In his letter written to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire, James, the half-brother of Jesus, issues the call for a life of following Jesus that is “wholly holy.” In other words, our aim is a life with integrity that allows God to close the gap on the holes, blind spots and inconsistencies that we often ignore. Trials and temptations. Hearing and not doing. Taming our tongues. Riches and Poverty. Favoritism. Worldliness. The work of Jesus is so rich and profound that it addresses all of life, not merely getting our souls to heaven when we die. Drawing upon the Sermon on the Mount and the ancient wisdom tradition, James fires off short thematic teachings that reveal the way that God intends to put our whole lives back together again: from “holey” to “wholly, holy.”
As the final chapter of the book opens, James addresses two shortsighted ways to live that undercut God's kingdom from above: financial arrogance and everyday impatience. With two distinct thoughts, James both condemns the rich for their selfish mistreatment of wealth and critiques the people of God regarding their grumbling impatience amidst suffering. Both actions miss the mark. And both actions fail to live in light of the imminent return of Jesus. A clear and compelling vision of the coming Judge changes the way we live today until His return.
The next theme that James tackles in terms of wisdom and everyday transformation is our tongue. Following the wisdom of Proverbs, James underscores just how much our words bring life and death. Borrowing from a variety of metaphors (a bit, a rudder, a fire), James points out just how central our tongue is to the life of one following Jesus. By His grace, God intends to make our words wholly holy too.
Moving into chapter 2, James focuses on the theme of favoritism in the Christian community. Literally, the word favoritism means to "receive the face" or to judge people based on what you see. And without a doubt, James is emphatic that faith and favoritism cannot be held in the same hand. As a trusted voice of leadership and care, James exposes the way that favoritism violates several key components of the way of Jesus and exhorts us all to be a mercy loving people in practical ways.
This week we continue in James’ letter to the early church and consider what it means follow Jesus in a broken world. Where does the brokenness come from? What does it mean for us to not only hear the truth but live the truth? What should our religion, our faith, our worship be marked by? How does the life and teachings of Jesus inform all of this?
Within the opening lines of his letter, James introduces the reader to the three main themes that get addressed on loop in the chapters to come. As a loving and trusted voice, James powerfully reminds us that we don't always see clearly and that so much of our spiritual journey is marked with false assumptions and unhelpful instincts. One by one, James reshapes our vision around trials, wisdom and wealth and invites us to walk in line with Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Our summer in the book of James kicks off this week with an introduction to the man behind the letter. As the half-brother of Jesus, James falls in the category of one of the least likely people to ever come to faith. However, after his initial unbelief and skepticism, James became a pillar of the early church in Jerusalem and names himself as a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1). Such a radical change is rooted in resurrection faith and explains the force and vigor underneath this punchy epistle. Faith in the resurrected Jesus is so potent that we should expect transformational change and be willing to boldly challenge one another. Anything less doesn't resemble real faith.