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Monday, July 25, 2011

"Seeing Double" - (07/24/11)

“Seeing Double”
James 1:1-8 (Message #1 in James Series)
July 24, 2011

            Today we are beginning a brand-new teaching series on the Book of James.  I am excited because this has long been one of my favorite books of the Bible and I’m hoping it will become a favorite of yours as well.  James is a very practical book, filled with “how-tos” for living the Christian life, which is one of the reasons it appeals to me.  James doesn’t beat around the bush; he gets right to the point, and tells it like it is without sugar-coating the truth.
            But before we get into the text itself we need to answer some background questions to help us get more out of our study—questions like…
  • WHO was the author?
  • WHEN and WHERE was this book written?
  • TO WHOM was it written?
  • What was the author’s PURPOSE in writing?
  • What RELEVANCE does it have to us today?

            These sorts of questions fall under the category of Bible Survey, and many of your study Bibles will have helpful information about these subjects in the introductory pages to the Book of James.  But to save us a little time, let me walk us quickly through some of these questions and answers.

#1. WHO was the AUTHOR?
            The author doesn’t leave us guessing.  He says right at the beginning that he is James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  But which James is he?  The N.T. mentions four different ones including James the son of Zebedee and brother of John (cf. Matt. 4:21), James the son of Alphaeus, called “James the Less” or “little/younger” (cf. Matt. 10:3), James the father of the apostle Thaddeus/Judas (cf. Luke 6:16), and James, one of the four half-brothers of Jesus.  So which of those four wrote the Book of James?  A lot of people think it was James, the son of Zebedee (brother of John) because he’s the James they’ve heard the most about.  However, that James was martyred in Acts 12 (±A.D. 44), the first of the 12 apostles to be killed.  He didn’t live long enough to write anything.
            No, the answer is James #4, the half-brother of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary.  He was probably next to Jesus in age since his name always heads the list of Jesus’ siblings (cf. Matt. 13:55; Mark6:3 – James, Joseph, Simon, Jude, and sisters).  We also know that he along with all of Jesus’ other brothers and sisters rejected Jesus’ early ministry (John 7:2-5).  It was only after the resurrection that they came to believe fully in Him.  In fact, at one point His family tried to get Him to quit preaching and apparently even thought He was a bit insane.
            Some other facts about James… I Cor. 15:7 records that he was one of the people to whom Jesus appeared personally after the Resurrection.  On Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after he got saved he visited James (Gal. 1:19).  In fact, Paul referred to James as one of the “pillars” of the Church (Gal. 2:9).  Because of his holiness and integrity his nickname was “James, the Just”.  In Acts 12:17 after Peter was released from jail by the angel he told the disciples to go and report to James what had happened.  At the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13) James was presiding over the proceedings as they debated about what to do with the influx of non-Jewish converts.  James was so well known and highly respected in the Early Church that his younger brother, Jude, only needed to identify himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ, and the brother of James” and that was all the credentials he needed (cf. Jude 1:1).  From a comment made by Paul in I Cor. 9:5 we believe that James was married and probably had children.  Though we don’t know a lot of details, Josephus and Hegesippus, ancient Roman historians, tell us that James was executed by fanatical Jewish leaders near the time of the revolt and siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 62).

#2. WHEN and WHERE was this book written?
            The author does not mention any specific historical events that we can use to fix the exact date of the writing.  Nor does he tell us where he was when he wrote it.  However, the letter is very Jewish in nature.  The language, the references all suggest an early date for the writing, back when the church was still in its infancy, before the Jerusalem Controversy about what to do with the Gentile converts.  We also know that James rose to a place of leadership in the Early Church in A.D. 44, replacing Peter after he got out of jail, which was also the same year in which King Herod Agrippa I died (cf. Acts 12:5-23).  All things considered, a date of A.D. 46 for the writing is a very good estimation and it was almost certainly written from Jerusalem where James lived.  By the way, most conservative Bible scholars believe that this was the first NT book ever written!  Galatians probably came next, several years later.  One more tidbit: the book of James is a literary masterpiece, written in beautiful Greek by someone with a broad vocabulary and a sharp mind.  History tells us that James was such a man.

#3. To WHOM was the letter written?
            As I mentioned a moment ago, the content of this letter is distinctively Jewish in nature.  For example, a very Hebrew title for God is used in 5:4—“Lord of Sabaoth,” Lord of Hosts (kyrios sabaoth).  This was not a term used by Gentiles but almost exclusively by Jewish Christians.
            Also, the greeting of the letter starts out, “…to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad…” (NASV).  Or as it is in the NIV, “…to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations…”  The literal phrase that James uses is, “…to the 12 tribes who are in the dispersion (Diaspora)…” This clearly refers to Jews.
            However, at the same time, the letter is also clearly Christian (cf. 2:1, 7; 5:7-8; etc.).  The best explanation for this Jewish/Christian combination is seen in the Acts chronology.  After Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4) those Jewish believers took off in every direction, heading for Cyprus, Phoenicia, and Antioch (cf. 11:19), or anyplace else where they could find a safe haven from persecution.
            James wrote this letter to those Jewish Christians who had fled “in the Diaspora” after Stephen’s death.  This is one of the so-called, “General Epistles” because it was written to be copied and shared with lots of people in lots of places.  It was not sent to one church or one individual, but to a whole class of people, those Jewish converts to Christianity who had fled their homeland to avoid being killed for their newfound faith in Jesus, their Messiah.
            This brings us to the next question…

#4. What was the writer’s PURPOSE for writing?
            James was seeking to encourage and fortify those baby Christians who were now scattered and far away from regular instruction in the teachings of Christ.  He speaks of trials and oppression and how Christians should respond.  Knowing that these new converts would struggle with temptations of every sort he tells them how to deal with the devil and with the temptations of life.  He wrote from a pastor’s heart, instructing and encouraging by long distance.

#5. What RELEVANCE does it have for us today?
            Without stealing my own thunder for the next few months, I will just say again that this is a very practical book and deals with the issues that you and I face every day in our Christian lives.  It deals with the role of good deeds in religion.  It takes on the question of faith versus works.  It warns us about how much damage our mouths can do if we don’t control them.  It tells us how to endure trials and go through suffering without losing our faith and getting mad at God.  It also takes on the question of how to get our daily life to come into alignment with what we claim to believe.  Like I said… very practical stuff!  So without further ado, let’s get into the text itself.  Turn to James 1:1.

Verse 1: James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
  • Nowadays when we write letters we sign them at the bottom.  You either have to read the whole letter or glance at the end before you start to know who’s writing to you.  In the old days, they put that information right in the salutation.  I think it was a better system.
  • I’ve heard that Eskimos have a whole bunch of different words for snow.  It makes sense because living where they do, they have become snow experts.  In Greek there are a variety of words that mean “servant” or “slave.”  That’s because slavery was such a part of normal life and there were different kinds of slaves.  An oiketês was a “household servant.”  A místhios was a “hired servant.”  A pais was a “boy servant.”  A paidíske was a “young female slave.”  A huperétes was an “under-rower” on a ship.  A diákonos was a “ministering servant.”  Here in James 1:1 James identifies himself as “the doulos of God and of Christ.”  A “doulos” was a bond-servant and the word was at the same time the most common term for a slave and also the most menial.  It was Paul’s favorite word to describe himself in relation to Christ (cf. Rom. 1:1), and James uses it here in the same way, with the idea in mind that he had been formerly a “bond-slave” of Satan, and that, having been bought by Christ, he is now a willing slave, bound to his new Master with bonds of love and gratitude.  And it’s important to remember that with a doulos there were no limitations, either in the kind or the time of service.  In the same way, the life of the believer is to be lived in continuous lifelong obedience and service to God.  That’s very important!

Verses 2-3: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.   
  • The word “trials” here implies testings from an external source.  Later on, down in verses 13-14 James will discuss testings that come from within, temptations to commit evil.  But here in verse 2 he’s talking about circumstances that come along out of the blue and whack us up alongside the head.
  • “Consider it all joy…”  He doesn’t say that these trials are joyful events.  He doesn’t say they are fun or something we are to seek after.  No, he just says that we are to “consider them, reckon them, think of them” in positive terms because of the ultimate good that they will work in us.  Most medicine and nearly all vitamins taste nasty, but we take them because of the benefit we know they are going produce in us.
  • Trials in the life of the Christian function in the same way.  They have a nasty taste for the moment but if we will work with God rather than against Him the trials will ultimately strengthen our faith and produce godly character in us.
  • The phrase here translated as “the testing of your faith” employs a technical word that refers to the refining and purging process of producing genuine coins.  The goal of testing is not to destroy but to verify and prove the quality of the material being tested.  Through trials we grow spiritual muscles and develop our spiritual lung capacity so that when we come up against a really steep hill we have strength and endurance not only live through the experience but to come out as victors, standing at the top of the mountain shouting, “Woohoo!”
  • By the way, joy is a choice.  We can choose to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances or we can choose to give way to anger, depression, despair, and vindictiveness against God and everyone in the room with us.  James says, “Choose joy.”  Paul had the same thing in mind when he wrote Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, REJOICE!”  We can choose to be joyful, no matter what.

Verse 4: And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
  • This verse is a model of redundancy, but it is not accidental.  James is trying to make a point.  The word here used twice and translated as “perfect” means complete in the sense of having reached the goal, the finish line.  In common speech we use the word perfect to mean, one who is “without sin or flaw of any kind.”  That is impossible for humans so it is ridiculous to think that James is commanding us to become perfect in the sense of sinless and without flaws.
  • No, he’s talking about letting the trials and tribulations process continue to its desired end, where we have those needed spiritual muscles.

Verse 5: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
  • This verse is used by Christians as a carte blanche promise from God, but we should not remove it from its context and expect it to work.  Here James is talking about God-given insight while we are going through trials, wisdom into what God is doing and what He is trying to produce in us.  Sometimes Christians say, “I just can’t see any point to this.  Why is God putting us through this?  Have we sinned?  Have we ticked Him off somehow?  I just can’t see how any good could ever come from this mess, this tragedy, this trial.”  But James says that if we ask Him, God will reveal it to us.  Job is a good example.  When Job cried out to God, the Lord revealed to him what was taking place and that knowledge sustained him through his trials to the very end.

Verse 6: But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.
  • Doubting, that’s our enemy in this process.  The Greek word is used twice here: diakrinómenos.  The word is sometimes translated as debating, contending, or disputing.  Here it means doing those things with God, maybe in the hopes that He will stop the trial or the tribulation.  In context James is not talking so much about weak faith, as lack of faith in God, and therefore contending with Him.
  • But James points out that a person without faith in God is at the mercy and whim of the storm and the waves.  He has no anchor, no refuge, no rock of safety, no island where he can beach his boat and seek shelter.  God is all of those things to us when we go through trials.  Without Him, where can a person turn to for help?

Verses 7-8: For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
  • James here speaks of a “double-minded” person.  This does not mean thinking twice.  The Greek work literally means a person with “two-souls” – dípsuchos (dis = twice + psuche = mind or soul).  James uses this same word in 4:8, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  It refers to a person of divided allegiance.  In this context I believe it is about the man who has doubts and mental reservations both about prayer itself and about the requests he is making of God.
  • James says that this kind of double-mindedness causes instability in every area of his life and robs him of getting answers from God.

            So what have we learned today?  Let’s review:
  • Who was James?  Tell me all you know.
  • Who did he write this to, and why?
  • Why does God allow us to go through trials and tribulations?
  • Why is James so adamant about us not being “double-minded”?
  • What do you hope to gain personally from this study?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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