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).  

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)

Helpless as a Child

I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)

From Longing to Pray:   “This is the essence of the prayer of helplessness. We seek from a base of love, and we solicit power to live. This is a mood born of the nursing infant who clings to the breast in trusting love and draws from it the very strength of life. It is the small boy holding his father’s hand on a crowded street: love and strength. It is a child of God, of whatever age, surrounded by the armies of hell, taking hold of with love the indomitable strength of God. Helplessness as a word may not appeal to us, but as an experience it is universal and lifelong. Perhaps it is even necessary. Without it, we would be incomplete as humans, because we wouldn’t know the full dimensions of friendship, either human or divine.”

Jesus infant
The Virgin of the Veil, Ambrogio Borgognone, 1500

Check it Out

Today’s read is As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson

From Amazon:“Sixty years ago I found myself distracted,” Eugene Peterson wrote. “A chasm had developed between the way I was preaching from the pulpit and my deepest convictions on what it meant to be a pastor.”
 
And so began Peterson’s journey to live and teach a life of congruencecongruence between preaching and living, between what we do and the way we do it, between what is written in Scripture and how we live out that truth.
 
Nothing captures the biblical foundation for this journey better than Peterson’s teachings over his twenty-nine years as a pastor. As Kingfishers Catch Fire offers a never-before-published collection of these teachings to anyone longing for a richer, truer spirituality.
 
Peterson’s strikingly beautiful prose and deeply grounded insights usher us into a new understanding of how to live out the good news of the Word made flesh. 

This is one man’s compelling quest to discover not only how to be a pastor but how to be a human being.

About the Author

Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The Message Bible, authored more than thirty books, including the spiritual classics Run with the Horses and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He earned a degree in philosophy from Seattle Pacific University, a graduate degree in theology from New York Theological Seminary, and a master’s degree in Semitic languages from John Hopkins University. He also received several honorary doctoral degrees. He was founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, where he and his wife, Jan, served for twenty-nine years. Peterson held the title of professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, British Columbia from 1998 until his death in 2018.

Psalm 116

A psalm of gratitude and praise.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.