James grew up in Jesus’ shadow. Literally. I mean what must it have been like to be the younger brother of Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus is the only child EVER to always honor His father and mother. Like a white font on a black background, James’ normal struggles with obedience and development would have stood out SO MUCH as a second child. Jan Brady had it easy compared to this guy!
As James grew up, he struggled to understand who his brother really was. John 7:5 lets us know that James did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God during Jesus’ earthly life. It would take a lot to convince your brother that you were divine.
However, eventually James became convinced. Eventually James became SO CONVINCED that Jesus was who He said He was, that James became a leader in the “JESUS IS GOD” movement. The book of Acts (and the history it writes down) records how for many years James led the First Church of Jerusalem – the very epicenter of Christianity.
What happened to change James’ mind? Did He hear Jesus preach a great sermon? Well, yes, but that isn’t when the change happened. Did He see Jesus heal sick people? Well, yes, but that isn’t what the catalyst was either. What was it? It was the empty tomb. The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed James’ entire life AND his eternity. His perspective was no longer bound to this world, but had him looking beyond and looking up.
Now, as the Pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James’ flock was experiencing some rough times. Church members had been beaten (Acts 5), martyred for their faith (Acts 7), and imprisoned (Acts 12). To make matters worse, a famine had settled in over the land of Judea, bringing hunger and poverty to the people. On a couple of occasions the Apostle Paul raised funds from churches in Antioch or Europe to bring resources back to the starving church James’ pastored. Times were tough. The Jerusalem church was experiencing (as James said in James 1:2) – “trials of various kinds.” Given the partial list I just mentioned … that is an understatement!
So James, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, shepherded his flock through that season of crisis. And not only them, but he wrote a letter that he mailed to Jewish Christians living everywhere around the world at that time, because the principles they were learning in their church applied to all followers of Jesus who were in the midst of crisis. Thankfully, by God’s grace, this letter that James wrote has been preserved and included in our Bibles as the Epistle of James.
As people who live today in the midst of crisis, we NEED this message.
So what does James tell us in his letter? Well, he tells us:
- Pray to God and ask Him to give us His perspective on our trials so we can be joyful (James 1:2-8).
- Be obedient to God’s Word in the midst of our trials. Instead of just reading blogs or listening to podcasts (nothing wrong with either of those… but they are not enough) we are to OBEY God’s word. We are to be activated, not just educated! (James 1:19-27)
- Be impartial toward people – treat the rich and the poor the same. In a church where resources were tight, there would have been temptations to cater to the rich … James warns against it (James 2:1-13)
- Allow trials to demonstrate what we REALLY BELIEVE by what we REALLY DO in the midst of this crisis (James 2:14-26)
- Tame our tongues in the midst of the crisis. We are all tempted to sin with our words, but in crisis and stress, the temptation is magnified. Gossip, boasting, mean-spirited criticism, and the like are all too common at this time. Be careful with what you say (or type … or tweet … or post) during this season. May our words glorify God in this crisis as they demonstrate our faith in God and our love for one another. (James 3:1-4:12)
- Allow this current crisis to clarify our perspective about the future. We are tempted to think that we can control things when times are good, but when calamity comes, we are reminded that we are not in charge. (James 4:13-5:12)
- That we would respond to this crisis by praying for the sick and for our situations in a way that demonstrates our faith in God (James 5:13-20)
In James later life, he learned that living in Jesus’ shadow was such a blessing … especially when he was in the midst of a multi-colored crisis. May all of us step into Jesus’ shadow as well, and be encouraged by this letter in this COVID-19 season of our lives. Scan back over that outline above and use it as a part of your Bible reading this week to set your perspective on Him.
I am praying for God’s wisdom for each of us today.