The Tenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of James
Throughout the decade or so after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, Jewish Christians who lived in Palestine and Syria faced very difficult circumstances. In the Palestine of James’ day (the mid-forties of the first century) the act of confessing that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah would have been a costly one. Many Jews living in Jerusalem became Christians. But many more sided with the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious leadership) and saw in Jesus a messianic pretender who diverted the nation’s attention away from the pressing issue of the day–overthrowing Rome’s occupation of their homeland. James is writing to Christians who have paid a great price to profess their faith in Jesus. Many of his readers had been driven out of the Jerusalem area into the surrounding countryside. In the opening verse of this letter, James addressed them as “the Dispersion.” As religious refugees, these people were often at the mercy of wealthy landowners, who were exploiting them for personal gain. It was a difficult time and place to be a Christian. James writes both to offer them words of encouragement and to exhort them not to mere hearers of the word. James reminds his audience that there is a day of judgment yet to come when all of these wrongs will be made right. But until that day comes, God’s people must be patient.
We return to our series on the Epistle of James. We are quickly coming to the end of this series as we make our way into the fifth and closing chapter. We now take up the first half of chapter five (verses 1-12), while next time, Lord willing, we’ll take up the final section of this letter (verses 13-20).
As we have seen throughout our study of James, James attributes the salvation of his hearers/readers to the grace of God, who has brought them forth (to new life) through the preached word. James has told of how God implanted that word within them, and how these same Christians hold fast to their faith in Jesus, “the Lord of glory.” James has told us how the law of God exposes us to be law-breakers, but then goes on to describe how for a Christian, the law of God is a law of liberty. Having been justified by the merits of Christ, the law now serves as our guide for living the Christian life and doing good works.
James has told us that the faith which justifies us, is a faith which manifests itself in good works. True religion can be seen through very specific actions–the taming of our tongues, the care of widows and orphans, avoiding worldliness (thinking and acting like a pagan), and through treating rich and poor with equal respect. James has warned us about our sinful passions at war within us. He has told us how these sinful passions produce jealousy and quarreling, how these passions lead us to seek our own way so as to exalt ourselves over others. James has warned us that because our lives are short, we should not boast about tomorrow. He has comforted us with the reminder that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us, and that if we seek grace, God is willing to give us more grace. James has told us to seek wisdom from above, because if we do so, we will experience a harvest of righteousness. Indeed, if we humble ourselves before God, God will exalt us. James’ emphasis upon humility continues into chapter 5.
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