James Does Theology

James 3:13-18 NLT
“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise! But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That is the worst kind of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.”

The New Testament letter of James provides instruction on becoming spiritually mature (1:2-4 provides a thesis for the letter). In this section James contrasts the “wisdom” of a worldly person versus the wisdom of a spiritual person.

The “wisdom” of the world involves boasting and twisting the truth to make yourself appear to be something that you are not. Deep down in the heart actions are motivated by selfish ambition, jealousy and envy: How will this make me look? What will people think about me? How can I make people think I am better than her? How can I attract more attention than him? Why can’t I have what they have?

The wisdom that comes from God is first of all, pure. That means it is genuine, the real deal. It means the motivation deep down in the heart is unmixed, it is totally about God. Pure means completely sincere. It is not one eye on God and one straining to see how people react. God’s wisdom is not two-faced, it’s pure. And then there is the emphasis of God’s wisdom being gentle, considerate, and peace-loving.

The contrast is obvious. How do you determine if you are maturing in Christ or not? One way is to look at your heart and your motivations. What “wisdom” is controlling your life? Does you life look more like the worldly wise or spiritual wise?

It is at this point that, I am convinced, we make a big mistake. We decide we want to be spiritually wise and so we begin making a checklist of all that James has mentioned in this passage, both positive and negative: envy, selfish ambition, jealousy, purity, consideration, gentleness, etc. And then we try to force ourselves to live in a way where we can check the appropriate boxes.

That’s the mistake. James is not suggesting that we force these qualities on ourselves from the outside in. In fact, if you look closely at verse 13 you will see that James links theology and spiritual wisdom: “If you are wise and understand God’s ways. . . .” Instead of making checklists and forcing behavior, James suggests that we come to know God and understand his ways. That’s theology. And when we understand God’s ways, a holy life will emerge.

Once again I am reminded that theology must come before ethics. And once again I am driven to my knees in worship in order to know this God deeper and deeper. When I love God with all my heart, my lifestyle will follow.

Gap-Faithed Remedy

“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

Things were going well for the church at Thessalonica. Paul was thrilled to get a glowing report from Timothy following his visit with them. But there were still areas in which they were deficient. They had some gaps in their faith that concerned Paul enough for him to pray night and day for them. “Night and day” means while he was “making tents,” he prayed for them. While he was teaching and preaching he prayed for them. He constantly prayed for his church family in Thessalonica. No matter where he was or what he was doing they were on his heart.

What were these deficiencies? Where were they lacking? Maybe they had an insufficient understanding of important doctrine (the second coming? See 5:1 ff). Perhaps they were not fully informed about godly ethical standards (controlling sexual urges? See 4:3 ff). Possibly they had gaps in their understanding of Christian relationships (busybodies? See 4:11-12). Conceivably they had a variance between their head-faith and their heart faith (quenching the Spirit? See 5:19-22).

Whatever these gaps may have been, they were drawing a lot of prayer out of Paul. He wanted them to be whole, complete, spiritually mature Christians. Such a prayer was not unusual for Paul. He prayed similar prayers for the Ephesians (1:15-23, 3:14-21) and the Philippians (1:3-11). But this prayer differs from the others in that he is not just praying for God to bring about the changes in their lives, he is praying for God to open the door for him to be able to see them face to face so he can supply what is missing.

In other cases Paul just asks God to change the hearts of the people for whom he is praying. Here Paul is praying for his being able to see them and supply what they need. I wonder why is a personal encounter so important in this particular situation? While communicating through letters and third parties could be effective, I guess Paul is reminding us nothing can ever take the place of people actually being together in the flesh, sharing the air.

How do we react when we encounter the gap-faithed? The strategy for furnishing what is missing begins with prayer. The remedy may very well require a personal meeting. But however the problem is addressed, it must be addressed! Church leaders need to discover Paul’s passion for equipping Christians rather than leaving them in their incomplete condition. God’s people need to be prepared for works of service so that the body of Christ can be built up (Ephesians 4:12). The process begins with prayer, night and day.