Tuesday, June 17, 2008

James: The Call to Perfection (Week 2)

The Call To Perfection (James 1)

Teleios means perfect, whole, occurs in James 1: 4, 17, 25. We are called to perfection meaning wholeness - spiritual wholeness. The Biblical understanding of perfection is very different from the prevailing Greco-Roman view of the same with its cultic usage (perfect sacrifices - no blemishes) and other meanings such as logical progression towards some goal, in the future. James draws on John 4: 16 (God is love) and 1 John 4: 18, 21 (Perfect love casts out fear) to flesh out perfection-wholeness for us. Biblical perfection means nothing is lacking from this aspect of wholeness, God initiates a communion bond of love and we choose to follow and remain in fellowship with this love, and this is expressed in a love that follows God's commands. James is calling his readers to embrace a particular way of life that sets them apart from the wider society. A new social order in the community of James (his audience) and at the heart of this new social order is a call to embrace a way of integrity, authenticity, perfection.

1) Perfection (wholeness) is the goal of a life of faith that expresses itself in action.
2) Intellectual faith is not enough – it is not faith.
3) Faith must be demonstrated by a lifestyle led in conformity with God's will.
4) Wisdom and the law enable the believers to lead the life that God wants of them.
5) The opposite of the perfect or whole person is the divided person and this person lacks wisdom. The person is double-minded because they doubt (doubt, discouragement, and deception are from the devil).
6) Our whole allegiance should be to God and we must be careful of self-deception.

v. 2-18: The pursuit of spiritual wholeness: the opportunity afforded to us by trials
2-3 encourages us to respond positively to trials
5-8 exhorts us to ask in faith for wisdom
9-11 comforts the poor and warns the rich
12 is a blessing on those who endure trials
13-15 warns us not to blame God for temptations
16-18 reminds us that all good gifts, including the new birth, come from God

v. 19 – 2: 26: The evidence of spiritual wholeness: obedience to the Word
19-20 warns us about sins of speech
21-25 exhorts us to be obedient to the word we have received
26-27 reminds us of the essence of “true religion”

James 1: 21 – 27 - Obedience to the word is the mark of the true Christian
Put on a new suit of clothes – the righteous living to which Jesus calls us
Accept or receive the influence of God's word implanted in us is the main focus

Charein (greetings) in v.1 picked up by charan (joy) in v.2
Leipomenoi (lacking) in v.4b is picked up by leipetai (lacks) in v. 5
Peirasmon (trial) in v. 12 is picked up by peirazomenos (when tempted) in v. 13
Teleios (perfect, whole) occurs in vv. 4, 17, 25
Deceived (deception) occurs in vv. 16, 22, 26

Individual Activities (for 6 days a week): Choose browsing through the Old Testament or doing Lectio Divina of a single verse in James.

Days 1 - 6:
Browse through the Torah - the Five books of Moses - this is Bible law aka Mosiac Law, Divine Law - the Law James is talking about in his letter:
1) Genesis
2) Exodus
3) Leviticus
4) Numbers
5) Deuteronomy
As you browse, try to get an idea of the number of laws and the categories (food, worship, aliens, women, slaves, purification, sacrifice, etc.) they cover.

Days 1 - 6:
Practice daily lectio (passage of your choice from James 1 or use James 1:4.

Group Discussion Questions:
1. What is your definition of perfection. Do you think you're perfect? If yes, why? If no, why not?

2.How does James describe perfection?

3.Define deception.

4.What is the pattern of deception about which James warns?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

James: The Background (Week 1)

Author: The author of The Epistle of James is generally considered to be James, the brother of Lord Jesus and a leader of the Jerusalem Church (the earliest Christians). We don't think he was a disciple of Jesus during his lifetime. Became a leader in the Jerusalem Church (along with Peter and John) after he was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. He was also known as James the Just (James the Righteous), possibly a tzaddik (spiritual leader).

Date: Written before 62 AD and recent scholarship places it as early as middle 40s CE

Genre: Considered a catholic letter (letter to the universal church) and wisdom literature. It is believed to have been delivered as a series of homilies rather than as a letter sent to a church.

Audience: It was written to displaced Jewish Christians (the diaspora - the dispersion); an encyclical to Jewish Christians outside Palestine but also reflecting conditions inside the country.

General Comments: James is written in accomplished Greek. It has been controversial and its place in the Christian canon contested. Martin Luther called it an "epistle of straw." However, ordinary Christians love the practical instructions in James for growing closer to God and living a holy, Christian life. A typical verse from James is arguably the most famous command in the New Testament: James 1:22
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (NIV). Soren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher and writer) has written about James. Of all the New Testament books James most closely echoes the teachings of Jesus (Sermon on the Mount).

External (to the Bible) References: James is mentioned in Saint Jerome's De Viris Illustribus, which quotes from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost Commentaries. His death as a martyr in 62 CE is mentioned in Josephus' Antiquities.

Individual Activities (for 6 days a week):

Day 1. Look up the following reference in your Bible to understand James' pilgrimage of faith in Christ:

John 7:5 – family of Jesus incl. James hostile to Jesus
Mark 3:21 – in fact tried to stop Jesus at one point
Acts 1: 14 – appearance of Jesus to his family after his Ascension
1 Corinthians 15:7 – May have brought James to faith
Acts 12:17 – Peter reports his escape from Herod to James
Acts 15; 13f – James presides over the first Jerusalem Council
Gal. 1: 19 – Paul consults James
Gal. 2: 8-10 – James in recognizing Paul as an Apostle
Gal. 2:12 – James was a strict Jew, adhering to Mosaic Law
Acts 21: 17-26 – He backed Paul's ministry to the Gentiles (unlike the Judaisers)
James martyred in 62 AD
Jerusalem Church ended in 66 AD

Day 2. Read James (chapter 1-5) and jot down any questions that come to mind.

Day 3. Read James, Chapter 1 and then answer the following questions:

a. What are your first impressions of this letter?
b. Whom does James sound like?
c. What is the gist of this letter?
d. How would you feel if you got a letter like this?

Days 4, 5, 6 - Daily Lectio Divina (Select your own verse from James or use James 1:12 below)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Group Discussion Questions:
Here's how James introduces himself: James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. James 1: 1

1. Think back to the first time you met your husband or a very good friend. What did you say to them about yourself that you think might have helped you become close later?

2. Imagine that you are making first contact with an alien species. How would you introduce yourself?

3. Now imagine that you have arrived in heaven and are asked to describe how you loved and glorified God on earth. What would you say?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I'm beginning a new 6-week study of The Letter of James, New Testament, The Bible. My lectures will be available on this blog after the study is over (that is, sometime in June I will post them). Meanwhile, here is the abstract:
The letter of James is often viewed variously as a set of disjointed instructions to individuals, a call to "faith perfected through works," an impetus for social action. It may even be misunderstood as an embarrassment to Paul's "justification by faith" doctrine. Martin Luther, for example, called it an “epistle of straw.” Today, scholars recognize James as a “witness to the beauty and diversity of the early Christian movement.” In this six-week study we will explore the major themes in James, rich and poor, faith and works, speech and the tongue, enduring testing and wisdom. James is a warning against human “double-mindedness” and a call to Christian “perfection,” a spirituality of perfection in Jesus Christ. Exegesis and Lectio Divina will be used to illuminate the letter's direction for us living in twenty-first century Christian communities.