I knew when I began my study of the book of James last month that I was headed into heart-to-heart territory.
James is a ‘let’s get to the point’ kind of guy.His words shoot straight to my soul. His letter was never directed to those outside of the Christian faith. No. His letter was sent to Christian Jews who were scattered across the Roman Empire. They were a rejected people. They had chosen Christ and as a result had been rejected by their fellow countrymen. They were Jews. Therefore, they would also be rejected by Gentiles, people outside the Jewish faith. So, you would think that James would be delicate with his words and exhortation to this forlorn and persecuted group.
Don’t bet on it.
George M. Stulac, an IVP New Testament Commentator states that James wrote to the scattered twelve tribes and to James’ readers today, with an, “…unrelenting moral focus, he takes God’s commands seriously, and he makes our unholiness clear and inexcusable.”
James understood that this group was in rough shape and had suffered. However, he also identified a heart issue among them that needed attention. James shared words of grace and love. However, he wasn’t about to coddle them. He wrote to an audience who was failing. They were failing to live the life of faith in Christ they professed to believe. Compromises were weakening their commitments. Resentments were growing. Arguments were erupting. And bitter divisions were forming. Misconceived and misguided religious practices were being forged as well. This group was failing to grow and develop in their faith walk – even in the midst of persecution and hardship.
James was not content to stand idly by and witness the moral foundations of his Savior’s church disintegrate even as it was only beginning to form.
This is why I believe James’ words are relevant today – even if they are challenging to read at times. I know I balked at starting this study last month for this very reason. James is not directing his words to an outsider of the faith. He is directing his words to a person who is a Christ follower like me.
No one likes to be preached at – at least this is my impression. But what about when the truth needs to be spoken in order to provide guidance and insight or to help redirect some one towards a greater good and a more significant life story? What if some one needs to grow up?
This was the central problem with James’ audience at the time. They were failing to grow up in their faith. They were still spiritually immature.
In today’s world, in which speaking so as not to offend is often preferred, the following words may come across as abrasive:
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. New International Version, James 1:21
Who wants to hear about moral filth?
Who wants to be told that there is something evil or offensive in their lives?
Moral filth sounds yucky – especially to some one like me who wants to live a Christ-honoring life. But you know what? Moral filth, there I said it again, is anything that separates us from living a righteous life. Moral filth is not just something sensually explicit or shamefully wrong. A complaining spirit, a judgmental attitude, a worry-filled disposition, a jealous heart, a covetous nature, or a tendency to gossip are just some of the vices that James exhorts us to rid our lives of now and forevermore.
James doesn’t tip toe around delicate issues in which we may be uncomfortable or wish to dismiss to the far reaches of our mind – James confronts them. There is no doubt that evil is prevalent in this world. But will we acknowledge the evil within us that needs to be purged once and for all?
Now, remember, James is not writing to unbelievers. He is writing to people who profess that they know and love Christ and have committed their lives to Him. He is calling us out! James is telling us that it is time to grow up and start living and breathing the life of purity and holiness that is possible in Christ!
This means that we accept the word of God in humility and live by it – all the way!
This means that we honor and not judge.
This means that we believe the best and don’t gossip.
This means that we forgive and release our tendency to resent.
This means that we celebrate and choose not to be jealous.
This means that we accept and not condemn.
This means that we hold our tongue and not lash out in anger.
This means that we are generous instead of stingy.
This means that we embrace our God-given gifts and release our demands.
This means that we love and bless instead of show apathy and indifference.
This means that we let go and give up our control.
This means we follow Christ and live the way He asks us to for the glory of His Name.
And when we do?
We grow up! We are saved by the grace of God and His word of truth!
James exhorts us to be a pure, holy, and loving people in Christ. In order to be all who we are capable of being in Christ, we must choose to rid ourselves of the destructive influence of evil and sin in our lives by the powerful and life-giving word of God. It’s for our good. It’s for our salvation! In addition, it’s for the good of those who are observing us and who really wonder if following Christ makes any difference. If we don’t deal with our sin – our moral filth and evil – all they will see, hear, and taste is our hypocrisy. Do we want that?
So, I accept this word from James and from my God. It’s time for me to grow up; to be mature and complete in Christ and rid myself of any hindrance of sin and evil so that I may join Paul in saying:
It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.” The Message Romans 1:16-17