Iakobou Epistode: From Confusion to Clarity

Recently I was taking another course on the book of James. Similar to Romans, this is also a book that I have co-taught in church and studied in Eagles Rendezvous. Revisiting this book again yielded three reflection points.

1. The disciple's identification 

The epistle by James is an interesting book within the New Testament to study. In my own NT study, I have also been fascinated by how economical the NT authors when it comes to their words - that they do not waste words in their letters. This manifests itself right from the beginning when the NT authors introduce themselves.

Many of us will sometimes skip over the introduction, but we can learn a lot about the epistle itself as well as its application to our Christian life through the introduction. In James, for example, James introduced himself as a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1). The original Greek reveals much more, placing the the possession genitive (of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ) before the word "slave" thus emphasizing on the fact that he (James) was a slave owned by God, i.e. someone who has to do the bidding of God whether he likes it or not.

I asked myself this question then, who really owns me?

Our phone can own us so much that we can live without God but not without our phones

Do I see myself as "being owned by God?" What does it entails to be a disciple owned by God? What does it mean to be a slave of Jesus Christ? Most of the time, we do not give these much thoughts, and we do not want to give it much thought given that we, by our own carnal nature, prefer to do things our way. But the Christian life is one which I yield myself to the will of God, not making God yield His will to my whims. And as a "slave," I don't really have much say in what I want to do, right?

Jesus is pleased with that... :-P

In my own ministry, this means that God might sometimes get me out to do works that are not within my comfort zone at all. Or it may mean that He may "squeeze" me more to do the work that He has directed me to do. In any case, it becomes a constant reminder that I am θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος (of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ a slave).

2. The disciple's maturity 

One main message in James is the need for the believer to mature and grow. We note that James was writing to Jewish Christians who were scattered across the Roman empires and it seems reasonable to assume that these Jewish Christians would know what the Word of God says about godly living. Hence, the assumption, by extension, is that this is a group of Christians who are expected to live their Christian life as matured believers, with their deeds reflecting their faith and belief in God (James 1:2-4, 2:14-26).

The message for the need for maturity coincide with my preparation for my upcoming mission trip, where I will be teaching the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians, one mark of Christian maturity is that we do not get swayed around by every wind of teachings and that we need to grow to become Christlike (Ephesians 4:14-16). The common agreement between James and Paul in this respect is that maturity is demonstrated through our actions which will reflect our fundamental perspectives. Trials and tribulations can reveal our maturity in Christ. Likewise, our reception to false teachings can reveal our maturity as well.



And as much as we dislike, it is the averse situations in our lives that reveal our maturity in Christ. And this is precisely what James was targeting at - that the situations (trials and tribulations) faced by the Jewish Christians had made them compromised their faith, thus revealing their immaturity. On the flip side, these averse situations make good opportunities for them to grow towards spiritual perfection - or the alignment between their faith and their deeds.

Reflecting on this point, this reveals the reason why I feel strongly about training disciples to know what they believe in and to reveal what they do not believe in. Many times, the situations that we face reveal what we do not really believe about God. For example, do we really believe that God is the generous giver when we decide to withhold our tithes and choose not to be generous givers ourselves? Or, in the case of James, can we really claim to believe that God is the giver of all good gifts when we start blaming God for the temptations that we face? This is not only targeted at the people whom I teach but also at my own self, as I evaluate all my actions and thoughts. (It can get quite tiring at times.)

3. The teacher's responsibility 

One of the verses in James that perhaps applies to my calling is in James 3:1, where James explained that those who teach will be judged more strictly, precisely because teachers are the ones who use their tongues more often in their ministries. Given the nature of tongue which effect is highly disproportionate in comparison to its size, this means that teachers are more likely to create disproportionate effects on account of their teachings.

Isn't this true? That teachers have the capability to affect a generation of Christians with the whole counsel of God's word... or the incomplete counsel of God's Word.


I am actually not sorry for trolling the person who perpetuated this teaching

Take for example, I can easily influence young Christians into believing that they are destined to reign in Christ and that Christ will bless them with every single blessing under the sun as long as they have faith. To top it off, I can sprout off some Hebrew words and Greek words when "expounding" my sermon so that they will think that I indeed know what I am talking about.

But is this really what I want?

On reflection, this is a serious warning to myself to take what I say seriously during my teaching and be sure that what I teach do not result in misunderstandings that will stumble other believers. The responsibility is great though the thrill is great too. The consequences are severe if I am not watchful. Perhaps this is also why I begin to be intentional in guiding the people around me to learn more about God's word, and to figure out God's word for themselves - that I realise that this is a responsibility of someone who is called to teach.

So what are your reflections when you read James? How do you read James? What has the Epistle from James spoken to you when you read it?

Comments

  1. Hello Matthias. I agree with you that teachers affect many others more than they know. God helps us to use this power of influence solely for His purpose and glory.

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  2. Hi Matthias, thank you for your sharing. Indeed, we sometimes question what we are going through while, at the same time, professing that God is a giver of all good gifts. Your reminder will make me reflect on this more.

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  3. Anonymous8:53 AM

    Hello Matthias, you have good points there. And for the preacher you are insinuating I am only guessing his name starts with a J. I was once in your position doubting that preacher's ministry until I went to sit in for the full session and discern myself.

    I first went out of curiosity because quite a number of my Christian friends who didn't know one another but have been in their respective churches for many years (i.e. not young Christians) started joining that church. I attended the service discerning his message, while for the years I have attended church, ironically, I didn't use the same measure of discernment and jus take in any teaching.

    So in your words, are Christian not destined to reign in life? And does God who loves us does not bless us in every way? (Which of course the definition of blessing in God's eyes is sometimes different from ours.) I agree we should not make God our slave, wanting Him to "answer" our every prayer and bless us, but it is that perspective of whether He answers or not, it is His blessing in our situation. Hope I didn't lose you here.

    In any case, for too long Christians have been living under the bondage of fear, that God withholds His blessings from us and we need to work to earn it. For earthly parents who love their children, they give freely the moment their babies are born, not expecting them to do things to earn their love and blessings. But of course our love is still conditional and sometimes parents do withhold love to get certain things from children, and probably that's why we have that human perspective about God's blessings.

    But God's love is unconditional and to think we can earn His blessings and love is to think that we can do a work greater than what Jesus had done on the cross.

    Just a penny for your thoughts. May God bless your hands to keep writing for His glory. :)

    dayre.me/belovedofGod

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