Friday, March 23, 2018

2. James 1:2-27 (Introduction)

James 1:1

Introduction (1:2-27)
  • 1:2. Christians are urged to look at trials as something positive, counter-intuitive to human nature of course. It suggests that it was typical at the time for Christians to face trials.
  • 1:3. Trials lead to endurance and perfect/make complete the person enduring them... if they endure them.
  • 1:5. The mention of wisdom after the mention of trials suggests that what James primarily has in mind is wisdom to endure trials. "Lord, give me the wisdom to know how to endure this time of trial."
  • 1:6-8. If you ask for wisdom in a trial, you had better want it. A double-minded person isn't someone who has a doubt. It is someone with divided loyalties.
  • 1:9-11. James, like most of the New Testament, has a very negative view of the wealthy. A reversal is coming. The lowly will be exalted. The rich will be humiliated.
  • Important cultural background to James' valuation of wealth is the notion of limited good. In our current world, there is a sense that the gross domestic product or the stock market can grow, as it were, out of nothing. In the Mediterranean world, if one person had more, there was a general assumption that someone else had less. As an ancient Arab proverb went, "Every rich person is either a thief or the son of a thief." This perspective may help explain some of the negativity toward wealth in the New Testament.
  • 1:12-15. These verses slide from peirasmos as "trial" (1:12) to peirazo as "tempt" (1:13). These are two related but distinct events.
  • 1:12. First, there is the idea of trial, which does not have a moral component. Trials bring positive benefits but are not always brought on by an evil person or entity.
  • 1:13. God does not tempt anyone. This is an important statement of God's character. God doesn't try to trip people up.
  • There are parts of the Old Testament where God does tempt people. God tempts David in 2 Samuel 24:1. But there is perhaps a moment of progressive revelation here. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 is the same event but says that Satan is the one who tempted David. 
  • Arguably, the concept of "the Satan" was not known in Israel until after the Babylonian captivity and into the Persian period. Accordingly, the older parts of the Old Testament are less precise and ascribe all events to God's direct agency, his directive will
  • In the more precise understanding of the later Old Testament and the New Testament, God does not tempt directly but allows temptation, whether by other agents or by human desire itself.
  • 1:14-15. Temptation is when human desire draws a person toward an inappropriate object of desire. The desire itself may not actually be bad, such as the human desire for sex. It becomes a temptation for evil when that desire has an inappropriate object.
  • Temptation is not sin. Jesus was tempted and did not sin (Heb. 4:15). Adam and Eve both had no sinful nature and yet were tempted.
  • 1:15. When a person acts on that desire, first mentally and then perhaps physically as well, then it becomes sin.
  • 1:16-18. Verse 17 is especially a key verse for James. "Every good gift" comes from above. This contrasts with other possible patrons that might tempt believers. For example, we see a rich person in James 2 who might be a potential patron.
  • Patron-client relationships were common in the ancient Mediterranean world. The "haves" gave to the "have nots." The "have nots" did not earn the gift or repay it. However, there often were expectations associated with the gifts, especially a return of honor or perhaps favors.
  • 1:18. Christians are first fruits from God. They themselves are gifts from him. Language of the word possibly has Stoic overtones. In Stoicism, each of us have a "word seed" inside us. We will see more of this in 1:21.
  • 1:19-21. We get the impression that James is giving us a taste of some of the topics upon which he will expand later in the letter. Here is one--the need to be slow to speak. Chapter 3 will especially build on this idea. Some think that 1:22 is the key verse of the letter.
  • 1:20-21. Anger rarely brings about righteousness, even though in itself it is not yet sin (cf. Eph. 4:26).
  • 1:21. Here James uses the Stoic language of the implanted word. To Stoics, the world was governed by God's Word, his Logos. It was God's mind, the Reason that governed the world. We each had a seed of this Logos inside us, and we needed to heed it.
  • 1:22-27 anticipates chapter 2's discussion of the importance of works. We cannot merely hear the word. He must do it.
  • 1:25. The law of liberty is the law of love, mentioned in 2:8.
  • 1:27 talks about true religion. True religion takes care of those who are in need. It takes care of orphans and widows.

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