The circle of perseverance: A theological reflection on James 1

All Scriptures cited are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)

Personally, I have always found myself intrigued with the Epistle of James, mainly as in my opinion he seeks to advance a Christianity that bears witness in action, which is a staggering call to us Christians to wake up from our complacent lifestyles of piety and treatment of faith as mere intellectual ascent. Here I would like to picture James as one who draws a circle that starts and ends with the call to persevere in Christ in spite of overwhelming temptation to which he initiates with his introduction as the Lord’s servant and as a brother in Christ who is in some way also going through the same plight of his audience to which he referred to in this chapter as his brothers.

James a bondservant of Christ

Verse 1 Shows James stating his office as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” here James puts forward to whose authority he is speaking from but also implying that it is not of his own accord that he is writing to his audience, but of his Lord Jesus Christ, while at the same time implicitly shows his Jewish roots by speaking of the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” to which he is writing to and later on in the passage he would refer to as his brothers (v.16).

The call to steadfast perseverance (Verses 2-19)

Verses 2-10 eems to show that the audience of James’ letter are undergoing trials of to which the author has yet to make mention of explicitly but however his wording seems to imply that trials does not come from outside the community but from within as he makes mention of things that ought to be present in the community of believers such as: joy (v.2), steadfastness (v.3), wisdom (v.5), faith (v.6) and humility (v.9-10).

  • A call to both poor and the rich chiefly
His audience seems to be is a mixture of both poor/lowly (v9) and rich (10-11) to which James seems to be speaking with a bit of reproach in their lifestyle as verse 11 closes with an emphasis on the rich person’s vain pursuits.
  • Perseverance has its prize!
Verses 12-18 returns to the train of thought that James has put forward in the beginning of his epistle that is: to remain steadfast under trials. But this time he emphasizes the value of trials as life events that lead to ‘crowns’ of life that according to James God has promised (v.12) however I am not particularly sure as to whether these crowns should be interpreted literally because verses 3 and 4 of the chapter alludes to steadfastness finds that finds its full effect, what James calls perfect and complete (v.3) it might be that the crowns can be that perfection and completion that James was talking about.

  • God is no tempter
In verses 13-15 James turns his attention to the implication of guilt in sin that comes from temptation. Here James speaks of God as one who does not tempt (v.13) which is contrary to his audience’s claim, but rather that temptation and succumbing to it is the outcome of the tempted person’s desire (v.4) that initiate’s that person’s path if un-dealt with to his/her destruction (v.15).

The need to reclaim our identity in Christ (16-27)
Verses 16-18 gives me the impression that James again veers away from his train of thought in order to re-orient his audience to their identity in Christ to which he starts by affirming his love for them as a servant of Christ (v.1) who refers to his audience as brothers in Christ (v.16) putting emphasis on their kinship under Christ. But it doesn’t end in their kinship as James introduced himself in the beginning of the chapter as a ‘servant’ of Christ therefore he is not merely speaking to them as a brother but also as a co-servant as his affinity with them is not only in terms of his Jewish heritage, identity in Christ but more importantly in his work in the body of Christ. It is then followed with James pointing towards God as the one who gives them gifts, again that points towards the theme of goodness and perfection (v.17) that James has initiated in verse 3 of this chapter only this time he points towards God as the source and the gifts as a common grace that God who is constant and how is at work in their lives to which James reminds his audience of their identity as Christians that is they are – sanctified by God’s word of truth and that they the first fruits of God’s creation (v.18).

  • The ethical implication of Christian identity
Verses 19-21 After affirming his audience of their common identity in Christ and as part of God’s own and his creation he then speaks of the ethical implications of this identity in Christ. Thus in verses 19-21 he goes on in brotherly love to remind them to be: quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (v.19) and emphasizes on anger as an emotion that does not lead to the righteousness of God (v.20). Being such he instead called on his audience to: “put away filthiness and rampant wickedness” but rather to “receive with meekness the implanted word” which according to James leads to their soul’s salvation (v.21).

  • Action as a means of receiving the Word and living our identity
Verses 22-25. However, the reception of God’s implanted word is not sufficient for it is in responding in action, that is to heed what it says that James seems to put extra weight on that is why he calls them to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (v.22) for doing and hearing are two different and yet related actions for one can hear and yet be passive thus according to James is mere self-deception. Using the analogy of a man facing a mirror James speaks of what can be seen as the goal of receiving the word: transformation!

  • Completing the circle
For it is in realizing our identity in Christ and becoming subjects to God’s word and its commands that we find liberty and ultimately change in our lives that now puts us back to that price, that ‘crown’ that steadfastness, that perfection and completion that he has put forward at the beginning of this chapter.

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