THE LETTER OF ST. JAMES

LESSON 7: SEEKING GODLY WISDOM AND THE CALL TO CONVERSION

 

 

Merciful Lord,

To walk the "Narrow Path" of salvation is sometimes difficult.  There are times when the attachments to worldly things cause us to stumble, and there are times when the lure of material blessings blinds us to the true value of eternal blessings.  But in those times, Lord, we know that Your Spirit of truth calls us to repentance and when we sincerely mourn our sins and submit to You in humility that we can be set again on the true path to salvation.   Give us the gift of meekness that harnesses human pride so that in poverty of spirit we can recognize that we are not self-sufficient but that true glory comes from meekness that leads to strength through the indwelling of Your Holy Spirit in our lives.  We claim Your promise Lord, that when we draw near to You, You will draw near to us.  Send the Holy Spirit now, Lord, to guide us in our study of St. James' advice on seeking Godly wisdom and victory in submission to Your plan for our lives.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  St. James, pray for us!  Amen.

 

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"Scripture says that God resists the arrogant but gives grace to the humble.  We should associate with those to whom God's grace has been given." St. Clement, Bishop of Rome [m. 96?100 AD] Letter to the Corinthians I.30.2-3

 

"Draw near to God in humility, by walking in his footsteps, and he will draw near to you in his mercy, setting you free from all anxiety.  For nobody is far away from God in terms of physical distance; the problem is one of attitudes and emotions." The Venerable Bede, Commentary on the Epistle of St. James

 

 

In chapter 3 St. James admonished those who teach Scripture and doctrine of the Christian faith to remain true to the teachings of God that are fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and he counseled those who feel called to give that teaching on the responsibility that accompanies such a position of authority within a faith community.  Teachers must master the quality of their speech in teaching the truth of the Gospel of salvation as well as mastering their actions so that they teach not only with their tongues but with the example of righteous lives. The good Bishop warns in James 3:1 that teachers will receive a stricter judgment,  echoing Jesus' warning to the 1st century AD scribes who taught the Law of Moses and lived proud and unholy lives in Mark 12:34-40: "In his teaching he said, 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted respectfully in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets; these are the men who devour the property of widows and for show offer long prayers.  The more severe will be the sentence they receive.'"  But he also announced that a man or woman who harnesses the power of speech reaches "perfection" [James 3:2].  James does not mean such a person does not commit other sins, but to succeed in restraining the tongue requires the kind of self-control that can resist the temptation to sin.  Such a person exercises Godly wisdom and humble submission to God.  The proper use of the tongue shows one's heart is in the right place, just as misuse of the tongue is a sign that one's heart is not "right" with God, a teaching Jesus' gave in Matthew 12:34b-37: "For words flow out of what fills the heart.  Good people draw good things from their store of goodness; bad people draw bad things form their store of badness.  So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word people utter they will answer on Judgment Day, since it is by your words you will be justified, and by your words condemned."

 

St. James now moves from the double edged sword of the human tongue to the true qualities of Christian wisdom.  The necessity of Godly wisdom is a subject James introduced in 1:5-8 when he urged all Christians to pray to God for wisdom.  Turning to the subject of wisdom again in James 3:13 our gentle bishop urges the faithful to give evidence of Godly wisdom in the good deeds of their lives; then in 3:14-16 James turns to those signs of false or worldly wisdom and contrasts those failures with the qualities of genuine wisdom which comes from God in verses 17-18.  This entire section from 3:13-4:10 is a call for Christian conversion; a call to turn away from the world and deadly sin and to turn to God as the source of wisdom and eternal life.

 

Please read James 3:13-18: Genuine wisdom and its opposite

James 3:13-15:"Anyone who is wise or understanding among you should from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness (meekness) of wisdom.  But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or selfish ambition, do not be boastful or hide the truth with lies; this is not wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish."

 

In this passage the word "gentleness" is the Greek word prautes [prah-oo'-tace], which can also be translated "meekness."  It is from the Greek root praus [prah-ooce'] meaning "meek", a word used in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:5 when Jesus said: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land." [New American translation].  Biblical scholar Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson believes it is probably not accidental that James has chosen to use this word whose primary root is the Greek word praus: "the entire passage takes up the contrast between the qualities of mildness associated with God's wisdom and the harshness of worldly wisdom based on envy.  Meekness is a special theme in Matthew (5:5; 11:29; 21:5), but it is claimed as a moral virtue also in 1 Cor 4:21; 2 Cor 10:1; Gal 5:23; Eph 4:2; Col 3:12; 2 Tim 2:25; Titus 3:2; 1 Pet 3:15." The Anchor Bible Commentary: James, page 270. James uses the Greek word prautes [prah-oo'-tace] in James 1:21 and 3:13; it is also found in 1 Peter 3:15 [see Strong's; prautes #4240] . 

 

The Greek word primary root praus, [pronounced prah-ooce'], means mild, humble, or meek [see Strong's # 4239].  This word only appears four times in the Greek New Testament: three times in Matthew [5:5; 11:29; 21:5] and once in 1 Peter 3:4. In both Matthew 11:29 and 21:5 Jesus Himself is called "meek" just as the prophet Moses is called "meek" or praus in Numbers 12:3 in the Septuagint Old Testament translation: "Now, Moses himself was by far the meekest on the face of the earth." Numbers 12:3 [Strong's # 6035, in Hebrew anav, and in the Greek Septuagint translation the word is praus; The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd, London, 8th reprinting 1999; page 190].

 

In addition to the beatitude in Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek..," this Greek word for "meek," praus, is only found in the New Testament passages of:

Matthew 11:29-30

"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Matthew 21:5

"Say to daughter Zion, 'Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden."

1 Peter 3:4

"...but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle [meek] and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God."

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2005 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

This is another Greek word to which Christians gave a uniquely Christian character, with "meekness" becoming the symbol of a higher Christian virtue as illustrated in these three verses.  The pre-Christian Greek culture meaning of this word expressed an outward conduct as relating to only men and not necessarily in a positive light [see Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament volume I, page 37].  Christians, however, gave the word a quality expressing an inward virtue that is related primarily to God.  Christian "meekness" is based on humility which is expressed in the New Testament as the supernatural quality that is the outgrowth of a renewed nature.  This renewal can only come when we surrender our lives to God and seek His divine will in our lives.  To the pagan Greeks this word often implied condescension, but to the Christian this word implies submission of the human will to the will of God.  This submission is, however, not an indication of weakness.  For the Christian, submission to God's control results in strength'strength that is not our own but the strength that comes from God's will working through our lives.  The Bible is full of stories of God intervening in the lives of men and women who call on Him for His help and stories of men and women willing to help others, but there are very few examples of God intervening in the lives of those who prefer their own plan and destiny, except in cases where His intervention is judgment to bring about redemption.  In the Christian understanding of meekness, it is a virtue that indicates submission to the will of God which in return blesses the Christian with genuine strength and wisdom.  God always seems to weave the unexpected into His plan.  In His plan it isn't the proud or the strong that conquer and claim the reward of kneeling before the King of Kings, it's the meek and the humble who are the victors and their victory comes upon their surrender to the will of the Most High God!

 

Question: James urges Christians: "from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom." According to James how does one show evidence of the meekness or gentleness of Godly wisdom?

Answer: Consistent with James central theme, it is one's good deeds that provide proof of Godly wisdom.

 

Question: In what two earlier passages in his discourse does James appeal for both wisdom and gentleness or meekness?

Answer: The passage in which James urges Christians to pray to God for wisdom in James 1:5 and the plea in 1:21 to "Humbly welcome the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls."

 

James states that the antithesis to the wise and Godly man is the man who has selfish ambition in his heart.  In Scripture the heart is the reservoir of one's affections, intentions, and intelligence [Genesis 6:5; Exodus 4:21; Deuteronomy 6:6; Psalm 11:2; James 1:26; 4:8]. 

Question: What is the contrast that James is making in James 3:13-15 between the wisdom of God from a meek heart and worldly wisdom from a selfish heart?

Answer: He is contrasting the qualities of meekness and gentleness which is associated with our conformity to God's wisdom with the hardness of worldly wisdom which is based on ambition, jealousy, pride, and lies.  Jesus declared the absolute necessity of meekness and gentleness in the Beatitudes when He said in Matthew 5:5 [New American]: "Blessed are the meek; they shall inherit the land."

 

Question: Who are the meek and why will the meek inherit the land?  See 1 Peter 1:3-5

Answer: St. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time." 1 Peter 1:3-5The fact is that Satan no longer has the power to dominate us because we have been reborn through our baptism into the family of God.  We belong to the God who created and dominates the earth, and as His children and his heirs we inherit the earth.  CCC # 299: "...for God willed creation as a gift addressed to man, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him." In relating this promise to the Old Testament "the land" is probably a more accurate translation than "the earth", and the New American Bible translation reflects this interpretation [the same Hebrew word is translated as both "land" and "earth"].  In the Old Testament references to "the land" refer to the Promised land of Israel [Numbers 20:12 ] which became a Biblical "type" for heaven, as the inspired writer of Hebrews relates in Hebrews 11:9-10 speaking of Abraham's obedient journey from Ur of the Chaldees [Genesis 11:28; 15:7] to Canaan [Genesis 12:4-5]: "By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God." [also see Revelation 21:10-11].

 

The 1st century Jews and Israelites were looking for the restoration of "the land" of Israel as promised by the Old Testament prophets and as it would be established in the Messiah's kingdom on earth as the home of the faithful Covenant people, the New Covenant people as prophesized in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  As a Biblical "type" of God's kingdom this promise can not only be seen as the promise of heaven, a promise already given in the first beatitude in Matthew 5:3, but it can also be seen as a promise of the inheritance of the earth through the "new Israel" which the Messiah is prophesized to establish the promised 5th everlasting kingdom of Daniel 2:44 and 7:27.  This is what most 1st century Jews and Israelites had been praying for.  The promise of this beatitude and the Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the Universal Church as the "new Israel", the earthly home of the Covenant people until they complete their "exodus" and freed of their exile enter their "promised land", their home in heaven.  We, as the New Covenant Children of God are the inheritors of this "land", the "new Israel" of the Universal/ Catholic Church [catholic means universal], a world-wide kingdom that carries the world-wide blessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with power and dominion over the earth "to bind and loose" [Matthew 16:19; 18:18; John 20:22-23], and the invitation of His gift of salvation to every nation on the face of the earth! [For additional passages affirming the Church's dominion over the earth also see Matthew 28:18-20 & Luke 10:16].

 

Question: In James 3:14-15 what does James characterize as human or "fleshly" wisdom?

Answer:

St. James' list of fleshly wisdom:

  1. Bitter jealousy
  2. ambition
  3. boastfulness
  4. deceit 

 

St. Paul's list of works of the flesh:

  1. sexual immorality
  2. impurity
  3. sexuality (licentiousness/ immodesty)
  4. idolatry
  5. sorcery
  6. hatreds
  7. rivalry
  8. jealousy
  9. outbursts of anger
  10. quarrels
  11. disagreements/ acts of selfishness
  12. factions
  13. malice/envy
  14. drunkenness
  15. orgies
  16. and the like

St. Paul concludes his list with the dire warning: "people who behave in these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God."

 

Bitter jealousy or envy is on both St. Paul's list and St. James' list.  Biblical scholar Luke Johnson identifies St. James' "bitter jealousy" as malicious envy.  He points out that jealousy is presented as both a positive and a negative in Scripture.

Positive aspects of jealousy in Scripture:

 

Negative aspects of jealousy/envy in Scripture:

 

In this Biblical sense jealousy is a certain sorrow over what one does not have that another has.  But the root of envy, the negative side of jealousy, is malice toward the one who possesses what the other does not have.  In this sense it is envy that made those opposed to Jesus hate Him and desire His death.  It was envy that caused Cain to kill Abel because he did not have God's approval and Abel did.  James identifies envy as the opposite of Godly wisdom that is the bitter fruit which leads to sin and death: "But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or selfish ambition, do not be boastful or hide the truth with lies; this is not the wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish" (James 3:15). This verse echoes James' earlier warning in James 1:16-17: "Make no mistake about this, my dear (beloved) 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 alternation, no shadow caused by change."  Taken together with James statement in 1:5 that we must pray for wisdom, it is clear that James understands Godly wisdom to be a divine gift, an understanding perfectly consistent with the Old Covenant teaching found in the Torah, in the wisdom books and in the Prophets [i.e., Psalm 50:8; Jeremiah 9:11; Proverbs 2:6; 8:30-36; Wisdom 7:15-22; 9:13-18; Job 28:20-23].  In the tradition of the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, the Venerable Bede wisely counsels Christians: "The heart is like a root and contains within itself all the fruit of the action which proceeds from it. Someone who operates from a spirit of jealousy and strife will do nothing which is not tainted with evil. However good it may appear to others."

 

Question: How does the Catechism of the Catholic Church define envy?  See CCC# 2539-40?  What is the remedy for envy?

Answer: The Catechism identifies envy as a capital sin that is a refusal of love and is fueled by pride.  The remedy for envy is meekness and humility.

 

Question: St. James identifies this false wisdom as being of the flesh in 3:15, but from where else is this false and worldly wisdom generated?

Answer:  It is also of the devil: "this is not wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish." The adjective James uses in the Greek text is daimoniodes, [da-hee-mon-ee'dace], which is best translated "demonic" or "demon-like."  It is a New Testament hapax legomena, unattested previously in Christian literature [see Anchor Bible Commentary: James page 272]. 

 

Question: Do the fallen angels actively oppose God's work?  See 1 Corinthians 10:20-21; 1Timothy 4:1.

Answer: Yes, and we are foolish indeed if we underestimate our enemy.  In James 2:19 James has already mentioned demons who intellectually acknowledge the existence of God but do not submit to works of love and righteousness.   However, the use of the word "demonic" in 3:15 also gives greater significance to James reference in 3:6 to the evil power of the tongue set on fire by hell-Gehenna. 

 

James 3:16-18: "Wherever there are jealousy and ambition, there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable, kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it.  The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice."

 

In his commentary on this passage the Venerable Bede writes: "The wisdom from above is pure because it thinks only pure thoughts, and it is peaceable because it does not dissociate itself from others on account of its pride. The other virtues mentioned here are the common possessions of any wise person, and they will manifest themselves in a life full of mercy and other good works."

 

This is the third time James has used the Greek word anothen [an'-o-then], "from above" in his discourse:

  1. James 1:17: "All that is good, all that is perfect, is given us from above"
  2. James 3:15: "this is not the wisdom that comes down from above"
  3. James 3:17: "whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure"

 

Our wisdom coming down from above which is "something pure" recalls another use of this word anothen found in the Gospel of St. John chapter 3 in Jesus' discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus concerning the necessity of being re-born from "above": "In all truth (amen, amen) I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above (anothen)...[..].  Do not be surprised when I say: You must be born from above (anothen)." In the context of  the Gospel of John 3:3 and 7, and the passage concerning the gift of wisdom in Isaiah 11:1, this passage in James identifies "wisdom" as a gift of the Holy Spirit who came down from above to give new life to the baptized believer. [see CCC# 1831].

 

The connection James makes between purity from the Holy Spirit and the condition of the human heart is also significant.  James mentions the condition of the heart in James 3:14 and now he speaks of the purity of the Holy Spirit, that "something pure" in James 3:17.  Is James thinking of the Beatitude in Matthew 5:8 when Jesus spoke of the necessity for a "pure heart:"  "Blessed are the clean (pure) of heart, for they will see God."  As we strive for Godly wisdom manifested in our works of love, the Holy Spirit continues to move more deeply within our hearts, spiritually transforming us into the image of our Savior, an image that calls for a pure and holy heart as our Savior is pure and holy.  We feel the need to empty ourselves of worldly attractions and concerns and to fill our entire being with the love of Jesus our Savior, becoming an imitation of Christ in our lives and in a faith which generates works of compassion.  Our cry becomes the cry of David, the beloved's in Psalm 51:12 (verse 10 in some translations), "A clean heart create for me, God; renew in me a steadfast spirit."

Question:  Do you have a clean heart?  How do you know if you posses one?  You will know when you see the face of God in the faces of the members of the human family so in need of His love and compassion.  This is the way Mother Therese saw the face of God:  Matthew 5:8, "Blessed are the clean of heart for they will see God..."

 

In his discourse On Nature and Grace, St. Augustine wrote about the wisdom from above that purifies the heart and tames the tongue: "This is the wisdom which tames the tongue, descending from above, not springing from the human heart.  Would anyone dare to snatch it away from the grace of God and, with overweening pride, place it in the power of man?"

 

Question: How does James characterize the purity of Godly wisdom as opposed to earthly wisdom in James 3:17-18?

Answer:

  1. peaceable
  2. kindly
  3. considerate
  4. full of mercy
  5. full of good deeds
  6. no partiality
  7. no hypocrisy

 

Finally there is James' beautiful closing statement to this section, "The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice" which immediately recalls Jesus' Beatitude concerning the peacemakers in Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be recognized as children of God."  As children of God our Father we follow in His footsteps of peace, offering ourselves as champions of justice and righteousness in the works of charity we offer in His name and in which we contribute to the harvest of souls.  The Venerable Bede in commenting on this passage urges Christians to sow the earth with the best seed to yield a fruitful harvest: "Everything we do in this life contains within it the seed of future regard.  Paul says the same thing when he writes: 'Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.' Therefore it is rightly said that the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  For the fruit of righteousness is eternal life, which is the reward for good works, so that those who desire peace and implement it sow the earth with the best of seed there is, and by their daily actions gain an increase which entitles them to inherit the fruits of life in heaven.  The reprobates also reap what they sow, because they will also receive their just reward at the judgment.  But that reward will not be the fruits of eternal life, but corruption, because they will reap the eternal punishment due to the corruption in which they passed their lives on earth."  The Venerable Bede, quoting St. Paul from Galatians 6:7; Concerning the Epistle of St. James, chapter 3.

 

Next James contrasts the peace sown by peacemakers to the disharmony, disunity and turmoil sown by others.

Please read James 4:1-4:10:  The Lack of Godly Wisdom Which Sows Disunity

 

James 4:1-3: "Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start?  Is it not precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?  You want something and you lack it; so you kill.  You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force.  It is because you do not pray that you do not receive; when you do pray and do not receive, it is because you prayed wrongly, wanting to indulge your passions."

 

James continues the discussion he began in 3:13-18 with a rhetorical question in which the interrogative "From where" is repeated twice [in the literal Greek]: "From where do wars and from where do these battles come?" a liking for repetition that James has already displayed in 1:19 and 3:9 [see Hartin page 196] along with his fondness for rhetorical questions [see 2:4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 25; 3:11, 12, 13; 4:4, 5, 12, and 14]. 

 

A key question has to be to whom is James speaking at this point?  Is he only addressing Jewish-Christians or a mixed audience of Jewish-Christians and Old Covenant Jews?  The reference to "the 12 tribes", to "your synagogue" and to "those who insult the honorable name (of Jesus)" in James 1:1; 2:2 and 2:7 seems to suggest the audience is a mix of Jews and Jewish Christians.

 

By using the words "wars" and "battles" James turns the discussion to the dissention and discord within faith communities which are generated by the sin of "envy" which James introduced earlier in 3:14.  Now he says: "You want something and you lack it; so you kill. You have an ambition (envy) that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force."  In Romans 11:6 St. Paul spoke of the Jewish-Christians as a holy "remnant, set aside by grace."  And as to those Jews who were blinded so that the Gentiles could be brought into the covenant, Paul assures the Roman Jewish Christians and Gentiles that it is still possible to lead them to salvation: "What am I saying is this: Was this stumbling to lead to their final downfall?  Out of the question!  On the contrary, their failure has brought salvation for the Gentiles, in order to stir them to envy.  And if their fall has proved a great gain to the world, and their loss has proved a great gain to the Gentiles how much greater a gain will come when all is restored to them!" Romans 11:11-12.  It is possible that the discord James is referring to is the disunity and fighting between the Jewish communities that are torn apart over the question of acceptance or rejection of the New Covenant in Jesus of Nazareth.

Question: In this passage James makes 3 statements identifying the cause of the disunity within some covenant communities.  What are they?

Answer:

  1. they desire what they do not have
  2. they kill because they are filled with envy over what they cannot obtain
  3. they fight and wage war to get their way

 

 This envy that leads to wars and battles also, according to James in 4:2, leads to "killings."  Bible scholars are divided as to what James meant by accusing the troublemakers of being responsible for "killings."  The word "kill" might be used as dramatic language that illustrates the damage such divisions can cause to the immortal souls of those caught in the grip of such unrighteous bickering, or as other scholars suggest, if militant Jews caused rioting in the mixed Jewish/Christian community, Christians may be dying as a result of such unrest.  Paul's preaching caused a number of riots. Even James was fearful that the controversy swirling around St. Paul would cause rioting when Paul visited Jerusalem in the spring of 58 in Acts 21:20-22.  Violent Jewish anti-Christian reactions almost took Paul's life on several occasions and in the Book Acts James Zebedee's martyrdom is recorded and Jesus mentions the martyrdom His servant Antipas in Revelation 2:13.

 

Question: What vices seem to be the main causes of divisions with the community of God's people?

Answer: Pride, jealousy and the desire to control others.  James identifies the struggles, the petty jealousies and rivalries we feel within ourselves which can erupt into conflicts within the community.  These battles are initiated by those who lack "poverty of spirit" [see Matthew 5:2] and who exhibit instead pride, meanness of spirit, and a lack of self-sacrificial love.  St. José Maria Escriva wrote that unchecked these selfish passions can pull you away from the pull of God's grace: "Heaven pulls you upwards; you drag yourself downward.  And don't seek excuses, that is what you are doing.  If you go on like that, you will tear yourself apart."  St. José Maria Escriva, Furrow, 851

 

Question: What is it that James says causes the covenant believer who sows discord to indulge his wrong directed passions?

Answer: He does not pray or when he does, he prays without wisdom.  This verse recalls James 1:5: "Any of you who lacks wisdom must ask God, who gives to all generously...".  The Venerable Bede wrote of such Christians, "He asks wrongly who shows no regard for the Lord's commandments and yet seeks heavenly gifts.  He also asks wrongly who, having lost his taste for heavenly things, seeks only earthly things, not for sustaining his human weakness but to enable him to indulge himself."

Question: Jesus gave instruction to the Apostles and disciples on how they should pray.  What did He teach them?  See Matthew 6:5-13.

Answer: Jesus taught them to pray with humility, addressing your prayer privately and in secret to God.  Then He gave them what we call "The Lord's Prayer."  It is a prayer composed of 7 petitions which focus on submission to the will of God, a petition for the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist, mercy and forgiveness, and perseverance from temptation.  Also see "The Sermon on the Mount" study, Lessons # 8 and #9.

Question: What is absent from the Lord's Prayer and what does Jesus teach concerning everyday worries in Matthew 6:33?

Answer: A petition with reference to material gain or selfishness ambition is lacking in this perfect prayer.  In Matthew 6:33 Jesus warms believers, "Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own." To obtain the reward of eternal life should be our ambition, not earthly desires.

 

Question: There are times when we may not know how to pray.  What does St. Paul advise that we should do in those times in Romans 8:26-27?

Answer: That we should trust the Holy Spirit to pray for us: "..the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God's holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God." And even in those times when God seems to be far from us we need to remember David's prayer in Psalm 66 when David expressed his assurance that God always hears the prayer of a repentant heart; Psalm 66:16-20: "Come and listen, all who fear God, while I tell what he has done for me.  To him I cried aloud, high praise was on my tongue.  Had I been aware of guilt in my heart, the Lord would not have listened, but in fact God did listen, attentive to the sound of my prayer.  Blessed be God who has not turned away my prayer, nor his own faithful love from me."  It isn't that God hasn't heard the unrepentant sinner; it is just that the sinner has to address his sin and repair his damaged relationship with God before the next issue can be addressed by His merciful and loving Father, nothing else can be more important.

 

St. James has accused those who are not behaving with Godly wisdom of contributing to death in the community, perhaps literally as well as spiritually.  However, now his language gets even stronger as he accuses those disruptive forces of being adulteresses.

James 4:4: "Adulterers!  Do you not realize that love for the world is hatred for God?  Anyone who chooses the world for a friend is constituted an enemy of God. 

Please notice that James not only uses very strong language in this passage, calling his Jewish kinsmen, who cause discord in the community "adulterers" and those who "hate," but in the literal text the word is "adulteresses" in the feminine. 

Question: In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament how does God image His covenantal relationship with the Church? Consult the chart "The Symbolic Images of The Old Testament Prophets" or look up these verses: Isaiah 49:14-21; 50:1; 62:4-5; Ezekiel 16:7-14; Jeremiah 2:2-7; 31:22; 51:5; Matthew 22:2ff; John 3:28-29; Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9, and 17.

Answer: In Scripture God's love for His covenant people has been represented by the love of a husband for his wife; God is the Bridegroom and the Church is His virginal Bride.

Question: In the Old Testament, when the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and His Church is ruptured by the holy people of God falling into apostasy by worshipping false idols, how is this sin symbolically imaged?   See the chart "The Symbolic Images of The Old Testament Prophets" or look up these verses: Ezekiel 16:15-34; 23:1-12; Jeremiah 3:6-10; 13:22-27; Hosea 1:2b; 4:10-14.

Answer: In worshipping a god other than Yahweh or placing anything in greater importance than God, Israel the Bride of Yahweh becomes an adulteress.   

Question: What is it that some Jews/Jewish-Christians are doing that earns this condemnation from James?  Why would James consider this behavior to be classified as the sin of idolatry-adultery?

Answer: They are not putting God first but are choosing the wisdom of the world, power, influence, material wealth, over the importance of God in their lives; in essence they are "worshipping" worldly things which becomes their false idols.

Question: When did Jesus use similar language to condemn His generation of covenant people?  When did Peter use similar language? What other generation was condemned in this way as an adulterous, corrupt or perverse community or generation?  Hint: see Matthew 12:39 (literally "adulterous"); 16:4 (literally "adulterous"); Mark 9:19; Luke 9:41; 17:17; Acts 2:40; Numbers 14:27; and Deuteronomy 32:20

Answer: Both the Exodus generation and Jesus' generation had been witness to the miracles of Yahweh that no other generation of covenant people had ever witnessed and yet many still did not believe. Their unbelief condemned them and in James' eyes the rejection of Jesus as Messiah was a rejection of belief in the true God of Israel, the Jews who rejected Jesus became "adulteresses" to the promised New Covenant in the Messiah.

 

James 4:5-6"Can you not see the point of the saying in Scripture, 'The longing of the spirit he sent to dwell in us is a jealous longing.'?  But he has given us an even greater grace, as Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but he accords his favor to the humble.'"

In the literal Greek this sentence begins "Or do you think that in vain..." introducing an interrogative sentence in the form of another rhetorical statement.  This is one of the most disputed verses in James' letter.  It is difficult to identify the Scripture passages James is referencing.  The Greek phrase he graphe legei, "The Scripture says" or "saying in Scripture" in the New Testament is usually a formula which introduces a direct quotation from an Old Testament passage [i.e. John 7:38; Acts 8:32; Romans 10:11; Galatians 4:30; 1Timothy 5:18; etc.].  James has already made references to Old Testament Scripture, quoting Leviticus 19:18 in James 2:8 and Genesis 15:6 quoted in James 2:23.  The problem is that this scriptural citation in James 4:5 has not been identified.  James usually quotes from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which can sometimes be slightly rephrased from the Hebrew text but this troublesome passage is not found in the Septuagint.  Much ink has been spilled by Biblical scholars on this unidentified scriptural passage in James 4:5 but the best explanation seems to be that James is not referring to one Scripture passage in particular but to all of Scripture in general with the verse translated as two questions: "Do you think the Scripture speaks in vain?  Does the spirit that God made to dwell in us yearn enviously?" as Luke Timothy Johnson translates this passage. It is also possible that James is quoting some lost text such as an apocryphal work that the bishop considered inspired or perhaps he is quoting from a passage of Hebrew Scripture that is unknown to modern scholars.  The quotation from Hebrew Scriptures that is closest to James' reference is Exodus 20:5b, "For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God..."

 

In 4:6 James refers to sacred Scripture [meaning the Old Testament] again: "But he has given us an even greater grace, as Scripture says: 'God opposes the proud but he accords his favor to the humble.'"  In quoting this Old Testament passage, James assures his audience that God's grace is greater than our tendency to be drawn to sin, and his reference to God's favor to the humble returns to one of James' basic themes which he introduced in James 1:9: "It is right that the brother in humble circumstances should glory in being lifted up...".  This time the Scripture reference James makes is identified as coming from the Septuagint, in Proverbs 3:34: "The Lord resists the proud; but accords his favor to the humble." This same passage is also quoted in the New Testament by St. Peter in 1 Peter 5:5 and in a letter written by St. Clement in 1 Clement 30.3. [note: the only difference is the Septuagint has Kyrios (Lord) while James uses "God"].

 

James' point is that God has put His spirit in us so that we, in humility, will desire for ourselves what He desires for us, but it is interesting that James uses the positive language of God's jealousy in James 4:5 just after the language of adultery which is connected with the imagery of covenantal fidelity.  The reference to God's jealousy recalls Paul's passage in 2 Corinthians 11:2 which concerns God's covenantal marriage relationship with the Church, that God guards with a husband's jealousy for his bride: "The jealousy that I feel for you is, you see, God's own jealousy: I gave you all in marriage to a single husband, a virgin pure for presentation to Christ."

 

In quoting from this passage from The Letter of James the Catechism of the Catholic Church records: "'You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.'  If we ask with a divided heart, we are 'adulterers'; God cannot answer us, for he desires our well-being, our life.  'Or do you suppose that it is in vain that the scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he had made to dwell in us?"' That our God is 'jealous' for us is the sign of how true his love is.  If we enter into the desire of his Spirit, we shall be heard.

'Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.'(Evagrius Ponticus)

'God wills that our desires should be exercised in prayer that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give.'" (St. Augustine).  CCC# 2737

 

James 4:7-9: "Give in to God, then; resist the devil, and he will run away from you.  The nearer you go to God, the nearer God will come to you.  Clean your hands, you sinners, and clear your minds, you waverers.  Appreciate your wretchedness, and weep for it in misery.  Your laughter must be turned to grief, your happiness to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up."

James' theme of humility carries him into a plea for repentance and conversion. 

 

Question: Who are the "waverers" James scolds in 4:8 who need to clear their minds?  Hint: see James 1:5-8.

Answer: The "waverers" are those of divided hearts and minds that James said did not receive wisdom when they prayed in James 1:6-8: "But the prayer must be made with faith, and no trace of doubt, because a person who has doubts is like the waves thrown up in the sea by the buffeting of the wind.  That sort of person, in two minds, inconsistent in every activity, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

 

Question: What does James identify as the 5 step process to repentance and conversion?  What are the 2 promises associated with submitting to confession, repentance and conversion?

Answer:

  1. Submission to God: "Give in (submit) to God.."
  2. Resist the devil
  3. Offer repentance for your sins (clean your hands and minds)
  4. Mourn your sins and be accountable for them
  5. Humble yourself before the Lord

The two promises associated with this 5 step process are:

1.      that God will come to you as you draw near to Him and

2.       He will "lift you up" to eternal life. 

 

James' admonition to mourn our sins "appreciate your wretchedness and weep for it in misery.  Your laughter must be turned to grief, your happiness to gloom." recalls Jesus' beatitude "Blessed are they who mourn" in Matthew 5:4(5).  Jesus' promise is that those who mourn will be comforted.  James' promises those who mourn their sins will be "lifted up" to eternal life!

 

In 1 Peter 5:5b-6, St. Peter expresses this same call for humility by also quoting Proverbs 3:34 as St. James did in James 4:6, but for St. Peter the subject is submission in humility instead of repentance: "Humility towards one another must be the garment you all wear constantly, because God opposes the proud but accords his favor to the humble.  Bow down, then, before the power of God now, so that he may raise you up in due time..."

 

Beloved God and Father, give us all the humility to submit to You in repentance and the meekness and to bow down before Your awesome power so that we may be "lifted up",  "in due time" to eternal life.  Amen!

 

Questions for group discussion:

Question: How does St. James' teaching on the exercise of true wisdom and humility compare with the Old Testament teaching on both these subjects found in Ecclesiasticus 3:17-29 and 19:17-26?  How has James applied this Old Covenant wisdom teaching in his address?

Question: What have you noticed that has led to disunity within faith communities?  What can the faithful do to avoid such destructive divisions?  What role does proper catechists play in promoting unity within a faith community? 

Question: Is the government of a faith community a democracy or a hierarchy?  Why is it one and why can't it be the other and still remain true to the teaching of Jesus Christ?

 

Catechism references for James 3:13-4:10

[*indicates passage quoted in citation]:

3:13

584; 1716-1717

3:13-15

1814-15;1950; 1954; 1831

3:14-15

2539-40

4:1-10

2737*

4:2-5

2737

 

Resources used in this lesson

  1. Ancient Christian Writers: The Didache, The Newman Press, 1948.
  2. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, Kenneth D. Whitehead
  3. Teachings of the Church Fathers, John R. Willis, S.J.
  4. The Anchor Bible: The Letter of James, Luke Timothy Johnson
  5. Sacra Pagina: James, Father Patrick Hartin
  6. Navarre Bible Commentary: Catholic Letters
  7. Strong's Concordance
  8. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, edited by Gerald Bray
  9. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  10. Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Venerable Bede
  11. Christianity and the Roman Empire, Ralph M. Novak
  12. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English, Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd, London, 8th reprinting 1999; page 190].

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