For more years than I care to count, I have endeavored to work my way through the entire Bible on a fairly overly ambitious project. That project, was to read each book of the Bible, and then pontificate on the complications, insights, problems, bonuses, and epiphanies of that particular book. It was a goal born from watching an atheist do exactly the same thing some years earlier. (You can find his blog here, if you are intrigued. Horribly, I actually think the guy is dead. Wrote to him three and a half years ago. Posted on his blog, and the comment is still awaiting moderation? Hrmmm. Doesn’t seem to completely bode well. But I digress.) And so I decided if he could do it, I definitely should be able to. So here I am, finally making it to James – eight books left!
Right so, here we are… James. James is a very very different sort of a book. It’s a book of verbs. Lots of doing. And not much in the reasoning, or explaining why. But you can tell his heart is in the right place because the verb-assault is all directed actions towards assisting the impoverished, the widow, the orphan. There’s a story in the second chapter about a rich man walking into the local church, and basically James calling out the people of the church for kicking the poor out of his way. It’s a story about how all people, regardless of wealth, are equally important to God.
But shouldn’t we hear this word of advice today? Doesn’t seem like the church does this overtly, but we do this covertly all the time. Those that tithe heavily end up at lunch with the pastor and find themselves playing golf with the deacons. But what about in our culture at large? Oh holy night. We giggle with glee over the rich, and the famous. We give reality TV shows to the rich. We snowball their wealth via social followers and Facebook likes. No? Wow how we fall over ourselves for the rich. Instead of standing in line to wait to meet an Internet CEO, have you ever stopped and spoken to those who are bootstrapping their next meal? You will be all the more rich for the experience.
James is full of really basic, really encouraging practical advice:
- “Faith without works is dead.”
- “If any of you lacks wisdom ask God.”
- “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of any kind”
- “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
- “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”
- “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
Even for long time Christians, James can be a difficult book to comprehend. Mainly because of his hardcore emphasis on works. And if you are not a Christian, or are a new Christian this will be confusing, so I’ll slow down a minute. Within the Christian faith, there literally is nothing you can do to save yourself. It is all through the work of God, on your behalf, that you can be saved. It was through Christ’s death and resurrection that you have access to forgiveness. Which is kind of amazing. The only thing the Bible says that you need to do to tap into this amazing gift of forgiveness? Is believe and to declare said belief.
Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So, um… if all you have to do is believe, then why is my “Faith without works dead”? Well, great question random interwebs denizen. It’s a question that theologians have been discussing for hundreds and hundreds of years. But it really is simple, coming from James’ perspective. James was so all in on the mission and the call of Christ that he basically was saying – look, if you believe, and have been forgiven an infinite debt… truly set free from the ravages of sin, then OBVIOUSLY you are going to work to share this amazingly good news to everyone around you. You obviously going to share this revelation to everyone you bump into. You will support the widow, the orphan, the poor. You’ll work to help that best friend out who just got a divorce, or support the mother whose son just committed suicide. You just will. Because why? Because you’ve been forgiven! The debt that has been sitting on your chest is gone. And what did you do to deserve it? Literally nothing.
The most interesting piece about James though, is a simple biographical detail. James happened to be the younger brother of Jesus. WAIT!? Jesus didn’t have any brothers! Well, yes, he did. Sisters too. Check out Mark 6:3, and Matthew 13:55 first.
Mark 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.”
Matthew 13:54-57 “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at Him.”
Now, stop and think about that practically. You are James, the younger brother of the only perfect child to have ever walked the earth. Seriously? You hate him. If you are a younger sibling, you just generally hate your older siblings because they seem to be given so much more than you. But Jesus? Really? James had to compete with that? Don’t buy what I’m selling? Think Jesus’ family were actually believers in what it was that he was doing?
John 7:5 “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”
Jesus’ half brothers weren’t believing? Nope. Not even a little bit. So what could possibly have changed? Well, in Acts 1:4, it says that after Jesus’ ascension, James followed the apostles, and the women to the upper room. But what caused him to join them in their cowering in fear, sans a leader, and clueless as to why they were waiting for this “Holy Spirit” thing.
Well, after Jesus died and resurrected, Jesus specifically went out of His way to appear to very specific people in order to eat with them, talk to them, and encourage them. Who did He appear to? Well, a number of people, but in I Corinthians, Paul says that “Jesus appeared to James, and then to all the apostles…” That would have left a mark on you. To see your recently flogged, crucified, and murdered brother… alive and well, only three days later? And then to search the scriptures with the other apostles and realize that this is what the testament had been talking about all along. That everything pointed to your half brother coming in order to save the world from their sins, through His death, burial, and resurrection. And just like that, James realized he had to swallow his little brother pride and chase after the one true God. Then? Then he watched as his big brother ascended on a cloud, into heaven. Yeah, I’m sure that was a nice truth chaser.
So yeah, eventually, James was there, in the upper room when the Holy Spirit hit the room like a ton of bricks. And he was there when the Christian church was born. (As well as the start of the church Jerusalem, which James eventually led.) Right, so not only did he come to believe in his brother’s deity, James lived a life of sacrifice serving people throughout Jerusalem on his half brother’s behalf (aka God). Then, James (who probably was like 30 years old when Jesus was murdered) served as the head of the church in Jerusalem for about thirty years, (the area that all the other apostles fled, it should be pointed out). And, as recorded by Josephus, James was stoned to death Ananus ben Ananus. To point out the obvious here… you don’t die for something you don’t believe in. And James believed that his brother was God.
And if it was good enough for Jesus’ brother, it is definitely good enough for me.