It’s not like a novel, despite its gripping portrayal of the human condition, because it’s not fiction. Every word of it is true.
It’s not like an anthology of local history or folklore, despite its eastern origin and flavour, because its life-changing message is universal.
It’s not like a textbook, despite its profundity and breadth of knowledge, because it’s not allowed in our schools.
It’s not like some sacred texts, which were supposedly given in a non-existent tongue or can only be read in their original language, because it was written in the parlance of the original readers and is the most widely published, sold, and translated book in the history of writing.
It’s not like a coffee table book, because it didn’t come with pictures and it’s not meant for sitting around looking pretty.
So, what is one to do with this amazing book which is unlike any other?
In the last half of James 1, the “second son” mentions seven responses to the Word of God. The first two of these are in verse 18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
BELIEVE IT AND PROCLAIM IT
God gives new life through His Word, and that’s the only way He gives it. Regardless of what one might believe about the doctrine of election, no elect person will be in heaven who did not hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, [this from a man who spend years putting Christians to death] for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (ROM 1.16) If anyone knew of the power of the gospel, it was Paul. Unbelief is not passive. It is not a congenital condition that God overlooks because one has never heard. Unbelief is a choice, and one who has been exposed to the Word of God and continues to make that choice will face a greater condemnation.
As “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”, those who have new life in Christ are to proclaim His Word to others so they will hear it and believe it as well. Just as the firstfruits represented what was still in the fields, so our lives as followers of Jesus represent the lives of the billions of people who need to hear the Good News.
LISTEN TO IT
“Know this my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (JAM 1.19,20) James is not talking about how important it is be a good listener and not to interrupt–although that is important and something I struggle with myself. The context here seems to indicate that we are to be quick to hear the Word, and not to react to what we hear with objections and anger. We should “hear God out,” as it were. The Word, not our anger, produces righteousness.
This is reiterated when James says in verse 21, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Rather than objecting with anger, we should accept with meekness. If the Word has the power to save our souls, it also has the power to make us what we should be. Through the miracles of illumination and regeneration, the Holy Spirit uses His Word to reach us and teach us, to save us and change us.
But all of this is without value if we don’t do it. Hearing the Word without doing it is worse than pointless–it causes one to heap condemnation upon oneself, to sear one’s conscience, and to produce spiritual complacency. As we saw before, to read the Scriptures is to look in the mirror. To read it and do nothing is like looking in the mirror, being horrified at what we see, and then just walking away.
STICK WITH IT
Verse 25 says, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Consistent obedience to God’s Word is hard going–sometimes it’s like swimming upstream in an icy river with a strong current. We can become weary and discouraged by our apparent lack of progress, but James assures us that perseverance pays off.
James closes the chapter with his observation about religion. Growing up in a religious culture, he certainly noticed the difference between the way the people around him lived–even how he lived himself–and how his Brother lived. The problem with religion–any religion–is that it does not reflect reality. It misunderstands the nature and depth of humanity’s problem and seeks an inadequate solution that, in the end, is all bad news. James tells us that if we apply the Word, we will understand that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” has both a social and a moral component. One can’t exist without the other.
The “royal law” James will refer to in Chapter 2 is the one Jesus had in mind when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.27: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” As one applies the Scriptures, one discovers it has both vertical and horizontal implications. True, selfless love for others is not possible apart from love for God; love for God is demonstrated by love for others and intentional rejection of the world’s practices and presuppositions.
What will you do with the Word of God today?