Friday, August 07, 2015

Reading Through James

41lsG9lPZ4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. This post quotes from the book The Message of James: The Tests of Faith, written by J.A. Motyer. My analysis of the letter by James is in black below. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The Epistle of James was most likely written within 20 years of the resurrection of Jesus by the half-brother of Jesus. He was a leader of the Jerusalem church and was the spokesman at the Jerusalem Council. The original audience would have been Jewish Christians of the Diaspora who had been scattered outside of Palestine and had come to faith in Christ. Since James lived in Jerusalem it is likely that the letter was written from there. Early tradition holds that James was the first inspired epistle written. This would place it in the middle 40’s. The lack of allusion to any other New Testament epistles or to the Jerusalem Council support the early date.

The theme of the book is "Practical Faith." It was written to provide practical help to believers so that they could mature in the faith as they are challenged to examine their daily lives, attitudes and actions to see if they display the qualities of biblical wisdom, true faith and godly character. James contains a high concentration of commands, allusions to the Old Testament, especially the 10 Commandments and many references to Jesus‘ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. The message of the letter is, "The true believer will submit joyfully and obediently to trials, difficulties and oppression because he knows that God will use them to produce maturity, wisdom, endurance and character." Trials exercise our faith, leading to wisdom, which helps us humbly submit to God, so that we can endure and become perfect and complete (mature in Christ).

James ChartJames begins in the introduction by showing us that we can joyfully approach life because God can take even the difficulties of life and produce growing faith which leads to growing wisdom, loving submission and endurance, which results in mature godly believers. 1:1-8

If we are to line ourselves up with Scripture a whole revolution in thinking is called for. And this revolution touches not only our appraisal of life’s experiences, but of our spiritual expectations also...James’ road is both uphill and thorny; the benefits he promises are hard won, and progress painfully made can be consolidated only by repetition of the same costly effort. James 1.2-4, 34

Trials produce the blessings of maturity, wisdom, self-control and love in the truly faithful. They help us see that present circumstances are not the determiner of God’s blessing; help us handle difficulty in a way that will lead to eternal blessing instead of eternal death; are good gifts which produce the character of Christ in us; produce self-control by purifying us and driving us to read and apply God’s Word; and produce compassion for others who are in need.  1:9-27

How, then, are we to steer a straight path to the goal of maturity? How are we to see what is of stable worth, and what a tinsel of disappointment and loss? Only by the wisdom God gives, a wisdom that makes us see earth in the light of heaven, life in the light of eternal life, the flickering pattern of experience in the light of the steady reality of salvation. And wisdom is sought from God in the place of prayer. James 1.5-11, 45

Our progress to the crown is expedited not by our powers of endurance but by the depth and reality and pervasiveness of our love for him. We live by what we love; the shape of our lives is determined by the joys of our hearts. James 1.12, 49

A thing as potent as the new birth, if it has taken place, cannot be hidden; it cannot fail to make its presence felt. To have the life of God in us and to remain unchanged is unthinkable. James 1.22-25, 78

Obedience (doing things God’s way) is the test and evidence of true faith. True Faith treats others with the same dignity and favor with which one wants to be treated. Favoritism betrays a lack of trust in God, a lack of knowledge of His ways, and a lack of understanding of God’s values. Godliness is lived out and fulfilled when one treats everyone as he wants to be treated himself. True faith relates to others based on mercy, not judgment and produces acts of love and service in daily life. Thus, true faith acts in obedience to God’s commands, character and standards as exemplified by Abraham and Rahab. 2:1-26

Our values, priorities and activities must ever be governed by the definition of true glory displayed in the person, conduct and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. James 2.1-4, 86

If we would follow the Lord Jesus then it must be our glory, as it was his, to be incessantly and preponderantly on the side of the poor, the underprivileged, the disadvantaged and the oppressed. To do this is to identify ourselves with the very heart of God and to live obediently to the main line of his revealed will. In fact there are three things which Scripture holds together in unity: what the Lord is in himself, how his nature leads him to identify with the needy and helpless, and how what he has done for us (the needy and helpless) should constitute a model for us to follow. James 2.5-7, 89

The Bible has the answer: Man is made in the image of God. Our true freedom depends on discovering how we can give expression to our true nature...We are in the image of God; the law is in the image of God. When we bring these two together, we are ‘being ourselves’; we are truly free. God’s law describes the life of true freedom; obedience opens the door into the free life. James 2.12-13, 101–102

Unless your faith issues in pressure, what does it profit (16)? Unless your faith is willing to take personal risks, it does not come up to the test afforded by the faith of Rahab (25). Again, if our faith is living, it will be seen in giving and in other more direct exercises in personal involvement, in meeting needs. James 2.14-26, 109

The life of faith, then, is the life which respects the glory of Jesus (Jas. 2:1), for in his obedience to God and his concern for needy sinners he ‘emptied himself … humbled himself … unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:7–8). It is a life of obedience in particular to the royal law (8)—our obedience to the word of God seen in our concern for the needs of man. The life of faith is more than a private (long past) transaction of the heart with God. It is the life of active consecration seen in the obedience which holds nothing back from God, and the concern which holds nothing back from human need. James 2.18-24, 116

Practical Faith is seen in Wisdom, God’s wisdom that produces self control and peace. The ability to control one’s words is the supreme test of this godly wisdom and. True wisdom is demonstrated by self-controlled words which consistently build up others and glorify God. False wisdom is demonstrated by inconsistent and destructive words. In summary, demonic, earthly wisdom produces lies, jealousy and strife in relationships, while Godly wisdom produces good behavior, peace and service to others.  3:1-18

If our tongue were so well under control that it refused to formulate the words of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these things are cut down before they have a chance to live...The control of the tongue is more than an evidence of spiritual maturity; it is the means to it. James 3.2-5, 121

Over and over again the formation of a party, the growth of a clique, the promotion of a split have been justified as standing for the truth. It is said that, unless we divide, the truth cannot be safeguarded; the body from which we are dividing has rejected all truth, or this truth or that...The sad thing is that we who are born into a divided, wretchedly denominational situation are inured from birth to separation, and we have lost James’ realization that in Christian division, as in time of war, truth is the first casualty. James 3.13-14, 133

Practical Faith is seen in Humility. True faith produces humble submissive people at peace with God and others. Selfishness produces conflict, coveting and unanswered prayer. Acceptance of the world’s value system places you at odds with God, but humility submits its own plans to God’s and mourns over anything that displeases God. Humility never assumes God’s place by making rules or judging others. It recognizes its own limitations and is God-reliant instead of self-reliant. Lack of submission is sin.  4:1-17

Logic might suggest that we must clean up our lives and then draw near to God. James’ logic is otherwise, for it is when we know the reality of his presence and come under its holy influence that we are at last in a position to face the demands of holiness, and find ourselves motivated by the desire to be like our God. James 4.6-10, 153

There are three ways in which the self-concerned heart displays itself as the root of the fallen nature, the antithesis of the wisdom from above, the epitome of the earthly, sensual, devilish wisdom. These are a determination to dominate others, an insistent profit motive (what’s in it for me?) and a possessive attitude towards things. James 4.11-5.6, 157

Finally Practical faith is seen in Endurance: Real faith endures oppression with prayerful joy because it takes the long view of life. The “long view” uses money as an eternal investment instead of a reason for judgment and to serve others, not to indulge one’s self. The “long view”  is patient to wait for God’s reward and justice and, thus, does not grumble or complain. It never judges God’s compassion and mercy by the present circumstances and trusts God enough to be plainly truthful in all situations. The “long view” turns to God first in honest, compassionate, consistent and persistent prayer for one’s self and for others. The “long view” is willing to take risks to lovingly confront sin in others for their long term benefit. 5:1-20

Worldly wealth is an area of high risk in the battle to walk humbly with God. It is hard to be rich and lowly at the same time. The use of money and the life of self-pleasing are never far apart. James 5.1-6 , 171

Prayer may not remove the affliction but it most certainly can transform it.’ This, then, is the individual at prayer. He is reflecting all his life upward, acknowledging the sufficiency and sovereignty of God, practising the grace of acceptance and rejecting the disgrace of stubbornness. In this the voice of prayer and the voice of praise are at one, for alike they say that the will of God is good. James 5.13, 188

So it is with prayer. It looks unimpressive and it is easy to despise; but it has great resources waiting to be tapped, a huge potency to release. James 5.16-18, 204

Though we cannot save them from death, we must strive for their spiritual welfare as if their eternal destiny rested with us. Though we cannot cover their sins, we must follow the example of the Son of God who can do so, and hold nothing dear to ourselves and no sacrifice too great if only they are saved. For the local church of which James speaks is a fellowship of concern. James 5.19-20, 214

No comments: