can’t have what others have. Both scenarios cause believers to take their eyes off of God, misplace their faith in temporal things and can ultimately lead to forsaking God.
12 – James returns to his thoughts in verse two. There is a reward for those who endure temptation and remain faithful. The reward for faithfully preserving is eternal life.
13-18 James sheds light on the other side of trials. Our trials can become temptations to sin if we are not mindful and wary. God tests His children in order to develop and strengthen their character. James makes it clear that God does not lead his children into sin. Temptation comes from inside of us. Our wicked flesh which contains the residue of sin entices us to sin by attempting to draw us away from the protective shelter of Jesus in order to trap us in sin just like a fisherman uses a lure to draw a fish away from its protection in the rocks or weeds in order to catch the fish.
Verses 19 -27 deals directly with our “hearing and obeying” the word of God. Obedience is the mark of a believer. Making a decision, walking an altar, raising a hand, praying a prayer, attending church, and hearing the Word is not what makes a believer. Yes, a person becomes a believer by exercising the faith given to them by God and trusting in Jesus Christ. Just as the reformers argued, salvation is not because of good works, but good works always accompanies salvation. We were saved to be obedient to God.
19-21 James encourages his readers to pursue the reading and the hearing of God’s word. His readers are to avoid thoughtless speaking and ungodly anger.
22-25 James encourages his readers to be obedient to what they have diligently pursued to hear. Hearing is to lead to obedience. Hearing without application is merely self-deception.
26-27 James describes true “religion.” I know most people don’t like this term. It merely means regular or disciplined worship. James tells his readers that those who hear the word and obey it in a regular or disciplined fashion will be characterized by three things; first, the believer will escape self-deception and will control his or her tongue, second the believer will show mercy and love to those who need it, and thirdly the believer will remain free from sin.
What say ye?