My thoughts on James, having been reading this book recently.
Ch 1v1-18: Introduction / Steadfastness in trials
James starts out with an encouragement and call to steadfastness through trials. His advice (v5-v8) is that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, but asking with faith. Being his first comment after his introduction, this is helpful as showing that asking for wisdom is likely to be our first need in times of trial, but also a warning to trust in God to answer this prayer; I know often I can ask God for help while also thinking how to help myself.
I found it surprising that the next section (v9-11) is about the poor and rich and how they should behave. This comes up again later in James, but perhaps is mentioned here when covering the theme of trials, as a reminder that we should not use our position as an excuse (if we are poor) or salvation in itself (if we are rich), but always see ourselves as God does.
v12 reminds us of God’s grace, and encourages us that “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life”. It’s important to remember when struggling, that this should be our goal, to have eternal life with God.
v13-v18 tell us that God is not the source of temptation, but it is our sin; and that only and all good things come from God, who is unchanging. So we should not blame Him for our difficulties, even though this is easy for us to do.
Ch 1v19 – Ch 4v12: Quick to hear, Slow to speak, Slow to anger
On this reading of James, I noticed particularly v19 and how so much of the book of James can be taken as a commentary on this verse: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”.
“Be quick to hear”, has a short follow up in v22-25, exhorting us to not only hear but to act on it. I recognise myself in his analogy, of someone who looks in the mirror then turns away and forgets what he looks like. It’s so easy to do this with the bible; reading it in the morning then forgetting it and getting on with everything else in the day.
v26-27 then moves us on to “slow to speak”, warning us that our tongue if not bridled can make our religion worthless, which is quite a warning, which is then further expounded on.
Ch 2v1-13 gives us an example around partiality, and favouring someone because they are rich and better dressed. This is our natural instinct, to favour that person who most appeals to us, but it is because we are too quick; instead we should as said in v8: “love your neighbour as yourself”. I find this very challenging myself as I prefer to spend time with those who I enjoy the company of, so I find this a helpful reminder of how I should think.
Ch 2v14-26 then talks about “someone says he has faith but does not have works”, with an example of seeing a poorly clothed and hungry brother or sister, but only wishing them well and not helping them. Again we should not just be so quick to speak, but think about how to obey God and act with faith; and follow the examples of Abraham and Rahab that James gives us.
Ch 3 v1-12 then gives us the great description of the power of the tongue; with the series of illustrations. As v9 says “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God”. I find this a very powerful thought, as we pray or sing at church, what else have we said with our tongues that week.
The theme of “be slow to anger” seems to pick up with Ch 3v13-18, reminding us how to conduct ourselves, before going onto Ch 4v1-12 about the anger that can come between Christians. I find Ch 4v1 and onwards such a helpful diagnosis: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have… You covet and cannot obtain…You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”
I’m thankful that we don’t see a lot of fights or quarrels among Christians we know, but I am sure it happens in our hearts, that we are jealous or self-seeking. It is so helpful to look inside ourselves and examine our motives first, before being critical or jealous of others. As James then says in v4, we can not be friends of both the world and God, but far too often we put worldly things and desires first. But it’s amazing that God is so graceful and loving to us, and will cleanse us from our sins. So we should try to obey James’ command in v7 and “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you”. I find this a great challenge, but it is a very helpful reminder and encouragement to read.
Ch 4v13-Ch5 v20: The Day of the Lord will come
This last section of James reminds us that the day of the Lord will come. So we should remember: we live by God’s grace alone (Ch 4v13-17), we should not spend our lives laying up treasure here (Ch 5 v1-6), but we should be patient and steadfast (Ch 5v7-11) and live a prayerful life (Ch 5v13-20).
More thoughts on this section can be found in my later post
All quotes taken from the ESV bible.