Day 341 – Thru the Bible
Today we start James. Here is the overview video for James.
Video – Read Scripture: James
How does this video help you understand James better?
James 1 – Jesus graciously appeared to James, the half brother who once mocked him, after the resurrection. James believed and here calls himself Jesus’ servant. That a family member of Jesus who once refused to believe in Him would now be chosen to testify of Jesus’ teachings through inspired Scripture is itself a witness to the grace of the gospel.
Life brings constant tests and trials. God designs them to bring us to maturity. Yet He doesn’t leave us to strive alone but promises wisdom for the trial, which He gives “generously” and “without reproach.” Yet we must ask sincerely for genuine faith that unites us to Him. Before God, rich and poor, high and low, are the same—weak, mortal, humbled.
The provisions of the gospel are not based on human distinctions or accomplishments. God blesses the man who perseveres in trials, and He promises to crown that man with life, the resurrection life we receive through faith in Jesus.
God intends trials to strengthen us, but some say trials tempt them to sin, and blame God for it. But temptation only entices us when we desire the sin. God wants to give gifts; his chief gift is new birth by “the word of truth” —that is, the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5–6).
Since humanity is prone to anger and proliferating moral filth, our hope lies with God’s Word, which His Spirit plants in us. This implanted Word “is able to save your souls” and empower moral reform. Then we hear the Word, see it as a mirror to our souls, remember it, and do what it says. Thus, the initiative and enabling for divine usefulness are from God. God provides for what He requires, and genuine obedience to God’s Word also brings freedom and blessing.
The Word, received with genuine faith, brings obedience and true religion, but James knows true religion is elusive, even within the church, and so he proposes a test case at the beginning of chapter 2. Two men, one poor and one rich, enter a gathering where just one seat remains. If the rich man gets the seat and the poor man gets the floor, that violates “pure” religion as defined in verse 27. The world invades the church and the poor, who hope that at least the church grants them equality, are put down once more.
When you struggle with decisions, do you ask God for His wisdom?
James 2 – Will someone object that partiality is a minor sin? Yet it violates the gospel principle that God shows no partiality. He judges all by the same law, and by the same grace, He redeems everyone whose faith rests in the Lord Jesus alone. Further, all sins are major, for all violate the law of King Jesus, who spoke every commandment. The willful violation of even one law is transgression against the King and Lord of all. So everyone is liable to judgment “without mercy.” Yet through Jesus “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James explores the nature of saving faith. There is a “faith” that cannot save. Such faith has kind words but no deeds, no aid for the naked and hungry. It is “dead” because it rests in ideas, not in a life dependent upon and reflective of Jesus. Orthodox theology “apart from works is useless.” Demons prove this, since they hold to orthodox ideas about God yet live in terror since they don’t trust Him.
Abraham’s faith did work “when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar,” and his “faith was completed by his works.” When James says Abraham was “justified by works” he means that his claim to believe was vindicated or validated, not that he earned his salvation. He knows that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” But again, faith proves itself real by works. We are not saved by our works, but faithful works flow from saving faith.
Rahab, a Gentile and a prostitute, contrasts with Abraham in every way except that her deeds also proved her faith. She claimed that she feared God and she called Him Lord, and she proved it when she risked her life to hide Israel’s spies.
James does not suggest, then, that faith plus works equals justification. He agrees with Paul that faith alone justifies. But he knows there is a so-called “faith” that is dangerous because it deludes but does not justify. He contrasts that with the faith that does justify—a living faith that by its very nature reflects the One on whom our faith rests, delighting to love others in concrete ways.
What is the result of your faith, as expressed by loving others?
James 3 – James indicts human sinfulness again, beginning with teachers. They know more, but like everyone, they stumble, notably in speech. Thus teachers, a verbose tribe, are most liable to judgment. If humans can control great horses and ships with small bits and rudders, we should be able to control our tiny tongues. The tongue’s power to bless or curse, to start fires, makes mastery essential, but “no human . . . can tame the tongue.”
This sounds like despair, yet if no human can tame the tongue, the One who created mankind still can. Indeed, if the same tongue praises God and curses people made in God’s image, we should cry out for God’s intervention. So the tongue, now speaking from a renewed heart, lays hold of God’s grace as presented in the gospel (Romans 10:9–10).
James presents two kinds of wisdom at the end of this chapter and into the next. Selfish ambition and jealousy drive the “earthly, unspiritual” wisdom that grasps for everything and resents all who have more (3:14–15). If there is no God, it is logical to seize all we can, even if it causes “every vile practice” (3:16). But God’s wisdom is pure, peaceful, merciful, and righteous (3:17–18). As Jesus often did, James offers two choices, two ways of life. If God gives us wisdom (1:5), we will claim “the wisdom from above” (3:17). But earthly wisdom brings battles between people, since battles rage within people, as they long to possess things and fail to acquire all that they long for (4:1–3).
Ultimately, we must choose between love of God and love of the world (4:4). Alas, unaided human nature will choose the world. Yet God seeks us and “gives grace to the humble” (4:5–6).
How do you see God’s wisdom at work in your life?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s video and reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
Videos produced by www.TheBibleProject.com.
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