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The Epistle of James: True Faith
James 5:19-20; Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23
“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
James 5:19-20 NASB1995
We have reached the last two verses of the Epistle of James. This has been a wonderful journey through the admonitions and warnings from this no-nonsense half- brother of Jesus, who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus until after the Resurrection but became the Bishop of Jerusalem and was martyred for his faith. I honestly feel purified and at another level of sanctification - which, for me, is still the first or second step on a long stairway - after digging into this treasure trove once again. It is one thing to read James in a Bible plan, it is another thing to do a workbook on James and do exercises to understand his writings. It is an altogether new thing, marvelous and awesome (in the true sense of that word), to have to research AND write about what James wrote and do it in an in-depth and discerning manner, dividing this epistle into 14 challenging passages. I LOVE writing these devotionals - this is exactly what I have needed to grow spiritually in my life. Thanks for participating by reading, by the way. Comments are always welcome!
James doesn’t sign off his Epistle with greetings to brethren, like Paul often did in his letters He ends this abruptly with one of the most difficult and important tasks that Christians can do in their lives - become a “search and rescue” team for those who have strayed. But for the grace of God (by letting me live long enough to come back to faith - nothing is a coincidence), I was among the lost for many years, wandering in a secular wilderness and mocking the things I supposedly treasured as a child. No one came to rescue me or turn me back, except the Lord who diligently goes after His lost sheep.
Oh, there were a couple of people that were seriously upset that I walked away, like my parents and a long-time friend, but I brushed off their concerns. Steve never really felt like he belonged in church, growing up nominally Catholic, and his Mom said nothing, while his Dad was essentially a non-believer. In my selfishness and stupidity, we refused to go with my parents to any services at their church across town, including Christmas Eve and Easter, because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced driving all the way over there (“think of how early we have to get up because they go to the early service”); I was locked into my arrogance and disbelief. But, stating it again, it is a sad fact that no one else I went to church with many years ago, like pastors and Sunday School teachers and elders, tried to bring me back. We should be aware of the fact that this is most challenging task for other believers. People who walk away are belligerent, confused, angry, and defensive (I should know). Who wants to corner a growling tiger and try to reason with them? It takes great courage and commitment to try and talk people off the ledge of eternal darkness.
After I left the church, I joined secular humanist organizations and gleefully read their newsletters and journals, relishing their diatribes against the Christian faith. I even had a Darwin fish placard on my car to drive the point home (a shameful memory). One thing I noticed about these humanist groups is that they did absolutely nothing to help people, but spent their money buying ads and billboards mocking Christians and suing towns for having public nativity scenes or harassing and suing people for following the Lord’s commandments. Another thing I noticed is that the same zeal was rarely exhibited against Muslims; they would have the occasional article written anonymously about Islam, telling you that they feared those believers more than they wanted to criticize them. Those observations of their hypocrisy and lack of concern for others, along with the quiet and annoying voice of conscience in my mind telling me I was wrong, led me to experience deep anxiety and lots of anger. Steve and I also tinkered with workshops in Zen Buddhism and tried to find ourselves doing time in sensory deprivation tanks (float to “relax”), plus we spent a lot of money traveling, thinking that was an answer. I ate and drank too much, too, drowning in epicurean escapes and fine wines. I needed a rescuer!
In my personal Testimony, Steve and I finally made a decision to come back to the Christian faith. At that point in time, my Mom was in a coma after suffering from multiple strokes and she never recovered. She never had the opportunity in this life to see us return to church (my Dad was thrilled). I dishonored my parents for many years, a sin that has been confessed in deep repentance to the Lord. We ended up leaving our first church after seeing their deepening apostasy- they are completely off the rails now - but that just helped our faith grow because we were guided to the right place at the right time. As I said above, there are no coincidences when God is involved.
Commentaries that I read about this passage is that it is certain that James is addressing this to believers who have strayed. I thought I was a believer, but the seed did not properly “take” in my case early on, which is driven home by the wonderful parable of the sower, found in the three synoptic Gospels. Here is the version and the explanation in Matthew:
“And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23 NASB1995
When I was a child, the seed of my faith either fell beside the road or in a rocky place and was too easily overcome by the siren songs of secular culture and trying to be “successful”. I hope that I can be a rescuer now and pray that I am abundantly fruitful in the remaining time given to me. Thank the Lord for men like James, who fearlessly proclaimed God’s truth.
My next series will examine the Christmas story in Luke, starting with Luke 1:5-25, The Birth of John Foretold. As I noted above, there are no coincidences when God is involved. There will be seven passages total that I dive into in Luke and the last one, Luke 2:1-20, is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and that will be released on December 24th! I could not have planned it better.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father - Thank you so much for rescuing me and bringing me back to the fold! Help me to be a rescuer for others who are unsure of their faith or may have walked away from belief. Help me to be abundantly fruitful in the time remaining. Thank you, too, for forgiving my sins and guiding me on these steps in my eternal life. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org