This past Sunday I preached on James 1 at the evening service at our Church. Our housegroups are studying the book this term. Here are my notes from that sermon.
Themes in James
- Key Points for this evening – James 1.
- God wants to gift us wisdom, insight and knowledge. All we have to do is ask him and trust. We will receive it.
- God blesses those who patiently endure, who persist, who make worshipping him and telling people about him the main thing.
- If we call ourselves people who are religious, who have faith, we have to prioritise serving the poor, those who are sick, the widow and the orphan.
- James is the brother of Jesus (probably). Think about how it was for him to grow up in the family. A simple family of lay people – the story of the birth of his brother etc, then one day Jesus gets up in the temple and preaches on Isaiah 61:1-4’today this is fulfilled in your hearing’. But it’s your brother. Remember later in the gospel accounts, the family of Jesus try and silence him. They think he will get himself killed. But by the time of the controversy in Acts 15 about whether the Church should accept non-Jewish believers, James sides with Paul and says that no-one should be excluded (19). That’s a miracle! James’s letter is a careful one, making it pretty clear that it is trust in God that is central to faith and life. We’re not to rely on ourselves, our own wisdom, our own strength, our own wealth, we are to trust solely on God.
- He’s writing to a Church under pressure. Dispersed by persecution etc. Similar to us today, not all Christians in one place.
Themes in James
- 2 Dear brothers and sisters,[a] when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
- The purpose of testing – ‘the testing of your faith produces perseverance’. Testing/trials have a purpose. It’s hard to get excited about them (just being honest), but we’re told to ‘consider it pure joy’ when trials of many kinds come. Because of the perseverance that they produce. I find it interesting then that perseverance is seen as something which is at work in us, enabling us to keep going, almost like it should have a capital P. We become mature and complete when we allow it to finish its work. This is quite interesting I think. If we strive too hard, if we push on ahead, trying to make things happen in our own strength, in our own way, then we actually run the risk of not allowing maturity and completeness to come in the way that it is supposed to.
- 5-8. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
- We can’t be who we are designed to be without wisdom. What James is talking about here is sofia (insight, skill,intelligence). What I think James is getting at here is not that we all end up needing to be part of MENSA or that only people with brains the size of planets can understand God. Far from it. He is saying that the knowledge, the insight, the know-how we need for how to live for God, to love him, to serve him, in a world which can make it seem very difficult to be a Christian, that’s something that we need to ask God for, not to seek within ourselves. Wisdom is a gift from God. The word used for the way God gives it to people is haploce (generously, bountifully without reproach). All we have to do is ask for it, and trust God. And we will receive it. Our culture can make it seem like if you’ve had a great education (perhaps a Grammar School education, but we shouldn’t go there! you are of a higher worth than someone who hasn’t. If you got 74 A Levels and 5 degrees, you’re worth more to society than someone who left school at 14 and worked hard their whole life. This.Is.Not.True. I’ll say it again. This.Is.Not.True. I’ve been fortunate enough to be trained in Church leadership stuff for 5 years, with a lot of what I have done having been quite academically heavy, but if I don’t ask God for his wisdom, trust him and let him gift it to me, then I am lost. When you’re under pressure, it’s not your degree that saves you, it’s the power of God,
- The trusting is important though! Without trust, we’re like people blowing in the wind or rolling on the sea, we’re double minded, or confused in all we do. If we can learn to trust God, to seek him first, to acknowledge him in all our ways and lean on him, not our own understanding, we are able to see something of the kind of life of faith, the life of abundant generosity, that can be ours. We miss it sometimes, trying to understand without seeking God’s wisdom.
- 9-11 – 9 Believers who are[b] poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.
- Don’t chase wealth. Only the poor, the humble, can boast. Wealth brings more problems than it solves. Don’t you just wish sometimes that we all had more money? Or that the Church had more money? Or that we didn’t need to worry so much about all the stuff to do with money that seems to dominate so much of our lives these days? We’re conditioned to want more. We’re not conditioned to commit to contentment. Some of us in the room tonight are poor, we do lack, but as a whole body, as a whole Church, we have enough. Sometimes we just need to share our resources, our energy, our gifts, our talents, our food, more amongst ourselves. I say this to myself. I like comfort, I like stuff. I like not worrying about money. James says God has blessed the poor. Jesus says the poor will always be with us, that the poor in spirit, the meek, have the kingdom, that they will inherit the earth. God has a preference for the poor. What we do, how we think, it needs to reflect that.
- 12-18. – 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong,[c] and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. 16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens.[d] He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[e] 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.[f]
- Are we willing to endure patiently – hoop-om-eno, to persevere? To bear up against? It’s not so glamorous is it, but persistence and consistency are key themes in the Christian life. We have to keep going. Together. We have to keep the main thing the main thing, to keep our eyes fixed on worshipping Jesus and introducing people to him. That’s what God blesses. He blesses those who aren’t distracted into seeing shiny new things and ways of dong things round every corner. He blesses those who come to him for wisdom, who trust him with their lives, and then who keep on doing it, and keep on doing it, and keep on doing it, whatever comes, whatever trials, whatever opportunities. It might sound boring to those of us, like me, who are attracted by shiny, by new, but it’s the thing that gets you that, ‘welcome home, good and faithful servant’ at the end of it all. It’s what this life is all about.
- Don’t be misled, God is never tempted to do wrong, or to ask us to. If we feel tempted to do wrong, it comes from us, from our own desires and leads to sin. We can’t get out of it easily by blaming God when we find ourselves having done the wrong things. God is not at fault, we are, but there is hope. Good, perfect gifts are given to us from God. I’m not talking about that new car we want, or a nice new job, even though those things can be very important to us at times. I’m talking about the things that last, the things that endure, life, breath, hope, we are the prized possessions of God. He gave us his true word, the word of life, Jesus. That’s a pretty big deal. God never changes. Never
- 19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger[g] does not produce the righteousness[h] God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
- 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
- 26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
- I like to talk, most of you know this. A lot of you have been on the end of one of my rants. Sorry about that. I’m wanting to learn to be quicker to listen, slower to speak. Not just to each of you, but to God too. We’re in a period where we especially need to be listening to God. Are we on his path, doing things his way? I think so. I think our priorities are right and good. Love God with everything we have, love our neighbours, our communities, and love ourselves. We are actually doing pretty well. The end of our passage tonight says that true religions which pleases God cares for orphans and widows in their distress. it puts the poor, the struggling, the sick, those in need, those who don’t have a place, or who society doesn’t value, it puts them first.
- We control our tongues, we speak well of one another, we bless with what we say, we don’t put people down, or insult, or attack.
- We don’t let the world corrupt us…This is about priorities again, about money, about where we put our trust, our confidence. Is it anywhere but in God? Then it’s in the wrong place. Are we trusting God? Then we’re on the right track.
- We need each other. We, Phil and I, the great people we have who lead services, preach, play music, people who serve our congregations in a whole variety of ways, we need God, we need each other, and we need to accept that we’re loved and precious too. As Phil said last week, we’re all in this together. All of us in this room, we are prized possessions of God’s.
- So, as we close, some questions and challenges….What’s your favourite thing? To God, you’re more important than even the most important possession that you just thought of, that thing, or person that you cherish. You might not be able to believe that, or think that that’s a key part of this passage tonight, but as I’ve prepared, I’ve felt God say to me that there are people here tonight who need to receive the gift of wisdom, wisdom to know that they are his prized possession, that he will not let go of you.
- Secondly, are we willing to put our trust, our confidence in God? It’s a hard one. Voices in our heads say we need to worry, to focus on other things, but God is where there is life, hope, a future, possibility. Let’s put our trust in him, together, as we move forward in to the future, wherever that may lead, remembering his faithfulness to us in the (very recent) past, and expecting it in the future.
- Thirdly and lastly, let’s work together to find ways to serve those who are struggling this week. If you are, receive prayer before you go tonight. If you know someone who is, pray for them this week, with them if you can. If people are short of food, share some of yours. If people are short of money,or clothes, share some of yours. If someone lacks confidence, but you know that they are precious, valuable, tell them. Give generously, as God as been so generous to us. He’s given us his wisdom to see how great he is, how valuable the people he has made his prized possessions are. Let’s worship him now, and with our lives this week.