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James, A Servant of God

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

 

     It is good to be together again as we look into the Word of God.  The title for the lesson is “James, A Servant of God.”  And our text is James chapter 1 verses 1 through 8. 

Please listen to the Word of God.

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

     This is the Word of God.  May he add his blessing to the public reading of his word.

Besides being a very practical book for Christian living, James’s epistle, or letter, according to scholars, can be reliably dated about the year of our Lord 44-49 making it probably the earliest or the first written book included in the New Testament.

     The reasons for this early dating are: the recipients of this letter are described as “twelve tribes scattered among the nations” as Jewish believers in Jesus due to persecution by Herod Agrippa I according to Acts chapter 12, which began about the year of our Lord 44.  This would have collaborated a very early writing.  Affirming the Jewish nature of the early church.  Also, there is no mention of the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts chapter 15 about the year of our Lord 49.  So, James’s epistle is the closest written account in the New Testament to the time of Christ on earth according to many scholars.

     There are four men named James in the New Testament.  However, James the half-brother of Jesus is almost certainly the author of this letter.  According to scholars, comparing the literal rending of James’s Greek vocabulary in the letter he wrote as recorded in Acts chapter 15 with that of this epistle corroborates the half-brother of Jesus as the author of both.

     James known traditionally as ‘James the Just’ because of his dedication to righteousness, was referred to as a “pillar” of the church, as according to Galatians chapter 2 and verse 9.  He was martyred for Christ we believe in about the year of our Lord 62 according to the Jewish historian Josephus.

     As according to James chapter 1 verse 1, James wrote he was a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  So, in spite of James’s human relationship to Jesus Christ and his prominence in the church, this first verse of his epistle indicates his humility.  Literally translated he considered himself a bondservant, a slave to Christ, to God and to Christ.  An example to each of us regardless of our status in society.  To be a bond-servant of God was considered a great honor in Jewish culture.  It was not who he was that counted but who he served: the living God and Jesus Christ as his Lord and Master.  Such it should be for believers today.

     James chapter 1 and verse 1 says in part “to the (12) tribes scattered among the nations.”  In addition to James’s important leadership role in the mother church there in Jerusalem, he also had a broader ministry addressing all Messianic Jews scattered due to persecution.  That is Jews who believed in Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, Messianic Jews.  The Greek word ‘diaspora’ or scattering became the technical term to refer to Jews living outside of Palestine.  Probably many of these Jewish Christians scattered had been under James’s pastoral care in Jerusalem.  So, James in his concern, wrote this circular letter to counsel and encourage them to endure trials, and to test themselves to determine the genuineness of their saving faith.  Counsel, encouragement and test applicable to all of us today in the 21st century church regardless of location or ethnicity.

     Jewish Christians were scattered throughout the Roman Empire.  Especially thriving Jewish Christian communities in Rome, Alexandria of Egypt, Ephesus of Asia, the province of Asia, the Roman province of Asia, the island of Cyprus, Antioch of Syria and the cities in Greece and other parts of what is today Turkey of Asia Minor.

     The Jewish nature of the recipients of this letter is emphasized by James referring to them as “brothers.”  Fifteen times, common among first century Jews carried over to the church, to include Gentiles.  This letter also has 40 allusions to the Old Testament, along with 20 connections to the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ directed to a Jewish audience.  So, to insist that this letter was directed originally to Christians in general rather than Jewish Christians is faulty.  The Jewishness of this letter aids us in the interpretation of some passages.

     James chapter 1 and verse 2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  Pure joy?  The New American Standard Bible and King James Version translate “all joy.”  Now that’s not natural, not normal, exactly, he is writing to Holy Spirit indwelt, born again Christians.

     Even as applicable to genuine Christians today.  Not if we face trials but whenever you face trials to consider it pure or all joy.  Trials are a given.  Jesus stated in John chapter 16 and verse 33 in part “in this world you will have trouble or tribulation.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  And the Spirit of Christ is also in us to counsel, to help, to guide and to give us joy as overcomers thru the trials we all go thru!

     We can take joy for example from the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 5 and verse 12 “Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Here we have an allusion to the Sermon on the Mount.  For whatever trials we born again believers go through we can have joy that transcends circumstances knowing that our reward is great in heaven when we see Jesus our Savior face to face as Christians.

     Christians are called to live by a higher standard to strive, yes to struggle to live above trials obviously allowed by God.  We can exhibit the supernatural fruit of the Spirit of joy!  In spite of trials of many kinds maturing, surrendered Christians know that whatever happens: God is still in control, God still loves us, and one day all our trials will end permanently.

     So, how can we have joy that transcends our trials?  Not in our own strength alone but by the inner presence and power of the Holy Spirit, more of him and less of us, yielded to him.  It’s fruit of the Spirit not our original fruit.

     Christian testimonies declare this is really possible if we are willing and allow the Holy Spirit within us to bear his fruit such as joy. For example, Betsy and Corrie were sisters imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.  They faced trial after trial.  In their journals they recorded their barracks were overcrowded, flea infested yet they practiced their Christian faith and led the others in prayers, and Bible discussions.  They lived the words of First Thessalonians chapter 5 and verses 16 through 19 that says “Be joyful always; pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”  So, the sisters joy was not cancelled by very unhappy circumstances.

    Happiness is tied to circumstances, good circumstances generate happiness, bad circumstances unhappiness. 

However, Joy is tied to Christ, to the Holy Spirit in us, transcending, going beyond circumstances.  These sisters even thanked God for the flea infestation because it was the fleas that kept the Nazi guards from largely not interfering with their prayer and Bible time.  If we prayerfully seek God’s guidance we can find gratitude even in the midst of unhappy circumstances.  Christians are called to a higher standard.  Joy is possible when facing trials as God inspired writer James wrote this truth.  And God cannot lie, nor will he deceive us.

     So, why does God allow so many trials in our lives.  The answer is in James chapter 1 verse 3 “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  Untested faith may not be faith at all, only shallow superficial belief.  Saving faith perseveres, can overcome every trial.  In fact, much testing can strengthen, mature, grow our perseverance in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

     Have you ever tasted persimmon fruit?  It’s a plum like fruit.  However, if you try one still green its extremely bitter.  It’ll really make your mouth pucker-up fast.  But here’s a secret, persimmon can taste sweet and be very tasty, even deliciously sweet if its ripe!  The secret is unlike most fruit, persimmon must freeze first or ripen before its ready to be eaten.  If it is not frozen it is super tart not sweet.  Yet what kills most fruit?  A freeze!  Yet freezing gives persimmons its maturity, it develops its sweetness.

     So, what’s the point?  Genuine Christians who have the inner help of the Holy Spirit are not like most people.  Most people live by sight not by faith.  They live by their senses, all five, not by faith.  Most people do not develop perseverance when facing many trials.  Christians who are maturing spiritually can learn and can develop even joyful perseverance when facing all kinds of trials.  Christians can grow through cold, harsh trials.  If everything remains warm and fuzzy, we usually stay that way inwardly, warm and fuzzy.  We need to be tested.  We need to learn to persevere through testing and trials.  And God will help us if we let him.  A cold, hard trial can cause us to become bitter or we can, with time, learn to overcome and grow in sweetness and maturity.

     Paul learned this principal.  Consider in the Roman letter that he wrote chapter 5 verse 3 which says in part “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.”  Just like James wrote.

     Peter learned this principal also, First Peter chapter 1 and verses 6 through 7 which says “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even through refined by fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

     So, notice James, Paul and Peter all reveal the same truths in similar words and all include joy or rejoicing even connected to trials, even sore trials.  Nobody is saying this is easy but with the Lord it is doable!

     Some claim facing trials can cause losing one’s religion.  God states in facing trials it can deepen our relationship with the living God through faith and perseverance.  The end result should be pure joy!  All joy for the mature Christian

     Many have heard of John Wesley for example, a church leader and hymn writer.  Something you probably don’t know is that he had a very abusive wife.  John Wesley wrote in his journal: “she tormented me daily, yet she kept me on my knees.”  He faced trials that tested his faith and developed perseverance to live it out with God’s help.

     James chapter 1 and verse 4 “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  This can be true of us today as Spirit indwelt Christians who have the same Holy Spirit with the same power to work in us.

     Perseverance means overcoming the trial and developing spiritual maturity.  Every trial is a test of our faith designed by God to strengthen not weaken us.  If we fail the test, that test turns into a temptation usually to sin, to miss the mark, and grieve and quench the Holy Spirit.

     We should not think that spiritual maturity means sinlessness. We still sin, but our goal is to sin less and less.  Passing the tests can cause in us a deeper, closer fellowship with the living God.  We grow in godliness and that is God’s goal for us.

     A fact of this life is we cannot really know the caliber, the depth of our Christian character until we find out how we react under trials.  We will not be left alone to battle through our trials.  God promises to help us to be overcomers.

     God has infinite resources which we can draw upon.  Our faith can fuel our perseverance.

James chapter 1and verse 5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  Jewish Christians in particular understood the practical skill needed to live a life pleasing to God.  Wisdom is practical, applied knowledge to life’s circumstances and situations. And God knows that the Jewish people have gone through many, many trials, perhaps more than any other ethnicity or any other group of people. 

     Someone has written about godly wisdom’s characteristics, for example:

#1 It’s divine.  God’s wisdom goes well-beyond just common sense.  For example, common sense does not lead us to strive for joy in the midst of trials.  Godly wisdom is living by God’s counsel in scripture and as prompted by the Holy Spirit.  Also, God working through other more mature Christians.  Godly wisdom is to know the difference between right and wrong.  We have the perfect example, Jesus.

#2 Godly wisdom is Christ like.  Asking for wisdom is ultimately asking to be Christ like.  Jesus Christ is the ‘wisdom’ of God.  First Corinthians chapter 1 and verse 24 reveals this which says in part “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  Therefore WWJD, what would Jesus do?  God’s wisdom is:

#3 Practical.  Godly wisdom is a major tool by which trials are overcome.  An intelligent person may have profound ideas.  But a wise person puts profound ideas into proper action.  So many lack wisdom and fail to ask God for his wisdom.  Trials remind us we are not self-sufficient, we depend on God for direction, for wisdom.  God gives generously to those who ask and submit to his wisdom.  However, there are further qualifications that God insists on while offering his wisdom to believers.  A right kind of asking is necessary.

     Consider James chapter 1 verses 6 through 8 “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.”

     Notice “must believe and not doubt” includes genuinely depending on God.  We must have confidence that God hears us, cares for us, and most importantly that God will align our desires with his will and his purpose.

     We are sometimes inclined to dispute God, wondering why he would allow such heartache into our lives.  A request that doubts God’s trust worthiness is worthless.  We must believe.  Philippians chapter 4 and verse 19 says “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  God has the power and the provision.  God meets needs, not necessarily our desires.  God will do it always according to his will, according to his way and timetable.  Not necessarily our will, our way or timetable.  We must utterly trust him.

     In our asking for wisdom we should not be as “a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Someone has written these words “A mind that wavers is not completely convinced that God’s way is best.  It vacillates between allegiance to subjective feeling, the world’s ideas, rather than God’s council and principals.  To stabilize your wavering or doubtful mind, commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.  The waves of the sea are restless.  Doubt leaves a person as unsettled as the restless sea.  If you want to stop being tossed about, rely on God to show you what is best for you.  Ask him for wisdom, and trust, rely, that he will give it all to you.”

     James the half-brother of Jesus was not always “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  John chapter 7 and verse 5 tells us “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”  That was of course regarding Jesus.  Someone changed James’ mind from unbeliever to believer!

     First Corinthians chapter 15 verse 7 says in part “Then he appeared to James.”  That is Jesus appeared to James in his resurrected, glorified body.  True, James had the tremendous blessing of being an eyewitness of Jesus in his glory.

     Yet consider the words of Jesus in John chapter 20 verse 29 that says in part “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed.”  That also refers to believers today.  That need to be our slogan.  “we believe” not just a conversion, but throughout our lives as believers fully trusting God.

     That can be you also if you still need to truly believe!  Trust Jesus and the tremendous blessings will come starting with salvation!

 

                       David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.




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If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Romans 14:8