Thursday, February 01, 2007

New Eyes For the Book of James

James is About Grace!
When I was in college, I read the book of James. I knew very little about grace (i.e. I had not experienced grace on deep levels), and so when I read it, I felt very guilty, as though I were not doing enough. After all, there were lots of admonitions in there about doing things, showing faith by works, being nice to the poor, not saying bad things and controlling the tongue. The book made me feel like I was REALLY not measuring up, and I had done a pretty good job of that myself as it was.

Recently James popped up in my Bible reading schedule that my small group and I are going through, and I remembered how much I had avoided James (except for the times when I referenced the passages about the treating the poor well). I also had been struggling (again) with feeling helpless to help the homeless in Greensboro and knew what James had to say about loving the poor, so I asked God to help me read this and receive conviction when He had it in mind without guilt. And what I discovered is that James is a book about grace, mercy, love, dependence on God and humility. Who knew? Sooo, I am going to try and download some of what I found in there. I have not checked this against a commentary (Eugene Peterson would be scolding me from the pages of Eat This Book – I promise, Mr. Peterson, I am taking in what you are telling me), so there is a chance that I could be off, but just figured I would put it out there and my legions of blog-reading fans could correct me when they want to. I don’t usually use this blog to post teaching stuff, leaving that to my esteemed colleague Alex Kirk and his blog “Piebald Life.” But what the heck!
Note: OK, at the end of this I did check a commentary, and got some good stuff from it!

Laws That Give Freedom?
So, the first verses that really jumped out to me were 1:25 and 2:12; each of them referred to a law that gives freedom, which has never seemed like a concept that makes sense. Laws don’t give freedom (I thought) – they bring bondage (when you break them); they restrict (when you keep them), and even when you keep them you can fall into the temptation of pride in how well you keep the law on your own.

As James spoke of a law that gives freedom, he was already shaking my understanding of what he is teaching of us. This perfect law that gives freedom is the law of love. It is not an enslaving legalistic system, but a law that gives freedom and the Believer is enabled to keep it by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Here is further info on this (all commentary comments are from the NIV Bible Commentary) - James's term "the perfect law of liberty" (literal translation) deserves special attention. The word "law" (GK G3795) reveals his Jewish orientation and that of his readers. But he qualifies this word to make sure that his readers do not misunderstand, describing it as "perfect" (GK G5455) and as characterized by "freedom" (GK G1800). It is not merely the OT law, nor is it the Mosaic law perverted to become a legalistic system for earning salvation by good works. When James calls it the "perfect law," he has in mind the sum total of God's revealed truth--not merely the preliminary portion found in the OT, but also the final revelation made through Christ and his apostles that was soon to be inscripturated in the NT. Thus it is complete, in contrast to that which is preliminary and preparatory. Furthermore, it is a law that does not enslave. Instead, it is freely accepted and fulfilled with glad devotion under the enablement of the Spirit of God (Gal 5:22-23; see Jas 2:8, 12 for more on this concept of law).

So, this may not be groundbreaking to many of you. But for me, to find that there is a law that gives freedom, a law of love, and to know that God gives us the love that He asks us to extend to others, is good news. More to come on God’s grace leading the way.

Coming next: Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment and Leads Us to “Do”


Francine said...

Marshall, I stumbled across your blog as I was doing some research on homelessness. I'm an author of contemporary suspense who tries to illustrate various social issues within the plot. Your thoughts are very similar to my own ... what do we do? But as I visited various posts, I came upon your comments about James, which are insightful. I'm a serious believer of living the Beatitudes but I plan on taking a closer look at James.

I hope to come back and visit again.

Blessings, Francine

Marshall said...

I am there with you in terms of living the Beatitudes (by the way, have you ever done a comparison of the Beatitudes in Luke and those in Matthew? It's very interesting), but only as we are led by love and grace are we able to live the Beatitudes as Christ would ask us to - which actually is allowing Christ to live them through us (love the poor through us, for example). I am glad you stopped by - always nice to meet a kindred spirit in the bloggosphere.