Note from CM: Updated post to use Kingdom NT translation. Thanks, Charles!
Wednesdays with James
Lesson Eight: Taking Responsibility, Receiving from God
Today we will bite off a bit bigger chunk of the Epistle of James, looking at James 1:12-27.
12 God’s blessing on the man who endures testing! When he has passed the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Nobody being tested should say, “It’s God that’s testing me,” for God cannot be tested by evil, and he himself tests nobody. 14 Rather, each person is tested when they are dragged off and enticed by their own desires. 15 Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin; and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear family. 17 Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the father of lights. His steady light doesn’t vary. It doesn’t change and produce shadows. 18 He became our father by the word of truth; that was his firm decision, and the result is that we are a kind of first fruits of his creatures. The Word That Goes to Work
19 So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! 21 So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives.
22 But be people who do the word, not merely people who hear it and deceive themselves. 23 Someone who hears the word but doesn’t do it, you see, is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror. 24 He notices himself, but then he goes away and quickly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the person who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and goes on with it, not being a hearer who forgets but a doer who does the deed—such a person is blessed in their doing.
26 If anyone supposes that they are devout, and does not control their tongue, but rather deceives their heart—such a person’s devotion is futile. 27 As far as God the father is concerned, pure, unsullied devotion works like this: you should visit orphans and widows in their sorrow, and prevent the world leaving its dirty smudge on you.
As we saw in an earlier study, the epistle begins with a double-opening. The author introduces his three main themes and then repeats them in a more expansive fashion. Today’s three paragraphs touch once more on the concepts of testing, wisdom, and poverty.
Let me try to summarize the argument of this passage:
God’s plan for those under the test is ultimate blessedness (1:12-18):
- James is trying to encourage communities of Jewish Christians who are suffering troubles and difficulties in their lives. He blesses them as Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount, and promises them that God will reward those who love him with life, even though they pass through severe tests.
- Times of testing produce conditions in which they may find themselves tempted in various ways. James encourages them to take personal responsibility for those occasions when they succumb to temptation under stress (cf. 4:1-4). That is not God’s desire for them. It is their own desire leading them to sin, which in turn leads to death. God, on the other hand, has brought them forth to know life in a new creation. He is the generous giver of good gifts, not one who leads his children astray.
When under the test, we must be wise and avoid anger (1:19-21):
- In context, James’s counsel here pinpoints some of the temptations that a community under stress faces — failing to listen to others, uttering rash and unwise speech, and letting quick tempers explode. He urges them to avoid this path and gives them a strong warning: this will not produce results that are in keeping with God’s righteous standards.
- Instead, they are to recognize and clean up their inner attitudes, and humbly seek truth from God. When in doubt, shut up, confess your sins, and seek God’s saving grace.
When under the test, we must continue to care for the most vulnerable (1:22-27):
- It is not enough to avoid temptation. James reminds these communities that there are needy, vulnerable people among them who need loving care. What good is it to keep myself pure if my brother or sister is suffering and I do nothing about it? So, James says, don’t stop at receiving the word which means your own salvation. Instead, practice the love that God’s word everywhere commends. Guard yourselves, yes, but even more, love your neighbors.
This is a cogent and challenging text. Like most wisdom teaching, it urges believers to take responsibility for actually practicing their faith and not just talking about it.
That’s challenge enough, but when you consider that James is writing to communities who find themselves under severe trials, the task becomes even more daunting. When under that kind of stress, folks, no matter how strong their faith, can easily become selfish, withdrawn, impatient, angry, snippy with others, and forgetful of those in their midst who have it much worse.
James pulls no punches. This is straightforward and direct exhortation. Take responsibility. Practice your faith. It is also shot through with reminders that God is for us, that his desire for us is life and new creation, that his word and presence and power are with us and in us and can save us and enable us to keep going, keep trusting, and keep loving.
This “faith” thing ain’t no game.
• • •
Wednesdays with James
- Lesson One: Background and Big Picture
- Lesson Two: To Whom Was James Written?
- Lesson Three: The Ongoing Teaching Ministry of Jesus
- Lesson Four: An Encyclical from James (1:1)
- Lesson Five: Eschatological Joy and Growth through Suffering (aka Life) (1:2-4)
- Lesson Six: Asking for Wisdom (1:5-8)
- Lesson Seven: The Great Reversal (1:9-11)