In the 4th century Pope Gregory the Great wrote a commentary on the Book of Job in which he famously observed:
“Scripture is like a river, broad and deep,
shallow enough here for a lamb to go wading,
but deep enough there for an elephant to swim.”
And interestingly, the “here” and the “there” can be the same text. Nowhere are Gregory’s words more apparently true than in James’ letter to Jewish Christians dispersed throughout the known world.
Years ago I remember listening to some recordings of “end times” dispensationalist teacher Hal Lindsey. I’m not sure I ever knew where he was teaching or the identity of his audience, but when he introduced his series of messages on the Book of Daniel, wild applause broke out. It was as if he was finally giving them what they were paying him for – a view into the future!
As I have been studying the Letter of James over the past three or four months, I have been fascinated to see how much like those Hal Lindsey listeners many commentators are and how shallow they make James’ message to be! For them James presents a set of practical hints and habits that, when appropriated, put the doer in good standing with God and others. It is this type of interpretation that drove Martin Luther to seek to banish the book of James from the New Testament canon. He saw such an interpretation as simply a re-tool of the law; another play of the Judaisers to lead people away from the Gospel. If Luther could read some modern interpretations of James, he would surely feel vindicated.
But, the truth is, the Letter of James is so much more than a place for lambs to wade. It’s not a legal re-tool. It’s not a compendium of “handy-dandy tips” for Christian living. It’s not an appeal to the human will. It’s a heater for the heart. It’s a letter that the Holy Spirit has used throughout history to move Christians out of their complacency and into a fully equipped ministry that reflects the character of Jesus Christ.
For years at Hebron we have taken seriously what Paul sets forth in Ephesians 4:12 as the goal of the ministry: “To equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Today Hebron’s even more committed to that goal by actively seeking to ENGAGE people with the Gospel, EVANGELIZE those who have been engaged, ESTABLISH them in the faith, and EQUIP them for the work of ministry which is Engaging, Evangelizing, and Establishing others in the faith. And the Letter of James is a perfect tool for the job. It’s full of admonitions and applications set against the backdrop of Christ’s finished work.
This Sunday we begin where James begins in 1:1-4. After issuing a single greeting, James dives in and so will we.
In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:
- Who is this James? (If you were at the 7:00 pm service on Christmas Eve you may remember.)
- How is this James like the younger son in the “Prodigal Son” story Jesus tells in Luke 15?
- Who are the twelve tribes of the dispersion?
- What amazing confession does James make in verse 1? And why is it so amazing?
- What does James tell us about trials, troubles, and temptations in verse 2?
- On what grounds should they bring us joy?
- How do trials test our faith?
- What is steadfastness?
- How does steadfastness make us perfect and complete?
- How does steadfastness make us lack for nothing?