30 January 2017James 1:1-11
“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (v. 5)
Psalm: Psalm 96
The Methodist Church's Bible Month this year focuses on the letter of James. It takes place in June, although churches and circuits may choose a different time if that is more convenient. For more information (including training and resources), go to www.methodist.org.uk/biblemonth.
The first thing to note about the Letter of James is that it is named after the person writing it, as opposed to its recipients. Along with the letters of Peter, John and Jude, James is thought to have been written to the wider Christian community, rather than a particular congregation. And these Epistles are sometimes labelled 'Catholic', in reference to their general nature.
Traditionally, James the brother of Jesus, who led the church in Jerusalem has been thought the most likely author. Some dispute this and the most likely alternative is that an unknown author wrote it in the name of James. The letter is written to "the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (v. 1) and reflects that strand of early Christianity which emphasised its Jewish foundations and heritage.
James is packed with practical wisdom about how to live as a Christian, often in the face of serious challenges and even suffering. In fact, a very positive spin is put on facing trials, as it produces endurance and maturity in faith. These themes of practical advice and the suffering of the faithful are rooted in the Wisdom tradition found earlier in the Scriptures, in books such as Proverbs and Job. The gift of knowing how to live well as human beings is to be sought in God and lived out in relationship with God.
There is an encouragement, however, to ask for this wisdom "in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind" (v. 6). In a context where faith is being tested and Christians are facing the prospect of persecution, doubt is viewed as a threat and a weakness. Where churches are young and fragile it is felt to be important to inspire and shore up faith. One can imagine the author of James viewing these dispersed communities as plates needing to be kept spinning in the air.
Apparently one practical issue to be addressed was the inequality between rich and poor, both within and without the Christian community. The believer, however poor and lowly, is lifted up by the gracious generosity of God, and the rich are reminded of where true value lies. True wisdom is empowering and liberating for all parties.
- Reflecting on your own experiences of facing "trials of any kind" (v. 2) what impact have they had on your faith?
- "Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"(T S Eliot)
Reflect on Eliot's words at the start of his poem 'Choruses from the Rock'. What do you understand wisdom to be and where is it to be found?
- What place does doubting play in your journey of faith?