James 1:2-15 – Wisdom
One of my favorite parts of James is his straightforward approach to the Christian life. Have trials, count it joy. Don’t have something you need, ask for it. Don’t think God will or can actually give you what you need, probably not the best approach. Have faith but don’t have a life to back it up, might not have as much faith as you thought.
At the heart of this opening passage to Jewish Christians, James writes some potentially unconnected statements about wisdom, double-mindedness, and some economic discrepancies in his target audience. But I think verses 5-11 are tightly woven together in the theme of wisdom. James comes right out of his introduction of “count it all joy” with a statement of perfection gained by steadfastness (or endurance, patience, etc.). Obviously, if we were all perfect we wouldn’t need his letter much less the instructions he gives in the rest of the book. James knows us better than that. He knows his readers better than that. He knows that we’re not perfect and the thing that often pushes us off course is a lack of wisdom.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom begins when the Lord is feared. A lot of people try and soften this idea by dumbing down “fear” like it’s just a respect or an honoring, like there’s really nothing to be afraid of. The biggest problem with that is the BIBLE and what God actually says about Himself. I love how CS Lewis puts it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as Mr. Beaver responds to the children’s question about the safeness of Aslan, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” There’s nothing safe about God. He is infinitely holy. Infinitely different. Wisdom can only be found in first understanding how small we are compared to the God of the universe. But smallness isn’t enough. Jesus warned us that we should fear the Father who is able to throw us into Hell (Matthew 10:28). So fear is not just knowing that God is bigger, it’s knowing two vital things simultaneously: God is holy, perfect, righteous, and just and we are not.
This understanding, according to James, keeps us from falling into the trap of pride. The poor man can rejoice in his humility when his hope is in Christ and not comfort in this life. The rich can rejoice in the loss of their possessions for the same reason. There is no economic status that accompanies or proves the favor of God. Christ paid the price for all His children despite their tax bracket.
Wisdom teaches us this. Wisdom levels the playing field. There are no first stringers in the kingdom of God. You either play or you’re not on the team. This truth that James communicates must have been profound in his day and it has the same effect today. In our day though, it may not be economics that drives our favoritism. It could be race, social status, denomination, generation, job description, or favorite football team. The heart of James message is one of humility and fear of the Lord. This is the heart of wisdom that is blown around in the wind. The heart of wisdom is firmly established on the Rock of Christ, the Cornerstone. If we try building on any other foundation, crumble under the weight of the cross. As we strive to count our trials as joy, may we remember to look past what we like or dislike about a person on the outside and allow the Lord to give grace through us to others. Grace and peace,
A Few More Thoughts on James…
One of the greatest and most profound aspects of the letter that James writes to the early church is the fact that James was most likely Jesus half-brother. There are two other less likely writers in the New Testament named James, but most of the evidence is going to point to James the Just, the leader of the church in Jerusalem and son of Mary and Joseph. This may seem like a small thing to some, but being one of five kids makes the fact that James was a Christian extraordinary. Even if James isn’t the writer of the epistle, it is an historically documented fact that James was a follower of Christ after His ascension and James led the church in Jerusalem before it was burned in 70 AD.
I have a brother. He’s a great guy, one of my best friends. I believe that he’d do just about anything I asked him to do within a certain type of reason, but he’d never worship me. He probably thinks I’m a pretty good guy, too. He might even like me more than a lot of other people, but he doesn’t write songs about me. He doesn’t go around telling people that they should worship me, he’s just my brother. And there aren’t many people in history who have convinced their family to worship them.
A lot of people believe that Christianity is a religion that requires blind faith. They discredit our beliefs because they say it’s not logical or doesn’t have enough evidence. The Bible tells us otherwise. We have a guy in James the Just who believed that Jesus was God even though he had grown up with Him. If there was anyone who could have dispelled the rumor of Christ’s deity and perfection it would have been James. James and his family had at one point questioned Jesus sanity (Mark 3:21) and the Scriptures clearly point out that Jesus’ brothers did not follow Him in His earthly ministry (John 7:5). James is a crucial witness in defense of our faith and his letter stands as God’s inspired Word to us about how to live in accordance to faith in Jesus. How awesome is God for His grace to James in saving him, calling him, and speaking through him.
There is so much to be learned from the book of James, but one of the greatest lessons comes in what’s not explicitly said. This lesson teaches us about the realness of our faith. It is not a blind faith. We trust God’s use of eyewitnesses like James to communicate to us who Jesus is, and hope that by His Spirit we may come to life as James did. Grace and peace,
Reflections on Holy Week – Our Place
John 11:45-53; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
… it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.
I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a sermon or teaching that talks about one of the rational explanations for the Jewish authorities to want to kill Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, they were wrong. Misguided. Blind. But these were not unreasonable men. We don’t have many parallels to thousands of years of tradition or hundreds of years for that matter. It’s hard for us to translate why these men would want so badly to kill Jesus – why they wanted Him silenced before He could do anymore damage. I’ve never heard anyone sympathize with them. I’ve rarely heard anyone admit that if we were in their shoes, we would have done the exact same thing.
We want to believe that we don’t have it in us. We want to believe that we don’t think like they do. How many of us would allow one polarizing figure to die in order to save a nation? How many of us would be willing to give that person over to the governing authorities in order to prevent the destruction of our way of life? Romans didn’t tend to enjoy those who threatened their control. Hints of rebellion have rarely gone over well with those in power. Christ was to be the King of the Jews. The people greeted Him with loud shouts, songs, and merriment – parading Him down the streets of their largest city at their busiest season screaming “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) Anybody in their right mind would have tried to quiet the crowd.
The crowds that followed Him would have been the greatest encouragement for the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus. Crowds are fickle, impulsive, unreasonable. History has shown us this. Professional sports is modern evidence of this. Their carelessness at the Triumphal Entry almost forced the Jewish leaders hand. The risk was too great. Their nation was at stake. Their lives were at stake, and potentially the lives of hundreds of thousands gathered in that one city for the Passover. We would have done the same. We would have reasonably, carefully calculated what had to be done. And like them, we would have had no problem breaking a few minor scheduling or accuracy laws to accomplish the safety of our families, children, and lives.
Sooo happy Easter… Why is this important? Why focus on the reasonableness of the Jewish leaders? It’s important that we move beyond the hype of Easter. We tend to enjoy a bit of looking down our noses at the Jewish leaders, the fickle crowd, and Jesus disciples during this week. We tend to put on our capes and reread the accounts and believe we would have stood with Him and died with Him. We tend to be grateful for Christ’s suffering for us innocent bystanders who would have never done those things to Him if we were there. I want to start this Holy Week in the right place. Christ entered Jerusalem knowing the cross awaited Him. Knowing the cup was ready to be served. Knowing my voice would be in the crowd at Pilate’s inquiry. Knowing my sin demanded blood. The cross is foolishness to those who believe they have it all figured out. It’s foolishness to those who have something to lose. It’s foolishness to those who believe they wouldn’t have turned on Him. Thank you for the cross, Lord. Thank you for the blood-stained, wrath-absorbing cross. Forgive me for putting you there. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,