Reading for Monday, June 4: James 1
We now turn to the writing of James, the oldest brother of Jesus. James writes perhaps the most practical letter in the NT, addressed to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” (v1), a reference to the Christians dispersed by the persecution mentioned in Acts 8:1. James understands Christianity not as a “new” religion but as an extension of God’s covenant promises of the Old Covenant finding their ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus.
In these circumstances, James begins with an odd statement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (v2). Christians can joyfully endure hardship because this is the narrative that gives meaning to our existence. Jesus Himself “for the joy set before Him endured the cross,” (Heb. 12:2), giving us an example for dealing with our own adversity.
From there, James covers a variety of practical topics: perseverance, wisdom, faith, humility. James understands the Christian life as one fraught with challenges: temptation (v13) and deception (v16) are ever-present. But God is not the source of these. Instead, He stands as “the Father of the heavenly lights,” (v17) imparting gifts, giving us birth through the truth of His holy word (v18).
James reads like a repository of lived-in wisdom. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (v19). “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says,” (v22). “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world,” (v27). James advocates proper action and warns against improper action. In situations where anger is the natural reaction, James teaches restraint. When we’re tempted to pop off at the mouth, James puts up the stop sign (v26). But in circumstances that require godly action, James says “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.” Care for the defenseless — widows and orphans — is the kind of religion that pleases God.