The Holy Spirit inspired James to write a highly practical book. It’s about real life. You can read it and come away with several things to start doing right now to become a better Christian.
Consider it all joy when you face trials (James 1:2). That doesn’t mean the trial itself is fun. Nobody enjoys arthritis, or local church struggles, or the constant temptations of the world. Here the Holy Spirit is urging us to think long-term. Testing produces endurance, which results in maturity. We understand the value of hard experience in regular life. We want physicians who have pressed through the rigors of medical school. We admire soldiers who are combat veterans. And so let us rejoice when we are tried by the fires of life on earth, because they burn off the rubbish and leave a stronger Christian behind.
Be doers of the word, not merely hearers (James 1:22). When you listen to a sermon, think of how you can start applying it that very day. Otherwise, what’s the point? The Holy Spirit says to show your faith by your works (2:18). We often refer to chapter 2 to establish the error of the ‘faith-only’ doctrine, but let’s not forget to make application beyond this. We need to get to work and live the life ourselves. People who can ‘talk the talk’ are a dime a dozen. Read your Bible at home. Be courteous. Hand out a meeting invitation at work. Bite your tongue. Pray. Sing fervently. This stuff isn’t just for reading about!
Visit orphans and widows (James 1:27). We know there is no authority for a local church to support institutions to care for the needy of the world (II John 9), and we make the point that this is to be left in the realm of ‘individuals.’ The question is—as individuals, are we doing our share? I realize there are plenty of scams out there, but when we come across a legitimate person in need, let’s help them (Luke 10:37). Remember that James says “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17). Think of the good being done: a person is helped, God is glorified, the reputation of Christians is enhanced, and opportunities open up to talk about the gospel.
Have no prejudice or favoritism (James 2:1). It’s easy to cater to the clean-cut guy in a decent suit. As I recall, John the Baptist’s appearance wasn’t quite up to ‘Jerusalem standards’ (Matthew 3:4). I wonder if a modern church would accept a modern Paul or Jesus into their assembly. Let’s take care not to transfer the prejudices of American culture or family tradition into the Lord’s church. It doesn’t matter where a person is from, how many grades they completed, what color their skin is, or how much money they make—all can be unified in Christ (Colossians 3:11). I wouldn’t want to face God in judgment if I had rejected someone He had accepted.
Control your language (James 3:10). The Great Judge will review the transcript of our speech with a fine-toothed comb (Matthew 12:36). Are you ready for that? Thank God for forgiveness! One must control the mind in order to control the tongue. Thinking positively about others will stop gossip. Meditating on the value of a soul will build courage to talk about the Bible. Cherishing your spouse will make tender words come easily.
Befriend God instead of the world (James 4:4). There’s a difference between a Christian and someone who ‘goes to church.’ If we think, act, dress, talk, and entertain ourselves like everyone else, then we are everyone else. Attending services doesn’t change who we are. Create spiritual goals, hobbies, and habits instead of worldly ones. You can’t ride the fence and be a friend to both God and the world.
Don’t take tomorrow for granted (James 4:13-16). Nicole was wide-eyed when she answered the phone and exclaimed “What?!” on the day we learned that a young boy from church, nearly 11, had been killed in a tractor accident. Within the hour, several of us sat with the stunned family in prolonged silence. Death reminds us that this is not our home, and that we better make good on our intentions to serve the Lord while we can.
Build a reputation of honesty (James 5:12). Some Jews tried to find loopholes in honesty based on how they worded their statements (Matthew 23:16-22). Some might play the same games today: ‘Well I know I said I would do that, but I didn’t promise’ or ‘I was crossing my fingers.’ No—Christians ought to be people whose word is iron. Lord willing that our life continues and that some unforeseen circumstance doesn’t arise, we must be people who do what we say we will do.
Pray (James 5:16). I can’t tell you exactly how God answers prayer. But I do know that the Bible tells us to pray, and that God answers prayer. I know that God takes care of the details if I’ll simply have enough faith to pray regularly, fervently, unselfishly, and in accordance with His will. James 1:5 specifically tells us to pray for wisdom. Why do we forsake this command? Is this not a wonderful promise—that God is waiting to bless us “generously” with wisdom?
Take 20 minutes to read James, and then go out and be a “doer.” <David C. Watson>