Lessons and Notes from James

The Books of James & First and Second Peter: Faith, Suffering, and Knowledge by Mal Couch and Ed Hindson has a useful listing of the injunctions from James (“The commands of James are these:”); I’ve included a few additions in boldface and  brackets:

James 1

  • Consider it all [that is, all trials] joy.
  • Let endurance have its perfect result.
  • Ask God if you lack wisdom.
  • Ask in faith.
  • Let the double-minded not expect anything from the Lord.
  • Let the humble have glory; let the rich have humiliation.
  • Let the tempted not say he is tempted of God.
  • Do not be deceived about your temptation.
  • Be quick to hear; slow to speak; slow to anger.
  • Receive the Word implanted.
  • Prove yourselves doers of the Word, and not mere hearers. [And be careful what you say.]

James 2

  • Do not show favoritism.
  • Listen, God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith.  [And James criticizes the rich.]
  • So speak and so act [what you believe]. [You need deeds with faith.]

James 3

  • Let not many become teachers…
  • Behold, the ships…
  • Behold, how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!
  • Do not be arrogant [or envious or selfishly ambitious; be peace-loving, considerate, merciful, impartial, and sincere].

James 4

  • Do not think the Scripture speaks to no purpose.
  • Submit therefore to God.
  • Resist the devil.
  • Draw near to God.
  • Cleanse your hands.
  • Purify your hearts.
  • Be miserable [in looking at your sins].
  • Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom.
  • Humble yourselves in the presence of God.
  • Do not speak against one another [or be judgmental].
  • Come now and do not say, “Today or tomorrow” we shall do such and such.
  • You ought to say, “If the Lord wills.”

James 5

  • You rich, howl for your miseries that are coming upon you. [Don’t hoard wealth or be self-indulgent.]
  • Behold, the pay you withheld from the laborers…
  • Be patient until the coming of the Lord.
  • Be patient, strengthen your hearts.
  • Do not complain against each other.
  • Count those blessed who endure[/are patient].
  • Do not swear, either by heaven or by earth.
  • Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.
  • Let him pray who is suffering.
  • Let him who is cheerful sing praises.
  • Let the sick call for the elders.
  • Let the elders pray over the sick, anointing him with oil.
  • Confess your sins to one another.
  • Let him know that he who turns back a sinner will save his soul from death [and “cover a multitude of sins.”  Note, by the way, that it is interesting that this formulation of something “covering a multitude of sins” occurs in back-to-back books of the New Testament:  here and in I Peter 4:8 (“Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins”).]

This list raises the question (and it is raised in other epistles, too) about whether these various injunctions are just dots or also lines:  that is, whether we should interpret them together in a way that creates an intellectually satisfying whole, or perhaps instead recognize our limitations and simply interpret each on its own as best we can.  (I’ll note that the dot-line metaphor comes from a conversation in my day job as a lawyer, specifically in the context of whether the guarantees in the Bill or Rights should be interpreted as specific and separate or fit together to cover, say, the defendant’s rights throughout the criminal justice process.). Of course, the ultimate lines that connect all the dots are to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Shifting gears:  In his book on James (33), William Barclay discusses various possibilities for the origin of the text, before settling on this one:

So we come to the fifth possibility. Let us remember how closely James resembles a sermon. It is possible that this is, in substance, a sermon preached by James, taken down by someone else, translated into Greek, added to and decorated a little and then issued to the Church at large so that all men should benefit from it. That explains its form and how it came to be attached to the name of James. It even explains the scarcity of the references to Jesus, to the Resurrection, and to the Messiahship of Jesus; for in one single sermon James could not go through the whole gamut of orthodoxy and is, in fact, pressing moral duty upon men, and not talking about theology. It seems to us that this is the one theory which explains the facts.

Barclay also has an interesting discussion (22-23) of the seeming tension between James and some of Paul’s letters:

… At a first reading James 2:14-26 reads like a direct attack on Paulinism. “A man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24) seems a flat contradiction of the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith. But what James is attacking is a so-called faith which has no ethical results and one thing is quite clear — anyone who charges Paul with preaching such a faith cannot possibly have read his letters. They are full of ethical demands, as, for instance, a chapter like Romans 12 illustrates. Now James died in A.D. 62 and, therefore, could not have read Paul’s letters which did not become the common property of the Church until at least A.D. 90. Therefore what James is attacking is either a misunderstanding of what Paul said or a perversion of it; and nowhere was such a misunderstanding or perversion more likely to arise than in Jerusalem, where Paul’s stress on faith and grace and his attack on the law were likely to be regarded with more suspicion than anywhere else.

I wonder whether the faith/works discussion might have been prompted by the Gnostics, with their flesh/spirit dichotomy — and whether they would have made the “God tempted me” excuse (James 1:13-15).  I have a separate post on this site regarding faith and works, so I’ll say no more about that here.

One other point:  The good of the rich and the bad of the poor are obvious (perhaps even more so then than in today’s egalitarian time) and so not much discussed; the bad of the rich and the good of the poor are less obvious and, therefore, more discussed.