Summary: First in a Summer series on the book of James
In elementary school we took a field trip to the Richmond Auditorium. I don’t know who was leading the orchestra but one of the things they did was to introduce us to the idea of "musical themes" via Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Musical themes are those repetitious melodies that mark the entrance or presence of some character of force. Who can forget the heavy strings playing those simple notes at the opening of Spielberg’s Jaws. Themes don’t remain the same. They are repeated and transformed throughout a work. These variations include the tempo or volume such as when the music associated with Yoda crescendos as he lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp and astonishes a young Luke. Themes are memorable for at least two reasons. First they give us a hint of what is coming and second, especially in movies, they have a way of capturing our emotions into the story.1
James too, is full of themes, in spite of those who would reduce it to being about "works verses faith". As we move through this book we’re going to find themes dealing with perseverance, joy and trials as well as issues of wisdom, use of money and preferential treatment of people and of course, the issue of good actions as opposed to just saying the right words.
It is my working belief that James’ concern was to warn those he wrote too from becoming what we heard last week described as a "Casual Christian" . God’s desire is for us to be captured by Jesus Christ.
One theme is that of testing. For those to whom James is writing this word covers a lot of things. It includes direct satanic attacks as well as the general ills common to living life and facing the trials that being Christian in a heathen world brought upon them. Dr. Ralph Martin summarized this testing as, "the task of reconciling the will of God and dominating evil powers would and did find themselves. 2
Is this familiar? The answer for our testing is the same as for James’ audience—JOY. Joy is NOT happiness. Happiness is fleeting and temporary. Your blood sugar level and the latest Blazer trade can affect your happiness. Joy goes deeper. The opposite of joy is not unhappiness its anger, despair, and bitterness. Joy is a God given gift. It makes us able to stand when trails come. And its foundation is the one in whom we trust—Jesus. Keep this in mind. The trials and problems we face cannot ultimately harm us? They can hamper us. They can short-circuit our plans. They can injure our standing in the world, but in the long run—in the eternal scheme of things, they do not, they cannot interfere with what we have in Christ. God’s joy is confidence in the one who we call Lord. It is trust in the one who promises to never leave us forsake us. Diving joy is the automatic byproduct of biblical faith.
Telkon is used by Jesus on the cross when he cries, "It is finished". For the length of the letter James finds this a pretty important concept. He uses it five times, four of them in this chapter. For Jews this term is more about reaching God’s goal and being reckoned by God as worthy. Along with the word "maturity" or "fullness" it is used to describe an animal for sacrifice that was old enough and without the blemishes that would keep it from being accepted. It seems the idea behind this is more than just one’s actions. It is a development that moves us from self-centered to God centered. It signals that the transformation the Holy Spirit has begun has moved our character well toward the goal God has for us. We will see later that one very good measure for this is the actions we take in response to God’s call. 3
Joy is the answer to the tests but in the process of living out this joy and of seeing God work His will in our life there will come a lot of opportunity to seek God’s direction. In verses 5-8 James addresses this. The Potato Patch is at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Out flowing river water meet the surf coming towards the bay and these silt bars have the ability to create some pretty impressive waves. One description sums it up "On a big day, the Patch is creepy-- a minefield of shifting, throwing peaks, extending from a couple of hundred yards offshore all the way to the horizon." In the tossing of these waves it is not unheard of to have seasoned sailors lose their lunch. That’s the picture James has of the person who seeks wisdom without certainty and trust in God to answer.4