by Gary Simpson
Rabbi Harold Kushner says the words of religion are words of encouragement, not words of condemnation (1). Through James, the Lord is encouraging us to live in such a way that our faith in Jesus is a positive force in the world. James is not intended to make us feel like failures. Through the book of James, God is cheering us on, encouraging us to do better.
James 1:1-18 (KJV) James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing [this], that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have [her] perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.
Blessed [is] the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Verse 1 tells us that James was writing to the twelve scattered tribes. James was composing his letter for the Jewish believers living outside of Israel.
There were three major forced resettlements of Jewish people (2). The Jewish people were not whisked away to taste of the wonderful culture, night-life and cuisine in Babylon and Rome. They were made slaves. The Assyrians invaded and carried away many people. These Jewish people were lost and are part of the ten lost tribes (3). The Babylonians invaded and carried off a lot of Jewish about 580 years BC. The third major resettlement took place about 63 BC. The captured Jewish people were taken to Rome to work as slaves (4).
James is written to the Believing descendents of the Jewish slaves and freed slaves. Jewish Believers faced persecution from the religious and civil authorities. Gay Christians are misunderstood and, at times, persecuted. Persecution can come from civil authorities, the gay community and the Christian churches. Gay Christians who are refugees from unhealthy churches, are scattered from their families, homeless and battered by life events can find meaning in the book of James. The book of James helps those who feel spiritually homeless and persecuted find spiritual direction and live for the Lord.
Verse 2. The King James translation says we are to count temptations as joy. A better translation is trails, not temptations. The meaning is a trail that is directed towards an end (5), a trial that has a purpose. The same word in Greek could be used to describe a baby bird testing its wings (6), as it learns to fly. Trials "are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar (7)!" The Greek gives one the idea of a calmness here (8). Our trials can be faced with calmness, not panic, because we know the aim is to build us up.
Verse 5 tells us to lack God, if we lack wisdom. This means that we should ask the Lord for wisdom, if we are not sure how to respond to the trials of life (9).
Those who are not able to keep their confidence in God, when they face trials, will feel tossed around, like a cork riding on the waves during an intense storm. Verse 8 talks about those who are not able to keep their faith in the Lord during trials as being double-minded. That means their mind and soul try to focus on Godly and worldly responses to trials. They are almost like the pendulum of a clock - constantly swinging from one extreme to another. The double-minded Believer is almost like a fair-weather friend. They are God's friend when things are going well and are not when things get rough. The double-minded person does not trust God when trials come (10).
Verses 9 to 11 show that God does not discriminate on the basis of money. Rich and poor face trails. Nobody is immune from life's problems.
The world views money has bringing freedom, security, power, personal value, success, options, happiness and rewards. From the world's perspective, money is all that matters (11).
The trials of life teach something very different. Through the trials of life, we can better see that lasting freedom, security, power, personal value, success, options, happiness and rewards come from God. They are not things we earn by being slaves to the marketplace. And the trials of life help us understand that rich and poor are equal before God.
In Greek, verse 12 carries the meaning that those who endure adversity will receive a crown of life (12). The first section of this chapter is about how those who withstand the tremendous hurts, wounds and struggles of life will receive eternal life. The text does not condemn those who make mistakes, stumble, fall and sin.
God does not tempt us to sin. The temptations we face come from our own desires, not from God (13). As far as James is concerned, only good things from God (14). And we need to understand that to live the way God wants us to live, even when we are living away from our physical, emotional or spiritual homelands.
Some people in the early church movement understood this. I wished I could understand and master this like they did. When the Believers were persecuted and martyred, they "did not die grimly, they died singing." One smiled in the flames; they asked him what he found to smile at there. "I saw the glory of God," he said (15).
Gay churches are in a unique position to proclaim the gospel, because we are faithful to God even when we are not understood, even when we face persecution. We sing praises to God and the world and the intolerant churches cannot understand why. The Lord uses those praises, those songs to change hearts.
(1) Harold Kushner. How Good Do We Have to Be? (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996), 6-7.
(2) William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: The Letters of James and Peter. Revised Ed. (Burlington, Ontario: G.R. Welch, 1976), 37.
(3) Barclay, 37.
(4) Barclay, 38.
(5) Barclay, 42.
(6) Barclay, 42.
(7) Barclay, 43.
(8) Spiros Zodhiates, ed. The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible. (n.p.: Word, 1991), Greek Dictionary, 77.
(9) Barclay, 44.
(10) John MacArthur. The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. (Nashville: Word, 1997), 1926.
(11) Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen and H. Wayne House, eds. The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1997), 2104.
(12) Zodhiates, 57.
(13) James 1:13-14.
(14) James 1:16-18.
(15) Barclay, 43.