This is a short devotional I will give tomorrow, on the last day of school before we send the students home for a break. Next week was to be a Week of Service, and my students were planning to take mission trips to Philadelphia and the west coast of Florida. They were so excited about going, serving, and experiencing another environment, but current events dictate that their safety (and recovery from our mini-outbreak of influenza) is more important. So we are just taking a break and waiting to see what next week will bring. I must say that I cherish each class meeting. Who knows when we will get another?
I am the English teacher, and you all know what I like to see in papers: a clear thesis, developed with lots of detail and support. Every sentence should advance the thesis, and a paper has only one main idea. Had James turned in his epistle to me, he would have failed. The book has no clear thesis, developed throughout the book. It seems to be a collection of topics—sort of like sitting down with James and having a conversation which veers off onto various subjects, much as our conversations over the lunch table do.
However, reading James as a letter or an essay would be the wrong way to approach it. James has way more in common with Proverbs than it does with 1 Corinthians. As a person who must fight to stay on track, I love James. He has no central thesis, but jumps from subject to subject, giving us clear, practical direction about how to live a holy life. He’s not so abstractly theological that we are understanding what he says but wondering how to apply it. No, he gives us a principle, like a proverb, then commands us to apply it. In fact, in the 108 verses of James, there are 50 commands!
Though James was most likely penned in the mid-first century AD, he was remarkably perceptive about human nature. His proverbs and applications are remarkably relevant to our lives today. (These are Perrey Paraphrases.)
- Rejoice in trials. It’s a test, which, if you pass, will result in patience and steadfastness.
- If you really have faith, you’d better get busy and show it. Christianity does not only manifest itself in the mind; it requires action.
- Don’t show favoritism. Don’t prefer someone because they wear the latest name-brand fashions or have made a famous name for themselves. It’s usually the ones we admire, like the rich, who are most likely to abuse us. Show your faith by being kind to the poor.
- Watch your mouth. James says that our tongue can set the entire course of our life on fire (3:1). We can choose to bless or curse; we cannot effectively do both.
- The one who is truly wise will show it in his conduct by being reasonable, merciful, and peaceable.
Now, those proverbs especially relevant to the Age of Corona:
- Wash your hands—yes, really (4:8)! But don’t just stop there; purify your hearts, too.
- Live for the present, since we don’t have a clue what will happen tomorrow (4:13-16).
- Take care of your brothers. Don’t talk trash about them or be judgy; pray for them when they are ill, and do all you can to restore those who wander away from God.
The 108 verses of James, containing 50 commands in 5 chapters, can be read in 10 minutes. It will take you a lifetime to process their wisdom.
So, I would ask you to take James’ advice to heart. If you are a believer, act like one. Focus on living a holy life, so that no matter what happens, you will be shown to be a good and faithful servant.