Key Points Lessons and Teachings from James
By Brother Michel Lankford
A Personal Note:
Hello and God bless you. What follows is a devotional Bible study of the book of James. Late last year, the Lord was impressing upon me that I should start reading certain books of Scripture, and keeping a "running list of Key Points, Lessons, Guiding principles and Teachings from His word as I read. So, in obedience to the Lord, I began reading books of Scripture, one section at a time, all the while keeping a running list of God's instructions as he gives me grace to do so. Although I always believed it, I have become increasingly more aware and solidified in the idea that God's word is incredibly practical. The Lord really does want us to succeed in understanding and obeying Him!
Initially I had not intended on distributing these studies. They were primarily meant for my own personal devotion, instruction and edification. In late December 2005, I was in the middle of studying the book of Malachi when God impressed upon me that I should share these products of my quiet time with others. So I started sharing them with the members of the small home groups that God allows me the privilege to lead. Word started getting around from there.
This is really the product of my life's two all consuming passions. My first passion is to grow in loving, trusting, understanding and obeying my Heavenly Father and my Savior by His Spirit. My second lifetime all consuming passion, is loving and nurturing my brethren and fellow believers, and hoping them to succeed in doing the same.
Please understand, that this study is not meant to be either exhaustive or exhausting. Think of it as a leisurely jog, not as a quick sprint through the word. Don't feel like you need to read this right away. Keep it on your hard drive, or print it and keep it in a handy location. If you're already doing your own devotions, then stay on the track that God has you. If you're between devotional readings or you feel lead to go to the book of James though, consider using this. Don't feel like you have to read it all in one sitting. Take one portion a day. That's what I did. One chapter at a time, one section at a time and one concept at a time.
Meanwhile, it is my sincere hope that in whatever space you find yourself in your journey of faith, that this study will help you to walk with our Lord and succeed in obeying him. God bless you.
Brother Michel Lankford
An Overview & Vital Statistics in the Book of James
The Author: While there is some disagreement between Roman Catholic and Protestant points of view, it is largely regarded and most biblically accurate that the James who wrote this epistle was most likely the half-brother of Jesus the Messiah. Some Roman Catholics generally dispute this, because they teach as doctrine the idea that the mother of Jesus was eternally a virgin. However, such a point of view directly flies in the face of two gospels in canonical Scripture, (see Matthew 1:24-25 , Matthew 13:47-58; Mark 6:3). This certainly indicates that Jesus the Christ was speaking and that the people of Nazareth knew who he was in relation to his brothers and sisters. (RML)
It should be pointed out that there are at least four men recorded with the name of James in the New Testament. They are:
1) James, the father of Judas (not Iscariot), is mentioned twice (Luke 6:16 ; Acts 1:13) as the father of one of the twelve disciples, but is otherwise completely unknown.
2) James, the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), elsewhere called James the Less (Mark 15:40), was one of the twelve disciples. Apart from being listed with the other disciples, this James is completely obscure, and it is doubtful that he is the authoritative figure behind the epistle. Some attempts have been made to identify this James with the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19), but this view is difficult to reconcile with the gospel accounts.
(3) James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 3:17; 10:35; 13:3; Luke 9:54; Acts 1:13), was one of Jesus’ intimate disciples, but his martyrdom by a.d. 44 (Acts 12:2) makes it very unlikely that he wrote this epistle.
(4) James, the Lord’s brother (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19), was one of the "pillars" in the church in Jerusalem (The Open Bible - introduction to the book of James "the author" Thomas Nelson publishers, Nashville, Tennessee 1997)
The fact that there are four James listed in the New Testament certainly attests to the idea that it was a very popular name in the first century. the name James was a first century derivative of Jacob. (Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names)
Date of Writing: Only 16 years after the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, James is considered one of the earliest apostolic letters. It was written around 49A.D. Significantly, it predates the Jerusalem Council by at least a year. (50 A.D.) We know this because most of the apostolic letters written after 50 A.D. cover some of the topics discussed at that council. James obviously does not.
The Audience: One of the things that helps us to date the timing of James' epistle is that he addresses this letter "to the 12 tribes scattered abroad. This obviously refers to the 12 tribes of God's chosen people the Jews who are scattered around the world. Specifically though, James is choosing to address this letter to those Jews who have already believed in accepted that Jesus is the Messiah. The reason that this first line helps us to place the letter in the context of church history, is that James' address to the 12 tribes, demonstrates that he is writing this at a time when Christianity is still viewed by many as an offshoot or a denomination of Judaism. This is further illustrated by the fact that there is absolutely no mention a Gentile Christians, demonstrating that the message of the gospel had not yet widespread to Gentile communities. In a larger sense the teachings in James of course apply to every believer who lives to please God. - RML.
The Key Message: We are all familiar with the song, "If you're happy and you know it... then your face will surely show it." If there is one resounding message in the book of James it is, "If you have the faith of Christ and know it... then your life and works will show it." The book of James is all about putting muscles and actions behind what we believe. Clearly James is making the point that to have a faith which does not motivate you to action is "dead faith." In some ways, that can be worse than no faith at all. - RML.
Literary Feature(s): The book of James has some very interesting literary features. This is not only because of what the book contains but also because of what it lacks. I will give just a short list.
1. This letter does not contain any doctrinal positions or statements. In other words it makes no attempt to explain or defend the basic tenets of the Christian faith. It's almost as though James assumes that anyone reading the letter would already know and be squared away in their beliefs about Christ, so he jumps right into a greeting and a teaching. That's a little surprising considering that this letter was written so early in Christian history. Who knows, maybe that was one of the things discussed at the Jerusalem Council. (See Acts 15). - RML
2. This letter is almost a New Testament version of Deuteronomy (meaning second law or second statement). One of the key elements of Hebrew literature and teaching is to repeat or restate the important points. So, in the first five books of the Old Testament, the laws of God are stated twice sometimes three times. Its found in Exodus, Leviticus, and restated again in Deuteronomy. James demonstrates his strong affections for the Jewish literary tradition by keeping the practice alive. I say that the book of James is almost the New Testament Deuteronomy in that James painstakingly reiterates the sentiments of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. - RML.
The Open Bible's introduction to the book of James, provides an interesting list of parallels between the Sermon on the Mount, and this epistle. While the open Bible only lists five, the introduction claims that there are at least fifteen indirect parallels to the Sermon on the Mount. Here is that list of parallels according to the open Bible:
James 1:2 and Matt. 5:10-12
James 1:4 and Matt. 5:48;
James 2:13 and Matt. 6:14,15;
James 4:11 and Matt. 7:1, 2;
James 5:2 and Matt. 6:19
(The Open Bible - introduction to the book of James Thomas Nelson publishers, Nashville, Tennessee 1997)
Wouldn't it be an interesting exercise to see how many we could find? But alas, I digress.
3. It contains no doxology. There is no statement of praise to God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
Themes in James
Some early theologians believe that there was a lack of rhyme or rhythm to the epistle because it covers so many themes. For some, it seemed to interrupt the flow of the letter. This could be one of the reasons why the book of James was one of the later books to be added to the official books of Scripture.
Thanks to about 1,956 years of hindsight, theologians have generally come up with a consensus of the themes found in the book of James. They are as follows: (with a few variations from me, of course.)
1. True faith stands up under trial and pressure (James 1:1-18) Genuine faith looks at every challenge or difficulty as an opportunity to grow and to develop a deeper dependence on God.
2. Genuine faith will motivate us to action (James 2:1-26). True faith in the Almighty, all-loving and totally righteous God will change the way you do life. If it doesn't, then you really don't know God, or you don't believe Him. Anyone who truly knows God and believes Him, will definitely want to cooperate with God as He changes them. They will be motivated to do life in a way that pleases God. That will affect every aspect of our thoughts and actions.
3. True faith will change how we talk (James 3:1-12). James gives a graphic description of the tongue's power. A person of faith is self controlled. He builds himself up and others in his speech.
4. True faith will motivate and change how we think (James 3:13-18). Genuine faith that comes from God does not think like the world does. If we truly have God-given faith and we're growing, our thinking will grow more and more to reflect God's thinking and character.
5. True faith avoids worldliness to pursue godliness (James 4:1-17)
6. True faith avoids the mis-prioritizing and the misuse of earthly resources (James 5:1-6). Faith that is combined with heavenly wisdom looks at every resource of time, talent, money or power as something that God provided and intended that we should learn to use them in ways that will best reflect his love and character. Faith that is driven by heavenly wisdom understands that God provided these resources for us to use correctly and that we will give an account to God for how we used what He has provided. We should therefore be very wary of any selfishness or pride. Our primary focus should be to use our time, talent, knowledge, money or power in such a way that best reflects God's character and loving work in our lives, not to glorify ourselves, but to please and glorify God, to whom all glory and honor are due.
7. Genuine faith motivates one to wait on the Lord, to be humble enough to ask for help in time of need, and look out for the other guy not just himself (James 5:7-20).
Basically every life lesson found in James will reflect these ideas.
Portrait of Christ in James: In James we meet Jesus as our example of living by faith; the one who uses our trials and difficulties to perfect us in our faith.
Key Points Lessons and Teachings from James
1.) When you're facing difficult times, your attitude is truly the most important half of the battle (James 1:1-5). This is something that is a young person in the faith, I had a very hard time learning. After all, as a Christian shouldn't my life be easier? The answer to that is, if you think it's hard now, imagine trying to go through trials without God's help! The truth is, it is easier with God, but never really easy. There's a difference. In reality, we can make any situation we have to go through easier on ourselves if our attitude is correct. So, what is the correct attitude when we are going through trial? How can we count it all joy when it seems so hard; when you're struggling with the inward self and outward circumstances of your life? This is not always easy, and I don't have it all down yet either, but this is what I believe God wants us to do.
a.) We need to look at our trial from an internal character point of view, rather than a comfort perspective. In our self-interested human perspective it's easy to look at our problems from the point of view of how we feel and how difficult it is. While God is not blind to our pain, He is much more interested in re-creating us, and transforming us, so that we become people who reflect and carry his love and character in our very beings. We can count it all joy when we enter trials, not because we enjoy them, but because God is using them to transform us into the image and character of His Son. If our priorities are right, isn't that what we really want anyway? (See Romans 5:1-5)
b.) We can count it all joy when we remember that God is trying to set us up to win, not to fail (Jeremiah 29:11; James 1:3-4). God is trying to prepare us, and make us fit for rewards that will last forever. (See James 1:12). Think about it God is trying to make it so that we never lack anything good. He will use our difficulties in order to get us to that point. It really is an act of love. It's not fun, but we can count it all joy because it shows that we're loved by God.
2. When you're going through tough times, make a quality decision to submit to, and cooperate with God (James 1:5-8). At first you might think, what does this have to do with that specific passage? Well, think about it. When we are going through tough times it's easy to second-guess, to over think yourself into knots of indecision. There is no better cure for double mindedness, than to willfully make up your mind. Here is what I do when I know I'm facing a crisis either internally or externally. I'm not saying that this is the only way to cope, but I think it's a very good way and it works:
a.) Admit the struggle and your feelings. "Lord I am struggling with...., and I feel...." By the way, if you are feeling doubt, admit that too. It's not like God doesn't know it. Just admit you're struggling with doubt and ask Jesus to write (author) some faith into your heart (Hebrews 12:1-2).
b.) Make a quality decision to cooperate with God. "Despite my discomfort and how I feel, I choose to submit to You God, in the midst of my struggle. I make a quality decision of my will to submit to you and cooperate with you in the midst of my difficulties. I order my mind, will, and emotions to settle down and submit to God in this trial." (cf. Joshua 24:15)
c.) Now you're ready to seek God's direction. "Lord Jesus, help me to keep my heart and mind open and receptive, to recognize and correctly apply Your wisdom, guidance, and direction so that I might be victorious in this situation." (cf Psalms 32:8)
d.) Ask God to direct you, and do something physical that's consistent or in keeping with your decision. At first, it doesn't necessarily have to be related to solving your problem. Just do something that you know God wants you to do. It might mean choosing to praise God, and praising God whether you feel like it or not. Or, God may remind you of someone that you're angry at and need to forgive. Or you and God together might decide that for the rest of the day you are not going to complain or whine. It could be anything as long as it's physical, deliberate, and something that you have no doubt it would please God. The key to winning about half of your spiritual battles is learning to do the opposite of what your self-interested sinful nature wants to do.
Trust me, this really works.
3. Keep your earthly (and therefore temporary) circumstances in proper perspective. (James 1:9-11). This is one of those passages in James that can drive "orderly theologians" a little nutty because it's one of those theme interrupters that doesn't seem to flow with the letter. In verses 1-8, he discusses our attitude in temptation. He picks up the theme again in verses 12-27. Right in the center there are verses 9-11. I sought God for a while in prayer and even put the Bible study aside for a season. I believe that God has opened up my understanding a little more. At first glance this passage seems to have little to do with temptation, but it really does. One of the trickiest temptations for Christians is to look at our outward circumstances as a sign of God's approval. Making unhealthy comparisons between brethren is a snare to both rich and poor alike. Those who are wealthier tend to fall into the trap of believing that they are approved by God and that their prosperity is the proof. It can lead to elitism and pride. For the poor, focusing on their circumstances and comparing themselves to their wealthier brethren can lead them to feel contempt for their brothers, or worse, rejected by God. This can be a dangerous trap because those circumstances are temporary. They will fade away. One of the keys to true spiritual health and happiness is not to judge your outward and temporary circumstances as an indicator of your relationship with God, (cf Matthew 5:45; Philippians 4:12-13). Notice that James told both the rich and poor to 'glory in their situation.' In every life there are times of sorrow and tragedy. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but in every life there are times of prosperity and rejoicing. The key to true happiness is to learn how to cooperate with God in what ever circumstance we find ourselves.
4. What ever you do, don't blame God when you're tempted to sin (James 1:13-18) Blaming God for our temptations is nothing new. It's quite literally a ploy as old as the first Adam, who blamed God, claiming that if God had not given in such a wife as Eve, he would not have disobeyed (Genesis 3:8-12). It's laughable of course to blame God for our temptations to sin, but human beings have been doing it ever since even to this day. So, why is it so tempting to blame God when we are tempted? Here are some things to keep in mind.
a) We forget or resist the idea that God allows us to be tested with good reason.
In some Christian circles the idea has been touted that everything good comes from God, and everything bad, unpleasant, or difficult comes from the evil one. Some of the less accurate prosperity teachers of our day have taken and taught this extremely unhealthy position. The temptation for us is to think that, if God didn't want us to fail he would not allow us to be tested. That is simply not the truth. That's like a child saying to his parents after he receives an 'F' on his report card that if they did not want him to fail, they should never have sent him to school. You don't send your children to school because you're trying to set them up to fail. In fact the opposite is true, you send your children to school because you want them to learn, grow and develop skills sets that will cause them to thrive and succeed. The same principle is true with God. He does allow challenging sometimes painful things to happen to us. That's a fact that we don't want to bypass. We must accept it. (cf Deuteronomy 8:1-2; Exodus 4:10-13; Isaiah 45:7)
b.) In our painful and difficult trials we tend to remember God's power, but forget his character. It's easy to blame God when we face difficulty. After all, He is all loving and all-powerful, so why doesn't he just fix-it, for goodness sakes? For the same reason that healthy mature parents don't write their children's book report or go to class for them. You don't do it because they won't learn if you do. Granted if you did that they might not suffer the pain of failure, but neither can they experience the joy of learning or succeeding.
c.) We can fall into blaming God because of our own hurt and pride.
One of the reasons that it's tempting to blame God is because of our pride. Human beings often resent being challenged and tested. We tend to resist and resent God putting tests and challenges in our lives because they force us to see where we are tempted. We are confronted sometimes shockingly would what's really in our hearts under pressure. For example, under certain pressure I might be tempted to be unforgiving or lie. God did not tempt me to be unforgiving or lie, but he allowed me to undergo a trial or test that revealed an inclination that was already in me, but I was either unaware or unwilling to contend with and resolve. We don't really see our strengths and weaknesses until we're under pressure. God tests us to reveal our own hearts to us, in order that we will be made aware of our darker sides so that He can heal us. If you want to know what flavor the tea is, put it in really hot water. We know what we are made of in the way that we respond under pressure. Our weaknesses are exposed when we are tested. God allows us to be tested and tried so that our weaknesses can be exposed, so we can see them, so we can confess them, and so He can heal them. That way our sinful inclinations will not have to destroy us. As a result of the test and our responses we can clearly see our weaknesses and our need for healing and come to Jesus for restoration in different areas of our lives. Clearly God allows us to be tested, but his intent is our restoration never our downfall.
5. When You're Facing Trial, Take Your Time before Reacting (James 1:19-21) This is absolutely critical. When we are facing a pressure situation, it's awfully tempting to react quickly. Most times we react on emotions. Our fears, anger and pain rush to the surface and we react. One of the most difficult and yet beneficial things we can do is not to react quickly, but take our time. Imagine if you will, how many regrets or broken relationships could be prevented if we were not rash with our words.
6. If you want to build your faith, practice by doing the word. (James 1:22-29, Matthew 7:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:7-10) It doesn't matter what you want to be good at doing, it will take practice. Very few things worth having just fall in your lap. If you want to do well in school you must pay attention in class, take good notes, do your best with your homework assignments and study for tests. Unless you have an unforeseen problem if you do these things you will succeed in school. The same is true with music lessons dance lessons and any sport. Proficiency comes with practice. The same is true when you're building a strong faith. It only comes by repeatedly practicing and doing what God's word says. It's amazing how close God seems when you're obedient! The word of God will be more, alive and real in your life. Here's how I recommend that you get started:
a.) Make up your mind that you want to be a strong Christian and you're willing to do what it takes.
b.) Get in the habit of being in God's word every day. Make sure to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.
c.) As you read, mark any commands and promises you see in God's word. Ask God to make you aware of opportunities to practice obeying that word as you go through your day.
d.) Don't be discouraged by failures, they are only temporary until you succeed. Keep trying and practicing and don't quit (Galatians 6:9). That's important to remember, especially when one considers that we are attempting something so big. We're trying to defy and overcome our old sinful nature. That's Huge. It takes practice in walking with God.
7. Show love and faith without partiality (James 2:1-13) It is very easy to get this concept confused. Is God saying that we have to love every single person in exactly the same way? In a sense yes, in a sense no. On a number of occasions, clients have asked me, "how can I love everybody in the exact same way all the time?" Now that is a monumental task to try to take on and the truth is, we cannot do it in those terms. First, human beings are finite and limited in capacity. We simply do not have the same level of capacity that God does to love. Second, we don't know everybody. We certainly don't understand all of their needs. Third, God has not put us in contact with the entire world. So how then can we live out the Scripture. The answer is to grow in love and faith in general. For example, if I'm growing in love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), then I can be more patient with a bag boy at the grocery store who isn't so conscientious. I can learn to be gentle and forgive the person who cuts me off at an intersection. I can learn to think and talk gently. If I learn to practice those things at home and take them out into my world, then I am fulfilling this passage. The major point he's making here is not to play favorites among believers. If they believe Christ they are my brother. Rich or poor, more or less successful is not a criterion that we should look at when deciding how to treat someone. Love is the criteria always.
8. Faith and work go hand-in-hand (James 2:14-22) Are you saved by faith? (Ephesians 2:8-9), or are you saved by works? This passage and James, and Paul's letters seem to disagree when they really don't. The sad thing is that in centuries past, the debate over this question grew so furious in the Christian community that churches split, whole new denominations were started and people were burned at the stake over this issue. So who's right? That is like asking, "do you need your left leg , or do you need your right leg? The answer is yes! Was Paul right when he said that we are saved by grace, not by works? Or was James correct when he said "faith without works is dead." The answer is, they are both right. What James was saying was that if we really believe, our works will be consistent. The problem was not with Paul's or James' point of view.
The problem is that human beings fall into a bad habit of creating standards of behavior, practices and traditions to measure righteousness instead of Love and Faith. It's like someone saying, "I know I'm a Christian because I was baptized and I go to church." Doing those things is great, but that's not what identifies him as the Christian. The healthy maturing Christian might do the same things, but his attitude and words would be something more like this: "I know I'm a Christian because I love God and Jesus died for me. Since I want to grow and be with God's people I go to church." The healthy Christian does righteous works because Jesus lives in him and motivates him to obey God. He doesn't do righteous works to become righteous. That is the key difference. For the healthy and maturing Christian doing the righteous works that God wants us to do will become more and more something that he loves to do, not something he has to do.
Picture a growing little child. They love to have their parent's approval. It might be just setting the table or helping put groceries away, but they are beaming. It thrills parent and child both. That is how God feels when we practice doing the principles we find written in his word.
The child did not become more your child because he set the table. If for some odd reason he does not set the table tomorrow he will not be any less your child. In practicing doing those chores however he learns many things that add to and benefit his character. He learns to be helpful and that he can contribute something worthwhile. Through practice and observation he may learn that there is work involved in putting food on the table. He can learn self-confidence and feel like he's a part of the family team. Those are absolutely fantastic skill sets that he won't want to be without as he grows.
Practicing God's word works exactly the same way. It has purposes and benefits far beyond what we can see right now. Not the least of which is that practicing God's word actually reinforces our faith.
9. DANGER: Your mouth is nitroglycerin! (James 3:1-12) Handle with care! We've all heard the old saying, sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. In my opinion, whoever coined such a phrase should be gently yet firmly slapped, for propagating such a lie and spreading it to children. Words hurt. I don't think I'm taking many liberties with Scripture when I say that if James had known about nitroglycerin he might have used it to describe the mouth. It's a very volatile and harmful member of the human body. There are few things in the world that have such destructive and at the same time, life-saving uses as nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin is so volatile and so powerful that if you shake it or store it in correctly you can blow yourself up. At the same time in proper doses it can prevent heart attacks and save lives. James gives a graphic description of the tongue's power. They have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). James said, "the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell."
Our mouth also has great powers to persuade encourage and build hope in others. What comes out of our mouth is probably the greatest indicator of what's really in our heart. If you want to know what you're really made of, check your mouth. How do you talk? We can build or harm someone's faith with our mouth (Romans 10:17). Are you positive or negative; optimistic or pessimistic in your speech? What kind of jokes to you tell or repeat? A person of faith is self controlled. He builds himself up and others in his speech.
Here are some very down-to-earth practical tips for controlling our mouth. This is very basic but it works.
a.) Admit your problems (especially concerning your mouth) to God, yourself and others. We really can't tame it alone, (James 3:8, James 5:16). Even David, a man after God's own heart asked for help in watching his mouth, (Psalms 141:3-4)
b.) Don't respond verbally too quickly to any situation, (James 1:19-20). Share and verbalize your heart, and your problems with God before you do so with other people.
c.) Try to develop a habit of praise and thanksgiving. You can do this by having Christian music on, and just singing once in awhile as you drive or clean house. Verbalize praise, thanking God, that while you may not like doing laundry, you do have good clothes. While you may not like cleaning house, it does keep you warm and keep the rain off your stuff and your family, (1 Thes 5:16-18, Col 3:15, Psa 31:24)
d.) Avoid double-speak or ambiguous speech. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12). Anything else leads only to confusion, mistrust or misunderstanding. This allows the devil and unnecessary foothold in your relationships.
e.) Finally, if it doesn't build up, then hush up. Very simply, is what I'm about to say we going to elevate God or encourage my listener? If it doesn't is not worth saying, (Ephesians 4:29).
10. We Must Think With God’s Wisdom. True faith will motivate and change how we think (James 3:13-18). Genuine faith that comes from God does not think like the world does. If we truly have God-given faith and we're growing, our thinking will grow more and more to reflect God's thinking and character.
In verses 13-17, God gives us a list of criteria that we can use to judge our thinking. I've condensed them into a list dividing earthly and heavenly wisdom.
|Earthly Wisdom||Heavenly Wisdom|
|Based on bitterness,||pure, then peaceable|
|Based on ambition||gentle, reasonable, full of mercy|
|Based on jealousy||unwavering, without hypocrisy|
|Produces every Kind of Evil||Full of Good fruits|
We cannot change the way that we live until we change the way we think (see Isaiah 26:3, Romans 8:6-7, Rom 12:2, Philippians 4:4-8)
11. There is a war on, and we must choose sides. (James 4:1-10). America is a country very familiar with war. In our relatively short history of about 200 years, America has been involved in some geopolitical conflict at least 10 times. That averages out to a shooting conflict about once every 20 years. That doesn't include all other ideological wars that we fight such as the war on drugs and the war on poverty. Now we're fighting a nonconventional a war against terrorism.
No matter how you add it up, that's a lot of war. James seems to indicate that the conflicts that go on between people are caused because we ignore the inward conflicts. There is an unseen war that goes on every day. It's a war between the flesh and the spirit; between God's eternal kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of earth and hell. It's a centuries-old conflict between righteousness and sin. Make no mistake if you live on earth and have a physical body you are in a war zone already. We must make a solid and firm decision about whose side we're going to be on. After the words we see in the last half of chapter 3, James begins chapter 4 with a challenge to make up our mind as to which side of this spiritual conflict we will fight.
"... Do you not know that friendship with the world is to choose hostility with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God...." (v.4ff) In this war, no one has the luxury of remaining neutral and unaffected. If we're going to make it through this spiritual war and come out on top, we cannot think like the world thinks. We cannot value what the world values. We cannot speak like the world speaks. We cannot do as the world does. From God's perspective, when you're in Rome, you had better not do as the Romans do. That is the whole point of being Christian. (See 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, Romans 12:2)
There isn't a single conflict between human beings that doesn't have at least one spiritual component. This is not taught very often, but I believe that if we win the spiritual component of any conflict we will eventually win the conflict in the physical realm as well. (See 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 Ephesians 6:10-18).
In physical warfare whoever has the best strategy, and the best weapons seems to win. Interestingly enough however, spiritual warfare is won by surrendering first and fighting afterward. Notice James 4:7, first we submit to God and then we resist the devil.
12. To judge or not to judge, that is the question. (James 4:11-12; Matthew 7:1-6) Now, this is one of those trickier parts of Scripture, because on the face of it it seems to contradict itself, but it doesn't. The other thing that makes it very difficult, is that this is one of the verses that those who love to try and silence God and his people love to use, especially when they want to do wickedly. It seems like every politician or high-ranking official knows this verse, and they usually use it when they have been found in adultery, lying or embezzlement, (see John 3:20). They may not care about any part of Scripture, but they'll quote that one when they've been caught in order to try and silence the outrage.
A confusing piece of this is that in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus talks about not judging, but in Matthew 7:6, he talks about not throwing what is holy to dogs. In fact Jesus describes what will happen to you in graphic detail if you do throw what is holy to dogs. The question is, how can you avoid throwing what is holy to dogs, without making some kind of evaluation or judgment? The answer is, we can't. In fact, in other portions of Scripture God outright requires value judgments to be made, (Ezekiel 22:23-26). In fact, he equates not making proper value judgments as an act of violence against his law. Now both of these passages are commands of the Lord. So that must mean there's a misunderstanding on our part somewhere. So how can we obey Matthew 7:1-5, and still obey Matthew 7:6? How can we keep all that and still honor James 4:11-12? The answer is both must be done, and so it must be done Very, Very carefully. Here's some practical help on how to obey both sides of the question.
(a) Check yourself carefully first. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a stand for righteousness, but it's good to make sure you're standing without falling first. Take the log out of your eye, before trying to be your neighbor's optometrist.
(b) Try your best to limit your observations in comparison to what God says. When you repeat what God already said, you are not evaluating situations based on your own opinion.
(c) Always evaluate and speak with truth, but when you act, let mercy prevail. One of the best things we can do is to stand against injustice. When we do however let us remember to pray for both the victim and the evildoer. Both are in need of God's grace, one to repent and the other to forgive. We can pray that the evildoer will be restrained until he repents so that no one else will be harmed. We can pray that his heart will be turned. We can pray that the judges will in love for God and justice be guided to the right decisions. We can pray that God will help the victims of the wrong rebuild their lives. I say all that because when we see the evil that is in our world is pretty easy to jump on one side of the fence or the other, when in reality both the criminal, the victim(s) and the justice system in great need of God's grace.
13. True humility is understanding that God is sovereign. (James 4:13-17) During my years in the Lord's service, I've run into quite a few people who misunderstand humility. I've actually heard people say, "I want to become nothing so that Jesus can be everything." That sounds really humble on the one hand but it's really not. If God really wanted us to be nothing, he would've created us to be an empty shell, poured his Holy Spirit into us and that would've been the end of it. To some people that idea sounds appealing. God's idea of submission is not that we should be mindless automatons, but that we should rather be living, breathing, fully conscious products of his love. He wants a living and thriving relationship with each one of us. He does not really want carbon copies of himself. He wants his love and his character to shine through a person that is uniquely you, much the way that pure light shining through a diamond allows beautiful colors to become visible. God addresses the idea of humility twice in James. God resists the proud, but he gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Humble yourselves in the side of the Lord and he will exalt you (James 4:10).
One of the biggest misconceptions of the quote I mentioned earlier, "I want to become nothing so that Jesus can be everything." Is that God wants us to become nothing, when the exact opposite is true. In reality, God wants to elevate us. The only thing is that in order for our elevation to be safe and not lead to our downfall, we must first learn to be humble. So what does true humility look like? Here are some ideas to think about:
a.) True humility understands that God is in charge, I'm not, and that's really OK.
b.) True humility understands that my time on earth is only temporary, so I should run my plans by the One who's eternal
c.) Genuine humility understands that God knows the future and I don't, so I don't make my plans as though I know my future, but I commit my way to the Lord so he can direct my path because I know that He has the clearest point of view, (Psalm 37:3-6, Proverbs 3:5-6).
d.) True humility also understands that I will have to answer to God my creator for how I have used or interacted with the people, time, money and other resources that he has allowed me to have in this life.
14. Live with eternity in view (James 5:1-12). With a better understanding of humility, we can live life with a more eternal point of view. It's something we don't talk as much about in the more "user-friendly Christianity," but there is a day of judgment coming. James begins chapter 5 with a sort of continuation of the end of Chapter 4. We should live each day with the understanding that God is in charge. Here is a quick rundown of what living with eternity in view means:
a.) Our Attitude: Our attitude really is at the center of everything that we think, desire, say and do. That's why having an eternal and God focused attitude is imperative. Our attitude needs to be one of love (Matthew 22:37, Proverbs 3:1-4). We need to have an attitude of trust and faith (Psalm 37:4, Romans 14:23b, Hebrews 11:6). We must keep an attitude of gratitude (Colossians 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Simply put in the days of hardships we must trust God, and in the days of prosperity we must be grateful and not forget God.
b.) Our Time: The time God allows us to have on earth is one of the most limited precious and irreplaceable of commodities. Therefore the way we choose to spend our time whether at work or play should reflect the Lord's character and his desires for our lives, (Psalm 39:4).
c.) Our Wealth: Any wealth I have, or any ability to make money comes as a gift from God (Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 23:4).
Therefore, I should remember God with the first fruits of my earnings (Malachi 3:10).
I should learn to be content and not try to live beyond my means (James 4:1-3, 1 Timothy 6:8 Philippians 4:11-13, Matthew 6:19-34).
I should remember the poor or needy (Psalm 41:1)
d.) Our Power, Strength or Authority: James warns the rich and powerful to become rich and good works. If God has blessed you with any power or authority in this life, then you have it within your reach to somewhat ease the burdens of others. What an opportunity! (Isaiah 58:6, Jeremiah 9:23-24, Micah 6:8)
There is a rough sketch of what it means to live with eternity in view.
15. True faith ministers to others. (James 5:13-20) James is loaded with tons of good practical advice for how to live the thriving Christian life.
James hits the ground running. From the very first chapter he writes about how to be strong and withstand temptation (something that any person seeking to be godly will face). In chapter 2, he demonstrates that every genuine faith will motivate us to action and that faith that does not follow through with consistent action, is really dead. In chapter 3, he describes the need for a Christian to be God controlled in how we talk and think. In chapter 4, James speaks about pursuing godliness by letting go of this world's attitudes and thinking. In the final chapter, James writes about our priorities and the proper use of our God-given resources. He especially focuses on wealth and power. While James is very practical throughout his letter, he is perhaps most concise in the last eight verses. Prior to this he spends the lion share of his letter showing the Christian to look inward so that we can make sure that we are healthy and productive. In a few places he gives instructions on how a true faithful Christian is to treat others mainly; the widow and orphan and those in need. In these last eight verses though, he gives a very concise list of how we are to treat other believers.
True faith not only takes the time to cultivate our inward life, but it also spends its energies looking out for the needs of others, and especially those who share our faith in Jesus Christ. In this last portion he demonstrates how we should interact with those who are suffering (verses 13-15). He describes how we need to be transparent and accountable to each other in order that we will not remain trapped in any sin, (verse 16). He describes and gives an example of the power of prayer, (vs. 13-18). Finally, he gives a very brief description of the benefits of looking out for one another, and restoring anybody who wanders off from the way of Christ (verses 19-20).
Beloved, I sincerely hope that you enjoyed our journey through James together. I hope that you will review this study periodically, and that you will find it useful not only in your walk, but in helping other people walk with the Lord as well. God bless you as you grow in grace and learn to walk victoriously in our Lord Jesus Christ. I truly do love you all.
Your devoted brother in Christ,