Understanding the Letter of James, Part 2

In part 1 of the same series, Lamb’s Harbinger examined the original setting for the letter that James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote to 1st Century Messianic Jews. Many times, James indicates that he writes to: “My brothers.” These Hebrew believers had been dispersed from Jerusalem by the time period indicated in Acts 11. Without that historical context, accurately understanding James is nearly impossible. But with the context, one understands that James gives strong instruction to those enduring trial and persecution… a theme relevant & applicable to Christians the world ’round. God gives wisdom (supernatural understanding of His plan and ways) amid trial. Whatever we endure as Christians is not ever apart from our calling to fulfill His plans on earth in and through our lives.

In this part 2, the reader will note the audience shifts in James’ writing. Again, there are the rich believers (R), living relatively undisturbed in places like Antioch of Syria but to which refugees from Jerusalem have fled. Then, there are the poor believers (P), who—due to the persecution—fled Jerusalem as refugees, and so, generally have nothing, not even food or proper clothing. Finally, there are parts of James’ letter where both (B) rich and poor believers are addressed.

It may not be that the shifts in address are absolutely clean cut. There is admittedly overlap, but where that overlap exists, the predominant audience (as indicated by context) gains the label.

The outline for said shifts in address are:

Chapter 1

  • vv. 1-12 = P — (paraphrase): Even though you may lack material goods as a result of a trial, if you will find out God’s mind on this by “staying in” the trial by trusting God’s generosity in giving wisdom, then you will lack nothing (spiritual) at all by the time God is done. What is better, to have everything spiritually that you need from God, or to have riches which pass away? There is a reward (now and in eternity) for those who endure trials faithfully. Why does God allow trials in our lives? –because he wants to reward us (according to His plan of the ages) with wisdom now and eternal honor later. Therefore, count it all joy when you enter into trials! God has chosen you to be blessed with wisdom now and great honor in Heaven. [Plus, as the Great Redeemer, he turns all evils into His Good.] Interestingly, throughout the entire letter of James, God equates “double-mindedness” with the desire to escape a trial that affects one’s monetary standing in order to be rich.
  • vv. 13-18 = P — It is perhaps a hard saying, but the best advice to those who undergo a trial, especially one that impoverishes them is to say exactly what God inspired through James: (paraphrase) ‘Your malcontent and inner turmoil doesn’t come because God is tempting you to do evil. God doesn’t do that. Rather, those feelings come from your strong desires to be rich(er), as a result comparing yourself to others. Instead, get God’s Word of wisdom on your present situation, focus on that, and it will preserve your soul (emotions, mind) in this hard time. Single-mindedness is to keep that focus on gaining Godly wisdom.
  • vv. 19-27 = B — pretty straightforward here.

Chapter 2

  • vv. 1-13 = R — (paraphrase): Don’t play the “pride of life” game, where you really like and favor (other) rich people for advantage and disgusting show but ignore poor people. That is the way the Christ-less world works. Many rich people oppress, use the legal system to their advantage over you, etc. Don’t make a mockery of the name of Christ by stooping to that level. Instead, remember the “royal law” — “love your neighbor as yourself” and you can’t do that while having the inequity of ‘respect of (rich) persons’. You’re able to recognize other transgressions of the law, like adultery. So, apply the same discernment in this situation. Practice acts of mercy.
  • vv. 14-26 = R — (paraphrase): Here are some examples of what I mean by “acts of mercy” and “loving your neighbor as yourself.” Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Don’t just say to the poor that you believe and pray that God will provide their need. If you really believe God provides needs, give out of what you have… because (as an affluent person) God has provided for your needs already, right! That’s the kind of faith that is living. But the word-only kind of faith is cheap and dead.

Chapter 3

  • vv. 1-12 = B — (paraphrase): Whether you are rich or poor, your desire to rule over one another is not good or right. Usually, this comes to cutting each other down with your words, so you feel better about yourselves. Don’t you realize how much hellish evil can be done by your words? You can also do a great deal of good by your words. If you are Christ’s then make sure what comes out of your mouth is life-giving (builds another up) instead of murderous (killing their emotions, reputation and confidence).
  • vv. 13-18 = B — pretty straightforward here

Chapter 4

  • vv. 1-10 = P — Here God, through James once again clearly defines what “double-mindedness” means. If one wishes to escape poverty instead of learning Godly wisdom for the reasons he has allowed the trial that induced the poverty, then that one is double-minded and not a friend of God. Rather, that one is an adulterer to God and a friend of the Christ-less world, because he/she desires temporal riches more than knowledge of God’s plan for the ages & the eternal wisdom of God that can show one how their life (in all aspects) fits into God’s plan. The only remedy for such a proud person is to humble themselves before God, seeing HE is GOD. It is futile to resist Him when He resists the proud. Submit yourself to him.
  • vv. 11-12 = B — STOP talking bad about each other and judging each other, whether rich or poor. You are no judges. God alone is the Judge.
  • vv. 13-17 = R — (paraphrase); If you are rich, then you need to STOP making plans—that are apart from God’s will—about your affluence and wealth management. [Application]: You need to learn that you are under God’s plan just as much as the poor are under His plan. Find out the reason God has allowed you to be rich, and start acknowledging & following God’s will for your riches.

Chapter 5

  • vv. 1-6 = R — The rich (believers & disbelievers) who love their riches and do not acknowledge God’s plan for their wealth WILL come to ruin and much sorrow and much judgment. It all will rot and waste and vanish. God, who is the God of War for Heaven’s Armies, will come down upon you
    • because you did not forward his plans to take care of the poor…
    • because you have lived in (empty) pleasure that has only prepared your heart to be destroyed by Satan like a pig is fattened for the slaughterhouse… [if this is the final result of riches, do you really want to be rich?]
    • because you used the (money-hungry) system of law to your advantage in order to kill the just, and the just had no means of resisting you. [reminiscent of Chapter 2: 1-13]
  • vv. 7-18 = B — (paraphrase): This temporal life and riches are not all there is to life. The trials and suffering now will give way to the [Rapture and/or] 2nd Advent of our Lord Jesus! Until then, be patient (in affliction), speak truth and don’t swear oaths, remember Job & be happy about your God who is tender in mercies and pities us. If you’re happy, share the joy by singing. If you’re sick, pray and/or call the elders and pray for divine healing, especially if certain sins [during fits of double-mindedness & discouragement, or as a result of corruption from (loving/desiring) riches] have led to that sickness. Just tell an elder (free from such things) what you did during those dark times that led to the sickness, and the elders and you will pray… and you will be healed. It’s literally a wonder what God can do through the prayer of a believer whose conscience is clean! Just think of Elijah.
  • vv. 19-20 = B — Those (elders and spiritually mature) who rescue a brother/sister in Christ who is going astray [implied: because of double-mindedness amid trials or love of riches] will have preserved a soul from death and shall have hidden a multitude of sins.

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