Once upon a time I participated in a study over the book of James by Beth Moore. In the first session she challenged us to memorize the entire book of James. I thought that sounded like a pretty good challenge so I got busy memorizing. I finished chapter one and never got any farther and that was probably five years ago. Of course the verses I repeated the most were the ones at the beginning of the book.
One day I was at the dentist – I hate the dentist – and I was very nervous as they prepared me for the drill. I laid there in the chair trying desperately to think of any Bible verse I could recite to bring me peace and comfort. Immediately my mind went to the book of James – surely there was peace and comfort there! Unfortunately, all I could remember was verse one – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, Greetings.
Now while that verse didn’t necessarily bring peace to my heart, it did bring peace to my body as I recited it over and over and over again. God’s word will not ever return void!
I love that our study of James directly follows our study of the book of Job. They go hand in hand! All of the lessons and truths that we learned in Job are affirmed in the book of James. James is a practical book for godly living – some even call it the Proverbs of the New Testament. James skips from topic to topic, giving believers instructions for how to live out their faith every day.
The first topic he tackles is suffering, trials and perseverance. The Greek word for steadfastness literally means “to remain under”. I have some beautiful notes written in my Bible from 2015 when I battled chronic hives for most of that year. I wrote, “Trials develop perseverance and wisdom, making me more like Jesus. When I am more like Jesus, people will see HIM in me! I have had hives for six months so far and I am asking God to allow me to remain under them for as long as it takes to make me more like Jesus!” That note was dated 3/3/15. Another note just after that simply says “Hives gone” 7/15. What a beautiful reminder to me of the beauty that comes to a heart surrendered to God, a heart that remains under a trial until it has produced steadfastness and maturity. If you are under a trial right now, friend, can I encourage you to fully submit to God in it as you remain under it? He may not remove it from you quickly, but you can be sure that he is creating completion in you.
The next section of chapter one deals with brothers who are poor and those who are rich. I just love how God gives me good practical examples to help me understand what he’s teaching me in Scripture. Just yesterday I spoke with two separate believers. One shared with me about seeking the Lord and serving Him in their poverty, trying to trust Him to provide for their needs. Just a few hours later another person came to me to share about how they are trying to trust God in their wealth, seeking ways to serve Him and know Him more without getting lured by the temptation to love their money and possessions. I think that’s what this passage is getting at – no matter your financial situation, seeking to overcome it to the praise and glory of God!
James 1:12-18 takes us back to the trials – Face it, trials were a common, ever-present fact for believers in the first century church, just like they are for us in 2017! James says that the one who remains under those trials will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those that love Him! Again, God doesn’t take the trial away! The person remains under it. When you’re faced with a trial, do you willingly take your place under it or do you beg God to take it? The next time you are faced with a trial, I challenge you to look at it through the lens of the gospel and choose to seek Him in remaining under in it instead of pleading with Him to remove it from you!
But then James goes into temptation, clarifying that God does not tempt anyone. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t say that Satan is the tempter here. Of course we know that Satan is the father of lies and he does tempt us, but here the temptation James mentions comes from a source that we don’t often acknowledge – our own evil desires. When you’re tempted, recognize that sometimes that temptation is from your own sinful flesh and refuse to give in to it. It will only lead to death.
James brings up a topic that hits close to home for all of us next. In verse 19 he tells us that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. If there was ever any advice to help you in your marriage or in your relationship with your parents or your children or your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, this is it. Listen more. Talk less. Don’t jump to anger.
To follow this up, James tells us that it’s not enough to just hear the word of God – we have to do what it says. Hearing it does nothing. Doing what it says is evidence of a change in our hearts. We look into Scripture, we persevere and we are blessed!
And last but not least, James confronts the concept of religion. He tells us that if you think you’re religious but you’re running your mouth all the time you’ve missed the point of religion. It’s not that religion is bad like our society has tried to tell us. In fact, it’s the opposite. Religion is good – taking care of orphans and widows and keeping yourself pure. All of these things are evidence of a change of heart. When your heart changes because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you become less and less concerned with the things of this world: constant gossip, money, trials, anger, etc. You become more and more concerned with living out your faith, letting there be evidence in your life of a change in your heart.
James isn’t going to stop here. This whole book is full of ways that we can make little changes in our lives to honor God more and change our lives to be a better reflection of the change he has brought in our hearts. Stay tuned for more, but be careful not to look into the perfect law that gives freedom and then forget what you’ve seen. Don’t be a hearer who forgets. Be a doer who acts!