THE LETTER OF ST. JAMES

LESSON 4: FAITH IN THE MIDST OF TRIALS AND THE EXERCISE OF TRUE RELIGION

 

Heavenly Father,

We thank You for the pillar of light which You have provided to guide us on our journey through the wilderness of this life to the eternal glory of heaven. Jesus is our pillar of light and the source of our promised resurrection into the life of Your Most Divine Trinity. No darkness can overpower this light so long as we remain faithful and obedient to the Law of righteousness. Give us the strength to live in the light of Christ, to be self-controlled in our behavior and to avoid every form of wickedness. Above all, Lord, give us the strength and perseverance to put our faith into practice, since that is the ultimate test of what it means to be born anew in Christ Jesus. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of St. James' message of living the Law of freedom in Jesus Christ. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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"Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall and you will be afraid of everything." St. John of the Cross, Sermons, 9, first Sunday of Lent

 

"If you want to be truly religious, do not demonstrate this by your knowledge of the law but by the way you put it into practice. Religion appears to means something more than "faith," in that it offers the knowledge of hidden things and confirmation of what is grasped by faith." Oecumenius [6th century], Commentary on James

 

St. James' message to the Universal Church, the New Israel of the redeemed 12 tribes, is one of simplicity and directness. Have you noticed how different his style is from the more theological and complex letters of St. Paul? In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, verses 1:1-1:7 [in the Greek text] are composed of one long and very complex sentence. Unlike St. Paul's writing, James' sentences are crisp and concise, and his subjects deal with practical problems Christians face daily on their journey to salvation. God is the author of sacred Scripture and yet He allows the personality of the inspirited writer to be reflected in each Holy Spirit inspired passage. Also notice how James frequently addresses his audience directly with expressions of deep affection calling them [in the Greek text] "my brothers/ sisters" [adelphoi mou; "brothers" in the plural can mean "brothers and sisters"] in James 1:2, 2:1, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:12, 19 and "my beloved brothers/sisters" [adelphoi mou agapetoi"] in 1:16, 19, and 2:5.

 

Like all the New Testament inspired writers, James reinterprets the symbolic images and teachings of the Torah [the Law of Moses found in the first five books of the Bible] and the works of the prophets in the light of the Gospel of salvation of Jesus Christ. But what makes James' letter unique among the other New Testament Bible books is the way he presents the range of the teaching of the Old Covenant Law fully and distinctly in a discussion of the Law, in prophecy, and in the Wisdom literature of the 1st century BC to embrace the New Covenant teaching of Jesus the Messiah especially reflected in the New Law teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. In James view Covenant Law can only to be faithfully observed through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ, the universal Church. That teaching or instruction is now complete because of the New Covenant wisdom that was promised before the coming of God the Son and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, a promise that now calls God's people out of the void of the Diaspora and into the renewed and expanded Covenant of the new Kingdom of the Davidic Messiah and into the fullness of wisdom which the New Covenant presents: "Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously ,and without scolding; it will be given." James 1:5. It is the promise of wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit that will be given when the Messiah comes that was foretold by the 8th century BC Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 11:1-4, and Isaiah 29:13-24:

 

 

*The gifts of the Spirit given in the Septuagint Old Testament translation and in Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation add 'holiness' or 'piety' to "the fear of God" to complete the 7 spiritual gifts:

 

These 7 spiritual gifts, listed in the Catechism #s 1830-31 compliment the "fruits of the Spirit" which are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in believers as the hope of our eternal glory; see Galatians 5:22-23 and the Church's list of the 12 fruits of the Spirit in CCC# 1832.

 

James' message is that this gift of wisdom by which the Law is completed is only for Israelites who are ready to fulfill the Law in the light of Christ the King and to carry that message to the Gentile nations of the earth. James expresses this fulfilled Law as "the perfect law of freedom" in James 1:25; as the "royal law" and the "law of the kingdom" in James 2:8 and as the "law of freedom" in James 2:12. But when he speaks of "the Law" James is not speaking of Old Covenant ritual works of the Law as St. Paul does in his letters [see Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; 3:2, 5 & 10]. James does not concern himself with the individual commands of the Law of the 10 commandments as Paul does in Romans 7:8; 13:9; and 1 Corinthians 7:19. Instead James refers to the whole body of the Law of which the 10 Commandments are the divisions or headings of the whole. James make this clear where he says with great conviction: "Breaking any part of the Law is like breaking all of it, for obedience is directed not to the commandment but to the law maker!" James 2:11; 4:11-12.

 

In chapter one of St. James' letter, we have already identified several references to the teaching of the New Covenant Law from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In James 1:2 the Bishop tells the Church of Jesus Christ to "consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you," and a little later in James 1:12 he will assure the faithful, "Blessed is anyone who perseveres when trials come." James' teaching echoes the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:11-12, "Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.." The following chart helps to identify passages in James letter that are taken from the teaching of the New Covenant Law embodied in the Sermon on the Mount:

 

Letter of St. James

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew

 

Context

1:2

5:12

Rejoice in persecution for the sake of the Kingdom

1:4

5:16; 5:48

good works are praise to God and complete us in our mission as disciples

1:5

7:7; 21

Asking God for what is good

1:12

5:10-12

Blessings for those are persecuted for Christ

1:17

7:11

All that is good comes from God

1:19-20

5:22

God's justice is never served by anger

1:22-23

7:24-27

Listen to the words of God and put them into practice

1:26-27

7:21-23

One must be a doer of the word

2:5

5:3

The "poor in spirit" (those who are not self-sufficient but admit they need God) are heirs to the kingdom of heaven

2:10

5:19

Believers must keep all of the commandments; to break one is to break all

2:11

5:21-22

The commandment against murder

2:12

5:10-12

Blessing for those who endure persecution

2:13

5:7; 6:14-15

The merciful will be shown mercy; the unmerciful will be shown no mercy

2:14-26

7:21-23

Give freely to those in need; faith without action is dead and worthless faith

3:12

7:16

The fruit a tree produces represents what kind of tree it is as the works a person produces represents the quality of that person

3:18

5:9

Blessing of peacemakers

4:2-3

7:7,8

God grants the prayers that are petitions of good intent

4:4

6:24

One cannot serve both God and the world

4:8

5:8

To please God one must have a pure heart

4:9

5:4

Those who mourn

4:11-12

7:1-5

Warning against being judgmental

4:13-14

6:34

Tomorrow is uncertain; it is in God's hands

5:1-2

6:19-20

Curse of the selfish rich

5:9

5:22; 7:1

God is the judge standing at the door

5:10

5:12

The prophets, our example of suffering and perseverance

5:12

5:33-37

Avoid making an oath (vow) unless you can faithfully keep it, do not swear by heaven or hell. You will be judged on the fulfillment of your oaths by God.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

Question: Bible scholars, both ancient and modern, identify Jesus' homily known as "The Sermon on the Mount" as the embodiment of the New Covenant Law. What is a key component of a corporate covenant like the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant in the blood of Christ that identifies this homily as the Law of the New Covenant? See Leviticus 26:3-13 and 14-46 and Deuteronomy 28:1-14 and 15-68.

Answer: Covenant blessings for faithfully and obediently keeping the covenant oath, as well as Covenant curses for disobedience and apostasy are a key factor in covenant formation.

Question: Where are the blessings of the New Covenant Law found in the Sermon on the Mount? Where do we find the curses for disobedience? Hint: see Matthew 5:1-12 and Matthew 23:13-32.

Answer: The New Covenant blessings are found in the section of the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes or "blessings" while the curses are found in Jesus' discourse to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-32.

 

The Blessings and Curses of the New Covenant compared ["alas" or "woe" = curse]:

Blessings of Matthew 5:1-12

Curses of Matthew 23:13-32

Matthew 5:3, 10:"Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs." "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs."

Matthew 23:13: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut up the kingdom of Heaven in people's faces..."

Matthew 5:4: "Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted." Those who mourn their sins, and those who suffer other trials, shall be comforted.

Matthew 23:16 "Alas for you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the Temple, it has no force; but anyone who swears by the gold of the Temple is bound.' [...]. And someone who swears by the Temple is swearing by that and by the One who dwells in it. And someone who swears by heaven is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there." Temple sacrifice was the vehicle for confession and atonement for sins.

Matthew 5:5: "Blessed are the meek: they shall inherit the earth." Meekness = humility and submission to the will of God.

Matthew 23:29: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build the sepulchers of the prophets and decorate the tombs of the upright, saying. 'We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets, had we lived in our ancestors' day.' So! Your own evidence tells against you! You are the children of those who murdered the prophets!..." Pride of Pharisees hinders humility and submission to the will of God.

Matthew 5:6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: they shall be filled."

Matthew 23:27: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of corruption. [...]." Pharisees exhibit righteousness only externally but are filled with corruption.

Matthew 5:7 "Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them."

Matthew 23:23: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay your tithe of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice, mercy, good faith! ...."

Matthew 5:8: "Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God."

Matthew 23:25"Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. [...]. Clean the inside of the cup and dish first so that it and the outside are both clean."

Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as children of God."

Matthew 23:15: "Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and anyone who becomes one you make twice as fit for hell as you are." They are making proselytes fit to be sons of Satan.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

See CCC # 1967-72 or more information on the New Law of the Sermon on the Mount, and the study of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount Bible Study.

 

Please read James 1:12-18: Trials, Temptation, and Receiving the Message of Truth

 

James 1:12-15: "Blessed is anyone who preserves when trials come. Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love him. Never, when you are being put to the test, say, 'God is tempting me'; God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not put anybody to the test. Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death."

Question: The first part of James' blessing in 1:12 is reminiscent of what Gospel teaching?

Answer: Jesus' Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapter 5, especially the Beatitude in 5:10-12 "Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness, the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you."

 

Jesus promised that those who endure suffering in defense of righteousness will be blessed. James' affirms Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and adds in the second part of his blessing a promise that will be repeated later by Jesus in His message to the Church at Smyrna in Asia Minor found in the Book of Revelation.

Question: What promise does Jesus make to the faithful of the Christian community at Smyrna if they persevere in faith through the trials that they must endure? See Revelation 2:10

Answer: Jesus promises: "Do not be afraid of the sufferings that are coming to you. Look, the devil will send some of you to prison to put you to the test, and you must face hardship for ten days. Even if you have to die, deep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life for your prize."

 

Notice in this passage that Jesus does not say "if you suffer" but instead He warns the community that sufferings are unavoidable. The reference to "10 days" is not a literal period of 10 days but rather refers to what God has ordained as the length of time they will endure suffering. In Scripture, 10 is the number of perfection of order. See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" for more information concerning the symbolic meaning of numbers in sacred Scripture.

 

In the Book of Revelation Jesus instructs St. John to send letters to 7 different Christian faith communities in Asia Minor. These messages from Jesus to the seven churches are found in Revelation 2:1-3:22.

Question: What are some of the promises made to those who remain faithful and persevere in the midst of trials and suffering in the 7 letters to these historical 1st century faith communities in Asia Minor from the Book of Revelation chapters 2-3? Please read each of the letters to the 7 churches, noting their strengths, their weaknesses, and Christ's promise if they persevere.

Answer: In every case Jesus promised victory to the 7 churches in Asia Minor, but please observe that in these passages Jesus doesn't only call for confessing belief in Him by words alone. Words must be coupled with the deeds of faith and perseverance. This is St. James' central theme, not only to hear but to live out faith in action even in the midst of suffering.

 

The Trials and the Promises to the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation

1. The Church at Ephesus

Revelation 2:1-7

Acknowledgement of suffering: "I know your activities, your hard work and your perseverance. [..]. I know too that you have perseverance, and have suffered for my name without growing tired."
Promised victory: "...those who prove victorious I will feed from the tree of life set in God's paradise."

2. The Church at Smyrna

Revelation 2:8-11

Acknowledgment of suffering: "I know your hardships and your poverty and though you are rich, the slander of the people who falsely claim to be Jews but are really members of the synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the sufferings that are coming to you." Promised victory: "Even if you have to die, keep faithful and I will give you the crown of life for your prize."

3. The Church at Pergamum

Revelation 2:12-16

Acknowledgement of suffering: "I know where you live, in the place where Satan is enthroned, and that you still hold firmly to my name, and did not disown your faith in me even when my faithful witness, Antipas, was killed among you, where Satan lives."

Promised victory: "..to those who prove victorious I will give some hidden manna and a white stone, with a new name written on it, known only to the person who receives it."

4. The Church at Thyatira

Revelation 2:18-29

Acknowledgement of suffering: I know of your activities, your love, your faith, your service and your perseverance, and I know how you are still making progress. [..]. it is I who test motives and thoughts and repay you as your deeds deserve."

Promised victory: "but hold on firmly to what you already have until I come. To anyone who proves victorious, and keeps working for me until the end, I will give the authority over the nations which I myself have been given by my Father, to rule them with an iron scepter and shatter them like so many pots."

5. The Church at Sardis

Revelation 3:1-6

Acknowledgement of suffering: "I know about your behavior: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead. Wake up; put some resolve into what little vigor you have left; it is dying fast..."

Promised victory: "There are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes unstained, and they are fit to come with me, dressed in white. Anyone who proves victorious will be dressed like these in white robes; I shall not blot that name out of the book of life, but acknowledge it in the presence of my Father and his angels."

6. The Church at Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7-13

Acknowledgement of suffering: "...I know that though you are not very strong, you have kept my commandments and not disowned my name."

Promised victory: "Because you have kept my commandment to persevere, I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is coming for the whole world, to put the people of the world to the test. [..]. Anyone who proves victorious I will make into a pillar in the sanctuary of my God, and it will stay there for ever..."

7. The Church at Laodicea

Revelation 3:14-22

Acknowledgement of suffering: "I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. [...]. I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you truly rich, and white robes to clothe you and hide your shameful nakedness, ...so repent in real earnest."

Promised victory: "If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person's side. Anyone who proves victorious I will allow the share my throne, just as I have myself overcome and have taken my sear with my Father on his throne."

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

In James 1:13 our good bishop assures us that God does not tempt us to sin: "Never, when you are being put to the test, say, 'God is temping me'; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test."

Question: If God does not tempt us then why do we pray in the prayer Jesus taught us know as "The Lord's Prayer, "And do not subject us to the final test" or as this petition is sometime translated, "And lead us not into temptation"? See Wisdom 3:1-9 and Psalms 37:23-24

Answer: God would never tempt us to do evil but He will allow Satan to tempt us and when we rise above that temptation we are strengthened and purified by the experience: "But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them. [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace..." Wisdom 3:1a, 5. Take courage when you are tested and remember this Psalms: Psalm 37:23-24:"The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand." When my children were little and we were walking on an icy surface I would admonish them "Don't run; you'll fall!" Invariably they wouldn't heed my words; they'd run and they'd fall and after I had picked them up and dried their tears they would take my hand and say, "Don't let me fall, Mommy." This is our plea in this petition: "You warn me of the pit-falls of sin Lord. I will try to avoid them but when I fall, please forgive me and pick me up that I might try again, Lord."

 

St John of Avila, wrote "God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm."

Question: But all the same, why should we expect trials?

Answer: Yes. The New Covenant believer through the Sacrament of Baptism has been reborn into the family of God and has been forgiven original sin but the condition of that sin we inherited from our original parents a condition the Church calls concupiscence, the tendency to sin, remains.

 

This is the condition St. James refers to in James 1:14-15: "Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire. Then the desire conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin reaches full growth, it gives birth to death." James is teaching the source of temptations spring from our own disordered passions and desires. Later in James 1:27; 4:4 and 7 James will warn that the world and the devil continually tempt us with sin, however, those temptations only become sin when we act upon them. We have been cured of the deadly "disease" known as original sin but the virus known as concupiscence still lingers and brings suffering to man and to creation.

 

The Catholic Church identifies concupiscence as mankind's tendency to sin: "Etymologically, 'concupiscence' can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the 'flesh' against the 'spirit.' Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins." CCC# 2515. Also see Galatians 5:16, 17, 24; Ephesians 2:3; Genesis 3:11; Council of Trent: DS 1515; CCC# 376; 400; 405; 978; 1264; 1426; 1869; 1963; 2514; 2520; 2529-30; 2434; 2542.

 

St. John the Apostle in 1 John 2:16 identified three kinds of concupiscence:

1.      lust of the flesh

2.      lust of the eyes

3.      pride of life

 

Each of these kinds of concupiscence corresponds to the temptation of our original parents by the Serpent and to Jesus' test by Satan in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13:

The Temptation of Adam and Jesus contrasted with 1 John 2:16:

1 John 2:16

Genesis 3:6

Luke 4:1-13

"If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father finds no place in him..."

Adam: "Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees...?"

Jesus of Nazareth: "Then the devil said to Him...

the lust of the flesh:

"disordered bodily desires"

"The woman saw the tree was good to eat.."

"tell this stone to turn into a loaf"

the lust of the eyes:

"disordered desires of the eyes"

"..and pleasing to the eye,

and..."

"the devil...showed Him all the kingdoms of the world"

the pride of life:

"pride in possession"

"that it was enticing for the wisdom that it could give."

"If you are the Son ...throw Yourself down from here"

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2006 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

In the Venerable Bede's commentary on the Letter of St. James, the Bede writes concerning James 1:15: "Then concupiscence, when it has conceived brings forth sin, but sin, when it has been carried out, produces death." The Bede suggests that temptation is carried out in three ways:

1.      by delight

2.      by consent

3.      by suggestion of the enemy and the delight or consent of our weaknesses

 

However, the Bede encourages Christians, if we resist temptation and resist consent to sin then "the temptation itself carries us on to the victory by which we may deserve to receive the crown of life."

 

The Old Covenant Law of Moses was a wall or hedge that God created for His covenant people to protect them from the temptations of the pagan Gentile world. The Law of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ is our wall of protection. Modern society, governed by the Adversary Satan, shouts to us to reject the wall of protection and to level the Law that forbids sex outside of marriage, admonishes young women to dress modestly, forbids birth control, abhors the sacrifice of the unborn to the false gods of selfishness and convenience, etc. Satan's motto is "do whatever feels good to you" and he attempts to redefine freedom as license to do whatever one desires, unrestrained and unaccountable to anyone. Satan's way to "freedom" is the way to slavery to sin and to eternal death. Remember, the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ are eternal, but so are the curses!

 

Temptation is the weapon of mass destruction with which the enemy, our adversary Satan, constantly threatens us.

Question: But, if God does not tempt us then why do we pray, in the prayer Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:7-15 known as the Lord's Prayer, "And do not subject us to the final test" or as this petition is sometime translated, "And lead us not into temptation"? See Matthew 6:13a; Wisdom 3:1-9 and Psalms 37:23-24

Answer: God would never tempt us to do evil but He will allow Satan to tempt us and when we rise above that temptation we are strengthened and purified by the experience:

        "But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them. [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace..." Wisdom 3:1a, 5.

 

Precious metals are melted in the heat of a furnace to separate the pure metal from the dross or impurities that are in the natural material. The impurities rise to the surface and are eliminated. When the artisan sees his reflection in the mass of the liquefied metal he knows the metal is pure. God allows us to be tried and tested like precious metal and when He sees the image of His Son in our lives, He pronounces the purity of the believer.

 

        Take courage when you are tested and remember Psalm 37:23-24:"The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."

When my children were little and we were walking on an icy surface I would admonish them "Don't run; you'll fall!" Invariably they wouldn't heed my words; they'd run and they'd fall and after I had picked them up and dried their tears they would take my hand and say, "Don't let me fall, Mommy." This is our same plea when we yield to the temptation to sin: "You warn me of the pit-falls of sin Lord. I will try to avoid them but when I fall, please forgive me and pick me up that I might try again, Lord." It is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that our loving Father lifts us up from our fallen state, tries our tears and takes our hand to steady us that we may not fall again if we lean on Him.

 

Question: What is the last petition of the Lord's Prayer that finishes Matthew 6:13 and how is this petition related to our trials and sufferings?

Answer: The last petition of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray makes the plea: "Deliver us from evil." The petition is not "deliver us from suffering or trials." In the trials God allows us to experience, we recognize our weakness and our need for God. Note: the doxology that we pray to conclude the Lord's Prayer that begins, "For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory..." is not found in Scripture. It is a closing prayer, or doxology that was born out of the Church and can be found in the first Catholic catechism which is known as the Didache, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles.

 

 

The first blessing or beatitude Jesus promised believers in Matthew chapter 5 is "Blessed are the poor in spirit" 'blessed are those who recognize that they are not self-sufficient; blessed are those who know that they need God! It is when we realize that we are weak that we turn to God for the strength only He can give us. Is has been said that God whispers to us in our pleasures but He shouts to us in our pain. Is it really that His voice has changed or is it our ability to truly listen that is affected? It isn't self-sufficiency of spirit that yields humility and prayer; instead it is suffering that brings us to the feet of the Master. Just look at God's creation, where is all the growth in nature; is it on the mountain tops or in the valleys? It is the same for each of us. We are energized by our emotional spiritual highs but all the real spiritual growth comes from those deep valleys when like David in the 23rd Psalm we "pass through the valley of the shadow of death", when we have to completely rely on His strength to show us the way, when we deeply feel His presence and can pray as David prayed: "I shall fear no evil, for you are at my side!" [for more information on this subject please see The Sermon on the Mount Study, Lesson #2: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit].

 

Question: What solemn promise does God give us when we are gripped tightly by the bonds of temptation and trial? Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 for your answer.

Answer: It is God's solemn promise that He "will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it." We must turn to God to get the strength we need to resist the temptation to sin and through the work of the Holy Spirit to fight the battle against sin in order to live the victory of a holy life. Such a battle and such a victory are only possible if we remain vigilant, if we remain obedient, and if we are strengthened through prayer and the sacraments Jesus gave to His Church. Even though Satan still has the power to tempt the Christian to sin, we have God's promise that He will help us overcome the temptation because God's power to make us holy is greater than Satan's power to tempt us to sin.

 

Question: What promise does St. James make to those who persevere if faith in the time of trials and suffering? Where has this promise been made elsewhere in New Testament Scripture? See James 1:12;

Answer: James promises "the crown of life." Jesus also promised such a victor's prize to the faithful at Smyrna in Revelation 2:10: "I will give you the crown of life for your prize." The Greek word used for "crown" does not reflect a king's crown of authority but instead the victor's crown of an athlete who has endured the sufferings and hardships of competition and has won a race or an athletic competition.

 

Question: What is the "crown of life?" What other kinds of crowns are mentioned in New Testament Scripture?

Answer: The crown of life is salvation. Our Savior wore a "crown of thorns" [Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2], St. Paul writes about the "crown of rejoicing" [1 Thessalonians 2:9] and the "crown of righteousness" [2 Timothy 4:8]; and St. Peter wrote about the "crown of glory" [1 Peter 5:4]. But the phrase "crown of life" is only used two times in Scripture:

1.      by St. James in James 1:12 and

2.      by his kinsman Jesus in Revelation 2:10.

 

In the Revelation 2:10 passage Jesus provides us with an entire program for living which encompasses faithfulness, endurance, and loyalty bound by the love of Christ: "Look, the devil will send some of you to prison to put you to the test, and you must face hardships for ten days. Even if you have to die, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life for your prize. Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: for those who prove victorious will come to no harm from the second death." The first death is physical death and the second death is eternal condemnation at the Final Judgment [CCC# 677-681; Revelation 20:12; 2 Peter 3:12-13].

 

St. Teresa of Avila, who was very familiar with trials and suffering, expressed the determination to persevere in suffering in order to achieve the promise goal of eternal life in her spiritual diary Way of Perfection where she wrote: "..by making an earnest and most determined resolve not to halt until the goal (eternal life) is reached, whatever may come, whatever may happen, however much effort one needs to make, whoever may complain about one, whether one dies on the road or has no heart to face their trials one meets, even if the ground gives away under one's feet.." This is the kind of Christian resolve and endurance that merits the victor's crown!

 

Receiving the Word and putting it into practice:

James 1:16-18: "Make no mistake about this my dear brothers: all that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow caused by change. By his own choice he gave birth to us by the message of truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all his creation."

 

James affirms Jesus statement in Matthew 7:11 that our heavenly Father gives what is good to His children. James compares the changing light the universe, created by God who is the Creator of physical light [Genesis 1:14-18] and God who is also the source of spiritual light and of everything that is good. In the spiritual sense, "light" is holiness and truth while "darkness" symbolizes what is evil and debase:

        John 8:12: "When Jesus spoke to the people again, he said: 'I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life."

        1 Peter 2:9: "But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light."

        1 John 1:5b: "God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all."

 

God set the universe in motion and has given the plants and stars their motion and their shadows, which change in accord with their celestial paths. But unlike the heavenly bodies, which change paths and cast different shadows, there is no variation in God.

Question: Is God really constant? Is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the Old Testament the same unaltered God of the New Testament and the New Covenant in Christ? Hint: see Psalm 118:1; Hebrews 13:8 & John 1:1-5

Answer: God is constant and unchanging through all eternity.

        Psalm 118:1"Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever."

        Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever."

        John 1:2-3: He [Jesus] was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him."

 

James 1:18: "By his own choice he gave birth to us by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all his creation."

Question: How did God give birth to these 1st century Jewish Christians, and what or who is the "message of truth"?

Answer: The message of truth is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which God has revealed to man His plan of salvation, but the message of truth is also the Living Word, Jesus Himself through whom this faithful remnant of Jews and all of us have been reborn into the family of God through our Baptism into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ our Savior [CCC# 168; 684; 1214-15; etc.].

 

Question: How have these 1st century Israelites who have embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah become a "sort of first-fruits of all his creation"? What other generation of Israelites were called the "first-fruits and what is their connection to this 1st century AD generation of Christians? See Exodus 13:11-16; 1 Peter 1:23; Revelation 14:4.

Answer: The night of the Passover in Egypt, God redeemed the "firstborn" of Israel with the blood of a sacrificial lamb/kid [Exodus chapter 12]. These Israelites were the "firstfruits" of the Sinai Covenant generation, the holy priesthood of the "first-born of the Old Covenant Church. In the same way, the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, redeemed the first of the Israelites to come into the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus the Lamb. These first believers are also the "firstfruits" of the great human harvest that will be gathered into God's great "storehouse" that is heaven. It was no accident of history that Jesus' Resurrection should coincide with the Old Covenant Feast of Firstfruits, a feast that always fell on the day after the first Sabbath of the Holy Week of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, and which started the count 50 days later to the Feast of Pentecost, which also always fell on a Sunday. The Old Covenant Sabbath was on Saturday and so this feast was destined to always fall on a Sunday. This is the way the feast was kept until after Jesus' Resurrection when the Jewish authorities changed the date of this feast, and consequently the Feast of Pentecost which was supposed to come 50 days after Firstfruits, so these 2 feasts would no longer be literally fulfilled in Jesus' Resurrection and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to the New Covenant Church since they would no longer fall annually on a Sunday [see Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4; Acts 2:1; Leviticus 23:11 & 15].

 

Please read James 1:19-27: True Faith Exercised in the Right Expression of Religion

 

James 1:19-20: "Remember this, my dear (beloved) brothers: everyone should be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to human anger; God's saving justice is never served by human anger..."

 

James is drawing this plan of action from the wisdom of Ecclesiasticus 5:11-13: "Be quick to listen, and deliberate in giving an answer. If you understand the matter, give your neighbor an answer, if not keep your hand over your mouth. Both honor and disgrace come from talking; the tongue is its owner's downfall." He is implementing this wisdom in the light of Jesus' message in Matthew 5:22-48: "But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court,.. [..] You must therefore set no bounds to your love just as your heavenly Father sets none to his."

 

In 1:18 James referred to the effectiveness of the Gospel message of salvation but now he emphasizes the necessity of yielding to the Gospel message of salvation by "listening" or "hearing" the not just the audible words but to hear in our hearts and to respond with obedience to the Living Word calling us to salvation, justice, mercy, and love. The word "obey" is from the Latin word ob-audire, which means "to hear or listen to". For the Christian, to obey in faith is to freely submit in action to the word of the Gospel that has been heard because, "its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself" [CCC # 144].

 

Question: Being "quick to hear" and to be obedient to what is heard is only the first part of James' three pronged approach to the Gospel. What are James' other two prongs and why are they important to being receptive to the Gospel message of salvation?

Answer: We must also be "slow to speak" and "slow to anger" because as James adds, "God's saving justice is never served by human anger." This is a teaching St. Paul will repeat in Ephesians 4:31-32: "Any bitterness or bad temper or anger or shouting or abuse must be far removed from you, as must every kind of malice. Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ."

 

James 1:21-22 "so do away with all impurities and remnants of evil. Humbly welcome the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the Word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves."

 

The Venerable Bede's commentary on St. James' letter, he warns Christians that the first requirement for doing what is good is to confess one's sins and to turn away from evil. The Bede advises that no one upon whom sin has a hold can ever expect to be an effective conduit for the holy works of God to flow through him and out to the world.

Question: What must the baptized Christian do to make welcome the living Word in his life?

Answer: To humbly welcome the living Word the Christian must submit himself to God by admitting poverty of spirit; by mourning his sins; and by yielding himself meekly into the hands of the Master, the first 3 blessings of the New Covenant Law with which Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount [see Matthew 5:1-4]'and then it is necessary act, Christian faith is pro-active not static. This is what Jesus taught in His great homily when he compared the Christian to a light and to salt in Matthew 5:13-16. Each is only good if it serves the purpose for which it was created, the same is true with a Christian: "In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16

 

James 1:23-25 "But anyone who listens to the Word and takes no action is like someone who looks at his own features in a mirror and, once he has seen what he looks like, goes off and immediately forgets it. But anyone who looks steadily at the perfect law of freedom and keeps to it, not listening and forgetting, but putting it into practice will be blessed in every undertaking."

 

The man who looks into a mirror and forgets his image as soon as he walks away is a man who is too distracted to pay attention to his own reflection and to commit its image to memory. But one who studies the truth of the Gospel and acts upon it has fully embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the promise according to St. James is that he will be "blessed in every undertaking."

 

Question: What is the "perfect law of freedom" to which James refers in James 1:25? See Matthew 5:17-19; Psalm 19:7; 119:1-8; James 1:18.

Answer: Like the "word" or "message" of truth in James 1:18, "the perfect law of freedom" is for the Christian all the revelation of God from the 10 Commandments to the Gospel of salvation that is put into practice in the light of Jesus Christ.

Question: What makes it a "law of freedom"? See Romans 3:27; 6:15-18, 20-23; 7:1; and Galatians 4:21.

Answer: True liberty under the law is the unique privilege of the Christian under the New Law of faith. The Old Covenant Law was incapable of removing sin; it only convicted the covenant believer of sins when sins were committed, thereby committing the sinner to the penalty of sin which was death [Romans 7:9-11]. But Jesus Christ has freed man from bondage to sin and death and has restored humanity to God as adopted sons and daughters by an act of grace that leads to rebirth through Christian baptism. We have been release from slavery to sin and death because Christ has paid the price of our redemption with His blood. We are freed but our liberty does not mean that we have license to sin. We have a new Master to love and to serve and our obedience to Him will reward us with eternal life. [see St. Paul's teaching on how Christians are freed from slavery to the Old Covenant Law in Romans 7:1-13 in the Agape Bible study on St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, Chapter 7: Christian Freedom and the Emancipation from Old Covenant Law].

 

Question: Which Old Testament Patriarch is the model of such faith in action?

Answer: Abraham is the model of obedience and faith. He believed God's call and then acted upon that call by leaving for a land he had never seen and for a destiny he could not even imagine.

Question: Who is the perfect New Testament embodiment of faithful obedience, or "faith in action"?

Answer: The Virgin Mary is the most perfect embodiment of obedience of faith from the Annunciation to the Cross'she is the perfect Christian and the affirmation of God's gift of free will.

 

James 1:26-27: "Nobody who fails to keep a tight rein of the tongue can claim to be religious; this is mere self-deception; that person's religion is worthless. Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father, is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows in their hardships, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world."

 

The tongue can be a dangerous weapon. Psalm 34:13 records: "Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from any breath of deceit. Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it," and St. James counsels that one who exercises wisdom is slow to speak. James is very definite in his identification of a Christian as one who is humble, obedient to God and active in faith. If a Christian doesn't display active, vibrant faith and doesn't act upon what he has been taught, "that person's religion is worthless." Jesus taught in Matthew 7:21-27 that "...everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. [...]. But everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand."

 

Question: How does James define pure religion?

Answer: "Coming to the help of orphans and widows" and in "living in holiness and righteousness", in the world but not a part of the world, not influenced by the world's value system.

Question: Why does James choose widows and orphans as his example of those most in need of assistance?

Answer: Because in the 1st century AD no other group of people was so utterly defenseless. The Old Testament mentions widows and orphans as deserving of special protection [see Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalm 68:5; 146:9], and they were the first concern of the New Covenant Church in Acts 6:1ff, in 9:39, and to St. Paul in 1 Timothy 5:3ff. Bound in the blood of Christ the Church is a family of believers and like any family we have the responsibility to love and care for each other and to extend that love even to those outside the faith community because Jesus loved and suffered for them as well as for those of us who already belong to Him. Our obligation is to love as He loves and that is love without boundaries. This, James tells the faithful, is the exercise of true religion.

 

Question for group discussion:

Question: Is it possible to be Christian without being "religious?" The etymology of the English word "religion" is from the Latin religare, meaning "to tie, fasten, bind", or relegere "to gather up, treat with care."

 

For your consideration: As Christians we are bound or fastened to God in the Covenant by the oaths we swear which bind us to Him in prayer, praise, and worship. We swear an oath of belief, or one is sworn for us if we are too young, at our baptism; we make a 'profession of faith" at every Lord's Day Mass. The word "sacrament" comes from the Latin sacramentum, meaning "path, or solemn obligation/ oath." A sacramentum was the oath a Roman soldier swore in obedience to serve the Emperor. We participate in that binding and oath swearing in the exercise of the Sacraments of our faith. Religion is the expression of how we are bound to God in love, in worship and in service. Religion is also a composite of all the moral good that arises from a Christian's relationship with God and it is the practice of holiness toward God and towards each other which acknowledges God's place in our lives.

 

Answer: No, it is not possible to be Christian and not to be "religious" because the practice of our Christianity is realized in the active worship and active participation of our faith in communion with God and the Body of Christ which is His Church. It is this participation in faith and belief called "religion" that defines us as Christian. To say one was Christian but not religious would be like saying one was married but never felt any obligation out of love or duty toward a spouse, not to speak with that spouse, not to spend time with that spouse, not to eat at the dinner table with that spouse, or to live in harmony with that spouse. Such an arrangement would not be a relationship but would be a false marriage just as Christian without the binding tie of religion through worship and service is not an enduring relationship with God but is only a loose acquaintance that is both non-binding and non productive.

 

v     "...what does Yahweh your God ask of you? Only this: to fear Yahweh your God, to follow all his ways, to love him, to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and laws of Yahweh, which I am laying down for you today for your own good." Deuteronomy 10:12-13

v     "Jesus said to him, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hand the whole Law, and the Prophets too'." Matthew 22:37-40

 

Catechism references for James 1:12-27 [*indicates Scripture passage quoted in citation].

Scripture Passage in James

Catechism citation

Scripture passage in James

Catechism citation

1:13

2846

1:25

1972*

1:14-15

2847*

1:27

2208*

1:17

212; 2642

 

 

 

 

Resources used in this lesson:

1.      One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead

2.      Teachings of the Church Fathers, John R.Willis, S.J.

3.      Church History, Bishop Eusebius

4.      Church History, Father John Laux, M.A.

5.      The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson

6.      Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin

7.      Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters

8.      Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus

9.      Strong's Concordance

10.  The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians, Robert Eisenman

11.  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Gerald Bray

12.  Catechism of the Catholic Church

13.  Many Religions-One Covenant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

14.  Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Venerable Bede

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