james, epistle, apostle, god, jesus, bible

The Epistle of James: Personal Reflections

Intro


These are my personal reflections on the Epistle of James.  If I do this again in the future, I’ll probably break it up into shorter posts.  Also, I’m not necessarily going to quote everything I’m commenting on so I encourage you to have a Bible handy when reading this.

Chapter 1


Verses 2-4:  This has come up a few times lately for me, but it’s a hard one.  My family and I have been going through a number of trials for the last few years.  I can tell you, it’s really hard to consider it any kind of joy, especially pure joy!  I can, and do, appreciate that I am learning from these trials, and learning a lot.  But it’s difficult to consider it joy.

Verse 5: Reminds me a little of Matthew 7:7, which says that if you ask it will be given, if you seek you will find, and if you know the door will be opened.  James says that if you ask, it will be given, but he is specifically referring to wisdom here.  He does go on to say in verse 6 that you must believe and not doubt.  The person who doubts shouldn’t expect to receive anything.  It can be hard to not have doubts.  I have doubts sometimes.  I want them to go away.  I don’t like them.  But I have them.  It’s something I’m working on.

Verses 9 through 11: This strikes me a little because I’m heading further into the “humble circumstances” everyday.  I wasn’t what you would call rich before, though we were doing pretty well monetarily.  Right now we stand on the brink of financial ruin.  I have faith God will bring us out of it and back to stability, but I have begun to taste that humble pie.  I’ve learned a lot because of it.

Verse 12: If verse 9 describes where I am now, then I can take comfort reading verse 12.  We’re certainly going through trials right now, and with God’s help, we will persevere, we will stand the test, and we “will receive the crown of life.”

Verse 13: I need to remember this one.  When I’m tempted to do something I know I shouldn’t, it’s not God doing that.  There are forces at work that are not God and those forces can have influence on me.  Desire leads to sin leads to death.  Desires aren’t wrong.  Even giving in to some desires isn’t wrong.  Depends on the desire.  If the desire leads to a sinful action, there you’ve got a problem.  In that case, it’s the giving in to the desire that is the problem, not the desire itself.

Verse 19: Oh man, this is good…”be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…”  I could use a lot of that in my life and in my house.  Seems like everyone in my family needs to learn this one.  Even me.  Consequently, I wrote this on the whiteboard on our refrigerator and am leaving it there until everyone has it memorized.

Verses 22-26: This James is a pretty smart dude.  This section is about not just reading God’s word, but doing what it says.  There isn’t much point in reading it if you’re not going to do it.  That’s like reading a recipe on how to cook a beef stew, then changing all the ingredients, cooking it longer than recommended, and at a different temperature.  Your probably not going to like the results.  Or maybe it’s more like gathering the ingredients, reading the recipe, walking out of the kitchen, only to return an hour later and being surprised when dinner isn’t ready.

 

Chapter 2


Verses 1 through 12: Chapter two starts off saying that you shouldn’t give preferential treatment to the wealthy.  Nor anyone else.  You should treat everyone the same and help should be given to those who need it.  I certainly don’t give anyone preferential treatment if I happen to know they’re wealthy.  But do I treat the poor the same way I treat those who are not poor?  I’d have to say I probably don’t.  Like many people, I shy away from them because they appear dirty, or I think they might be dangerous.  I guess I shouldn’t do that?  Or at least make more of an effort to help the poor.  Or anyone for that matter.  I don’t exactly go around donating a lot of my time.

Verse 13: “Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”  Yikes!  I guess we better be merciful!  I feel like I do fine in that area, but I might have to keep an eye one for that one.

Verses 14 through 25: Man that’s some good stuff.  A bit hard-hitting, but some serious truth bombs in there.  That section is all about faith and deeds.  If you have faith but no deeds, it’s kind of pointless.  There’s a verse in here that I’ve paraphrased before.  Verse 19 says “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that – and shudder.”  What good is your faith if even demons have the same faith?  So by declaring you have faith, but don’t back it up with actions, you are on par with the demons.  That’s not so good!

Verse 26: “As the body is dead without the spirit, so faith without deeds is dead.”  A few years ago my spirit was dead, and it was starting to kill my body.  I fixed that.  Sounds like I had better get working on the deeds.

Chapter 3


Verses 1 through 12: Watch what you say because the tongue is capable of great evil and destruction.  I like the example of a ship that is driven by strong winds, yet it is steered by a little flap of wood.  Just like a person’s tongue, though very small, has the ability to produce both great and evil things and is potentially able to steer the course of people’s lives.

Verses 13 through 18: If the wisdom of God manifests itself by good deeds done in humility, I fear I’m not terribly wise yet.  I want to do good deeds, but I’m held back by…I don’t know, some sort of weakness, laziness, something.  I want that kind of wisdom.  I want to do those deeds.  I have a picture of the kind of person I want to be, that I should be, I’m just not that person yet.  Though I think I’m probably closer to it today than I ever have been before.

 

Chapter 4


 Verse 3: I’ve learned a lot about praying the right way.  James says that you don’t have because you don’t ask God, and that when you do ask, you don’t receive because you ask with the wrong motives.  I was reading The Purpose Driven Life the other day and it occurred to me that even though I was asking for the strength and desire to do God’s will that it was probably still selfishly motivated.  Almost like I was saying “I want to do your will Lord (so that it can best benefit me)”.  It should all be for His honor and Glory, not mine.

Verses 4 and 5: I wonder if some people might read this as the Bible saying that we shouldn’t care about the world, or that we shouldn’t treat it with respect.  I believe that God wants us to treat all of His creations with respect, while still using them for our needs.  We can use animals for the meat and other products, but we shouldn’t waste them, or be needlessly cruel.  Same with the earth.  We should use its resources, but we shouldn’t waste them either, or do damage to the planet as we are now capable of.  Anyway, slight tangent.  I think what James means when he talks about being a friend to the world is living a secular life.  Living for the pleasures of this life instead of the next.

Verses 7 through 10: Half of this section I love, the other half I’m a little confused by.  He says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.”  This tells us that we can resist the devil, and we can defeat him.  He has no power over us if we choose to resist.  The second part of this makes it sound like we should be sad and miserable Christians.  While there is certainly a time for reverence and piety, we should also have a lot of joy and happiness in the Lord.  Ah!  I just read the study notes.  Essentially it means that you should be genuinely sorry, grieving and mournful, for your sins.  If you repent and humble yourself, God will honor that and lift you up.

Verses 11 through 12: I’ve been working on, and I think improving in, this area.  Basically, we shouldn’t judge others and speak ill of them.  Who are we to judge?  Am I not a sinner as well?  God is the judge, not us.

Verses 13 through 17: I am most struck by verse 17.  “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  If God has put it on my heart to do something, and I don’t do it, then I have sinned against Him.  It could be something as simple and buying a sandwich for a hungry person.  That act itself might not mean much to me (aside from doing Gods will that is), but it might mean the world to the other person.  And if God has asked me to do it, and I don’t, how sad is that?  I can’t do some simple task?  And if I can’t do something simple like that, why would He trust me with something bigger and more difficult?

Chapter 5


Verses 1 through 6: I certainly never hoarded my money when I had it.  I spent it on stuff I wanted.  I never gave any to God.  Now I have no money, like really no money whatsoever.  I’m happier than ever, though I would love to have some money.  Just enough for stability, and to give some to God.  I think I’ve learned my lesson in this area.  I really hope I have.

Verses 7 through 12: “Patience in the face of suffering.”  Good stuff!  That sort of goes back to verses 2 through 4 about finding joy in trials because it brings perseverance and maturity.  I’m going through a form of suffering right now, and while I very much look forward to this particular trial being over with, I’m also trying my best to be patient.  Verse 12 is very similar to another verse about not swearing or making promises because your word should be good enough.  I don’t remember where the other verse is off the top of my head.  Good stuff though.  If I say I’ll do a thing, I should do that thing, and the person I told I would do it should trust that I will do it because I said I would.  I shouldn’t have to be bound by a promise.  Both sides are required to be faithful in this situation.

Verses 13 through 20: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  I confessed a sin to my pastor and mentor recently.  It was something I was really struggling with.  When I confessed to him, we prayed, and after we prayed, I was healed and forgiven of this sin.  In over two weeks I haven’t once struggled with this sin.  I had prayed on my own beforehand, asking God to simply remove this problem from my life.  Long story short, I felt very convicted leading up to the meeting with my pastor, and during the meeting as well.  The opportunity came up and I did as God asked me.  In return he did exactly as I asked.  It was wonderful.  It is wonderful!  “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  Praying for yourself is one thing, but it is important, necessary, and powerful to have others pray for you as well.  I knew this before, but now I have experienced it first hand and I understand it.

Conclusion


I started reading James because of a friend from church.  He recently asked what my middle name is.  It’s James, and I told him so.  He then remarked that he had first read James when he was a young man and he didn’t like it.  Specifically because of the part where it talks about being double-minded.  That part struck him and he was offended by it because it was impressed on him that he was just that sort of person.  They say that if you really study the Bible, at some point (probably more than once), it will personally offend you because it will start pointing out your weaknesses.  I have yet to experience that to the extent that others have, but I’m still working on it!  That’s not to say I don’t have weaknesses.  I certainly do!  And over the last few years I’ve come across a number of them and have either done away with them, or am working on them.  I’m just saying that I haven’t yet been offended by the weaknesses I’ve discovered.

Anyway, so that inspired me to read James, which I never have before.  For some reason it struck me that I should write down notes and thoughts as I have done here.  Less of a book review, and more of a personal report.  There is a lot of awesome truth in James.  One thing I like about it is that it’s concise and jam-packed with good stuff.  I think a person could study this one book for a long time and come away with a lot of good things.  I come away with a sense of needing to live more like God calls us to, as Christ did.

That theme actualy came up for me three times the other day while I was workin gon this.  The first was when I was reading the section of James about faith and deeds.  Faith I have.  My belief in and acceptance of what Jesus did for me is all I need to receive the gift He offers.  But without the deeds, the faith dies, or maybe was never alive to begin with.  Lesson: live more like Christ.

THe second was when I was reading the Moravian text for that day.  “Elijah said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ 1 Kings 18:21.  It doesn’t say that if the Lord id God, follow Him…except the parts you don’t want to do. It just says follow Him. Sounds to me like it’s saying to follow Him completely.  Lesson: live more like Christ.

The third was when reading The Purpose Driven Life.  I had just started it that day and read chapter 1 which is basically about how it’s not about you, it’s about God.  It’s not about what you want for your life, it’s about what He wants for your life.  If you seek what He wants, you’ll find your purpose.  If you follow Him completely.  Lesson: live more like Christ.  Hmm, God trying to tell me something?

Sorry, I’ll stop now!

2 comments

  1. Good thoughts Matt! Keep at it! Obedience is a real adventure! Grandpa would have loved to have this discussion with you and to have known you were dealing into the things of God!

    1. Thanks, it sure is! I only wish I had started this journey sooner so I could have talked to him about it years ago. One day I’ll see him again though, and we can have all the conversations we want!

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