James Chapters 4 and 5

Yes, I promise I completed my in depth month into James, but I didn’t post on it for the last couple of weeks.  So, better late than never, here are my posts on James 4 and 5.

James chapter 4 is like an 80s CCM lyric explosion.  “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” “Come near to God and God will come near to you.” “Humble yourselves before the Lord.”
I almost cannot read it without breaking into song.

But, at it’s bottom line, James 4 is the same as the two that have come before – it’s about acting rightly.  Doing good, seeking God.
James 4 begins with words and warnings on fighting with others – and reminds us that our poor behavior towards others begins within ourselves.  This is not an easy thing to wrap our minds around, since we like to blame others and see the worst in those around us.
The chapter comes to a head at verse 7 – reminding us to submit to God.  Again, I think we recoil at this imagery, because we’ve been raised in a culture where being on top is best, being powerful is important and being dominant in all things is seen as a strength.  James challenges this ideal of dominance, and calls us to put God where God belongs and us where we belong. And if it weren’t clear enough, James concludes his 4th chapter with a reminder that in the grand scheme of things, we aren’t actually that big of a deal.  “what is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (14)
Wow.  Way to bring down the room, James.
But really – as harsh as it seems – it’s an important reminder of who is in charge (HINT: it’s not you or me).  I think we need the harshness, the bluntness of James here.  It’s not comfortable, but it’s truth.

Continuing on into chapter 5, James has harsh words for the wealthy that make money on the backs of others.  We should listen to these words as well…for we play roles in this same system that James is talking about.  It’s important for us to know where our food and clothing come from, and if the people helping to make them are being fairly compensated. Why? Because their lives matter to God and should matter to us.
James writes to just those people who are being mistreated as well, and reminds them that God is coming to be with them, to rescue them, to show them love and compassion.
James concludes his whole letter with a reminder that no matter what the circumstance, we should pray. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (16)

So there is James.
A book of action. And the kind of action that I want to try to actually do. Not just read and say that sounds great and then go back to doing what I always do.  No – James calls us to change, to be aware and open to the actions of God at work in the world and then not to just stand there watching but to GO AND JOIN IN with what God is doing in the world.
I’m in.
Are you?


James Chapter 3 Reflections

Oh man – James is on a roll now!
He leaves chapter two “faith without works is dead” and continues on by talking about the power of speech.
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (3:6)

James uses all sorts of images to remind us of the power of our words to do good or evil in the world:
Bits in the mouths of horses to direct the entire animal
Small rudder can steer a large boat
Forest fires start with only a spark

James is not shying away from making sure we understand how important it is to pay attention to what we say.
This fits so well with what James is saying about faith and works: we can SAY we believe, but unless we act it out in the world, it means nothing.
Likewise, we can’t say we love God and then speak poorly about others.
It’s just not possible.
“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (3:11)
James doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation.
Your words say as much about your faith as your actions.
So speak wisely, speak kindly, and speak with love.

James ends this 3rd chapter with a lovely reminder of how to tell if things are from heaven or not… it’s a recipe of sorts:
“wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.” (3:17)

Want to know if what you’re saying or hearing is from heaven? Put your words or the words of others to the test – are they first pure? Peace-loving? Considerate? Full of mercy and good fruit? Are they then impartial and sincere?
I think we would take a lot less words to heart, we’d believe a lot less of what we hear, and we’d probably speak a lot less if we held speech to this standard.

Try it this week.  And let me know what happens.

Thoughts on James 2

Into James 2 we go!

I preached on this text this past Sunday – so I feel like I’ve done this already.
If you missed it – go back and check out the podcast or scroll back one post on this blog for the transcript.

James 2 is moving the call to action from general to particular.
And really, James is reminding us that we cannot just say we believe things.
We have to actually do something.
James brings up this issue of someone walking into worship dressed really nicely and being given much care and attention, and then someone else walks in all dirty and they are told to go sit over in the corner.
James calls this favoritism.
And it does not fly.
You cannot show favoritism AND believe in Jesus, James says. (2:1)
What good is that “belief” if it doesn’t help anyone?
What good is that “belief” if it doesn’t act?
James is being none to subtle here – Your belief is NO GOOD without actions to back it up.
Faith without works, James says, is dead. (2:17)

I preached a bit on this part on Sunday – but I want to be clear here too – works here are works on behalf of the neighbor, not works that you do to get right with God.
James knows this.
But he’s not so sure everyone else does.
See, people were hearing that they were “saved by faith” and they began to think they no longer had to act.  They were saved!  Yipee!
But James knew that the people who would be most affected by this false belief were the poor – those who relied on the actions of others to survive.
He is reminding the early church, and US, that our faith saves us, but our faith cannot and is not true or real without actions on behalf of the poor and needy.
It is how we act that shows our faith.
Not because God needs our works to earn our salvation – but because our neighbor needs them to live.
I love the end of the 2nd chapter when James even pulls out Abraham as the example of this.  Yes, he says, yes, we laud Abraham as the greatest most faithful man, but he acted his faith out by placing his son on the altar. (2:21)
He says it was the action, not the words of Abraham that made his faith great. (2:24)

My thoughts on James Chapter 2?  One of my favorite chapters in the Bible.
You cannot have inactive faith.  It doesn’t exist.
It’s dead.
Faith is, by definition – alive and active.


Thoughts on James 1

So as my last blog post stated – I’m reading through James this month – one chapter a week. It’s nice to spend some time digging deeper, and allowing the challenges of James to have time to be worked out.
Since James is a book of action, it seems right to give each call to action some time so I can actually DO it.

Read James 1 here, before reading my commentary below.

A little history for you:
James is commonly held to have been penned by James the brother of Jesus.  James is named one of the pillars of the early church by Paul (in Galatians 2:9), which is an honor only given to James, Peter and John.
Basically – James is kind of a big deal.

Unlike Paul, James isn’t writing to a specific church community, but instead to the “twelve tribes” (as he says in 1:1).  This could literally mean the people of Israel, or a more general “the church” meaning all Jewish and Gentile believers around in the time James was writing.

The first chapter of James is kind of ridiculous.
Not ha-ha ridiculous, but oh-my-gosh-how-can-he-pack-so-many-things-into-such-a-short-space ridiculous.
I mean seriously James.

So while there is a lot I could go with in this first chapter, I’m going to stick with three parts:
1. Joy and Endurance
2. Quick to listen, slow to speak
3. Do-ers

So first – Joy and Endurance. Verse 2 and 3 of chapter one start us off by saying that we should consider it “pure joy” when we face painful things.  Because those things help us develop endurance, which is necessary for maturity of faith.
Um, what?
Does this mean I should be glad when my life is painful?
Why would you ever say such a thing James?

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for joy in all circumstances, but going through pain does not mean we have to enjoy it.
But, James does make a good point about our faith being tested.  How will we know what we’re made of if we never get challenged?
I see this as training for a marathon or other athletic event but then never actually doing it.  How will we know if our training holds up?  How will we know how strong we really are?
I think James is just trying to say that when we go through difficult circumstances it changes our faith.
Does that mean we can’t have faith unless we have gone through pain or trials?  No.  Faith isn’t contingent on being tested.
This simply means that faith that has been put through fire is different than faith that hasn’t.
The churchy term for this is “refiners fire.”  It’s when gold and silver are placed into a fire and heated up.  They were gold and silver beforehand, but when they are removed from the fire, they are different – more precious even.
James is asking us, right off the bat, to look at the things in our lives that challenge us as ways to grow and mature in our faith.

Quick to listen – slow to speak.  (chapter 1, verse 19)
Oh man.
James, you are KILLING ME here.
This is, for me, the most challenging verse in the entire first chapter.
I like to speak.
I like to be right.
I like to fix things.
I like to put those all together.
And that doesn’t always make for the best combination.
What might be different about our society if we all took the time to be quick to listen and slow to speak?
This is where the first big challenge of James comes this week. I’m going to try to put this one into action and I encourage you to do it with me.
Next time you disagree with someone (which is likely going to happen in about three point two seconds on facebook or twitter), think about how you can be quick to listen.  What if your outrage and anger over someone else’s point of view came slowly?  What might that look like?

Verse 22 says to not just listen to the word, but “Do what it says.”  James is making a big statement here, and asking people to not just SAY they believe in God, to not just SAY they follow Jesus, but to go out and act as if that were true.
My colleague Chad preached a GREAT sermon on this very thing last week (which I’ll continue this Sunday, if you’re in town) and you can check it out here.
We are called to be do-ers of the word.
Challenge #2 this week is to ask yourself what you think that might look like for you?

Lastly – if you are looking for memory verses from Chapter 1, I’d go with these:
1:19 and 1:27

Work on your challenges – and let me know what you think…

Chapter 2 next week!