Tuesday

31 January 2017

“In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 97

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.

Background

The dispersed communities of the early Church were facing many challenges, even trials and tribulations. James is keen to offer support and encouragement to these vulnerable Christians, and to spell out the rewards for enduring and keeping the faith. In this passage the threat to the faithful is couched in terms of being tempted, addressing perhaps the internal struggle when people go through testing times.

One thing is for sure, it is not God who tempts us and any suggestion that might be the case is to be refuted. James is exploring the inner processes of the human psyche when faced with more or less favourable options. How enticing a certain path can appear at times, especially if it leads away from suffering and persecution, and makes for an easier and more comfortable existence. But this desire to yield gives birth to death, not life; it is a deception to be avoided at all costs. James is concerned for the well-being of the individual but also for the fragile congregations which need to stand firm in an inhospitable and sometimes hostile environment.

Those who manage to endure temptation and stand the test will receive the crown of life promised by God (verse 12). This is the God who is the source of every generous act of giving and every perfect gift; incapable of tempting us because God is the "Father of lights" (v. 17), who is consistent and unwavering in goodness and grace and love. So, the chastening words about temptation are framed by a reassurance of God's nature, which cannot deviate from its essence of light and love and mercy.

And James hasn't finished in the encouragement stakes yet. For not only are the faithful to be recipients of God's unchanging promises, but in being brought to new birth we are the fulfilment of God's purposes, "a kind of first fruits of his creatures". As was stated earlier in the letter, "Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up" (James 1:9). Rather than focusing on the weaknesses and the threats, here is a reminder of the God-given status and privileges of those who would endure.


To Ponder

  • What do you understand by the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation"?
  • In what ways in your everyday life do you tend to take the wide and easy path rather than the narrow and more challenging one?
  • Spend some time reminding yourself of God's consistent nature of love and mercy - and the God-given status and privileges you have been granted.


Bible notes author: 
The Revd Graham Jones

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