At the outset of this letter the writer inspires us to count it all joy when we fall into trials and testing (1.2). But tests and trials often leave our minds in a quandary of confusion in our decision-making. James illustrates this dilemma with the imagery of an ocean wave tossing and turning us in our minds with our thinking, and our decision-making (1.3-8). The conflict within our selves keeps us at odds with God and neighbor.
When we read the letter of James, he teaches us this very important detail about living righteously. It all begins within. James points out, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation…” (1.9-12), but he also informs the hearer that temptation does not come from God. Temptation comes only from the desires within that give way to sin (1.13-15). On the other hand all good things – blessings – come from God (1.16-18). James recalls the importance of the Law by instructing the hearer to not only hear the Word of God but to fulfill what God requires of each believer in the family of God (1.19-27). James further explains to us that God does not show favoritism or partiality (2.1-7).
To be sure fulfillment of the Law is loving your neighbor as yourself (2.8). God does not overlook one bit of the Law to show grace or favor (2.9-13). God expects each one to fully exercise his/her faith with action by visiting the orphans and widows in their troubles (1.27, 2.14-18). It’s truly amazing that even demons belief in the One Truly God, however, the difference is in our actions (2.19-20). Surely Abraham and Rahab illustrate the kind of faith backed by action that God requires of everyone believer (2.21-25). James explains, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (2.26).
Perfection in this life is illusive at best (3.1-12) especially in light of the Law of Moses. Moses informed the people that God has devised a natural law of blessing and curses. When a person listens to God’s voice, and obeys it, good will come of his life. When a person doesn’t listen to God’s voice, and disobeys the safe guards set up in God’s Word, then ruin will come to his life. James notes, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessings and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (3.10). The imagery of a spring with fresh and saltwater is easy for us to grasp (3.11-12). We understand that we cannot drink saltwater – ocean water, only fresh water. And, we know that fresh water fish do not usually survive in saltwater environments.
James describes the right path as one of wisdom, understanding, and humility (3.13). When we live in godly wisdom, we act with purity, peacefulness, gentleness, obedience, merciful, and goodness (which is both fair and genuine) (3.17). Justice is served when we act with godly wisdom (3.18). On the other hand, expressions of bitterness, jealousy, selfish ambition, and bragging are not the pathway to right living (3.14). When you and I behave with these attitudes, James warns us that these attitudes come from the earth, natural and demonic (3.15). When we act in this kind of attitude, we are promoting evil with disorderly conduct (3.16).
In the background of this ancient letter is a more ancient text from the Old Testament, particularly the passage from Moses Law of blessings and curses (Deut. 26-30). In full light of this text we must review the moment in time when Moses had the Israelites stand in the valley of decision. The Israelites heard the list of blessings from Mt. Gerizim and the list of curses from Mt. Ebal. Standing in the valley between the mountains gave them every opportunity to listen well to their choices. It is here in the valley that you and I find our selves today. Clearly, it’s time that we draw a line in the sand so that we can discern what God requires of his people. There’s a line that distinguishes between good and evil. Although in some ways the landmark between good and evil seems very vague, the distinguishing mark remains a place in the heart.
Having quoted the Old Testament Jesus once said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22.37-40).
It is critical for us to understand that we no longer live under the letter of the Law but the Spirit of the Law. And, we can find the key ingredients in Deuteronomy 6.1-19: love God with all your heart, soul and strength — impress them on your children (talk about them, when you walk along the road, sit at home, when you lie down and get up) and bind them in places to remind yourself of your commitment to God (hands and houses). What I just can’t get past is the handed down importance of our faith values. The Word is explicit in that we as parents, even family, are to press on in sharing our faith with our children for the sake of the next generation who may not have a fresh expression of God’s Kingdom at work in their midst.
Our passage today moves us …from living with a view of the past/present to seeing a vision of what could become …from feeling vexed to living with valor …from vanity to victory.
View is seeing the present. Most of us can see what’s right in front of us, but only God can provide vision for the future that leads to wisdom and success.
The passage begins with pointing fingers at teachers who intentionally set out to lead others warning of the importance of their witness in the community. In our day and age there are many kinds of teachers in our institutions of learning. Teachers are people who lead by what they speak to others. Teachers cast vision over us and inspire us to mature behavior. Teachers guide our lives to action. Teachers speak words of inspiration into the lives of others, and occasionally derision. Teachers insist on self-discipline. Teachers help us to think critically about life and enable us to speak about our own opinions with wisdom to live out actions with integrity. But James is not speaking of just any kind of teacher, but specifically speaking of religious teachers. Teachers today have a very important role, but what we are solely missing is religious instruction that inspires us to holy living.
Holy Vision is double vision – because we can see clearly the challenge for both the accumulation of blessings or the acquiring of curses. It sees both sides of life – good and evil. Goodness leads to life and blessings. God never presented the opportunity for blessings without explaining the other side of the situation – cursing.
Blessings come when we can hear God’s voice and have to tenacity within our hearts to obey it. When we hear the Word of God, the sure fire way of knowing that we have obedient hearts turned toward God is the feeling of being compelled to follow goodness instead of our own way. In the course of our daily lives we are to hear, obey, and cling to God for he is our live. The opposite is true as well. When we hear God’s voice, we can also choose not to follow his still small voice. We can choose to turn away and go our own way. Often times the simple choices we make every day come with small consequences in the day-to-day turn of events. Yet those small movements away from listening and obeying can in the long haul cause us to be far away from Jesus.
When we loose sight of our present we feel vexed – annoyed, frustrated or worried. But with God, we can face uncertainty in our lives with valor – bravery and courage.
Viewing our future from the limited perspective of the present causes us to experience feelings of anger, worry, and frustration. Feeling vexed leads us away from dependency on God. To discover valor in the midst of our situation we must express actions of great courage and bravery, not relying on ourselves but God alone. Valor happens when we come to the place of realizing that not one person can revitalize our situation but God. When we believe ourselves capable of finding answers to our current dilemma, we miss the opportunity to truly experience a move of God.
When we follow our view of the present with vexed feelings, the outcome leads us to expressions of vanity – hubris and pride. Vanity leads us toward emptiness in life without God. That’s why it takes faith to lead us to salvation. And, James understood the value of faith in action – utter dependence upon God brings us blessings instead of curses. Pride leads us down the wrong road away from true victory. When we think of a victory, generally there is an opponent – an enemy – whom we defeat. But the victory we seek is with our own self, a battle with the selfish nature we possess because of the fallen nature of humanity.
The ancient question we continue to ask our selves comes from Joshua, Choose today whom you will serve (Joshua 24.15). Joshua goes on to express his faith in God, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24.15). Join me at the altar today to renew your faith and trust in Jesus.