Before I sat down to write this final word on the Book of James, I re-read through the five chapters and my highlighted notes. What struck me was how perfectly James’ words speak to the state of our current world. In February 2020, as news of the Covid19 virus started coming in from around the world we didn’t think too much about it. Another type of flu, meh. And suddenly March was upon us. Our lives were shutdown. Justified or not, our businesses closed, so many allowed fear to grip them into locking themselves in their homes, we ran out of toilet paper, our churches stopped welcoming us into their doors, and we watched rioters burn down cities. Some of us turned away from God and others of us ran toward Him.
I told my husband the other day how amazingly well spoken the disciples were. I think the tendency to think back to “ancient times” may lead us to think they weren’t as smart as us because we value “knowledge” over “wisdom.” In this short five-chapter letter, James’ gifts shine through. He is eloquent when using the metaphors of ships and rudders and forest fires and small sparks when speaking of our waggling and dangerous tongues. He turns into a great debater when providing facts about not showing favoritism and how the famed among us are typically the ones who take advantage of us. He is a fiery preacher when scolding us to submit and resist the devil. And a faithful servant reminding us to reach out to God for any and all needs.
I read an introduction to a Bible study on James once that said, “Unlike most books of the New Testament, the letter of James is best known for the people who don’t like it. People like love. They like Christ. They don’t like James.” But isn’t that the very reason this letter needed to be written? Before we are thrown into a crisis like the year 2020, before we face off with the devil, before we walk out the door to deal with unhappy, non-believers, James wants to shake us awake. To give us the tools to stand firm in the face of adversity. To be God’s faithful lights for the world. When I read James, I think of this letter as one for us everyday people. It’s a workshop full of concrete “how to’s.” There’s nothing wishy washy or confusing about James.
In the midst of the trials of the last few months, how many of us have considered it “pure joy?” (James 1:2) When out for our evening walk the other day, I told my husband how much I have appreciated what has happened. It forced me to slow down and stop fretting over filling up my daily schedule. My house got really clean. We turned to each other for loving support more than ever. We became a team and God was our head coach. I’ve been blessed to spend more time with a particular friend than I wouldn’t normally as she goes through a divorce. My BSGs (Bible study girls) started meeting in January. Two of whom I only slightly knew. We are now prayer warriors for each other. I asked my husband what positive things have come out of this for him – in the face of a very difficult work situation. He said he’s realized who he can really rely on.
I’ve learned how to be humble. I’ve learned to listen to people who have fears that I don’t have and show them grace. That person driving alone in their car with a full double breather mask pushes me to pray for them to find peace rather than make fun of them. Because that is what the Word tells us (James 1:23).
The destruction caused by favoritism, hating our neighbor, people lacking in mercy and those living in greed fills our daily news. People wanting to burn small businesses because they feel their needs are greater. Rioters standing with bullhorns yelling all night into homes because their view of the world comes first. Employees and businesses “gaming the system” to get more of the money distributed to help those struggling makes me want to cry. And, I can still picture a couple at Home Depot filling their pick-up truck to its fullest with toilet paper and laughing about it. (James 2:8, 13, 3:16, 4:17, 5:2).
And if we looked hard enough, we saw churches helping their communities by doing food drives and people volunteering to help at Food Banks. We saw neighbors supporting each other. We saw churches fighting to stay open and serve their flocks. I saw people like Christian worship leader Sean Feucht gathering people by the 100s to pray and worship God outside – at parks, at beaches, on the streets. I saw friends get on their knees and fully surrender to God. (James 2:8, 14,4:7, 5:19)
In the United States, we are going through an important presidential election. I’ve stood at street corners supporting a candidate while the opposing side hurls hatred and curse words at me. All the while they hold signs telling me to have more compassion and to love certain races. (James 3:9). I’ve watched candidate debates where the lies are piled up not only by the candidate but by the debate moderator and then by the media. All in order to disguise the true platform of the candidate. Their yes has not meant yes and their no has not meant no. (James 5:12)
I’ve said to others that this time seems unprecedent. And this letter of James seems very prescient. There is a sifting going on. Have we chosen to surrender and submit to God? (James 4:7). Have we thrown up all our worries, our hurts, our sins to God or are we taking them out on others? (James 5:13-16) Are we working to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ or are we fighting with them? (James 5:19)
James makes it clear, without a lot of flowery prose, as to the destruction we humans can wrought without our eyes firmly on God. The question is, will we listen and do or will we deceive ourselves?
Thank you for joining me on this journey through James. I look forward to you joining me with my next series called, “Living Amazed through Jesus” beginning November 1.