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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + January 18, 2017

James 1:1-18
Mark 10:11-16

James 1:1-18 (NKJV)
James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

Mark 10:11-16 (NKJV)
So Jesus said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

Commentary 

In his single epistle which has been handed town to us as the book of James in the New Testament, the Brother of our Lord emphasizes again and again the challenges which continue to be set before us throughout our lives as Christians. While St. Paul spent his life as a Missionary, travelling throughout the world and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then founding churches in which those who had chosen to believe his proclamation could gather together, St. James was made the first Bishop, serving is Jerusalem, after Christ's death and resurrection, by Christ Himself. It is for this reason that much of St. Paul's epistles are concerned with how it is that one becomes a member of God's people, the Christians, how one comes to receive the salvation which is in Christ, and other matters that were directly pertinent to his new fledgling congregations. St. James, on the other hand, was serving at the same time over the gathered people of God in and around Jerusalem, made up of Christ's immediate disciples and first followers, a group well versed in the teachings of the Old Testament and the Law, who had now become a part of this new Christian community. His epistle therefore is aimed at a different set of issues and questions asked by a different group of Christians, including those who misinterpreted what St. Paul had attempted to teach.

This last point, that St. James corrects what might be called a misinterpretation of what St. Paul had said in his epistles, has led many to misinterpret the epistle of St. James as being a contradiction of St. Paul, as if the two were at odds with each other, or represented two separate and incompatible 'theologies' within the New Testament. The most common example of this misunderstanding is the misinterpretation of St. Paul's teaching regarding faith and the Law. St. Paul makes it clear that the one thing which marks out people as being members of the community of the New Covenant, the Church, is their faith. Specifically, what makes someone truly a child of Abraham, and an heir of the promises of God, is their belief in those promises, that they are true and to be relied upon, not biological descent from Abraham. The Apostle argues that this has always been so from the very beginning. Secondly, then, the Law was given later through Moses as an aid to our lives. But while the Law of Moses had the power to condemn us and reveal our sinfulness before the Lord to bring about repentance, it did not have the power, in and of itself, to cleanse or purify us of sin. This happened only in Christ, due to God's faithfulness to His own promises to the Prophets who came before.

Thus when St. James reminds us that faith involves works, when he points out that if we truly believe that the promises of God in the Gospel are true, that Christ is returning to judge the quick and the dead, that that belief will directly affect the way we live our lives and cause us to pursue the good rather than the evil, he is not contradicting St. Paul, but elaborating on what he said. While St. Paul spent his career as the Apostle to the Gentiles bringing those who were strangers to the God of Israel close to Him, St. James spent his career as Apostle and Bishop walking with his Christian community and striving to help bring them to perfection and completeness in their journey toward Christ and His Kingdom. This is true from the very beginning of his epistle which we read today, in which he sets out what will be his most important themes.

The first of those principles is that God is Good. He is Good, loves mankind, and continuously showers good gifts upon all people. He is consistent, and always faithful to us. Human beings, on the other hand, are not so consistent. We are weak, stubborn, sinful, and worst of all, prone to wavering in our faithfulness to God, and to wandering away from Him. This is, unfortunately, just as true of us after our Baptisms as it was before. St. James therefore from the very beginning implores us to remain true. Just as the Old Covenant people of God were prone to put their trust in all the wrong things, believing they need not be concerned about how they lived their life because they were descended from Abraham and other faithful ancestors, because their people had received the Law, because their people possessed God's Temple where He was worshiped correctly, and so failed to care for their souls, failed to pursue truth and meekness and righteousness, failed to walk humbly with their God, so also, even in the first century, St. James saw these signs in his flock of Christians.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that we were once baptized as Orthodox Christians, that our Church is the one True Church, that she is Orthodox in Faith and Worship is not enough. That the Orthodox Faith is the Faith of the Apostles and the Faith on which the universe was founded, though true, is nothing to us if it is not also our Faith. That our spiritual fathers and mothers walked the path of salvation, even our biological ancestors walked that path to its end and became saints before us does not make us holy unless we follow their witness and example and walk the path of salvation ourselves. It is not enough to merely receive the Faith, we must also do what it says, striving for perfection, and to complete the work within us that Christ began at our Baptism. Let us therefore press on in the virtues to which St. James calls us, in patience, in wisdom, and in a faith which does not waiver in the truth of God's promises to us.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's epistle reading, St. James points out that when we fall into sin, it is because our own sinfulness, which dwells within us, has led us into sin. We have no one to blame for sin but ourselves. When you sin, do you take responsibility for it? Do you make excuses for why you 'had to do' what you did, or try to explain why it wasn't really so bad? Do you blame other people for tempting you or making you do wrong? Are you able to look at yourself and your behavior honestly, and where you have done wrong, admit to it without excuse?
  2. In his epistle, St. James takes us beyond the beginnings of our salvation and points us toward the end, urging us to press on toward the prize of the Kingdom. Is your faith a meeting of minimum conditions, praying a little, going to services a little, and hoping it is sufficient to get to 'go to heaven' when you die? Do you, rather, actively pray for and seek the wisdom of God in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, and the Fathers? Do you practice a spirit of patience and peace in your daily life regardless of what events may come to pass? Do you examine yourself and your behavior harshly in order to make the best confessions that you can make? Is your goal to someday become perfect, to be the person God created you to be, to be a saint, or are you just hoping to be 'good enough'?
  3. Today's Gospel reading speaks to the innocence required to enter the Kingdom of God. Do you protect yourself from influences, people, and situations which you know will lead you into temptation of one type or another? Do you seek to remove unwholesome things from your life, or do you continue to partake of them, imagining that you can resist the temptations involved? This latter is pride. Are there things in your home that you know are going to put you in the place of temptation? What could you do about these these influences to protect yourself from temptation before the fact?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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