Ready your hearts for a slow meditation.
James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.
James the brother of Jesus calls himself Jesus’s servant and equates him with God, whom he also serves. He writes to Jewish Christians and all who count themselves to be children of Abraham through faith. The recipients need encouragement in their revised understanding of what it means to be blessed, to help them move from a Deuteronomy 28 understanding of blessing to the blessings found in the new kingdom of Jesus.
James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,
The word “pure joy” stuck out to me in the NIV translation; however, inspection of the Greek proved the ESV’s “all joy” to be the more accurate translation. James 1:2 uses Πᾶσαν, which means all. I had hoped that it was the same word used to describe wisdom, but James 3:17 says that wisdom is first ἁγνή. Nevertheless, I see why the NIV uses “pure” in its translation. If you have all joy, with nothing else mixed in with it, then it is a pure joy. Is this a joy devoid of sorrow or other feelings? Or is the joy pure in the sense that it is fully joy because it is devoid of selfishness? Or is it all joy because of self-interest that is going to receive something that is truly good and lasts forever? I observe that God promotes self-interest, tempered by love for others as ourselves and accurate understanding of what is truly a gain, so I suspect the latter.
James 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Perseverance. Perseverance is when you have the choice to quit or continue. It is the time when you ask “is God really good?” And you answer “yes.” When I ran my marathon and reached mile 18, there was a hill, and I said to myself, “this is what you trained for.” (When talking to yourself, you can end in a preposition.) I knew there would be a hill at the point when glycogen stores would be depleted, and my plan was to let myself walk for the hill and then resume running. With some encouragement from friends who cheered and literally ran beside me, I finished the race. James 1:12 was not a part of this week’s selection, but it should be because it highlights that we are running with a goal and prize in mind: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.“
James 1:4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Again, this is about self-interest. Somehow persevering in our faith transforms us. Be all you can be.
James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
I shared earlier this week that I worried that I contributed to my unfulfilled calling through my lack of wisdom. I cannot unravel my past and figure out every instance where I was mistaken, where I was foolish, and/or where God has hemmed me in for his own purposes, but I can trust that if I did make mistakes, that God will not find fault with me. He gives “μὴ ὀνειδίζοντος,” which means “without reproach.” I can ask him now for wisdom, and he will give me wisdom without accusing me of not having wisdom in the past. God is gracious and good.
James 1:6-8 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
At first these verses bothered me. Why does God want us to have faith? Why is doubt an issue? But perhaps there are reasons far beyond our comprehension – spiritual realities, etc. Perhaps the very nature of wisdom is dissipated by anxiety. Perhaps God loves to be trusted as good and giving. And hey – we can have wisdom!
James 1:9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.
This is so contrary to my American sensibilities. The depth of James’s perception of this life in the context of the life to come is challenging. There are so many issues here – it’s not just money and economic status. It is about socioeconomic status, and with it a host of differences ranging from education to approach to child-raising to relationship with authority to the pronunciation of words and differing ideas of what is good. (Do you eat Cheez-Whiz or chevre coated in dill from Monterey?) I am tempted to elaborate on my prejudices and envy and why I think it is important to not let a celebration of humble origins be a celebration of ignorance and lack of wisdom. Because with a cultural heritage of poverty come some ways handed down that are sometimes not as wise as what the lucky children of the rich receive. I really enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, because he highlights the combination of base ability with hard work (10,000 hours) alongside timing and the cultural heritage of values. But really, I am missing the point here. Gladwell is talking about how to succeed in this life, but James has an eternal focus. James is remembering that Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor are going to reign with Christ. We have a high position.
James 1:10-11 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
James sees people in high positions with money, influence, and power, and he is not impressed. Riches and power are here today and gone tomorrow. God had used the promise of earthly treasure to help train Israel, but the real treasure and the real kingdom are coming with the new heavens and new earth. Treasures on this current earth are not bad. They are just not the real thing.
Friday’s passage in FBC’s bible-study guide is Psalm 145. I see it as a response of praise to God’s goodness:
Psalm 145 (ESV)
A Song of Praise. Of David.
145 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
This series is inspired (but not sponsored) by FBC (First Baptist Church of Davis) and their fall focus running from October 4, 2015 through November 28, 2015. When I first heard FBC was doing this series, the lectionary reading and sermon that day at my own church, Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, was from the book of James, and it really spoke to me; James is also the first bible study I completed on my own: I was fourteen, and I wrote with colored markers in a spiral notebook each morning before school, using an observation-reflection-action method similar to the one outlined in FBC’s bible-study guide. I am looking forward to spending more time meditating on this challenging book of the New Testament. I will be using the bible study guide provided by FBC with the accompanying scripture throughout this series; however, my methodology might hop around from anecdotal to more analytical word study. My goal is to do this study daily, or at least a few times a week! A big thanks to FBC for their theme, chosen scriptures, and structure of this study.