If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.
Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB).
The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!
James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that,
James then transitions from a group of unregenerate in the church to those who are enduring well in a reminder to persist in hard times.
James 5:7-12 “Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door! Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.” (HCSB).
What is the “Therefore” there for? Well, after just reading vv.1-6, it seems that James is reminding the poor and downtrodden that their cries have “reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (v4). The reason Christians can carry on in the midst of tremendous suffering is because we have a sense that God hates injustice, and is going to work things out, in this life or in the one to come. That means your grueling efforts are not in vain. The enemy of God’s kingdom will not prevail. There is hope for the Christ-follower if they will but persist to the very end! After all, the Lord, who’s “coming is near,” (v8) is “very compassionate and merciful” (v11). The first appearance of “brothers” in verse 7 of this chapter signifies that James is now addressing those within the faith, whereas the rich of 5:1-7 seem to be unrepentant and unregenerate. So there is a clear difference between the eternal identity of those being addressed in verses 1-6 as in verses 7-12. The former has put all their trust in their riches; the latter has put all their trust in God, and James is imploring them to stay in that place of trust, as evidenced by the repeated terms, “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “endurance” in this sequence of Scripture (highlighted in green).
Contrasted with the “miseries that are coming” on the unregenerate who hoard their resources, James urgently implores the believers Jerusalem to…
James finally ends on a note of prayer.
James 5:13-20 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (HCSB).
This is one of the most beautiful swathes of Scripture in all of James.
In his closing chapter, James identifies those who have no faith (vv.1-6), those who are proving their faith (vv.7-12), and concluding with a call to arms (vv.13-20), reminding everyone that there will be some who stumble and fall, and that salvation doesn’t come to make us an island, rather, we are saved into a community that is under the allegiance of Christ, and we are to leave no man or woman behind.
This was a rewarding journey through a delightful epistle. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Remember our original intent in starting a study like this, where we are not just looking at the minutia of the letter, but zooming out to a view of 30,000 feet in order to identify sweeping themes that hold this book together. Before I end this blog post, let me provide you with a brief summary of James. I hope after reading this, you will find James beyond just a disjointed grouping of “fortune-cookie” proverbs; it is robust with the themes of trust, suffering, wisdom, holiness, and love for the poor. Check out the summary below. When you are reading James, and mining different verses, you will be able to plug them into this overall train of thought that James had, in order to illuminate the individual verses at hand with tremendous meaning.
When life gets difficult, God will use bad circumstances to transform you, as long as you trust in Him; this occurs when our thought life is brought in subjection to what God says is true (ch.1). This new maturity is most visible in two ways: 1) how we treat others in the body of Christ, specifically, the ones who cannot repay us; in fact, the way we treat the poor in our own local churches is evidence of our faith (ch.2)! and 2) how we speak to one another (ch.3). These elements can only be cultivated in the Christian who continually trusts in God in all circumstances, bringing the theme back around to the first chapter (ch.4). At the end of the age, our fruit will either condemn or vindicate us, so we must be diligent to grow in holiness and love towards one another—the one who perseveres is confident that they are the Lord’s, and must not leave anyone in the family of God behind, even those who appear as falling away (ch.5).
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:
As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.
A shorter version of this might be:
Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.
James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).
First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below…
The basic trajectory of the fourth chapter matches these five points.
Remember, we are not looking to uncover the nuances in every verse, but to retrieve the basic point of the chapter, the tapestry. Later, we can go back and look at every verse in light of the overarching point. But what we have so far is a straightforward message woven through the fourth chapter of James. At this juncture, we should add a prominent motif: “adulteress!” (v4). If you consider that an adulteress describes one who is unfaithful to their covenant partner, this becomes a screaming analogy of the Christian who rejects the lordship of God by entertaining their fleshly indulgences. In other words, James is warning the Christian that the “war” between the regenerated spirit and the sinful desires within is ongoing, and they must tirelessly engage in that battle without relenting if, indeed, they are under the lordship of God. Further, we are not of the dark kingdom because “the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously” (v5), and gives us a “greater grace” to persevere. You may remember that this is the very same premise that James started off with in his first chapter:
Christians are made more complete when they endure conflicts by trusting in God.
Ordinarily, one might be at easy with the period at the end of verse 10, and move on to the next paragraph to form a new thought, but as shown by his lead-in, “Therefore” (v7), James does seem to continue with his train of thought.
Verses 11-12 are a more in-depth look at the masters of each Kingdom—God and Satan—and yet God clearly has no equal in this battle, for he tells us that if a Christian submits to God, and resists the devil they will experience victory (v7).
This is where it gets a bit controversial. The following paragraph on criticizing each other suggests that submitting to the lordship of God is inextricably tied to how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the local church; a dynamic emphasized in Chapter 2. But what does “criticizing” mean? Surely there is a type of constructive criticism that is honorable and useful in the body of Christ. The type of criticism that James speaks of is more damaging to others in the church—i.e., it is able to “destroy” (v12). We see this in the ambiguously labeled “fights” going on in the church (vv1-2). That’s why James says that criticizing each other is essentially to “judge the law” (11), since the law James is most likely referring to is the law of love that came earlier in the epistle (2:8-11). So then, James is not forbidding constructive criticism, necessary discernment of sin, or church discipline; but rather, flagrant condemnation from of selfish ambition or jealousy (3:16). Or to overlap a similar theme from chapter 3…
Keep in mind that James was writing to a group of exiles struggling with their identity as Christians in a culture that was very different from their way of life and belief; their background is similar to any post-Christian environment today: it is hostile and foreign to the worldview of Christ-following men and women.
The bottom line: God knows better than we about every minutia of our lives, and we would be silly to disregard Him on anything, even what we are planning on doing tomorrow (vv.13-15), and especially how we view those in the body of Christ (v11-12). But submission to the lordship of God is not tiresome or disagreeable for those regenerated and filled with the Spirit (v5), but joyful and full of life (v8,10). Such is the life of the Kingdom family. For it is not human thriving to simply keep oneself unstained (1:27b), but one must also be a part of the expanding kingdom family of God (2:15-17), for “it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (4:17).
It may seem relatively simple, but asking a newbie to show up and set up chairs, clean, or make coffee, has had some great results at Adorn, but only when the other volunteers are intentional to get to know that person. Serving is very conducive to relationship, and it’s easier to get to know someone when you share a common goal (e.g., greeting people at the door).
Tribes can develop in a neighborhood pretty organically if you have that type of socialite on the block who can just throw parties. For those who can’t do this, organized community groups are very helpful. Instead of serving at a church, the common bond can be the neighborhood space, bible study, mission, food, etc.
You would be surprised how effective it is to grab a couple socially awkward guys and invite them to shoot guns in the wilderness. Bring a bag of chips and drinks, and conversations will follow shortly after. Or billards. Or a book club. Whatever floats your boat.
This is my favorite cannon for community. When all else fails (or even if it doesn’t) just break out the food. People love gathering around shared meals. It’s not just a way to fill a felt need, but an open table is a loud invitation tot he stranger that they are welcome where you are. No wonder Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34).
There is commonality. We noticed that Jesus has been forming a common identity in us that brings us together. From this identity, he is tangibly expressed through knowing Him (in his word together), prayer (meetings), worshipping (God together), serving (each other), repentance (of sin to each other), eating (food together), etc.
By the way, even our corporate gathering is largely communal. Only a small part of it is teaching or worship, roughly two hours of our weekly gathering. But there are about forty people who are there for nearly eight hours doing life together in the ways described above, praying for one another, serving each other, confessing to each other, and eating with one another. As far as I can tell, this has naturally spilled over into our normal way of life as a core group.
You all need something to crowd around. Without a commonality, you will be an awkward bunch of Christians approaching community arbitrarily. It won’t get off the ground.
That’s why bikers hang out together, pastors hang out together, and underwater basket-weavers too. They have something in common, or a space in common! The Christian community has a commonality that supersedes all those things, we have Jesus Christ. The problem with many Christian communities that end up feeling superficial is that they have no tangible expression of Jesus Christ in their groups.
Look at the list of six tangible expressions of Jesus in community that I listed above, and begin to create one or two (or all!) of them.
Well…you get it.
After you get over the initial bumps (assuming you don’t all hate each other), make it a habit (regularity). Try not to fill your week with a lot of business—even church stuff (availability), and don’t try too hard (simplicity).
And it will never be perfect. In fact, real community is always messy, so expect frequent shambles. This is just what I noticed in passing with the community God has established at Adorn among those he is deeply transforming. But it is not meant to be formulaic. Rather, it’s meant to help you think tangibly about some healthy elements of Christ-centered community, and to get your first foot out the door.
I’m going to go out on a limb by saying that even when you’ve begun experiencing wonderful relationships in a thriving community, it will all implode in a matter of time unless that same community is emptying itself through mission. So keep your doors open to non-believers, Christians you may not like that much, and new believers. It’s ok to have those hang-out sessions with you and your closest friends, as long as that doesn’t become the norm.
Ok. Close my blog and give it a go.
I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…
Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!
But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”
For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.
My mom used to say “You are what you eat,” as a euphemism for healthy nutrition. In other words, you become like what you digest. It’s not much different for making disciples and being discipled. You are who you hang around, and most communities gather around a common purpose. Something which both parties share a mutual interest in.
You will hang around people you have something deeply in common with—your social circles will revolve around the things that you adore. In a nutshell, you will be discipled in accordance to what you most value. Further, you will also influence others in the same sphere of shared desires. Take bowling, for example. If your identity is shaped by your desire to become the best bowler in the world, the practice of bowling will feed your obsession; you will go bowling all the time. You will also surround yourself around a natural community that gravitates towards the same passion, and in so doing will unavoidably become like them, as they become like you. Mutual discipleship. You are what you eat, and you eat bowling.
This can get really interesting for the Christian. We immediately have an open door of evangelism with many people based on shared interests.
We like to spend time with other Christians, and remove ourselves from the big bad world. In doing so, we disciple other Christians, and only influence them. Yet if you scan the New Testament, you will see that all people are disciples of something or someone, because we all have an inherent sense of identity, that leads us to seek out communities of worship centered around a common purpose. But dozens of people in your social stream are being naturally discipled by everyone else but you. If it’s true that God shares common grace on the wicked and the righteous alike, then shouldn’t we learn how to enjoy the finer things in life with the non-believer, if for no other reason, than for friendship?
It seems these days, the only time we will ever spend with a non-believer is for the split second it takes to convert them to Christianity. And even supposing that strategy works, they will convert to Christianity without any hope of godly discipleship. Oh but they will be discipled. The question is who?
The conversion lie.
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (NLT)
On Saturday, I asked about the successes and failures that we’ve experienced in church-sponsored community groups. You can see that conversation here (comments are now closed).
Now I’ve been chasing after the notion of community through the story of the Early Church and their perception of true community. I’m not one to romanticize them (they were just as messed up as we are), and I understand that some practices in the Bible are merely descriptive, not prescriptive for us today. But I think we would be hard pressed to find an ounce of Acts 2 that is foreign to our current church practices, since the results of Acts 2 birthed the church that we now populate! Take the above passage for example, and allow me to paint from it this picture,
Jesus just rose from the dead, and you can’t do much to contain the adrenaline rush surging through your body. You’re still fresh from grieving over the loss, yet now find your entire life revolving too fast to calculate. You desperately need to process this unusual set of circumstances, so you crash your friend’s house and compare stories well into midnight. Amid mouthfuls of food and wine, you can barely contain your excitement as a few of you recall some Old Testament suggestions that this would all unfold. Every few minutes a fresh, startling announcement causes you all to stop and pray—others break out in song. In another lively corner of the house are a few people who used to hate you, yet are now cordially gathered by the chips and salsa—one must blame the overwhelming effect your friend’s ascension is having on the neighborhood. Your entire block is abuzz. One thing you know; Jesus has risen, and you are in awe.
This is a great story of community—found in my own Bible—and it has my whole modern-day structure in a snafu because what I know of community falls depressingly short of this.
I want to spend a few days looking at different elements of this passage to see how we might be able to weave our lives together with what the New Testament community lived out. But in the meantime…
What immediately stands out to you about this Pentecost-borne community group? Is it possible to replicate this now? Should we try?
To top it all, Luke emphasizes that Jesus came into the world “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34)
Considering this blatant purpose statement, it would appear that sharing meals with people was an important aspect to the Lord’s mission.
How many outsiders have you eaten with recently? Got any stories or experiences?
George Gallup Jr. concluded from his studies and polls that Americans are among the loneliest people in the world. (Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church. 16)
The quote above is startling considering the massive networks of communication that we all have. From the personal touch of a cellphone call, the convenient tap of an email, and the intricate relational rhythms of social media, we are a generation that has the ability to stay un-lonely. As if that weren’t enough, the gathering church pulls out all the stops with its prized relational weapon: community groups! (or whatever 12 monikers it’s also known under: small groups, home groups, cell groups, etc).
But are these actually creating real community?
I think many of you have some worthwhile things to say about community groups. This is a safe place to be real, and for whatever it’s worth, I really would like to know…
What are YOUR honest thoughts on your community group experiences? Are they creating community for you?