James 1:2-11 (Part 2)

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

According to James, one of the ways God wrests good from a bad situation is by allowing perseverance to fully develop within us. The Greek word James uses here is hypomone, meaning endurance or steadfastness. “Perseverance” is also a good choice for its English translation because perseverance implies a sense of hopefulness… patience for the bad situation to finally right itself, and patience for us to mature from the experience so long as we just hang in there!

You see, perseverance in and of itself is not the end-goal. James says, when perseverance finishes its “work,” we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” There! That is the goal. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, referred to that goal as, “Christian Perfection.”

In 1741, during the earlier part of his preaching career, Wesley published his sermon on the doctrine of Christian perfection. In doing so, it became one of the most distinguishing features of his theology and influenced many of his other sermons throughout his career. However, it was met with a good deal of disagreement from Protestant Reformers at the time of its publication.

Dr. Kenneth Kinghorn, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Asbury Seminary from 1965-2003, concisely summarizes the disagreement in his modern translation* of Wesley’s sermons:

“Reformers powerfully championed the biblical doctrines of justification and adoption, which are works of grace that God does for us to change our position before God…. [Nothing we do – no works – can gain this for us.] To be sure, Wesley agreed with the Protestant Reformers, [however] Wesley also accentuated a “realized righteousness” which God imparts to believers to change their state.” Wesley was primarily standing up against the incorrect belief that all one needs is faith, and that good works are not required.  At all! (Kinghorn, p124)

Wesley’s choice of the term “perfection” for this doctrine wasn’t received any better by the Reformers than his concept of realized righteousness. They said perfection could only be attained by God, thus the need for God’s grace; humans could not be “perfect.” But Wesley drew the term “perfection” from the Greek word teleiosis – the same word used by James in verse 4, translated as “mature and complete.”

For the Greeks, teleiosis conveyed not just the state of being mature and complete, but the continual growth and movement toward an ever-greater maturity. For Wesley, Christian perfection is a process of becoming what God has always wanted for his creation. With that definition in mind, consider Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of James 1:4 from The Message:

You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:4 MSG)

To me, James 1:4 says (well… actually, in my mind it yells):  Hang on! Don’t give up! Don’t you ever give up, because God is going to use this horrible thing you’re experiencing right now – that he never wanted for you – and he’s going to show you how redemption works, how faith can flourish in the weeds, and how you can become more like Christ while standing in the middle of a mess. Yes, this right here. Yes, right now. And, yes, praise God, you!


In Part 3, we’ll see what James says about how we find the strength to hang in there. We’ll also check in with another of John Wesley’s sermons to get his perspective on how our actions, including our responses to challenging times, spring from the root of our faith: our hearts.

* Kinghorn, Kenneth Cain, John Wesley on Christian Practice Vol 3: The Standard Sermons in Modern English, 34-53.

Links to previous entries: Intro to James and Part 1

James 1:2-11 (Part 1)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1:2).

Let’s start with prayer:

Most Merciful Father, my soul finds rest and hope in you today. Truly you are my rock, my salvation, and my fortress of strength. I will not be shaken. My salvation and honor are dependent upon you – my mighty rock and refuge – and I will trust in you during good times, as well as uncertain, frightening times. Father, I pray that I may trust in your unfailing love at all times. I pray for others to reach out to you in trust from the very center of their hearts. Father, you are the refuge of all, in all times. Amen. (Based on Ps 62:5-8.)

As you’ve probably already guessed by today’s title, I’ve put together a multi-part discussion of James 1:2-11. While it’s relatively short, James makes several points in this piece of scripture, all of which come together to introduce one of his primary purposes for writing. So it pays to move slowly through the early verses of this first chapter. Today, we’ll begin this study series with verses 2-4. 

James, the brother of Christ, writes to those of the diaspora:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-6)

James begins his letter by addressing what will become a recurring theme throughout:  Christian maturity and completeness. It helps to look at the original Greek in order to see the full extent of how James builds this theme. He begins by telling his audience to consider trials that test their faith as “pure” joy. Joyfulness during hard times is hard enough to come by, but pure joy?

Well, the Greek word James uses (translated here as pure) is pasan, meaning complete, whole, perfect. The choice of this particular word emphasizes the type of joy one should have when placed in a situation that he or she knows will ultimately develop them into that same kind of Christian:  complete, whole, perfect.

To put it another way… The secular world sees heartache, devastation, hard times, and stops there. The Christian, however, sees the same bad news but has faith God will use the situation for good, someway, somehow. The timing of which, we cannot know and may not ever see in its fullness. Yet, we make the choice to persevere. Or, at least to try.

There have been days during the current pandemic when I’ve fallen into the trap of only seeing the bad news. It’s hard not to at times. An overwhelmed unemployment insurance program can’t keep up, and thousands of Kyians are struggling to support their families. Some still didn’t qualify even with expanded coverage and had no way to work when businesses shut down.

Almost 100,000 people have died. 100,000 human lives are gone. 100,000 families have grieved and are still grieving, mostly alone due to social distancing. Many days, I’ve found myself quoting King David from Psalm 13, “How long, Lord?  Will you forget us forever? How long will you hide your face from us? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

I panic. Before I know it, I’m like Peter when Jesus called him out of the boat to walk on the water. Peter was doing it! He was walking on water!… until his focus shifted away from Jesus and toward the strong winds. Peter was afraid. He felt like he was sinking. He was going to drown! “Lord, save me!”

Some days I’m Peter.

But just like David comes around at the end of Psalm 13, I finally… finally… refocus on Jesus and recommit: Lord, my God, I trust in your unfailing love. And, I persevere.


In Part 2, we’ll look at how James says developing perseverance moves us closer to our ultimate goal of being “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” We’ll also explore the writings of John Wesley on this topic, which he referred to as “Christian Perfection,” one of his most misunderstood concepts.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).  

Our Motivation

All my recent musings about works and faith has led me to think about the various ways individual faith is evidenced. (Trust me, I’ll get back to the Letter of James soon. I just can’t pass up a good digression!)

As Cory mentioned during our Bible Study, Paul speaks highly of Timothy and especially Epaphroditus who risked his life to maintain communication between Paul and the Philippian church. And James – who so often takes a beating over his stance on works – reminds readers that Abraham’s willingness to outwardly act on his faith serves as a testimony to the completeness of his faith.

Isaiah, on the other hand, describes a negative example of what faithful actions can become when we lose sight of why we act. In Isaiah’s vision, the Lord has lost all patience with the Israelites and their empty rituals. What good are animal sacrifices and incense burning when the only reason you do it is so God will bless you?

Doing those things that God loves isn’t about self-benefit. Rather, it’s about being so filled with holy love our “cup runneth over.” Sometimes, our cup overflowing looks like silent praise to God during private prayer. Sometimes, our cup overflows to hospitals, to those in poverty, or to friends undergoing hardship. Our cup can also overflow to those celebrating a marriage or welcoming a new child.

Our cups overflow in a myriad of ways, and in multiple directions. We spend a good deal of our time trying to identify the way that fits us and our particular talents the best. What’s my purpose? How do I reflect the love of Christ? The answer is different for everyone. For instance, I’m not going to sing, produce, and publish a Christian album because singing is definitely not my spiritual gift. (You’ll just have to take my word on that!) On the other hand, researching and writing a blog… that speaks a bit more to my strengths!

No matter what we choose to do, the point is to continually remind ourselves of our motivation for doing it. The Israelites forgot their primary motivation, and good things turned into empty things. I don’t read the Bible and write about it because I expect something in return.  I do it because God fills my cup so full… it overflows. God does that. I’m just guiding the overflow in this direction!

Think about how God fills your cup… and how you can best share the excess. And in all those things, to God be the glory.


Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

An OT View Of Works

The other day I briefly mentioned how some Bible scholars have drawn attention to the differences in how Paul and James view “works” in terms of faith. In reading an article on a completely different topic yesterday morning, I came across Isaiah 1:10-20, containing a similar viewpoint to what I believe both Paul and James are trying to emphasize.

In this scripture, Isaiah has a disturbing vision of the Lord’s reaction to Israel’s empty, ritualistic faith. The Lord even refers to them as “rulers of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” to describe the ways they’ve approached him in worship.  “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. (v.11)

“If the people of Israel think they are immune from judgment because they are God’s chosen people, they must think again. If their behavior is no different from that of the world, their fate will be no different either. But the Israelites think they are entitled to favorable treatment because they have God’s revealed way of doing offerings.” If they just keep slaughtering more lambs and goats, and burning more incense, surely God will bless them! (Dr. John Oswalt, NIV Commentary on Isaiah)

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

But apparently the Israelites have gotten it all wrong. Worship isn’t simply about ritual that seeks self-benefit. True worship is reflected in everyday life through our transformed relationships. “The covenant in which the sacrificial laws appear is the same covenant where ethical treatment of one’s neighbors is required. It is not possible to have the one and not the other.” (Oswalt, 77)

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

“What God wants is right and just behavior, especially toward those who are helpless to demand such behavior on their own behalf…. Here is the true evidence that a person knows the Lord. Anyone can perform rituals, but the person who acts like God… that is the person who has entered into a life-changing relationship with him, and that is clearly what God wants.” (Oswalt, 78)

Similarly, in Philippians 2:3-4, Paul writes: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

And in the letter of James, the brother of Christ points to Abraham, writing, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (2:21-22)

Faith and actions working together. I believe that’s something Isaiah, Paul, and James all agree on.

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Intro to James

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to hit a few major points regarding the Letter of James by way of a very brief, and very broad, introduction. I’ll also direct you to additional resources in case you’re interested in doing more research on your own. As I alluded to yesterday, there’s much more to James than you might think!

Authorship – The vast majority of scholars believe evidence points to James, the brother of Jesus, as the author of this letter. There are six other Jameses in the Bible, but only one has received serious consideration beyond the one already mentioned:  James, the son of Zebedee. However, his early date of death in AD 44 makes him questionable since the letter appears to have been written around that same time.

On the other hand, James, the brother of Jesus, was a leader in the early church and was martyred in AD 62. If you’re interested in the various discussions regarding authorship, the three commentaries listed below are a good place to start. For my study purposes, I’m going with James, the brother of Jesus, as the assumed author.

Audience – Almost as much discussion has evolved around James’ audience as authorship! It seems pretty obvious.  James comes right out in verse 1 and says he’s writing “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” BUT… does he mean to limit the twelve tribes to the messianic Jews who are direct descendants of the Old Testament, or does he mean to include gentiles in this greeting lending a more multiracial, New Testament audience?

As we’ll see later in this study, James appears to be highly devoted to Jewish scripture and faith, while believing in Jesus as the Messiah. After reading the different arguments, I tend to lean toward an audience of messianic Jews. I believe James says exactly what he means: He’s writing to the twelve tribes of the diaspora.

Themes – James’ audience also has “issues” to deal with:  divisiveness, intolerance, and favoritism in the church, as well as individual desire for wealth and status over everything else – including God. They’ve been influenced by false teachers and have turned the church into a social club.

In addressing all these problems, James will write about suffering, sin, righteousness, and holy wisdom. His letter is brief, but he gives just enough details that we’ll also get a glimpse of his theology regarding the Trinity, eschatology, the Torah, ethics of Christian life, and – of course – faith, works, and justification.

It’s hard to believe all that gets packed into this short letter, but as we learned from Ephesians (and are now seeing in Philippians), it pays to read all scripture – short or long – slowly, closely, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

I believe we come into a time of communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit when we meditate on scripture in this way, becoming a participating member of the Body of Christ in relationship to the Trinity. Other than the Eucharist, I can’t think of any other time when I feel as close to God as when I ‘listen’ to scripture speak.

Resources – I recommend that you watch The Bible Project video on James. Excellent resource from them, as always. I’m also relying on three different commentaries for my personal study.  (Just to clarify… I always read scripture first, at least three times over, before I ever consult anything written about scripture. Always keep the primary thing primary!) These are all available in print or on Kindle, if you’re looking to build your library. Or you can just keep following along here — I’ll be sharing a LOT of their information!

  • The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, by Scot McKnight
  • The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, by Douglas Moo
  • James: The NIV Application Commentary, by David Nystrom

So there you have it: a super short intro to the Letter of James. Between this and The Bible Project video, you should have a good idea of what to expect. Take the next day or so and read James through two or three times – preferably at least once out loud. Underline, star, highlight, or write down anything that really catches your attention. You never know where the Spirit is leading you. Meet you here again later in the week. Take care!

REMINDERS: 

  • Philippians Bible Study with Cory on Facebook, Wednesday at 6:30.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  Build your friendship with God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Quarantining? Stay connected. Going out? Be a blessing.

prayinghands-300x209

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. Through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

All About Works

Or Is It?

Hello! Hope everyone is well this Monday morning. G and I are still working from home and quarantining for the most part – a good decision for us. If you are staying in as well, find ways to keep connected to others. If you are going out and about, be a blessing wherever you go.

I started reading a few commentaries on the Letter of James this weekend, which was quite enlightening. I’ve never spent a lot of time studying James and in my recent memory, I can’t recall a devotion centered around any scripture in James. That said, I recognized several of the scriptures and realized a few appear elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments.

For the most part, the author James – most likely the brother of Jesus and a leader in the early Christian church – remains singularly known as “the one who disagrees with Paul about works and salvation.” Which is really too bad. Unlike one scholar who refers to James’ letter as the “junk mail of the New Testament,” I’m finding it holds many gems, including James’ thoughts on works as an expression of our faith.

Saint James
Orthodox icon of Saint James

For instance… In Cory’s sermon yesterday, he read from Philippians 2:19-30, a personal section of Paul’s letter where he talks about Timothy and Epaphroditus. These two have been serving as messengers between the Philippians and Paul during his imprisonment, and no matter how much difficulty they’ve encountered, they have remained loyal to Jesus and to Paul. Epaphroditus almost died from an illness, to which Paul says, “honor people like him because he almost died for the work of Christ.” He risked his life to help Paul on behalf of the Philippians to ensure the continued spread of the gospel.

James says something pretty similar in 2:14-25 when he writes: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

In much the same way, I know Paul appreciated the Philippians prayers on his behalf, but he also made clear his appreciation for the tangible ways they helped him. Sending Epaphroditus – and his willingness to make the journey – was one of those ways, not done to garner favor with Paul or God. No. Their tangible help was an expression of the depth and authenticity of their faith. It was living out the command to love their neighbor as themselves.

Well, all that to say, there’s more to James and his letter than you might think! And once we examine the context of both writers, he and Paul might not be so far apart on faith and works. Tomorrow, I’ll share information regarding the commentaries I’m reading, and provide a brief background/overview of the Letter of James. As I said before, this isn’t a formal study, but I hope you find some interesting bits of information if you’re reading along.

Have a great day!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)