The Lord's brother covers a variety of topics but focuses particularly on issues relating to the rich and the dangers of the tongue. There is a lot of fruitful advice here that is not emphasized as much in the other epistles.
Notes on the Book of James
- "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 English Standard Version). I think this is an important explanation for why we are tested, or at least part of the reason why, we are tested to increase our faith in God as our testing provides him an opportunity to demonstrate his saving power and so increases our faith in him. Testing is necessary to build up our faith and bring us to perfection in Christ.
- "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." (James 1:5-6 ESV). All petitions should be done in full faith, not in a half-hearted manner. If you have doubts then pray for the Lord to increase your faith.
- We should not put any stock in our material blessings, for they are temporal and the rich man's ventures "fade away in the midst of his pursuits." (James 1:11 ESV).
- You will be blessed by God if you are steadfast in your trials and tribulations. (James 1:12)
- God cannot be tempted and does not tempt us, we allow ourselves to be tempted by yielding to our passions, therefore we should never blame God for yielding to temptations. (James 1:13-15)
- "[L]et every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God...receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:19-21 ESV)
- If you are not a doer of the word you are not firm in your faith, if you are a doer you will be blessed in your doing. (James 1:22-25)
- Part of "doing" is controlling your tongue, a person who gives himself free license to blaspheme and curse does not have religion within him. (James 1:26)
- Visiting the poor such as orphans and widows is pure religion, in addition to not getting entangled in the affairs of the world. (James 1:27)
- We should show no partiality (in particular to the rich) in social relations in the Church. (James 2:1-6). Per James it is the rich who oppress the Christians. (James 2:6). I think what James is saying here is that there is a temptation to give preference to people of status and wealth instead of those without resources, yet James argues that it is exactly because these people have resources that they can use those resources for evil such as persecuting Christians through legal schemes and craftiness, at least that's my understanding.
- I think the matter of partiality is really a matter of idolatry, I believe it is a constant temptation to churches (and in particular church leaders) to cater to the wealthy. This can be in seats of preference in church but I don't think it's usually that obvious, I think this plays out often in the types of sermons that are preached, I don't think I've heard too many sermons that disparage the seeking of wealth, in fact there seems to be a trend that gives full license to the pursuit of wealth as sanctioned by God. It is a sin to be rich but money brings a variety of temptations with it and both the rich and the poor need to have the full gospel preached to them, warning them in a spirit of love of the dangers of wealth.
- "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and any one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:14-17 ESV). I believe the argument James is making here is that works are a sign of the faith that we have and that a statement of bare faith is not truly faith because there are not demonstrations of the life of Christ working through the person.
- "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (James 3:1 ESV). This is something I try to keep in mind in terms of what I write about. I try not to go outside of things I feel comfortable speaking about lest I incur judgment for speaking out of turn.
- "And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body." (James 3:3 ESV). This is a doctrine that I believe is under-discussed in the Church today, that is that we can gain greatly from controlling what we say and that we should have more awareness of the things we say. I have found that less is more when it comes to speaking and the more talkative I am the more at risk I am of saying something sinful. It's also important to mind one's environment. If you choose to go to a bar or a place where there will be a lot of alcohol around you can probably guess there will be a different type of conversation in those places then there would be in church, even if you're not drinking the people around you probably will be and this will affect what they talk about and you will be at risk of being pulled into an ungodly conversation. I also think its important to avoid "water cooler" situations which can be ripe for office gossip.
- "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness." (James 3:5-6 ESV)
- "Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." (James 3:13 ESV). Keeping up with the theme of discretion, James advises that we show wisdom not with our words but with our actions.
- "[W]here jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:16-17 ESV). James here provides a test for our words and the words of others, if what we say builds up then it will have these qualities but if it comes from a desire to compete or exalt ourselves over others with our "wisdom" then it will not produce these good fruits. We should strive to sow peace as James says that we may reap righteousness.
- "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?" (James 4:1 ESV). I confess myself that I frequently struggle against ungodly tendencies toward being self-seeking but this produces much evil if relented to, as James states "[y]ou desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions." (James 4:2-3 ESV)
- "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4 ESV). This is a truth that I find myself living out every day, the struggle against wanting to please God and wanting to have some status or position in the world, to be respected and honored among men. But this double-mindedness makes me an enemy of God and so I must strive against people-pleasing lest I be an enemy of the Lord and disloyal to him.
- "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." (James 4:7-8 ESV). To combat against the devil we must do two things at the same time, resist his advances and also pray to the Lord and draw close to his protective presence. We cannot resist the devil on our own self-will and to do so would be foolish.
- "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." (James 4:10 ESV). This is something else that I need to work on, as pride is always ready to rear its ugly head.
- "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'-yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring....Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (James 4:13-17 ESV). This is another sin I struggle with, speaking out of turn about what the future will bring when I have no idea what the next minute will bring. I pray that the Lord helps all of us to keep in mind that the future is in God's hands and according to his will.
- "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten....You have laid up treasures in the last days." (James 5:1-3 ESV). How many pastors these days would make this statement? And yet it's a necessary statement that I think is actually not so much disparaging the rich then exhorting them not to hoard their money but to spend it furthering the kingdom of God and thereby laying up treasures in heaven.
- "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord." (James 5:7 ESV). There will be many trials ahead of us and so patience is necessary.
- "Behold, we consider those blessed who remain steadfast." (James 5:11 ESV). You are blessed if you hold on to the faith in times of trial.
- "But above all my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." (James 5:12 ESV). This is another issue that is not frequently practiced among the brethren, how can we swear to a future event when we know not what the future will bring? If we are Christian, why do we need to swear as to our integrity (Bonhoeffer writes about this more extensively in his book "The Cost of Discipleship").
- If we are suffering we should pray, if we are cheerful we should sing praises, if we are sick we should have the elders of the church pray for us and anoint us with oil. (James 5:13-14)
- We should also confess our sins to our brothers and pray for each other so that we may be healed. (James 5:16)
- "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20 ESV). He who captures souls is wise.
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