Summary: A Letter of Straw to resist the storms of life.
I think I quite like James. I think I like him because he writes like an ordinary human being. He says things much the way you or I would. I find simplicity in his writing. Not that his comments are really simple. Far from it but the easy understanding of what he says seems to compel me to think about them and what he is trying to say. I often find that the more complicated letters are so often so deep that all they do is to compel me to do or read something else.
The last course that Charlie Fair ran for what we used to call “The Faith & Worship Group” was a study in Paul. Sometimes we understood and were able to discuss further what Paul was saying but many time we spent an evening just discussing one word and why Paul was using it and what he thought the word he had used meant.
Yet the simplicity of James has often been used to knock James’ work. Nobody is quite sure who “James” was. There are three possible candidates. One was James the son of Zebedee. Another was the son of Alphaeus. The last was James the brother of Jesus. Most people think this James was the author of this letter.
You would have thought that if everyone thought that Jesus’ brother had written this letter, it would have been given a greater stature. Yet this book was one of the last books to be accepted as part of the Bible. Even though it was probably written first of all the books in the New Testament. We know this because all three possible writers had died by 60AD.
Yet so many people have put James down. Martin Luther puts him down by describing his letter as “an epistle of straw” In some commentaries the book of James is grouped with what are called “The Catholic or General Letters” because it is said that the letter is not directed at anyone or any church or group in particular and seems to have no real point. I think I might argue differently.
One of the books I have helps to bring out how the Bible could be used today. It says the book of James is “A letter of straw to resist the storms of life” I think this really sums up this letter.
James does show who this letter is for right at the beginning. He addresses his letter to “The twelve tribes scattered among the nations” His point is to remind Jewish Christians, wherever they are, of the way to live a Christian life. Especially as it is so easy not to. He gives us thoughts and ideas as to how to live as Christians. He points out places where we could trip up and what they could lead to.
James has also seen that some Christians have understood the point that we are saved by faith and faith alone. But that these same Christians have lost the point that good works should also be a natural part of Christian living. So he reminds them of how they should really be living. James seems very hot on this. One comment I saw said James gets steamed up about this, and when he gets steamed up, he gets very steamed up! That’s something I can understand. People who believe passionately about something, speak passionately. Not that I could often be accused of that!!!
In the passage we have heard today, James is saying that there are two sides to life and living. One is with the wisdom of God. The other with the wisdom of the world.
The wisdom of God helps us to live within God’s love and our actions and our deeds should show that love wherever and whatever we do.
The wisdom of the world encourages envy, greed and ambition.
The Wisdom of God is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
The wisdom of the world is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
Two Wisdoms, but two that are total opposites.
The wisdom of the world tells us that we need to “get on” in life, to climb the corporate ladder, to seek power and position, to aim for the top. The only way is up. To rule.
The wisdom of God tell us something completely different. That the way to a good Christian life is by service, caring, helping. That the way starts at the bottom, at the feet of our friends. To serve.
The wisdom of the world is shouted at us, all day and every day. It is easy to give in. To want more, to be better. It is an easy trap to fall into. For example, I would love to play music like Sylvia or Tunde. I would love to sing like Jose Carreras. I would love to have the mellow tones of John and the quite patience of Arthur. I would love to live in a big house. I think we all have the same sort of feelings about the gifts and skills of others. And while they might now just be ambitions or pleasant thoughts, they could easily be a lot worse. They could turn to envy.