Those of you who’ve been reading this series of articles probably noticed by now that I have a healthy dislike for Paul. I think that he was an overbearing personality who co-opted Christianity for his own goals, to push his own personal agenda. And since it feels like most of the New Testament to this point has been written by Paul, it follows that I haven’t found much to like – let alone respect – for quite awhile. Since the end of Acts of the Apostles, actually.
James is trying to make a strong point here: Those who are looking to be teachers and leaders in the church need to make sure that they are living what they are teaching. Actually, more important than that, the teachers must make sure that they aren’t spreading discord in their church in the name of teaching or leading. James warns that just a few hurtful or jealous words could have devastating effects. “…but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil filled with deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in God’s likeness.”
It should be noted here that James is targeting this chapter directly at church leaders. The message within can be espoused by members of a church’s body, but James had a very specific audience in mind.
I can’t help quoting from this chapter. It’s a goldmine for how a Christian church should be run, for how church leaders should behave. “But if you have bitter jealousy and rivalry in your hearts, stop boasting and lying against the truth.” “For wherever jealousy and rivalry exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil.”
My respect for James continues to increase with each chapter of this letter.
James decides that he should include others besides the leaders of the church.
As an aside: I cannot decide who this chapter is aimed at. For the first half seems generic, aimed at any member of the church. But it finishes up directed solidly at church leaders again (“‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town, stay there a year, conduct business, and make money.’”) It is possible that James starts talking to everyone and then hones in on the church leaders again… But the last part of the chapter feels like a continuation of the first, which’d make the first part of the chapter aimed at the church leaders also. Why does this make a difference to me?
Anyway, this chapter is all about sin and weakness. External behavior comes from internal desires. Fights and quarrels come from desire for things that can’t be attained. Loving the riches of the world makes one an enemy of god. God turns against arrogance. Redemption is at hand for whoever wants it. Resist the devil and he will flee. Come close to god and he will return the favor. Be humble, and god will exalt you.
Back to church leadership: don’t criticize others, don’t judge others, don’t boast because that is evil. Most importantly, if you know what is right but don’t do it, then you are guilty of sin.
That, my friends, may be the best definition and conceptualization of sin that I’ve ever read. It hits close to home, and speaks even more powerfully to me because of that…
Whoa, didn’t expect this: James opens up Chapter 5 with a rant against the rich! “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town, stay there a year, conduct business, and make money.” In the course of this rant (which includes condemnation for not paying servants fair wages) James ends up blaming the death of Jesus on the rich. I get the feeling that James was still very bitter about Christ’s death, just with the wording of that verse: “You have condemned and murdered the one who is righteous, even though he did not resist you.” That sounds like the laments of a friend. Or of a brother… who is this James? Must do some quick research:
A quick wikipedia search shows that there are a few theories on who James was. One that seems to fit with the vibe I got from that verse is that James was related to Jesus. That sounds right to me. But it is way out of scope for this, so I’ll move on.
James wraps up his book with encouraging words for the members of the church. Be patient, Jesus will return soon. Endure suffering, don’t fight amongst each other, tell the truth always, pray for each other, try to encourage others to stay on the path. Patience, as the farmer who awaits the harvest.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I really liked the book of James. Took me all of two chapters to do so. James’s letter has been calm but authoritative. James reprimands and praises with equal conviction and temperance. James doesn’t spend a lot of time invoking Christ’s name, nor trying to put himself above everyone else. Instead, he shows Christ’s teachings by example. Christ’s message flows throughout this book, in a more realistic, more honest way than in anything since Acts of the Apostles.
Ayup, I liked this book a lot.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Tuesday 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.
- Is Paul cursed? Death imminent? Acts 25-28 (biffster.org)