This month I plan to preach through James, the short New Testament letter written by Jesus’ brother. James may be the hardest book in the Bible. Many people consider Leviticus, Isaiah and Revelation the most difficult books to read. Leviticus is tedious, Isaiah is obscure, and Revelation is tough to understand. James is hard in a different way. It’s short, relevant to our daily lives and pretty easy to understand, but boy, is it hard to obey what we read in James!
In fact, the letter begins with one of the most challenging verses in all of scripture: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). Is joy your first reaction when you face a trial? Do you rejoice over your suffering? It takes some hardcore discipleship to reach the point where you can see the good in every bad situation.
Hardcore discipleship is what James is all about. It’s not a beginner course in walking with Jesus. In-stead, James pushes us into an all-out sprint of faith. Work hard. Do good all the time. Think, speak and act like Jesus every moment of your life. That’s the standard of Christian discipleship, and James doesn’t lower the bar one inch.
By the way, James also explains why we can rejoice through trials. “The testing of your faith produces perseverance,” (James 1:3) he writes. Perseverance is one of those great Biblical words we should use more often and a Christ-honoring virtue we should embrace. It means faithful endurance, sticking with it until the end, unwavering patience and persistent effort in pursuit of the things of God. That’s what James believed in.
Too often we accept easy discipleship and celebrate little acts of faith. We sprinkle a bit of Jesus and His teaching over our hearts, and then go on living just like the world around us. We rejoice in the grace and blessings of God, while offering only meager tokens of obedience in return.
James doesn’t let us settle for easy discipleship. He insists that we bring Jesus all we are, along with all our actions and words.
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word plant-ed in you. James 1:21
Do not merely listen to the word … do what it says. James 1:22
Faith without deeds is dead. James 2:26
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. James 3:6
Along with these uncompromising calls to Christ-like living, James also gives us some of the most memorable and inspiring images of God’s goodness.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:18
Come near to God and he will come near to you. James 4:8
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10
I hope we will find in James’ words not harsh commands and heavy burdens but an invitation to live each moment to bring honor to Jesus and to give ourselves fully to the One who gave Himself for us. Follow-ing Jesus is the greatest calling and the highest standard we can pursue. It is also the most joyful, blessed and meaningful path we will ever walk.