Tag Archives: The Book of James

The Book of James — Pop Quiz

Sorry, I hope that “pop quiz” didn’t generate any anxious thoughts.  I know well what it was like hearing those words from a teacher or professor.  The anxiety was real—all too real.

Truth is, I didn’t like pop quizzes. Not because they were a surprise, but because I immediately began to question whether or not I had learned the material.  A quiz or test that you know about ahead of time allows for preparation and study. Pop quizzes don’t offer that luxury. You either know it or you don’t.

When examining James 1:2 carefully, it would not be out of order to translate the first few words like this: My brothers and sisters, whenever you face a pop quiz of any kind, consider it nothing but joy…” Why?  Because James knew that a pop quiz would measure the depth of a person’s faith. It would correctly assess the ability of a person to endure knowing that the full effect of endurance meant they were “complete, lacking in nothing.” Think about that for a minute.

In most evangelical circles when James 1:2 is discussed it is not often framed in those terms. But the word James uses for “trials” is a word used only 3 times in the NT. Here in 1:2, Luke 10:30—where the traveler “fell into the hands of robbers…”, and Acts 27:41.  The word’s primary meaning according to The Dictionary of the New Testament is “to come upon something by chance; to be innocently involved in something. The noun form of the word is used for “mishap” or “accident.”

If you’re following my train of thought you’ll realize where I’m going with this. I believe it’s where James was going; what really “tests” us is that which catches us off guard. Something we are innocently involved in that was totally out of our control.

How you define that in your life, either present or past, is up to you but I’m fairly certain you may be a bit like me and had an “aha” moment when reading that last paragraph.

Without getting too personal, I’ll share this particular experience. When my wife and I moved from Texas to North Carolina we were certain there were going to be challenges. We prepared ourselves to make adjustments and deal with things as they came. What caught us off guard was living with two mortgages for over a year because we could not sell our house in Texas. That was pushing us both to limits we’d not yet experienced. I was frustrated, often angry, and continually asking why this was happening. God didn’t seem to be inclined to answer our prayers or those of countless others who joined us in praying for a buyer. The whole process was indeed testing the level of my faith. I’ll confess going through that process did not bring me to any form of maturity. I was far from complete and lacking on many counts.

I often reflect back on that experience. Seeing how my wife responded to that time and how I responded to that time told me I had a good deal of work to do. If something similar happens again, I toss around in my mind whether or not I’d respond differently. Would I realize that what happened then has equipped me for now?

This is where “wisdom” comes in and we’ll make some observations about that in the next post.


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The Book of James–Part III “Who Are You?

The theme song from the original CSI always captured my attention. With poor hearing I expect it was a few years before I figured out exactly what all the words were…but the lead in; “Who are you…” always sucked me in—“Tell  me, who you are…I really want to know”.  Of course, almost predictably, they found out who the “who” was by end of show.

It’s not quite that easy with the Book of James. Continue reading

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The Book of James — An Introduction

First, let me offer a disclaimer. There is little doubt I’ll not cover all the ins and outs of this letter regarding questions, concerns, and even controversies. Therefore it’s important for you to do some individual study in order to catch the full scope of the background and import of James’ message.

Even though some in history have referred to James as an “epistle of straw” (Martin Luther), if we look closely, it’s clear there are weighty matters being discussed in this short epistle. Continue reading

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A Little “dipsychos” Goes a Long Way

I’ve been doing a short study on the book of James. If you’ve not spent time in that book, it’s not only a wonderful book, it’s practical and challenging. Perhaps one of the most oft quoted passages in the book of James comes in the first chapter and deals with doubt or double-mindedness..dipsychos.

One of the sources for my study made a comment about James 1:5-8 and the idea of double-mindedness that made me stop and think a good bit. I’ll share that comment in a bit, but first let’s take a quick looks at the word double-minded.

The idea of double-minded, dipsychos, is a word that’s only used in James and then only twice. There are no real corollaries in the Greek translation of the OT except perhaps Psalm 12:2 where the Psalmist talks of a double-heart.  James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, uses the word in contrast to faith.  In other words, one who expresses faith cannot be double-minded.

Faith here is not belief in God but the idea of actually trusting God to do what he says. To do what’s right for those who do believe in him. It comes in the context of asking for wisdom. “If any of you is lacking wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. BUT ask in faith, never doubting, for…the doubter (literally ‘the man’v.7) being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord (vv. 5-8 NRSV).”

In this context E. Tod Twist makes this observation about the people James is addressing; “They struggle with a conflict of loyalties: God and his direction versus self and personal desires.”  Now that my friend, should start the wheels turning.

What exactly is God’s direction? How, and more so, why do I (self), or my personal desires, send up a flag of conflict?  Doesn’t God want to grant me the desires of my heart?  If I move to do the right thing for the right reasons how could that be a conflict of loyalties?  Are the questions I have about God, the Bible, and perhaps the Christian life, as some people describe it, evidence of a conflict of loyalties?   Of double-mindedness?

As if that’s not enough, what prompted this idea of “wisdom”?  Why would I want to ask for wisdom? It seems, based on the context, wisdom has to do with the testing of my faith, endurance, and the idea of “lacking in nothing” (vv. 2-4).

As in nearly every instance the key to putting some of these pieces together is context. In this rather short epistle, the context is not so much other teachings; we haven’t gotten that far in to the letter. Rather, it deals with who the recipients of the letter were. Once we get a handle on that then we can begin to see how and why James starts off with such a deep and challenging thought.

And we’ll do just that in the next post.


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The Measure of a Christian

As I was doing some of my regular blog reading I came across the oft heard phrase “nominal Christian.”  It was used in the context of examining two groups of people who step away from their faith either momentarily or permanently.  I’ve heard that description many times over the years and it always gives me pause – what exactly is a “nominal Christian?”  Is it someone who sits on the sidelines and never participates in the ministry of the gospel, personally or socially? Is it someone who came to faith early on in life and never sought or got involved in discipleship training?  Is it someone who claims the title “Christian” simply for social or business purposes?  Would Jesus be comfortable with “nominal Christians” in his band of twelve?

During some of my Bible reading time, going through the book of James, there’s a verse in chapter one that seems curiously placed. Understanding that the genre of James is fascinatingly allusive, verse 12 of chapter one appears to clearly illustrate that point. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him (NASB).”  There are biblical scholars who see verse twelve plainly connected to vv. 2-11 and there are those who see the verse connected to v. 13ff.  Where one chooses to situate the verse is somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the teaching of the verse. It is almost a capsule of James’ purpose in writing the instructions to the “twelve tribes who are dispersed.”

Whether it’s persecution or social injustice, the man/woman who perseveres under trial – translate as endures with the goal of perfection or completeness – will receive the crown of life. A promise from the Lord to those who keep loving him. Now in my mind there’s not much room there for “nominal.”

It’s true that there will be periods of inconsistency in our pilgrimage of faith. There will be times when we want to cry out “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” There will be trials that push us to the edge of the envelope and force us to put our faith cards on the table. There may even be times when we find ourselves in the camp of the double-minded. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve abandoned faith – it simply  means we’re still struggling to “count it all joy when (we) face various trials.”  That is not characteristic of a “nominal Christian” – one who exists in name only?

The measure of a Christian is one who is moving forward. If measured on a scale of one to ten, ten being perfect and complete in Christ, if we’re a six our goal ought to be to get to seven! Sure we want a ten, we believe in ten, but our goal is moving forward. How fast we move is determined by many things – but the point is simply this, we are moving forward. We are enduring. We are persevering. There’s nothing nominal about that!

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