The last section of James 5 contains some wisdom about prayer and healing. Like most everything else we’ve encountered in James, it is simple, but not easy.
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:14-16 NRSV)
God does heal, and when he does, we rejoice. We proclaim the wonders of how our good and faithful God answers prayer. But what about when the healing doesn’t come? In those times, there doesn’t seem to be much to rejoice about, and it isn’t as easy to truly believe that God is good or that he answers prayer.
When there is no healing, we want to know why. Did we mess something up? Did we not pray hard enough or with enough faith? Should we have gotten the elders to pray and anoint us with oil? Have our unconfessed sins gotten in the way? Were we not righteous enough for our prayers to be effective? Did we do everything right, but forces of evil sabotaged our prayers? Was it just not God’s will to heal? Is it not God’s timing to heal now?
There is no end to the questions we could ask about this, and to make things worse, there is a severe shortage of good answers. But, like in the book of Job, you can find lots of bad answers from people who mean well. I would just add to the bad but well-meaning category if I were to offer my own explanations.
Let’s get out of that rabbit hole for now and try to grasp James’ practical advice. We could zoom out and summarize it in two main pieces: Do your part, and ask God to do his.
Doing your part might actually mean seeking out the elders to pray over you and anoint you with oil. It could mean confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness. It could mean going to see a doctor and following their advice. Your formula may not look exactly like James’, but the important part may be that you do something, or whatever it is that you are able to.
While we are doing our part, it is important that we ask God to do his part also (remember the importance of asking from James 4?). We’re not going to be able to do everything ourselves, so asking God initiates our cooperation with him. By asking, we’re acknowledging that God has real power in our lives and that we’re receptive to it. It’s not a we-do-everything or a God-does-everything scenario. It’s a cooperation that requires both sides. It is a James kind of faith that is coupled with action.
After doing your part and asking God for his, the way forward may be to wait, or to keep doing and asking, all while hoping for the best.
1. What does your “formula” for healing look like? Is it anything like James’ formula?
2. How can you do your part for your own healing or for the healing of others?
Conflicts and violence are problems we humans have always dealt with. If only there were some insights in the book of James to help us understand why, and how we might be able to help the situation.
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3 NRSV)
James says the source of conflict is the cravings at war within us. We covet things that we don’t have, and perceive that there isn’t enough to go around, leading us to take what we want by force, many times at the expense of others. We’re wired so deeply for survival that the fear of scarcity often drives us to get what we need in whatever way we can. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
The passage goes a level deeper into the investigation and explores why we don’t have what we need: It’s because we don’t ask. That’s something I’m not good at. I often feel uncomfortable asking someone else for something, because I think it’s my own responsibility to take care of it. By not asking, I’m underutilizing one of the biggest strengths of being part of family and community. There is more than enough to go around if asking and sharing happen freely.
There’s another layer to this. Sometimes when we ask, we don’t receive because we ask with wrong or selfish motives. By chasing after the wrong things, we are fueling the fire of conflict. James is prompting us to take inventory of our desires and motives. It’s not wrong to need or want things, but the challenge is to seek the right things with a pure heart.
James continues his train of thought by contrasting “friendship with the world” and friendship with God. When we seek things with the wrong motives, we make ourselves friends of the world, and therefore enemies of God. Instead, make yourself a friend of God by humbling yourself and submitting to the leading of his spirit that lives within us. Set aside your selfish desires, as painful as that may be, and ask for truly good things.
James is offering us an antidote to conflicts and violence, advocating for a more peaceful way—partner with God (“draw near” to him) by properly aligning your desires. Seek after and ask for the right things, and have enough as you share in God’s abundance and grace.
Questions to consider:
1. What are some things you need or want, but don’t have?
2. Do you think these needs/wants are because of selfish desires, or are they good things to seek after?
It can be a challenge to control what we say. James describes the tongue like a poisonous and evil beast we can’t tame. He says that it’s a fire that sets the whole cycle of nature ablaze. That’s a lot of power to ascribe to one small part of the body. How can it be so powerful?
James gives us two potent analogies for how this works. You can put a small bit in a horse’s mouth and be able to steer them wherever you want, and you can steer a large ship with a small rudder. It’s the same with the tongue. It’s a small part of the body, but it has great “steering power.”
Have you ever met someone who is just always a positive thinker? It’s equal parts encouraging and annoying how they can always manage to put a positive spin on things. On one side, it seems like they’re not acknowledging the reality of the situation, but on the other, they might have a deeper handle on reality. There is something I can learn from this kind of person. Thinking and saying positive things is like a small investment in those truths. It signals that we are aligned with them and committed to them, and when that is the case, we’ve paved the road for positive actions.
The same could be true for negative thoughts, words, and actions. If you’re putting your chips down on your dismal predictions, you want to be right. Sometimes we want to be right more than we want things to be right, so we can say, “See, I told you so.”
The influence of your tongue goes far beyond just yourself. Imagine you are having a conversation with someone you care about. Somewhere along the line, you start interpreting each other incorrectly (which happens all the time), and one or both of you gets triggered by what the other says. In such a moment, especially when you are angry, it is like all control of the tongue goes out the window. You are suddenly saying hurtful things that you are wishing you didn’t say—even before you finish saying them. The tongue takes over and starts steering the conversation into a fiery disagreement. This is real. You know it’s real because you’ve experienced it. This is the wildfire James is talking about.
For moments like those, it is appropriate to remember to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19). When my pastor, Michael Hoffman, talks about this verse, he says that is why God gave us two ears and only one mouth. If only this was something I could remember more in the moments that count. When you really put effort into hearing people, you take some of the destructive ammunition away from the tongue.
These days, we have quicker and easier ways to cause wildfire than James could ever imagine. I’m pointing at social media. The internet is an amazing innovation and it’s hard to imagine my life without it, but we were clearly not ready for it as a species. Now we are dealing with a beast more ferocious than just the tongue. Now anger, polarization, fear, disillusionment, disinformation, and pure stupidity can be spread across the world in just a short moment with a comment, tweet, post, video, or what-have-you. Those who see or hear it will likely not react or filter themselves as if they are interacting with a real human, and their response will reflect that. It’s a terrible feedback loop. To make it worse, there are algorithms lurking in the background making sure you see the things that are most likely to trigger you. If the tongue is a wildfire, social media is uncontrolled nuclear fission.
Somewhere around 10 years ago now, I realized that social media was not a healthy thing for me, for various reasons. I imagined what would happen if I just quit using it. So one day I quit, and I’ve never missed it. I’m not saying you should do the same, but if you ever find yourself burdened or distracted by it more than you know is healthy, consider it.
The things we say really do affect us. They ripple out and affect our families and friends. They touch our communities and influence our world in ways we don’t even comprehend. This is the reality that James recognizes and wants to warn us about. And given how fast and wide technology allows our communication to spread, that means we have an even higher level of responsibility for what we say.
1. When was the last time you started a wildfire with your words?
2. Are there any strategies you could use to help tame the beast that is your tongue?
In the second chapter of his letter, James continues with his onslaught of practical but difficult advice.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” (James 2:14-19 NRSV)
It would seem from this section that just believing things is no good. If my interpretation of James is correct, that means it’s not enough to go around quoting John 3:16 and telling people they only need to believe in Jesus and they will be saved. There is no checklist of beliefs where you can just tick all the boxes and receive salvation. No single belief will save you, and neither will any magical combination of beliefs.
James is asserting that action must accompany faith in order for it to be the real thing. Doing good works is the evidence of your faith. Faith and good works don’t live isolated lives, but are coupled together. To decouple faith and works is to reveal an inconsistency.
Imagine that someone claims to believe in the value of human life as the image of God, yet they go around hurting or killing people. Or maybe they just neglect to help someone else they know is in need. You would notice the inconsistency in that. They must not truly believe in the value of human life since their actions show they don’t value it. James is telling us that actions are louder than words. He cuts right through the nonsense and says, “Hey, don’t just tell me what you believe. Show me.”
When we talk about this passage, it’s likely that we’ll also think of a passage from Ephesians that seems to be in tension with it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV)
Paul here is saying that works can’t save you; it’s a gift you accept through faith. James is saying faith alone doesn’t save or justify you; you need works too. Is there a conflict between what James and Paul are saying?
Part of the beauty of this collection of writings we call the Bible is that different authors often have different perspectives on things. We have four different gospel accounts, each with their own angle and emphasis. The general story and message are the same, but some of the finer details differ. This is exactly what you would expect if you asked four different people to describe something they witnessed years ago. This is not a problem at all for the gospels, and in actuality, bolsters the case for their authenticity. It shows that four people didn’t get together in a room for a weekend and collude to produce the exact same fairy tale. Four real people wanted to pass on what they witnessed, and they did so under the inspiration of God.
We see the world with two eyes, each from a slightly different angle. This allows us to perceive depth, in other words, to see things in 3-D. Your brain does some kind of trigonometry with the signals from your eyes to give you an idea of how far away something is. If you had only one eye, it would be much harder to judge depth.
We can regard James and Paul as two eyes looking at the topic of salvation from two different angles, and the result is seeing it in 3-D. It’s the same core truth with different emphases. James sees something Paul doesn’t see, and Paul sees something James doesn’t see. At great risk of oversimplification, I’ll try to bring their viewpoints together. They would agree that faith and works go hand-in-hand. James is saying faith alone is not enough, and Paul is saying works alone are not enough. Neither would say that you can earn salvation by works, but would agree that the works are evidence of a saving faith. Well, I took a stab at it. My only hope is that they can get together sometime to discuss this topic and release it as a long-form podcast.
1. Why do you think it is so hard to really live out what you believe?
2. What small steps could you take this week to put your faith in action?
The letter of James has some of the most immediately practical wisdom you can find in the Bible. Some have called it the “Proverbs of the New Testament.” If you are looking for guidelines about how a Christian should live, James is a great place to start.
The only problem is that some of James’ advice is hard to take:
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NRSV)
I don’t know about you, but when I’m going through difficult things in life, I’m not feeling joy. Isn’t joy supposed to be reserved for things that are… joyful? Isn’t joy for when people get married, or when babies are born, or when a new season of your favorite show is available to stream, or when you are going to have tacos? Yes, joy is for the good things in life.
So why does it sound like James is telling us to enjoy suffering? Is he insane?
Well, no. In order to understand what he is saying, we have to think of the long game. We’re not to be joyful because of the difficult times we are facing, but because of the growth potential they provide for us. Going through things teaches us to endure, and being able to endure makes us more mature and complete. Pressures shape us into stronger people. Recall that if you subject carbon to intense heat and pressure, you get diamonds!
Consider any elite athlete. They didn’t get where they are by accident, but through years of difficult and intense training. Do you think they truly enjoyed all of that training? Of course not, but I bet they did enjoy knowing that through their training, they were going to be the GOAT at their sport.
If you want your muscles to become stronger, you have to progressively challenge them. Likewise, when our faith is challenged, it also becomes stronger. James is asking us to take on the right attitude of joy during our times of discomfort, because we know that through those challenges, we are deepening and growing our faith.
In thinking about all these things, I’m reminded of the time Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, under unimaginable distress because he knew he would soon lose his life. Imminent death is the kind of thing that would test anyone’s faith, even Jesus. He didn’t want to go through with it any more than you’d want to drive a stake into your own eye socket. In his situation, I would have been tempted to just run away and wash my hands of the whole thing. I’d say to myself, “This whole messiah business has taken quite a turn and I just want a quiet life somewhere.” I can imagine he had that same temptation. Surely he didn’t enjoy being betrayed, put on trial, scourged, and nailed to a piece of wood to die in total humiliation.
Jesus didn’t have to do what he did, but he was thinking of the long game. Yes, he knew he would face a horrible death, but deep in his heart he had something resembling joy. Not joy because of the circumstances he was enduring, but because of what was just over the horizon. It was this joy and hope that allowed him to muster the strength to say with his dying breath, “It is finished.” He knew that his dying would mean, paradoxically, conquering over the powers of sin and death, and leading us on a mass exodus out of their clutches. He knew that his resurrection would unleash a new reign of God on the earth and again put us at one with God.
Jesus did what he did because he was thinking of us.
A couple questions to reflect on:
1. What are some trials or difficult times that you have had to endure?
2. Can you think of any ways you grew as a result of these times?
As a junior high teacher, there have been a couple of times when a student’s behavior warranted their removal from the classroom, even after multiple redirections and warnings. The school administrator would assign a consequence, such as on-campus suspension for one to three days, and then the student would return to reintegrate back into our class community.
While this scenario isn’t a perfect analogy to what we read in Jeremiah chapters 51 and 52, it has a few similarities.
Throughout generations, Israel had been warned over and over about what would be the consequences if they failed to be obedient to God’s decrees. And yet the kings over God’s people and the people themselves rebelled, they did evil in the eyes of the LORD. And God cannot tolerate sin. There had to be consequences.
So God allowed Babylon to capture Israel. God allowed for His dwelling place, the temple built by Solomon, to be ransacked and destroyed. This was the consequence of decades of disobedience.
But throughout this time, God never stopped loving His people. He longed to see them be restored. And so He made a way. The very kingdom that had caused destruction to Israel, would eventually face its own consequences and be brought down by its enemies. God’s people would be released from captivity.
What we read in Jeremiah 51 and 52, describes what no doubt was a rough patch for Israel, to put it mildly. And it even foretells what it might be like during the time leading up to Christ’s second coming.
But we can also read it through the lens of how God must deal with us as individuals. Because He is the Holy One of Israel, there must be consequences to our sin. We are destined to be separated, exiled, from Him because our sin and His holiness cannot coexist. But God longs to be in a relationship with us. And so God provides for a way, through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, for this relationship to be restored. So even though our lives are “full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel”, we will not be “forsaken by our God, the LORD Almighty”.
The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom. Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader. And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words!
James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”
“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)
The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth. The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider. The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size.
James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue.
“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.” (verse 4)
A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process. But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small.
Small bits control/direct—large horses
Small rudders control/direct—large ships
Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!
“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)
Tell us how you really feel, James! Oh, he did!
Our tongues can get us into so much trouble! Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started. It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished.
Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil, While his words are like scorching fire.”
Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer. Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life. NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues.
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)
What a humbling reprimand!
James finishes this serious warning with another word picture. “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.” (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.
James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father. Worldly versus Heavenly.
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)
Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve. Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?” Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.
These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue. As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.” If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.”
What constitutes the wisdom from above? “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (verse 17)
When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others.
“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)
Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3
As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.
“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)
We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach. But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts.
The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”
So what is the solution? Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
This is why I love the book of James. Simple and direct—easily understood.
A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here.
A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.
He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.
He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.
I hope this story moves you as it moved me. And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17.
“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Faith without works is dead. They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly. James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions. Our faith should be reflected in the life we live. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17
James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab. “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)
We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering. “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.
“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2. Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho. This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites. Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.
James concludes his thoughts with verse 26. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
Without the breath of life, we are dead. Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
We begin a new book of the Bible today—James. James is one of my favorite Bible books. I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN. More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.
James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews. He is blunt and forthright in his writing.
The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus. Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.
In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.
“He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21
The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5
However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed. He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.
The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches. He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.” This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution. They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood.
Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.” Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out. (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.) Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.” James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.
“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials. It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
This is the joy we should have when trials confront us. And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom. (verse 4)
James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching. I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers.
If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it. One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (verses 5-8)
Blunt and to the point! No commentary by me needed!
Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12
“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom. A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world. Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers. (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.) Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”
James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.
“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver. His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day. God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes. How blessed we are. And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”
James continues with his direct approach in verse 19. He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!) Obviously!
Quick, Slow, Slow. In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation. Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice. “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred.”
Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it! The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration.
“Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
“Receive the word”
“Proveyourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”
Don’t hold back, James!
Here comes the explanation/story. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.” (verses 23-25)
A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God.
However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life. Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4. Where do you start?
James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Simple love in action. The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual. We can’t just read it and not follow through. James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1
I have enjoyed going through the first half of the book of Acts with all of you, as the book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I am fascinated with the history of the church after Jesus ascended to heaven, and there is no better source to take a look at than the book of Acts. I hope you all enjoyed the first half of Acts as well. Today, we cover the book of James, another real solid book (really all 66 books are real solid). James is one of the first books of the Bible that I would have a new believer read, as it has a ton of applicable information. The book provides great stepping stones to living a godly life. If you haven’t read the book of James before, stop whatever you’re doing (Well, I guess that means stop reading this devotion), and read the book of James for yourself. If you have read it before, I would still encourage you to revisit this piece of gold.
James covers a wide range of topics throughout his book. Today, we are going to spend most of our time covering two topics found in the book. Before we do that though, I want to mention the other topics found in James. If there is a topic that interests you, then go ahead and see what James himself has to say about it. The main talking points in James that we won’t talk about are: hearing and doing the word, the sin of partiality, taming the tongue, wisdom from above, warning against worldliness, boasting about tomorrow, warning to the rich, patience in suffering, and the prayer of faith. Much could be said about each of these different topics. There is simply not enough time/space to mention all of these topics in our devotion.
With that being said, we will talk about the testing of our faith and the relationship between faith and works. I wanted to talk about the testing of our faith because it connects very well with what we have been talking about with the book of Acts. In the first 14 chapters of Acts, we saw a handful of people suffer because of their faith in Jesus. What does James have to say about this? Well, James says, “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,” (James 1:2-4). In summary, James says to consider it a joy!
I don’t know about you, but it is not my initial thought or feeling to consider a trial a joy. I think a large reason is because it is not fun or enjoyable to go through a trial. However, when we think about the effects of enduring through trials of various kinds, we can come away with an appreciation. When we successfully endure through a trial, it can produce steadfastness, which enables us to be a more complete, well-rounded person.
Every single time that someone goes through a trial, they either grow closer or they grow further away from God. The heroes of our faith that we took a look at in Acts went through various trials, and it appears that they grew closer to God.
Our next main topic is the relationship between faith and works; they have an interesting relationship with one another. They have caused a lot of discussion and even some disagreement in Christian circles. According to James, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:17). That means that a faith that is not accompanied by any works is useless! We need to remember though that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, and we accept that grace through our faith, not our works (Ephesians 2:8). However, we can’t accept God’s grace with a dead faith; it must be a living and active faith that we have to accept God’s grace. We already mentioned that a faith without any works is dead and useless. That means that we must accept God’s grace through our faith, but we have to accompany our faith with our works.
At an initial glance, it can appear at times that James and Paul (in Ephesians) clash with one another. However, that is not the case at all. They both show how faith and works have a beautiful relationship with one another. I remember being stumped over the relationship between faith and works for some time. It took me awhile to see how they work together, and I hope this very short explanation can help clear up the confusion that any of you may have between faith and works.
Well, there we have it, folks. This past week we got to spend time in Acts and James. We have learned a handful of very valuable lessons from the likes of Paul, Peter, and James. If you have read the devotions for this week, I hope you stick with it! There is lots of great content ahead, as we get to explore the writings of Paul and others. As always, there is also a great lineup of writers to help us all dig into God’s Word. God bless!
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – James 1-5