Just when I thought I was onto the New Testament’s tricks, I get thrown a screwball. The book of James was actually written by James! Up until this point, Paul had been writing all of the letters, and book names were deceiving. Now we are seeing some honesty! Honesty from the New Testament. Will wonders never cease?
It appears that we are done with the letters from Paul. Or at least the names of the remaining books hints that. We have James, then two Peters, then three Johns (FULL HOUSE!!!!), one Jude and we finish things up with the book of Revelations. I’ll try and make sure I get my hands on some type of chemical substance to help figure out Revelations once we get there. Until then, let’s take a read through:
Epistle of James
First things first: It seems very apparent that James has listened to Christ’s teachings, understood them, and has taken them to heart. Instead of Paul’s constant redefinition, James digs to the heart of Christ’s ministry. Or at least he does so in the first chapter. This starts with James telling his readers they should rejoice when times are difficult, since these types of times are a way to test a person’s faith and endurance.
A person should be willing to ask anything of god, because god gives lovingly. However, only someone who has true faith will receive what they wish for. Anyone with any type of doubt is unstable, and should not expect god to reward them. Which seems kind of harsh. Doesn’t working through doubt also make one’s faith stronger? James doesn’t believe so, but I’ve gotta think he is wrong on this point.
Rich people fade like a flower in the grass. Actually, there’s more to it than that. James is saying that a rich person gets lost in their own pursuits, and fade away in their own world.
James is all over the place in this chapter, but it is mostly good stuff, and I want to note a lot of it. Which means I am going to be all over the place in this review.
God never tempts a person. It is the person’s own desires that tempt a person, trying to lure the person away from the right path. Those who are able to overcome temptation are blessed. However, those who succomb are forever in trouble. Desire gives birth to sin, sin matures into death. A person should aim to rid themselves of all wickedness, to become a gentle spirit in the world.
The chapter finishes up with a great bit of imagery. People who hear the truth but do not act on that are like a man who looks at himself in the mirror. The second he walks away from the mirror, he forgets what he looks like. Likewise, someone who hears the truth but doesn’t act on it forgets the truth once they move on.
Apparently some churches were already giving preferential treatment to the wealthy. James noticed that and tried to nip it in the bud. He does so in a way that feels like a parable. It isn’t a parable, but it has that same kind of narrative feel to it. James asks “aren’t the rich the ones who mistreat you, who drag you into court?” The poor are the ones who’ve been promised the kingdom of heaven. They should not be mistreated nor ignored nor humiliated, but treated as equal.
James is also very strong on the idea of works and faith. He believes that having faith is not enough. Someone who thinks that faith alone brings salvation is a fool.
Actually, the last half of this chapter sets up two recurring themes from James: that the poor should be given aid, and that faith must be manifested through works. James uses both for another narrative: a person with faith might offer words of encouragement for a neighbor who does not have any clothes or food. A person whose faith manifests in their works welcomes the neighbor into their own house to clothe and feed them. James’s point is clear: faith enriches a person, works enriches others. It takes both to be saved.
Up next: Christ’s message personified
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.