James 5 – Warnings and Prayers

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It is no secret in Scripture that God has a special place in His heart for the oppressed and marginalized.  Much of the mission of the Church is based on a call to care for the widow, the orphan, those in prison, and the oppressed and much of the early church was made up of such people.  The makeup of churches nowadays seems to have changed a bit.  Church appears to be a place where those who have their lives all together go, not where the broken come to receive healing.

James issues a warning to those who are “rich,” but it goes for all those who oppress or ignore the oppressed and marginalized.  Our actions in this regard do not go unnoticed before the thrown of God.  We must be careful in how we act and in where our priorities lie for it is not our earthly wealth that matters to God, but what we did with the blessings, actions that reveal where our heart is, that He has given us that truly matters.

One of the ways we can ensure a proper orientation in our lives in this, and all matters that James brings up, is committing to prayer.  We don’t talk about this enough, I think, in the church.  When we come before God, we come to praise Him, to thank Him, and to lift up our needs and the needs of the world before Him.  We do this because God calls us to, because He is capable of handling our needs, and because we trust Him.  Doing so, however, does not exempt us from action either.  God calls us to be active participants in His work in the world and this happens through the prayers and actions of His people.  When we invite God into situations, we believe that He is going to act in ways the build His Kingdom and further His will in the world.

James 4 – Internal Desires

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Practical Theology, which is one of the main themes of the book of James, doesn’t simply have to do with what we do outwardly as we live out our faith.  Though that is a big component of it, James has already pointed to the fact that what happens outside of us, our actions, come from what is happening inside of us.

Here, he draws on that theme, even more, when he points out that much of the fighting, quarreling, and division that is present in our lives comes from the internal desires that we have not being fulfilled.

Now, some of these desires might be good things and are worth standing up for.  But what James is referring to here is actually the negative things, the things we covet or want.  We may get these things confused for those things that we need, forgetting that God always provides for the things that we need.  When we lose our perspective like this, the little things seem to be way more important than they actually are and we make a big deal out of them, fighting and quarreling about things that are really non-issues.

How do we overcome this?  James tells us to submit ourselves to God and resist these temptations.  When we do this, the devil will flee from us.  He makes it sound so simple…

However, the reality of what James is saying here brings us back to the very core of our identity in Christ.  We are those who are unable to save ourselves, unable to free ourselves, and unable to provide for ourselves; WE NEED GOD.  James calls us to a life of daily dependence on God for our protection and provision.

While future planning is not necessarily a bad thing, as Christians we are called to do it through the lens of daily dependence.  We do not do things under our own power, but because of God’s provision and blessing in our lives.  This is the essence of practical theology too, that our lives would daily reflect our full dependence on God alone.

James 3 – Deadly Tongues

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In Matthew 15, Jesus talks very specifically about the power of the tongue and what comes out of us.  He shows a contrast between the teachings of the Pharisees, who talk about unclean food as being that which makes us dirty and defiled and that which comes out of our mouth.  The things we say, Jesus points out, are the things that come from our heart and it is what which is in our heart that causes us to sin.

James picks up on this teaching as he continues to lay out a practical theology of living out our faith through what we do.  The tongue, he says, is one of the most powerful elements of our bodies and it can be what steers us into trouble or our of it as well.  He also points out the dichotomy (a contrast between two things that are completely opposite) in having a tongue that both speaks the praises of God and also curses the things around him or her.  These things shouldn’t exist together, but far too often they do.

Language is the very essence of civilization.  Nothing that humankind has already achieved would be possible without it.  How we speak, though, is not often taken into account when we talk about the direction of cultures and people.  Yet James points out that something as seemingly simple as this could change the course of a much greater group.  The ship is steered by the rutter, the forest burns because of one small spark.

Could it be that culture, ideology, even governments could change because of an intentional change in how we speak to each other?  The negative impacts of speech are certainly evident in our culture today, especially in this current election cycle.  I wonder what the world would be like if we chose not to engage in hateful, divisive rhetoric (true of all political parties and their adherents).  I wonder how our relationships with those that don’t think, feel, look, or believe like we do would change if we chose our words and actions carefully?

James 2 – Favoritism

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Continuing in the mindset of practical theology, James offers some practical thoughts on how our lives and actions are to be lived out in relationship to other people.  What he says is, “Don’t show favoritism.”  But what actually does that mean?

Favoritism is defined as “the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.”  This may not seem like a very big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is profoundly important when it comes to the application of grace and love in our lives.  The act of showing favoritism in any situation is intentionally divisive, selective, and willfully unloving in nature.  You cannot favor one person over another and say that you love them the same.

This, as James says, is a violation of the Law which says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We’ve talked often about how the Law gets somewhat of a bad wrap at times, being shown as that which enslaves or binds us. That, however, was not and is not the intention of the Law.  James says that the Law was intended for freedom which, I think, is why Jesus comes to fulfill it, not remove it.

Now, through Jesus Christ, we are no longer subject to some of the provisions of the Law, but the “meat and potatoes” of the Law still function and indeed applies to the life of faith.  Here, then, is why James says that favoritism is important to avoid in our lives.  Favoritism, in its raw form, is discrimination, division, exclusion; each is the antonym of the love that God calls us to live.

It goes far deeper than we think.  Often this gets applied to families.  Parents shouldn’t show favoritism among their kids, yes.  But in reality, this command applies to our entire life.  We must work to remove favoritism and all its roots from our hearts because we don’t have to go far inside to see favoritism among family members or peers become preferences, cliques, and division in the community of faith… and if these things are alive and well inside the church, things like racism, sexism, and discrimination of other sorts can be quick to follow.

James 1 – New Testament Wisdom

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The book of James is sometimes referred to as the “Proverbs of the New Testament.”  James begins his writing by talking about wisdom and faith in the midst of persecution.  Keep in mind what we have learned, that there as a significant amount of persecution taking place in the first century, when the New Testament was written, and James, being in Jerusalem, was witness to much of it.

James’ appeal to wisdom in the midst of this, though, does not veer off the path that we’ve seen throughout the New Testament, but rather embraces many of the themes of it using language that we’ve only rarely seen.  Jesus is referred to as “the wisdom of God,” by Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth, James echoes these words as he appeals to seeking “wisdom” in difficult times.

In the book of Proverbs, one of the key lines is “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Now, “fearing” God doesn’t have anything to do with being afraid, but rather it is a seeking after, or following of God that is the foundation for wisdom.  James picks up on that theme here.  How are we to endure persecution?  By seeking wisdom or, in other words, by following the example of Christ.

He then goes on to cite several examples of this, most of which can be found in Jesus’ teachings as well.  Humility, faith, steadfastness, meekness, and action are all a part of the core of Jesus’ teachings and are all central themes of the New Testament message and encouragement to believers everywhere.

Like the book of Proverbs, which doesn’t mention God directly at all, James doesn’t necessarily lay out the Gospel message in precise detail.  However, the echoes of God’s grace and the message of Christ’s teachings can be found throughout the book of James in practical and applicable ways for our everyday life.

Introduction to James

James is one of the “General Epistles,” having no specified audience or church that it was written to.  These writings, like many of the other epistles, would have been copied by hand and distributed widely throughout the early church.

The author of this book is widely agreed upon to be James, the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the church in Jerusalem for approximately 15 years.  He is mentioned multiple times in the book of Acts as holding this position and being a part of many of the councils and meetings that took place there.  An interesting fact about this is that, for several generations after the formation of the church, tradition has it that a relative of Jesus was appointed to be the head of the church in Jerusalem.

Different than much of the rest of the New Testament, James is a very practical book, focusing on the application of theology in everyday life.  For some, this makes James a favorite while for others, it can be confounding and theologically confusing.  There have been many arguments about how James’ theology mixes with that of Paul.

There have been many arguments about how James’ theology mixes with that of Paul.  James seems to have a “works first” approach, whereas Paul is all about grace; they often appear to be in conflict with one another.  However, when we bring them both together, especially looking at the whole of Paul’s writing, we see that works, how we live our lives in response to the Gospel of grace, are very important.  We are called to live transformed lives.

However, when we bring them both together, especially looking at the whole of Paul’s writing, we see that works, how we live our lives in response to the Gospel of grace, are very important.  We are called to live transformed lives in response to God’s love, not simply continuing on in our old patterns.  Our lives should reveal the faith that we attest to and James gives practical examples of how to do just that.

James 2:14-26 "Let's Talk About Obedience"