This reading plan will take you through the book of James in 12 days. James is an extremely practical and insightful letter helping put our faith to practice. We would encourage you to read the passage and our short devotion as we reflect on the book together.
Today’s devotion will be short because the reading is longer. I know it seems like a big task to read the entire letter in one sitting. However, this is an extremely helpful practice as we dive into the book together. So for today, sit down, grab your Bible, and spend about 15 minutes reading through the book of James!
James makes clear in this beginning passage that for the believer the question is not if difficulty will come, but when. Suffering will come. Trial will come. Questions will come. Temptation will come. So we do not go through hoping to avoid any of these difficulties, but preparing ourselves for when they arrive. James 1 gives instruction for the believer in each of these situations, but our devotion today will focus on the last few verses?
How do we maintain faithfulness and steadfastness in all of the changing and various circumstance of life? How do we not allow the circumstances and our present condition to not ultimately rule our outcome. We keep our attention and focus locked onto our faithful God, the one who sent his son to save us, has redeemed us, and the one who promises to keep us until we see him face to face. In particular, what does James tell us to focus on in relation to who God is?
First, God is the “Father of lights.” James is reminding us that God is the Creator of all things, even bringing the lights into existence. God created everything “ex nihlio,” meaning when there was nothing, God created everything. So the Creator and Ruler of all things is the one who will walk us through our suffering and temptation. One of the most profound truths for the believer is that the Creator of the universe is also our compassionate Father.
Second, we can find comfort that while we experience suffering, trials, temptation, and a changing world around us we are cared for by our Father "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” God is steady and unchanging. For those in Christ, his mercy, kindness, compassion, and care have no variation due to our circumstance, they remain the same.
So, believer, you will have difficulty arise. A casual observation of any current events remind us that we will in the midst of a broken world. Things are not yet as they should be. So as you walk through the highs and lows of life, keep your eyes fixed on the Lord. He is unchanging and sure, and one of his absolute promises is that he will keep those whom he has redeemed!
If James was summarized in one thought, I think it would be described as a letter to help the believer put their faith into practice. Today’s passage certainly works toward that end! The overall instruction is pretty straightforward, the application can be challenging. James instructs his readers to hold their tongue, to speak slowly, and to listen. For many, this fights against a very natural instinct to speak quickly and attempt to “listen” while forming your words.
James also reminds us that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Why? Because if we only hear and do not put the Scripture into practice, we are deceiving ourselves.
So for today, we would encourage you to take a few moments for introspection with this question: what areas of my life am I not doing what I hear God’s word saying? Where is my faith not being lived out in practice? Pray that God would help us identify those areas and give us grace to begin conforming our lives to the truths of Scripture.
Finally, this passage ends with James’ instruction to care for the widows and orphans. Putting our faith into practice by loving those who are in need. Pray for our church family as we continue to develop our orphan care ministry. Pray that God would use it to provide a loving, gospel centered home to many and put on display is grace to the watching world.
Our favorites. We all have many favorites in a normal day. I have a favorite coffee mug in the morning, I have a favorite belt when I get dressed, I have a favorite spot to sit, and countless others. These favorites are familiar and bring comfort on a regular basis. A tired morning can be made a little better with a favorite coffee, in a favorite cup, and in a favorite spot.
However, James warns that we must push against this pull of favoritism or “partiality” when it comes to our relationships with others. James warns that we do not “play favorites” based on who is the most important, who is the most influential, or who might bring the most benefit to us. James reminds us that God did not show partiality to us in our salvation. We did not come to faith because we “had a lot to offer” but because God is merciful and kind. Jesus’ church is a diverse global body made of people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all interests, all ethnicities and nationalities.
We need to be immensely thankful that our salvation and God’s pursuit of us but instead “chose those poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.” So today, spend a few moments thanking God that he pursued and saved you even despite our sinful and lowly position before him. Also, spend a few moments reflecting and asking God to show areas in life in which you may be prone to partiality and ask him for the grace to put away this sin.
The end of James 2 is one of the more debated passage in the book. Much time and effort has been spent to work through what James means about the relation between faith and works. Are our works a part of our salvation? James reminds us that the answer to that question is “yes,” but we must be clear about what we mean. Scripture makes clear that our works are in no way a part of our justification.
However, works are the natural outflowing of the new life of a Christian. One author summarizes James with the theme “a faith that works.” James clearly reminds us that we can not claim to follow Jesus but have our faith make no tangible difference in our life.
A helpful practice is to read this passage alongside Ephesians 2:1-10. In Ephesians 2, Paul clearly states the beautiful truth of our salvation coming from the grace and mercy of Jesus, despite us being “dead in our sin.” Our salvation is solely a work of grace. But Paul reads us that once we come to faith, “good works” will be a natural result of our new life. Of the new believer, Paul writes, "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
So what does that all mean? We celebrate and rejoice in the truth that God has saved us through our faith in Jesus, and it is all of a result of grace. But James and Paul also make clear that our works do not save us, but our works do give evidence of our new life. So lets continue to walk in these good works that God has prepared for us.
Many of you may be familiar with the character Peter Parker from Spiderman. Maybe you have even heard what is referred to as the Peter Parker principle: with great power comes great responsibility. In the Spiderman comic books and movies, this line is given as sage advice to Peter Parker as he begins his adventures as Spiderman. Author Stan Lee popularized this idea as his main character grapples with the responsibility he holds as Spiderman and his new found abilities.
This phrase has even been quoted by Presidents and cited by the Supreme Court in a ruling. There is something about this idea that resonates with us. Maybe at some time you have pondered the weight of a particular responsibility or position you have been placed in. The gravity of the situation weighed on you as you thought about how to move forward.
In our reading today, James reminds his readers to grapple with the weight of a particular power they possess: our tongues. It seems strange to put the power of the tongue in the same arena as the power of a superhero, but James instructs that our small tongues have great power. The tongue can build up or the tongue can destroy. James pleads with us to consider how we use our words and the power they possess. Our words give testimony to what is in our heart and we seek the Lord’s grace to continue to use them wisely.
Studies have observed adults use about 16,000 words on average every day. So consider today how are you using this great power? Are you using your words for "staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life” or to build up others (Ephesians 4:29) and bless the Lord.
How do I become a better spouse? How do I address this issue with my children? What does it mean to be a faithful employee? How do I make this decision? Most of us have these questions and many more that buzz around in our minds on a regular basis. Simply put, we are looking for answers. If the question from James 3 was posed to us (“who is wise and understanding among you?”), how many of us would loudly answer “me!”?
In reality, most of us probably frequently feel a need to wisdom and understanding. And don’t misunderstand, there are “answers” all around us. The question we must ask as believers is the wisdom we are taking in “from above” or “earthly, unspiritual, and demonic?”
Before we answer too quickly, think about where we tend to look for advice and wisdom. When we seek help and understanding, are those prodding us along pushing us toward Christ and a “faith that works” or in a direction “where jealousy and ambition exist.”
No doubt very soon we will come upon a situation in our lives that requires us to turn to others for help. Whatever that situation entails, when it arises, think about who we are listening to and where their “wisdom” lies. As believers, let us continue to put our faith and the gospel to practice and seek wisdom as James describes: "wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere."
Fight. Struggle. War. These are not the typical happy terms that we associate with our life as believers. However, as we reflect on the realities of our life as we pursue holiness and growth in our relationship with Christ, they are quite accurate. For those of us who have come to faith, we live in a time that is sometimes referred to as the “already, but not yet.”
We have already come to faith and are saved by the grace of God through Christ, but we are not yet with him in “glorification.” Romans 8:30 describes the path of the believer in this way: "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” God has called us, he has saved us, he is sanctifying us, and he will one day bring us to “glorification.”
What does that mean for us now? For the believer that means we are currently living in the time in which we must continue to fight off sin and pursue holiness. A Puritan pastor named John Owen described this fight by saying “we must either be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” We must not attempt to passively go through our Christian life excepting that we will easily grow in our relationship with the Lord. We must fight for it. We must fight for our faith as James describes in chapter 4: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to
mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
“What are our plans this weekend.” This is a very typically phrase in our household as we go through the practice of maintaining our family calendar. We make plans, we put them on our calendar, and we move forward. However, if these last few months have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future will hold. James makes a timely reminder for the believer that what we trust in the future is not our plans but the Lord’s providence. We trust that God is in control of all things and we do not trust in our plans and timing.
When we walk through an unusual season as we are in now, we have seen a lot of plans change. Some minor and some significant. But we can have confidence that the Lord is still in control of all things, even when things seem chaotic. I believe this season should help us put into practice this teaching from James. So, Lord willing, I hope to see many of you as we gather together this Sunday for worship at PBC.
Yesterday, James warned us of the dangers of trusting in our plans. He warned believers to not
be prideful in their own abilities, but to trust the Lord’s will. In a similar fashion, James warns us
today not to trust in our wealth and our material things. James gives a stark picture of what will
eventually happen to our wealth, especially to those who mistreat others in their pursuit of material
gain. In fact, James had wealthy unbelievers in mind as he wrote this rebuke.
However, this stark warning is meant for the benefit of the church. Author Kent Hughes wrote,
“James understood that the natural human tendency to envy the rich, if sustained, would lead
many Christians astray. Thus, this scathing warning to the ungodly rich is meant to steel his
people against such folly.” This danger is certainly evident and true for us as believers today. We live in a world in which we are constantly inundated with the picture of material things. TV, internet, social media, and more give us pictures of what our life could look like if we only had more. The desire to put an inordinate desire on material things and wealth is a constant and ever present danger.
So, take heed of James warning. James or the message of Scripture is not a ban on having things or even enjoying things we possess. His warning is to not be like the unbelieving wealthy person who puts all of their trust and security in them. Our things can be nice blessings of God, but they make terrible gods themselves. Instead, trust in the Lord and his goodness and grace he has shown to us in Jesus.
A couple of years ago our family decided to do a small raised bed garden in our backyard. We
got everything ready, filled it with dirt, planted our various vegetables, and began the process of
waiting to see what would happen. Our son would go and check it frequently, help water the
plants, and inspect even the smallest evidence of something growing. Frequently he would
become frustrated at the length of this process, but would become thrilled when he eventually
Most of us are the same way when it comes to waiting. There are probably few instructions that
many of us struggle with more than "wait" or "be patient." Most of us are not by nature patient
people. We tend to find ways to minimize waiting in all aspects of our lives. And here, James is
instructing believers not only to wait with patience, but to do so in the midst of suffering.
James even gives Job as an example of someone who patiently endured suffering and eventually
saw the fruition of the Lord’s compassion and mercy. Today, we live in the midst of a broken
world and suffering is not something that we can be completely avoided. That means there will
be times in which we have to wait to see how the Lord was ultimately working in our
circumstances. During that time, let us keep James 5:8 in the forefront of our minds: You also, be
patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” We can put our hope and
trust in the coming of the Lord and he will ultimately set everything back as it should be. Let us
look with expectation to that day and patiently trust in the Lord until it arrives.
Today, we end our journey through the book of James. James concludes this letter in a fitting
manner as we regather as a church family. As we continue walking through these unusual days,
what a fitting exhortation from James: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone
cheerful? Let him sings praises.” As we regather, there are many who might be simultaneously
experiencing difficult times and a cheerful spirit. As we do, let us trust the Lord, let us pray
together, and let us sing praises to our Savior.
Additionally, James conclusion reminds us of the importance for the community of faith in the
life of a believer. We need one another as we confess sin and walk through repentance, to pray
for one another, and to bring accountability to one another. So as we regather, let us continue to
rely on one another to follow the Lord. Let's strive together to put our faith into practice and ask
the Lord to use our “faith that works” for his glory and our good.