James & #BlackLivesMatterAlso
Still grieving for families in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. Still hurting for my friends who fear for their children. Still angry at all the injustice, whether interpersonal or systemic. Still feeling the thick darkness of sin. Still wondering how and when and what to speak. Still troubled by my own subtle fears of people and death. The way I felt when I awoke from what seemed to be only a short nap last night.
You’ve been watching the news, too. Surely, you’re aware of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and now the Dallas shooting following a peaceful protest. The videos are heart-wrenching, and stinging reminders of what in many countries is the normal, weekly horror. As Russell Moore also pointed out recently, the problems are both individual and corporate, personal and systemic. Yet they seem so daunting and intertwined and mounting. We know the gospel has power to change, but what can we really do?
A lot, actually. James has been teaching us, Redeemer. Have you been listening to God’s word? Is it truly part of us now, in this moment? Will we prove to be faith-filled doers of the word, or just hypocritical hearers without works? Here are a few reminders…
1. We can meet these various trials with complete reliance upon God, knowing that through steadfastness, he will use them to purify us from sin, conform us to Christ’s image, and bring us the crown of glory.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4, 12).
2. We can pray for God to give us wisdom to respond to these events in ways that please him, and then trust that, in his untiring generosity, he will give us that wisdom; he will give us the ability and skill to act and speak according to Scripture and thereby reflect his character in every situation.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him…Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:5, 17).
3. We can humble ourselves before each other, whatever ethnic or economic background we may come from, because the cross and kingdom of Jesus Christ stand contrary to the world’s values, exalting the lowly and humbling the proud.
“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away…Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?…But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (Jam 1:9-10; 2:5; 4:6).
4. We can see in these recent events portraits of our own sin, our own inner prejudices, our own wayward passions, our own failure to do justice, and then repent of those very things, which, once conceived, give birth to sin and eventually bring forth death.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers” (James 1:13-16).
5. We can be quick to hear from God’s holy word, whether when reading it ourselves or receiving it from other Christians, and also slow to speak our foolish words, remembering the tongue to be a restless evil and a world of unrighteousness (and that is especially necessary for a culture bombarded by so many social media platforms).
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak…If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless…And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 1:19, 26; 3:6-8).
6. We can be slow to get angry with others, knowing that our anger cannot ever produce the righteousness of God among any people group, and that rather, the harvest of righteousness is sown by new-creation peacemakers filled with wisdom from above doing their works in meekness.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be…slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God…Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 1:19-20; 3:13-18).
7. We can show mercy to those who hurt us unintentionally in their ignorance, and we can show mercy to those who wrong us intentionally with their crass remarks, knee jerk reactions, and violent responses, especially since, most importantly, God showed us mercy in Christ while we were still his enemies.
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment…But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 2:13; 3:17).
8. We can take up our neighbor’s burdens (whatever ethnicity), identify with their needs and grief and fears and wounds and hurts, make them our own, and then labor to comfort and bind and heal and strengthen, so as to fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well…If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:8, 15-17).
9. We can turn away from partiality, prejudice, and personal preferences, and work toward justice for all in our personal dealings, especially when our proximity to others provide opportunities to do justice for the helpless, the hurting, and the socially and economically disadvantaged.
“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4).
10. We can (and must) expose the systemic evil and any prejudice or racism in our societal structures (wherever they may be truly present, even if subconscious), and, with whatever gifts God has given us, work toward public policies and social ethics that will promote justice for all.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you” (James 5:1-6).
How can we, as the church, do any of the above? We can because of who God has made us to be through the new birth, regeneration: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). For those in Christ, we can respond, because we are no longer slaves to sin and self-centered interests; we are the first-fruits of a new creation glory. May the world see in us and in our dealings with one another and in our dealings with the culture around us, a glimpse of the kingdom to come.
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