The book of James. Only five chapters, but packed with principles for living! Written by the brother of Jesus Christ Himself and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the book of James sure makes the most of every single word and line. It is a perfect read for finding focus or getting priorities in order. With its promises and warnings, James really gets down to business in explaining how the life of a Christian should be lived.
I love the opening (James 1): “This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes” – Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings!”
James, who at one point in his life did not even believe that Jesus was the Messiah. James, who may have even been ashamed of his brother, calling Jesus out and scolding Him for His behavior, now describes himself as a slave of God and the Lord Jesus. What a transformation! (In Mark 3:21; John 7:5) But to get to this point, James had to watch his brother die a horrific death. He also watched as Jesus was laid in a borrowed tomb. And finally, James witnessed the power of the resurrection!
Imagine how it must have felt, to live all those years with such a perfect big brother, and yet doubt Him until the proof of His identity was too much to deny! Ouch! As one of the ones who should have known and understood who Jesus was better than anyone, this had to be a blow. But the blow did not crush James. Instead, he became a believer, he grew and spent the rest of his life serving the Lord.
“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16), so let’s see what God wants us to learn from the book of James.
- We can find joy even in our trials. As Christians, we can know that when troubles come our way, our faith is tested. So often God uses the hard things that we go through in life to help us to grow and become who He intends for us to be. James 1: 2-4: “Dear Brothers and Sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
- If we want to be wise, all we have to do is ask! James 1:5-8: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is an unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” Ask, and have faith! You have to believe God’s promise to give you the wisdom you ask for! Look to God for answers. We cannot count on ourselves to supply the wisdom. We can’t even “follow our hearts”, because “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) and we certainly cannot count on the world, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say, “He traps the wise in the snare of their own wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 3:19) But God is faithful and we can always count on Him for true wisdom!
- Our wealth and achievement are not important to God. Although we can use our resources, talents and achievements to further His kingdom, we should always recognize that everything we have is from Him! We should wisely use all that He has blessed us with, never taking anything for granted, and realizing that money, wealth, fame or power in itself never impresses God. He is more wealthy, famous and powerful than we can even imagine!(Psalm 50:10 “For every animal in the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”) And just think about the wealth He gave to people like Solomon, Abraham, Isaac, David, Job, and Joseph in the Old Testament. Surely, their vast wealth was only a drop in the bucket to all God possesses! He is just as rich today as He was then, and in the end, only what we have done with what He has given us will matter. All else will fade and die like flowers in a field on a hot August day. James 1: 9-11: “Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all their achievements.”
- God never promised us a perfect life. Being a Christian does not insulate us from the hard times and temptations that are a part of living here on Planet Earth. While we are here, we will struggle. Maybe that’s partly to make us long for our home in Heaven. We don’t have to be discouraged when we face hardships, temptations, pain or loss, because “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) When it all just seems too much, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) We can have joy that is not dependent on our circumstances. Life may be unpleasant for a time, and we may not be happy, but the joy remains when we remember God’s promises to us as His children. Psalm 30:5 says: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Sometimes it seems like the pain lasts way more than a night, but since God is not on our timetable, we just have to hang on, and give Him complete control. James 1:12-15 “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”
- God is a good Father, who gives good gifts and we are His prized possession! James 1:16-18 “So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” That “true word” is the Gospel! The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our Savior allows us to be called the sons and daughters of the Living God! All our blessings come from Him!
- God loves us so much, and that powerful love is transforming us. Only by His power can we cultivate the character traits James describes. For most of us, the next couple of verses go against our nature. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can can be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. The changes in our character may not take place immediately. Like the old song “He’s Still Working On Me” says, it only took God 6 days to make all of Creation, but He takes more time with us. James 1:19-21 “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the work God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.”
- Don’t just listen: DO IT! James 1:22-25: “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.” I spent too many years reading, but not really absorbing the Word of God. So often, I would read more than I could digest. Speed reading instead of digging for the treasures that are there waiting to be found. I have read through the Bible…not sure how many times…but so much of what I read in the past did not truly stick, because I was just skimming through. Even in the times of reading for quantity, I learned a lot, but not what I could have if I had just slowed down enough to take it all in. At other times in my life, I have known what the Word has to say about certain things, but did not live in a way that reflected that I knew. There have been times when my priorities were way out of line, when I have lived more for earthly pursuits than to please God. It is so easy to get distracted from what is important. I think distraction is one of Satan’s favorite tools to get us off track. Sometimes the things that are going on in our lives, which are not necessarily bad things, can become more of a priority than our relationship with the Lord and sharing His love with others. This is a trap and we have to be so careful not to fall into it. There have also been times when I was bitter and disappointed, and blamed God for things in my life that I set into motion with my rebellious choices. But know this. The Word transforms. It has transformed my whole life and it is an ongoing process. We cannot live the Word unless we know the Word. So get in there and DIG! And while you dig, DO! Our works don’t save us! BUT, because Jesus has already done the work required for our salvation, we should want to live, love and work to glorify Him and draw others to Him. Any other lifestyle is worthless. Find a good Bible study plan and stick to it. I have tried just randomly reading and can never stay on track with it. Right now, I am involved in a small group Bible study called D-Life (Disciple Life). It could not be more simple. The D-Life study begins in Matthew and takes a chapter a day, working through the entire New Testament, with study and discussion questions at the end of each 5-chapter section. I like this better than my multi-chapter study, because it is more manageable, bit-sized chunks of truth! Life application is so important. Look for ways to live out what you learn from the scriptures in everyday life. We have been created to bring God glory…to know Him and make Him known. It is so much more than just going to church on Sundays and trying to be good! He wants us in the trenches working hard as His hands and feet, bringing others to Him, so that they, in turn, can bring still others to Him and multiply His kingdom!
- Control your tongue! Words are powerful. Make them count. James 1:26 “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” Ouch. Not much to be said about this one. It means just what it says. Don’t let the things you say cast a shadow over your witness.
- Practice true religion. James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” Basically, just take care of those less fortunate. James mentions widow and orphans. But shouldn’t we also look out for the struggling single mother? And children who may have living parents who can’t…or won’t take care of them? For the elderly gentleman caring for a spouse with dementia? These are just a few examples, but I think it means anyone who needs us. Look around you. They are there. Reach out. God has positioned you in eternity to do his bidding. You may be the only reflection of Jesus that some people ever see. So be the salt in a tasteless world. Be the light in darkness. (Matthew 5:13-16) Be hope for the hopeless. God has a plan for your life. Listen to what He’s asking you to do! He loves you so much and the blessings He has in store for you will blow your mind!