A Brother’s Wisdom 4 – Doing the Good that You Know to Do

No sooner had James challenged us last week with his wisdom about our tongues then we saw Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the Video Music awards with a demand that the real winner should be someone else after Serena Williams had verbally abused a line judge at the US Open the previous day. And members of congress are engaged at name-calling and hypocrisy at all kinds of levels. I asked you all to practice “keeping your tongue” this past week (even if it meant literally holding your tongue). So how did that go for you?

This week we move from the spark to the fire, from the rudder to the ship, from the bit to the horse; that is, we move from conversation about our words to a challenge to how we live! Now we must longer just talk the talk, we have to learn how to walk the walk … come on and let’s pay attention to a brother’s wisdom from James 4:

Friendship with the World
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:1-10).

James continues today from last week’s argument that we are to seek wisdom from above as we encounter the conflicts and divisions within our community and out in the world. Part of what James speaks to in verse 2 is our tendency to provoke violence because we want and covet what is not ours and when we are resisted we sometimes respond with violent words that can lead to violent actions. We remember that Jesus told us that if we are angry with a brother or sister we have already committed murder even if the act if not done – and Jesus tells us we will be held to account for that thought and more especially the words uttered in anger (see Matthew 5:21-26). And then James gets up close with his hearers – the root of these conflicts is that you desire what you do not own. This in and of itself is not the problem. James says the problem lies with asking wrongly for what we want and then using it only for our pleasure (see verse 3). So we are to repent and no longer seek to be a friend to the world … we are called to be friends of God.

Next we encounter a several thorny verses to understand. First, we need to know that in verse 6 James is quoting Proverbs 3:34 which states: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.” The second trickier question is what to make of verse 5. Is it (1) God yearns jealously for the spirit that he made to dwell in us or (2) that the spirit God caused to dwell in us is intensely jealous? One way to read the text suggests that God is jealous of his people and another way of reading the same text suggests that human beings have a tendency to be envious. Part of me wants to answer “duh” and say God can have it both ways. Why? Because I am pretty sure about God’s jealous love of us and fully confident of my desire (and yours, if the truth be told) to be envious!

Either way, verse 6 calls us earnestly seek the grace God has to offer. To do that we need to be humble. James is ever-ready to offer us some help about what that humility looks like. The following are James ten challenges to his fellow Christians (4:7-11a). As you hear this list again, I just ask in a confessional way, “how are you doing?”

1. Submit yourselves therefore to God.
2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
3. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
4. Cleanse your hands, you sinners,
5. Purify your hearts, you double-minded.
6. Lament and mourn and weep.
7. Let your (foolish) laughter be turned into mourning.
8. Let your (empty) joy be turned into dejection.
9. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
10. Do not speak evil against your brother or sister.

Let’s continue to hear James challenging word to his congregation:

Warning against Judging Another
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor (James 4:11-12)?

James moves immediately from listing his challenges to stopping his hearers in their tracks. As I read over that list I tend to think about how others have acted towards me even though I asked you and me to answer in confession “how are you doing” with these challenges. You probably did the same thing and James “stop it!” You are not to judge another because there is one (and only one) lawgiver and judge who is able to save or destroy us! James knew his disperses congregation and he knows us. “Who are you to judge you neighbor?” he inquires. Our answer reveals us to busybodies trying to heap judgment on others while scrambling to avoid God at all costs. It is a game that we cannot win!

Boasting about Tomorrow
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin (James 4:12-17).

James closes the chapter with a pointed comment to the merchants of his day. Even within the church we can begin to think too confidently about how much we are in charge of our lives. First I am going to do this, then I am going to do that, and finally I will have the following in place. Somewhere along the way we join those merchants in forgetting to add “if the Lord wishes” to our pronouncements! When we fail to do that our arrogance will eventually catch up with us. James casually offers one last challenge “if you know what to do and do not do it, you commit sin.” That comment slips in like a thief in the night and drops us to our knees. We want sin to be about what we do wrong, not about not doing right things. James will not let us go! (And that’s why we jump at the chance to make James a “works” letter that we can ignore. This “gotcha” is more than we can handle.)

So let’s consider three possible homework assignments this week:
1. In verse 3 James tells us that “you ask and do not receive, because you ask [God] wrongly.” What is one desire of your heart that you might ask God for? How have you been pursuing this desire on your own? Invite God to lead you in pursuing this desire of the heart in manner worthy of God.
2. The closing “gotcha” verse today says “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.” Pray in these moments for the knowledge and wisdom to do the right thing that God is placing on your heart.
3. Memorize verse 10 which states: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” Where do you need to learn to be humble in your life? Why is it difficult to let God take over this area of your life? Pray for the courage to “let go and let God” lead you into a new path of humility.

A Brother’s Wisdom 3 – The Tongue Can Spark a Forest Fire

Sometimes you just cannot make it up! Here we are reading through the book of James, something I planned months ago, and being challenged by the simple words to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” because our “anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20). No sooner has James challenged us with this wisdom and this week we had Congressman Joe Wilson yelling “You Lie” while President Obama was speaking to a Joint Session of Congress and Serena Williams verbally abusing a line judge at the US Open. They should have been worshiping with us on the Magic Mile!

This week we turn to the third chapter of James and let’s see if he might have another word for us this week.

Taming the Tongue
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,d this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,e yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh (James 3:1-12).

James begins this lesson with a specific word to teachers, but moves quickly to the rest of his listeners. We must guard out tongues because they can do great damage in a few moments. Learning to bridle our tongues may be the finest thing we can ever learn – I am also convinced that this may be the hardest task any of us ever undertakes. James lays it on the line for us, the words we speak are a reflection of our heart. James is echoing here a brother’s wisdom. He may have remembered Jesus saying:

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37).


“Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:16-19).

Jesus was no doubt connected to God as he grew in wisdom and stature (see Luke 2:52) and he probably paid attention to the Rabbis as they offered instruction like the following from the Wisdom Tradition (Proverbs):

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (Proverbs 10:11).

With their mouths the godless would destroy their neighbors, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered (Proverbs 11:9).

Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

A fool’s lips bring strife, and a fool’s mouth invites a flogging. The mouths of fools are their ruin, and their lips a snare to themselves (Proverbs 18:6-7).

Then James twist the rhetorical knife in our hearts as he reminds us that we were all created in the image of God.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).

Because of this, to curse another human being is to curse one created in God’s image (James 3:9).

Let’s return to the rest of the third chapter of James:

Two Kinds of Wisdom
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace forf those who make peace (James 3:13-18).

James closes his words with a challenge to resist the accolades of those who might applaud our “earthly wisdom” and to choose to wait for the “wisdom from above.” Paul reminded his listeners in Corinth that the gospel we preach, Christ crucified and risen, is a stumbling block to Jews who demand signs and foolishness to the Greeks who demand wisdom. Hear again Paul’s words:

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no onei might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Proclaiming Christ Crucified
2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

The True Wisdom of God
6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:7).

James invites us consider the wisdom we receive from above, a heavenly wisdom that begins and ends with God:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path (Proverbs 2:9);

Therefore walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just (Proverbs 2:20).

So I invite you in the coming week to pursue the wisdom from above. Consider this week how you might “hold your tongue” (literally if you have to) in conversations with others. I know in my journey that the practice I developed in my eighteen month sojourn in Kenya of writing all my letters in a journal before transcribing them into an aerogram produced more thoughtful words, especially when I had a difficult word to say to a friend. My writing teacher in seminary said that I needed to write twenty words in a draft for every one word in the final copy – maybe we need to think through twenty words we might say before we open our mouths to say the first word.

Secondly, I invite you ponder these words from James: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Where in your life is God asking you to consider how to be pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, living and demonstrating no partiality or hypocrisy? Ask God for assistance in this task as you move through this week. May a harvest of righteousness be sown in peace in your life this week.

A Brother’s Wisdom 2 – Stop Acting Like a Christian and Be One!

We continue with our study of the book of James at Queen Street Church as we move into some of James’ most memorable lines of teaching. While I was praying and preparing this past week for this second lesson I checked out my colleagues at LifeChurch.tv who launched a sermon series “Stop Just Acting Like a Christian and Be One.” What a challenge!

I also remembered the joke from my childhood. A father asked his daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The young girl responded simply, “A vitamin.” “A vitamin,” the father responded, “whatever gave you that idea?” “The cereal box” came the response. “Its says right there on the side of the box: vitamin … B1!”

So before we even begin today, let me give away my conclusion. Stop acting like a Christian and be one!

Let’s read what James has to say in chapter 2:

Warning against Partiality

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

This extended lesson about hospitality and the sin of favoritism is telling in our time (and every time). First, let’s make some general observations about the text that reveal the Jewish milieu that James speaks out of and into:

1. James question about favoritism in the first verse echoes Elihu’s argument with Job over God’s sense of justice. There he says God “shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19).
2. The royal law of scripture to love one’s neighbor is found in Leviticus 19:18, which God simply states: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
3. Again, James’ concern with partiality remembers the admonition to Israel’s tribal leaders that they “must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike” (Deuteronomy 1:17).
4. The clear word of judgment against murderers and adulterers in verse 11 originates in the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:13-14 and Deuteronomy 5:17-18).

Now the obvious lesson within the Christian community is that Paul teaches us that in Christ their is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female (see Galatians 3:28). We can add neither rich nor poor, neither black nor white, and dare I say it this week Republican nor Democrat for we are made one in Christ. We cannot walk in these doors and start making distinctions about who is honored or not honored, who is great and who is small, who is welcomed and who is rejected. It may be in the world’s DNA and its brokenness that causes us to make those distinctions, but in Christ it is not acceptable! Let me say it plain, whatever ways that we want to utilize to separate people make no sense in God’s eyes. Why? Because mercy triumphs over judgment (verse 13). Mercy does not simply mitigate judgment – mercy trumps judgment! (Paul promises this as well: “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Let’s return to James’ words to the dispersed Jews:

Faith without Works Is Dead

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 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? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 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. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

Now another debate ensues. Do we agree with Paul or James about the importance of faith and works? Let’s compare Romans 3:28 and James 2:24:

“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3:28).
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

As we begin this discussion we need to remember a few things. First, Paul wrote his letters after James did, but if we “read the bible straight through” James’ arguments come after Paul’s and seem to be a corrective. Not so, James is speaking to a different audience at an earlier time than the time period of Paul’s audience. Martin Luther, the German reformer of five centuries ago, would say that people may be saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. That is, true faith is not an opinion (even demons believe in God), it must have an outward expression.

Second, James and Paul use the word justified in differing ways. To James the word justified points to that moment in eternity when we stand before our creator and judge to account for our lives. For Paul to be justified points to that moment when our sin is made right before God through Christ’s atoning act. Centuries later, John Calvin would state “as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as justified who are destitute of good works” (see his Institutes, 3.17.12). John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement summarized the position this way:

1. They do not speak of the same faith: St. Paul speaking of living faith; St. James here, of dead faith.
2. They do not speak of the same works: St. Paul speaking of works antecedent to faith; St. James, of works subsequent to it (John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, James 2:24).

Perhaps we can say with a contemporary word “its not whether you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk.”

In just a few moments we are going to come to table to feast together. At this meal we are reminded of the atoning work that Jesus did for us. We break the bread and share the cup in remembrance of what God did through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we break the bread and share the cup in anticipation of that great day when we shall all be gathered at the gospel feast. And then we depart …, but this week. We cannot simply leave this place with James’ word echoing through our brains, so I have some homework for you to do this week.

This week:

1. God has placed someone in your life who is “poor” and someone who is “rich.” They may be a different color of skin, live in a different part of town, vote for a different party, be richer or poorer than you, etc. Whatever that distinction you treat them differently, maybe even with partiality or neglect. What difference would it make in your life if you saw them as God sees them? Now here the key, I am not asking you to ponder WWJD – what would Jesus do? No this week its WWJHMD – what would Jesus have me do? And when you have pondered, live into the Nike slogan and JUST DO IT! No excuse about time, money, resources … JUST DO IT!

2. This next week we are going to put ourselves into service. During the time that has been our early worship service we will gather here in the fellowship hall, break into teams to go out and pick up our friends from Carver Court, return to share in a light meal together, move into Sunday School, then worship together, and take our young friends home. Now I know how we are … we move away from Sunday and slowly forget what we have promised to God, so today each exit from our sanctuary will have someone with a clipboard available to take your name and number as you leave so that we can remind you of what you have promised.

3. Finally, as we write God’s word on our hearts, memorize with me: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).

A Brother’s Wisdom 1 – Nothing But Joy

As Queen Street Church begins a teaching series on the Letter of James I will post a few notes and links. I am especially grateful to Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed for the title of my series, “A Brother’s Wisdom,” and his thoughtful postings this past year from his soon to be released commentary on James.

Let’s check in with James, chapter 1:

1 James, a servant (or slave) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

Here James, the brother of our Lord, begins a conversation with a Jewish community dispersed around the world (most likely outside of Israel). These Jews are more narrowly “followers of Jesus” as is James. James humbly introduces himself as a servant and reminds us of his brother Jesus in the process. We begin with a portion of James (verses 2-4) which is often quoted as a key to positive thinking. McKnight suggest we should read the rest of James to understand that the “trials of many kinds” (verse 2) look more like the following:

1. 1:2-4 suggests he’s talking about the sorts of things that try one’s very faith and that lead to the virtue of perseverance.
2. 1:5-8 suggests he’s talking about the sorts of things that lead us to cry out to God for wisdom.
3. 1:9-11 suggests he’s talking about stuff the poor are experiencing and here we can explore all kinds of texts in James, including the judicially-sponsored exploitation of the poor (2:1-7) and the oppression of the poor by the rich (5:1-6).

We continue reading from James chapter 1:

Faith and Wisdom
2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

First (verses 3-4), James offers pastoral counsel to his fellow Jews in the midst of their troubles of living in a Roman world and under suspicion and often rejected by their sisters and brothers in the Jewish Community. McKnight offers this gem “James takes the long haul view of suffering. He’s not a wimp; he’s an aggressive, active pastor who knows that God will bring justice and, in that situation, they were to take it on the chin and endure the suffering. God would bring justice.” Further, no where does James suggest that God sends suffering our way or that suffering is an act of God. Rather, James promises that God will be with us in our suffering and through that suffering (testing) produces faith and that from faith comes maturity and completeness (perfection). This may remind us of the Paul’s words: “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Second (verses 5-6), McKinght reminds us that the readers of this letter were “were mostly the oppressed poor (cf. 1:9-11; 2:1-13; 5:1-6) who were tempted to find justice (1:20; 4:1-2; 5:1-6) and perhaps even by using violence (1:20; 4:1-2).” So the wisdom being sought is how to secure the rights and privileges that the rich and powerful never concede without a fight. So following the teaching of Jesus, we should ask, seek, and knock at the door of our God seeking wisdom (see Matthew 7:7-11). Later, James will challenge his readers to engage in peace-mongering (McKnight’s word) in the face of oppression for “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace‑loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Poverty and Riches
9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

James introduces a thought that will be returned to throughout his letter. The rich will disappear like the the flower of the field (it also seems interesting that implication in verse 9 is that the rich will boast in being brought low). Here James echoes the words of his brother in the “Sermon on the Plain” where the poor are blessed and the rich have words of woe spoken over them (see Luke 6:20-26). He also speaks to his mother’s promise that the proud will be scattered, the powerful will be brought down from their thrones, and the rich sent empty away (see Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55).

James continues ….

Trial and Temptation
12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

Temptation and blessing are an interesting pair tied together by James. It is important here to see James’ truth (and it better become ours) that God does not send trials and temptations. Those temptations arise from desires within us, which lead to sin, and ultimately to death. James also clarifies for us that the trials of verses 2 and 3 are not from God as well.

We continue with James …

Hearing and Doing the Word
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Sometimes, I think God’s word just speaks for itself. I cannot figure how anyone can can say that just hearing the word of God and not doing what it tells them to do is being faithful to Jesus. In verses 26 and 27 James suggests (at least the following): bridle your tongue, care for the poor (literally the orphans and widows), and do not live the world’s way. The difference is between observing oneself in a mirror or looking thought the window of God’s way (law) of liberty. Which will we choose? In the interest of not having a worthless religion, let me ask you to consider doing at least one of these this week. Hold your tongue, care for the poor, or live unstained by the world.

This week I also encourage you to write the following words on your heart:

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.