In this faith vs. works conversation, I have seen it as a Paul of Romans verses James. Here it is clearly Jesus who calls himself and us to a faith that acts, a faith that shows up mightily in God working through us. James writes to the believers in a time before the Bible was compiled. His words mirror Jesus’s words that a genuine faith DOES.
God is calling us to love each person as he does, to forgive each person as he does, and to have mercy on each person as he does. Ouch. That is a hard truth. How in the world can we possibly do this? It is only by his Spirit moving in and through our hearts and minds. His life force transforming our hearts and thoughts to be more like his.
James’s teaching here draws us back to Jesus’s very Words, that is his upside-down teachings on choosing humility, on loving our enemies, on giving without expecting repayment. Jesus pushed a very active faith, full of love for neighbors and those opposed to us. Jesus didn’t want people to just intellectually agree to his truth, but to fully, deeply live their lives from that Truth.
I wonder if those who were struggling under the oppression of the rich and powerful believed that the trials and temptations before them came from the hand of God. Did they think they were being punished and drug through the dirt of life at God’s doing? Here, James refutes that thinking.
I wonder if Jesus is who James has in mind. He witnessed his brother’s ministry, mighty and yet at the time mocked even by James himself. Jesus was misunderstood and mistreated just as his followers experienced in those early decades of the Church. James saw what Jesus endured from a front row seat. And, he saw Him receive the crown of life, the resurrection of the dead. He saw the end of the story for each of us!
The wealthy and powerful Jews and Romans in this era exacted taxes and mistreated this group to the point that many were tempted into violent means of revenge. It is into this context that James tells the people to “consider it all joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Why would he say to consider it a joy? The testing of their faith produces perseverance and leads to maturity. How could they possibly live into this joy? How can we possibly do this in light of what we face today?
James was the brother of Jesus. I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with Jesus. Was he an annoyingly perfect brother or absolutely wonderful? We do know that James didn’t believe in Jesus during his three-year ministry, but Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection. It seems that experience totally altered James. I