Monday, January 13, 2014

James - The Living Church 1

The final book in my "Life Lessons from..." series is The Church Moving Forward, which covers Hebrews through Revelation. So far in the series is:
So this manuscript is due July 1. May as well start today...
For many, the book of James is their favorite book in the Bible. It is a book of wisdom, the Proverbs of the New Testament. It provides us with numerous tidbits of wisdom for everyday living that jump across the pages of history from the first century to today.

From its opening verses, we see a worldwide movement under pressure. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (Jas. 1:2). James addresses "the twelve tribes, scattered among the nations" (1:1). [1] The implication is that believers are facing trials all throughout the world. [2]

Although James addresses the twelve tribes (of Israel), he is probably thinking that Gentile believers have already been incorporated into the people of God. After all, there is nothing distinctively Jewish in the book of James. [3] It is hard to find any truths in James that are tied down by the world of first century Jerusalem or uniquely Jewish issues.

We should also not think that the Romans had some world-wide policy against Christians. Christians weren't nearly that significant to them at this point. The trials to which James points, interestingly, do not come from the government or "the Jews." It is true that James himself met his death at the hands of the high priest of Jerusalem, sometime around the year AD62. [4] But there is no clear reference to the Sanhedrin or the Jerusalem establishment in this letter. [5]

No, the trials of James come from within, or at least close. It is the wealthy who are the persecutors, probably patrons within synagogues and churches. [6] "Is it not the the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?" (2:6-7).

In response, James makes it clear who the true Patron of every believer is, "Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (1:16-17)...

[1] James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude are sometimes called the "General Letters," "General Epistles," or even the "Catholic Epistles" because they do not address a specific audience. The earliest meaning of the word "catholic" was "universal."

[2]Some have suggested that the book of James is more a collection of James’ wisdom than a unified letter, in which case it would not necessarily picture a single, worldwide situation.

[3] Interestingly, Paul's letters deal more with distinctively Jewish issues than James does. We tend to miss this fact because we often function with an already universalized version of the early church.

[4] Mentioned in the Jewish historian Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews 20.199-203.

[5] Indeed, the very language of the letter, Greek, points away from the Aramaic-speaking world of Jerusalem.

[6] Although versions usually translate James 2:2 with a word like "meeting" (NIV, CEB) or "assembly" (NRSV, ESV), the Greek word is actually synagōgē.  These are not bad translations, but it is worth pointing out the actual word.


Pastor Bob said...

In this era of the gospel of grace, I see the redeemed church as spiritual Israel. " ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;" It appears to me that James and Paul is trying to educate the Jews and Gentiles that God's kingdom is much bigger than a little country in Palestine. James and Paul understood the economy of God much better than most Bible readers.

Susan Moore said...

In response to #3, “Interestingly, Paul’s letters deal with…”
Although Paul may have been working more in the front lines of discerning and describing the differences between the view of the Jewish faith and the view of those who possess the new faith in Christ, it may prove interesting to note that when Paul and Barnabas found opposition back in Antioch to their teachings about grace versus law, they were sent by the Antioch church to the Jerusalem church to “ask the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15), and it was James in Jerusalem who listened, summarized, evaluated and settled the score.
Also, although there was not yet a formal, universal church defined by its written creeds, the description of the church back then was, “all the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). This was made possible not because of a focus on the seen, external written creeds, but because of a grateful acceptance of the grace given to them, and the loving God who gave it, by a people who then acted with little inhibition to the leading of their indwelled Spirit.
If the Church would do the same today, it would have the same effects on its members and communities, and look the same way to the world.

Martin LaBar said...

I was going to order the book, then I went back and read the first line . . .

Oh, well.