A depressingly common theme that runs through human history is the oppression of the poor by the rich. In the first century, Christians were often on the side of the poor and oppressed. Certainly the readers of James’ letter were in that category. In James 5:1-12, we find warnings about the dangers of wealth and encouragement when we find ourselves unjustly treated. We can respond well, because something is about to happen in history to put all things right!
Since James is the likely the oldest writing of the New Testament, it appears from James 4:1-17 that church conflicts have been around almost as long as the Christian church has existed. Instead of treating fights as a normal part of church life, this text exposes their causes and provides the solution. Some of the words are blunt, but they are necessary to drive us to God’s grace, which is greater than all our sin.
One of the most controversial sections of James is James 2:14-26, because some verses sounds very different from what we find in Paul’s teaching. However, it contains a very straightforward message. James simply insisted that the faith that saves us is a faith that produces good works. In contrast, a faith that does nothing, does nothing!
Western society has recently become sensitive to discrimination based on race, nationality, sex, age, appearance, etc. However, discrimination is not new. In fact, James 2:1-13 focuses on the contradiction between having faith in Jesus and treating other people with partiality based on their status. It turns out that the antidote for such partiality is God’s mercy.
If someone hears a message but does not act upon it, sometimes we say that “it went in one ear and out the other.” In James 1:19-27, God calls us not only to hear his word but to incorporate it into our lives. Only by doing the word can Christians demonstrate that we truly heard it and really believe it. (We thank Dr. Tim Sansbury of Knox Theological Seminary for this excellent sermon.)
In James 1:9-18, the author continues to urge us to have a biblical perspective on the difficult and the good things in life, including poverty and riches, trials and temptations, and perfect gifts from God. Although we may not be able to change our circumstances, we can develop a Christian approach to them.
After a very brief greeting, James launched into his letter of practical instruction in James 1:1-8 by urging believers in Jesus to consider trials an opportunity to experience pure joy. Because this instruction is so contrary to our natural reaction to trials, we need help! James provides just the help we need by giving us a proper perspective on what God is doing for us in our trials. It turns out that what God is doing is perfect for us!
In Acts 17:24-34 we get to hear a sermon that Paul preached to philosophers in Athens. He presented to them biblical truths about God, humans, Jesus, and our response. The game-changing declaration that got Paul laughed off stage was the resurrection of Jesus. The news about the resurrection left others curious enough to want to hear more, some of whom ended up believing the gospel message. That gospel is the same today, as relevant to us as it was to those philosophers, and life-changing good news to any who will believe it.
Before Jesus left this earth, he entrusted the gospel ministry to the apostles, but to whom did the apostles entrust it before they departed? The answer found in Acts 20:17-35 is that they entrusted ministry to the elders of the church. In fact, elders are not only God’s design for the church but also essential to its well-being.