- James is the brother of Jesus but doesn’t mention this â€“ only referring to himself as the servant of God; the bond-slave of Jesus Christ.
- Although James cared about God’s teaching, he was an unbeliever of Christ for a large part of his life (John 7:5, Mark 3:21).
- James believes in Jesus when the risen Christ appears to him (1 Corinthians 15:7). James was profoundly affected and later became leader of the Church in Jerusalem.
- The book of James assumes that all readers are followers of Jesus Christ. Of 108 verses, 60 are commands. It is important to remember that Christianity is not moralism â€“ James tells Christians how to live in a godly way in light of what we have become in Christ. First we must accept the Saviour, then we can receive advice.
- We must look at our brothers and sisters and be able to see qualities of Christ, the refining of godly character. Non-Christians looking in must be able to see this life lived out – to see the action that comes from being loved by God.
The doctrine of joy in trials
- Count it only joy when you meet trials and times of testing, rather than looking at it as punishment or the absence of God.
- The word ‘meet’ is not sufficient, we will be set upon by trials and they will be sudden and savage. Everybody who wants to live a life in Jesus will be persecuted (2Timothy 12). But we must find God’s purpose within the trial, rather than just praying that he remove it.
- Trials might come in God calling us to hard things which might require the laying down of cherished things. Whether these sacrifices of our own desires are sinful or not, God is calling us to sonship and His intent is for us to receive the riches of Christ.
- We must count it (the testing of faith) all joy because trials produce endurance/steadfastness. We gain stability in the place of anxiety and confusion. God wants to show us what we’re made of and to trust him in our time of testing. All things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Difference between temptation and trial
- Temptation and trial are similar in that they both mean ‘testing’.
- Temptation is often associated with overstepping and being indulgent. God sees it as selling ourselves short and settling by not attaining to that which he has purchased for us. We must trust his ways, otherwise we will be left disappointed and bitter.
- We are also tempted to doubt, fear and avenge. But His perfect love drives out fear.
- There are two shades of testing. Trials test us to prove character and to show us what we’re made of. Temptation aims to disprove and tests us for destruction.
- The Devil is the one who tempts us, but he can only do it with our own desires and with a door that we have left open. Do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:22).
- Temptation can lead to sin and in doing so, will affect our view of God. We must repent and break the barrier that we have created with it.
- 1 Corinthians 10 â€“ God will not tempt us beyond what we can handle. He is sovereign and has control over everything, even the Devil. He does not commit evil but permits it to happen for His purposes.
- Evil comes from ourselves and what man has done with his relationship with God. We ushered death into the heart of creation.
- We have a will and our will may suggest ideas to us, but if we are in Christ, then our will is under the control of the Holy Spirit.
Tempted in every way but without sin
- It was God’s will to lead Jesus into temptation and to test his resolve, but Jesus’ weapon was scripture. The words of God in the hands of his children are powerful.
- Jesus experienced temptation to a far greater extent, we give in before it can fully take hold.
- Because Jesus was tempted, we have a high priest who can identify with our struggles and walk us through them.
- God wants to establish us; He is looking for progress and wants to restore and build us up. We must take action (Job 5:17-18).
- We are asking why is the Christian faith so exclusive?
- Whenever you say that something is true, you are automatically saying that any contrary statement is untrue.
- For someone raised in an Islamic culture, Christianity can clearly be seen as a different message from Islam, however, in the West, many would argue that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are basically the same. Maybe we need to allow the adherents of these beliefs to explain their own systems.
- Surely if God is loving, isn’t being a good person all that matters? Jesus was very clear, all good people are going to heaven. When someone came to Jesus, asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone” (Mark 10:17-18) If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?
- In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.
- A Phariseeand tax collector were both praying at the same time in the temple. The Pharisee thanks God for making him such a good person, the tax-collector beats his breast – a strong gesture of remorse. The tax collector literally prays, “may this sacrifice be for me“. Jesus has come into the world as the sacrificial lamb which takes away the sins of the world.
- Richard Dawkins argued after the Asian tsunami that it is morally reprehensible that an innocent man should be sacrificed for the guilty.
- Why this emphasis on sacrifice, why is the cross at the centre of Christian teaching?
- The answer is that we cannot separate love and judgement.
- In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett rejects Mr Darcy’s eloquent proposal of marriage, because Darcy states that he loves her against his will, reason and better judgement. He claims to love her though he does not know her.
- Most of us project an image of ourselves which is better than the person we really are, the danger of this is that people fall in love with the image, not the real person. Love is only truly meaningful if the one who loves us truly knows us, but God sees everything, therefore, his love is truly meaningful.
- True love can only exist in the presence of judgement, “If you never know truth then you never know love” (Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”).
- If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful” then where is the justice? In Christianity alone, God exercises mercy through the exercise of his justice.
- Jesus, teaches us that the man who prayed, “may this sacrifice be for me” went away having received God’s gift of righteousness. Christianity is radically humbling – not only does it teach that no-one is good, but also that no-one can make themselves good.
- Jesus’ answer to the question, “don’t all paths lead to God?” is that there are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.
Responses to questions
(In response to a question asking why each religion confirms the truth of the previous religion, but persecutes the followers of the religion that came after it) – The first point is not true, the later sayings of Muhammad abnegate the earlier sayings (which are more tolerant of Judaism and Christianity), Buddhism arose out of the rejection of the Vedas and the Hindu caste system. The second point is, sadly, true. People have persecuted others on the grounds of religion, however, Jesus explicitly denies the use of the sword for the propagation of the faith, and Paul argues that the fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) should be what people taste when they bite into the life of a genuine follower of Jesus.
(In reponse to a question asking why, in Romans 2, Paul argues that people will be judged by what they know, and whether this means that people can be saved through Christ indirectly) – We are not saved by an idea, we are saved by a relationship, even if that relationship is confused – is this relationship with God a reality in your life?
(In response to a question, asking that, if love is inseparable from truth, how it is that God can only love us when we have been given a righteousness which is not ours, and is therefore untrue)Â – The message of the gospel is more radical than that God forgave us when we begged him for mercy, God loved us and paid the price to make forgiveness possible, long before we sought him, when we were still his enemies. We forgive people when we think that they have earned forgiveness, but this is not the message of the gospel, God is offering us forgiveness BEFORE we repent, our repentance is the means whereby we receive God’s forgiveness and the relationship is restored.
- It is often argued by sceptics that the church has, over time, inflated Jesus’ claims about himself
- It is a matter of historical record that early Christians worshipped Jesus as God, even pagan opponents, such as Pliny the Younger record this.
- The argument that the Church inflated the claims about Christ fails on a number of levels, but, perhaps the clearest is that the time-line involved is too short.
- The books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians are almost universally accepted by scholars as having been written in the mid 40s A.D. about twenty years after the events that they record.
- In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul cites a creedal hymn about the death and resurrection of Christ, which had been passed down to him. We know from Galatians that Paul met with Cephas (i.e. Peter) around 34-37 A.D. and Cephas would doubtless have passed the core teachings about Jesus down to him at that time, only years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Even the leader of the Jesus Seminar, which argues that 90% of the recorded sayings of Jesus in the New Testament are false, has recently argued that the Gospel message was held by Christians from day one, although he argues from this that the church was wrong from day one!
- Another question raised by sceptics is why Jesus didn’t justÂ tell us that he was God. The gospel of Mark is probably the first gospel to have beenÂ written and in it, Jesus is asked whether he is “the Christ, the son of the Blessed One” to which he replies “I am” – this is not a question of interpretation. Even though some may not accept its authority, they do so because they don’t like what it clearly says.
- This question as to whether Jesus’ claim to being God has been inflated can be answered using a passage of scripture accepted by almost all scholars.
- In Ezekiel 34, the shepherds of Israel are denounced for feeding themselves at the expense of the sheep, until the true shepherd rescues the sheep from their abuse. At the end of the passage, it is made explicit that God is the good shepherd, the people are the sheep and that the bad shepherds are the religious leadership.
- We should note from this passage that God is disgusted at the behaviour of the bad shepherds and that he himself has promised to intervene as a good shepherd, to seek out the lost and rescue them.
- In Luke 15:1-7 Jesus compares himself to a good shepherd who searches out the lost sheep and asks the religious leaders whether they would not leave the ninety-nine safe to seek after the one lost sheep.
- “This is who I am” said Jesus, and this is why the bad shepherds killed him. Jesus wasn’t killed because the religious leaders misunderstood him, they killed him because they understood.
Responses to questions
(In response to a question about why God would allow bad shepherds) – All leaders fail. Leaders are called biblically to lead first by example. Our trouble is that we are so obsessed with image that we sacrifice honesty. The extent to which the leader is able to be honest and vulnerable about struggles and failings is the extent to which the congregation will be able to have the same honesty and vulnerability. David remained a leader, even after his sin with Bathsheba.
(In response to the accusation of the film “Zeitgeist” that the claims of early gods are the same as the claims of Jesus, and that the claims of Jesus are simply derived from those of earlier stories about gods) – In Greek mythology, for example, the stories of the gods are influenced by other stories. Pre-Christian stories of pagan gods contain none of the alleged similarities with the story of Jesus, these only appear in the pagan stories centuries after Christ. Also, there is a universal need for redemption which is found in all religion and in all good literature.
- This is a challenging and difficult message, but we must note how the world sees us in order for us to be able to minister effectively.
- We should acknowledge that some of the things which the “new atheists” say about us are 100% correct!
- Luke 10:25-37 – An expert in the law asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer is a relational answer about love for God and for others.
- The lawyer’sÂ next question is “who is my neighbour?â€ťÂ One of the key accusations levelled against the church by the “new atheists” is that Christianity makes life convenient for us
- Professor John Gray, the author of “Straw Dogs” argues that there is nothing special about being human, and attacks humanism as being simply Christian morality dressed up in secular language, ignoring scientific reality. According to his argument, all human morality is a matter of convenience, something which people follow when things are going well, but discard in tough times, when we revert to acting in our own interests.
- Jesus replies to the lawyer’s second question “who is my neighbour?” with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ first audience probably wouldn’t have been surprised that the priest walked past on the other side. The priest was not only in danger, but in a moral dilemma.
- The story continues with the appearance of a Levite, one who served the priests.
- Audiences in Jesus’ time would have expected a story about a priest and a Levite to be followed by the appearance of a member of the congregation of Israel, who served the Levites, however, Jesus departs from this formula by introducing a despised Samaritan as the rescuer of the wounded man.
- It was manifestly not convenient or safe for the Samaritan to help the wounded man, but he did so.
- When Jesus ends the story the audience must have realised that the Samaritan may have had literally to lay down his life for his neighbour.
- Jesus therefore changes the question, from “who is my neighbour?” to “who is neighbourly?” We are called to “go and do likewise” and love everybody, whatever the cost to ourselves.
- This moral choice is particular problematic for those, who, like us, live in an affluent part of the world. It has been found by sociological research that affluence often leads to a lack of a sense of meaning to life. If our Christianity is too convenient, we should not be surprised if the world is not impressed.
- Is your Christian faith simply a matter of convenience?
- In struggling with addictive behaviours (such as internet pornography) have you so accommodated God into your way of living, that you barely feel guilt anymore?
Responses to questions:
(In response to a question about whether we should treat people differently on the basis of their behaviour) – We are sometimes worried that the redemption of those who have done terrible things means that justice has sometimes failed, and misses the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about making us feel good about ourselves (as though God were some sort of “forgiveness ATM”) but about restoring our relationship with him.
(In response to a question about how best to speak to others about Jesus in a non-threatening way) – We should have such compassion for people that we do not need to preface our comments to them with words such as “I need to speak the truth to you in love” (which is often neither loving nor truthful). A good approach is to put yourself in a position where you have no power over the other, and everything to lose if you speak inappropriately, and then seek God’s wisdom!