After posting from my notes on James 1 last week, I decided to continue to share these notes.
- Practice what you preach.
- Don’t just say with the lips, practice with the life.
- Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.
Or, as my father used to say, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.”
James attacks the idea that being a Christian is simply a matter of agreeing to a few spiritual truths without experiencing any real change in behavior or thought. James addresses several matters in which Christian behavior should reflect Christian faith.
James 1:5-8 – If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
- True faith endures in time of trouble
- True faith believes in God
James 1:9-12 – Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements. God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Here, James takes up another theme – one’s relationship to material possessions. There are indications in the New Testament that humble circumstances were a common trial among Christians. In the first place, the explicit appeal to the poor in Christ’s preaching likely attracted numerous poor people among the earliest converts.
Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
We probably consider our self to be in the group of poor people. But that is relative.
Regardless of whether we consider our self to be poor or rich financially, money is the context for some of our most common and spiritually significant trials.
- We worry about how our financial needs will be met.
- We sometimes feel a failure because we don’t have as much as others around us.
- We feel insecure about our ability to manage finances and feel guilty about mistakes we have made in our financial choices.
- We sometimes can feel self-pity or complain or envy others who can buy and do things we cannot.
Matthew 6:19-24 – Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
James attacks 3 functions of money.
- Money does not mean personal worth. James points out that even if one is poor, if he has received forgiveness of sins from God, he has been blessed and that is what he should take pride in.
- Money does not mean security. James is encouraging Christians not to be deceived by the apparent security of the rich. His wealth cannot shield him from being humbled. His wealth cannot buy him eternal life.
- Money can distract us from the “real” blessing. The crown of life. The word used here is stephanos and refers to the wreath (garland), awarded to a victor in the ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics); the crown of victory. It is the word used by Paul, Peter and John and refers to the Christian’s ultimate goal.
Luke 12:13-21 – Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
1 Corinthians 9:25 – All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.
1 Peter 5:4 – And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
We know that one ultimate goal on James’s mind is that of becoming mature and complete, not lacking anything. The crown must include fulfillment of that goal of true life. This crown is assured; it is promised to them. James wants his readers to be certain of this as they endure deprivation now. The crown is promised specifically to those who love him.
This idea of loving God for James carries a strong emphasis on faithfully obeying him as Jesus said in John 14:15. “If you love me, keep my commandments”
Finally, James has begun the sentence with “blessed” makarios, like a new beatitude recalling Matthew 5:3-10 and especially 5:11-12, where Jesus encouraged perseverance in trials “because great is your reward in heaven.” Putting these observations together, the crown of life would be the ultimate reward, the fulfillment of eternal life and the exaltation with Christ which will be enjoyed by those who, because of faith in Christ, have loved God enough to live faithfully, obeying him even through trials.
James calls us to believe this: the crown of eternal life is worth more than any advantage to be gained by money in this life. Truly blessed is the one whose heart is set on this goal.
James 1:13-18 – And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
We know when Jesus took on the nature of man, that natural side of him was tempted – but without sin. But as God in His divine nature, He is not tempted to do wrong.
James assures us that God does not tempt us. We know there may be times of testings to strengthen us but God will never tempt us to do wrong.
So where do temptations come from?
- The origin is our own evil desire. James’s term is epithymia, a “desire” or “longing” especially with evil meaning. So we can’t blame others. “The devil made me do it.”
- The action of the temptation is to drag away and to entice. This is a hunting and fishing metaphor (dragged away as by a predator; enticed as by a lure). When considering yielding to temptation we are in danger of becoming the prey of Satan.
- The effect of the temptation leads to death. James uses the image of a woman bearing a child. First the desire does the conceiving, then that leads to birth of sin and just as a child grows when he is given food and care, so sin will grow into death if we give it food and care.
James is warning Christians to see the danger, and so to abhor sin, and therefore to deny the evil desire from which sin comes.