As I begin this month’s blog, let me just start by asking “How is your 2022 so far?” Many are off and running and making good on plans, goals, resolutions, and so forth. And perhaps some didn’t get as much of a start as they would’ve liked. Either way, that’s ok. The year is young and more than just making sure great things happen, we do well to take stock of the day to day and our desire to faithfully follow God in the mundane and ordinary. It’s not always as appealing to look at life that way but I think it’s necessary.
As I started January, I shifted my focus towards writing weekly podcast scripts and recording a weekly podcast episode. God impressed upon me the Book of James for this year…to share it in some format, whether in the blog or the podcast (or both). Well as the blog changed to a monthly offering, I decided I would dive into James within the podcast. And it’s been an eye-opening book. For this month’s blog, I’m led to just focus on some overarching themes from James; namely the emphasis that Christian conduct and character matter.
You probably know James from the “faith without works is dead” statement. That’s a big statement to say and an even bigger statement to absorb. But the idea that our faith has some sort of visible out-workings on display has affected me in 2022. Truth be told, it’s always affected me to a degree and has been a concept I’ve returned to many times in this blog. So with that phrase as a backdrop and the larger “conduct matters” title as a North Star, let’s dive in today with some points that can guide us as believers into 2022. I hope this is helpful and a blessing to you in your walk.
1. Our conduct in Christ always must always reflect Him
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17
As I’ve been studying James, several commentators have compared his words to those of the Book of Proverbs. In many ways it seems to be a New Testament reflection of the Old Testament book. James speaks of “wisdom from above” and wisdom that is God-centered, not man-centered is a key part of Proverbs. This wisdom influences character. Indeed it is wisdom that reflects Christ Himself because He perfectly embodied all of these things. Pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere…these are Christian attributes. When we grow in Christ, these things come to the surface and come out of us; because of the Holy Spirit. This is a reflection of Him and we must daily pursue these things.
2. Words are important as believers
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. James 3:6
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. James 4:11
One consistent theme throughout James is the idea of “taming the tongue.” In reality, no one can tame the tongue; at least apart from Christ. If we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, how much more should our words reflect His nature and what He would say (not what we would say). This is difficult especially in an age of keyboard warriors and the ability to fire off posts, comments, and texts without having to literally confront someone face to face. But those words and the words we speak audibly all have the ability to harm and do great damage. James warns us of this and ties words directly to our conduct and character as Christians. Really, our words define us and tell others who we really are. That should come with a fair amount of weight. We must be discerning with our words.
3. Character is built through trials and sufferings
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, lacing in nothing. James 1:2-4
Reading James this year has helped me reframe the way I look at trials and difficulties. Normally I just throw the proverbial coin in the wishing well and hope that my Christian life is mostly sunshine and roses. If hard times do come, I anxiously await and want to advance quickly to the end of those seasons; not really wanting to learn anything at all. James has poked a ton of holes in this “theology” because there’s really no basis for expecting life to be that way. The last two years have been a wake up call certainly. Will life get tougher? There’s a good chance it will. Will my faith get stronger? Well, that depends on my response to these things. James says “Count it all joy.” Wow, really James? Yes. Joy because of what? Well the end result is that your faith is strengthened. The end result is you come out looking more like Christ. And the very end result (all the waaaay to the end) is that you get to be with Him. So those trials we face…don’t just try and avoid them and move on. See what God is saying through it. Draw closer to Him and let your faith be deepened.
4. The end goal is important — live for more than just the moment
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14
James addresses an audience that really isn’t much different than the culture/society we see today. People living with anticipation; going from one thing to the next. Planning next month, next year. Planning what will happen and how good it will be. And as Christians, we often live the life we desire not necessarily the life God is asking of us. Before anyone gets offended, read James 4:13-16 and consider the words carefully. What is he not saying? He’s not saying it’s bad to plan. He’s not saying it’s wrong to look forward to the future. But apart from the Lord what is the importance of those things? “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15). Aha. That is the key. If the Lord wills. It reminds me of Proverbs 16:19: The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. One more verse to drive this point home (eternity is more important than tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and so on): Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 4:8) Love that. It’s so key to this discussion. Christ is coming back! Get ready.
5. None of this is impossible for the son or daughter in Christ
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. James 5:17,18
It’s easy to look at the weight of heavy words like those in James and think “How can I even aspire to live out any of this?” Because temptation is strong. Even in Christ we are still prone to wander. This world has so much that can distract us from how we should live. It seems as James wraps everything up he recognizes this. Hence the need to mention Elijah and basically say “Despite all the miraculous things Elijah did, he was just a man like you and I.” It’s a way to say, “Yes this is possible. Yes you can do this…you can live life this way; in Christ.” And that’s reassuring when we consider the calling we aspire to. Christ walks with us. The Holy Spirit in us does this work. Yes we must be obedient. We must seek things of eternity and not things of this world. But it can be done. Thank God for His grace and for the means to stand.
Guys I hope this crash course in James is helpful as you enter the month of February. Ideally I want these monthly blogs to give you something to focus on and meditate over. Beyond that, the bi-weekly devotionals (if you’re on the mailing list) are to help fill in the gaps. If you want to go further in James, I’d also encourage you to check out the podcast series which will be finishing up in a few days (you can listen on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Pandora). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed James and realized that the conduct and character we have in Christ matters. It matters for us, our spouses and kids, friends, fellow congregants, co-workers, classmates…everyone.
As always, I’d love to hear from you; to know how you are doing and how I can pray for you. This journey isn’t meant to be walked alone. We need each other.
Love you guys! Until next time.
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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17