James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 1)

a letter full of practical wisdom

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

James, the half brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19) and the disciple that would become the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15; Gal 2) started out as one of Jesus’ skeptics. We read in the gospels that at different points Jesus family (including James) came to Jesus to try to convince him to stop his ministry and come home. (Mark 3:20-21) We also read of a time that his family teased Jesus about the claims that he was making.  However by the time James writes this letter he has a different attitude to Jesus.  Notice he doesn’t  refer to himself as the brother of Jesus but as his servant. He had witnessed first hand Jesus’ life, his death and had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus (1 Cor 15:7).  These encounters with the man whom he had once called brother caused him to realise that Jesus was no mere mortal, but was indeed the Messiah, the son of God. James testimony is a powerful witness to Jesus identity because if there is anyone that it would be hard to convince of our divinity it would be our very own family. James was convinced that Jesus was who he said he was and therefore deserved his absolute allegiance.

After Jesus ascension we read that James took on the leadership of the church in Jerusalem.  His ministry involved helping messianic Jews to understand their new found freedom in Christ. As James addresses his letter to those dispersed throughout the countries of the Ancient Near East he uses the greek word ‘diaspora’ which means “to sow”.  In doing so he causes those who have been scattered due to the break out of persecution and oppression to rethink their circumstances.  He urges them to remember that it is the soveriegn God who has planted them into their various contexts.  They are therefore missionaries and not migrants, sown people and not scattered people. It is a very different attitude to take in the face of trials and tribulations to think of ourselves not as a victim of our circumstances but intentionally planted within this context to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

Take a moment to read through the whole letter of James as a group.

  • From the reading of the letter itself, what do you think prompted James to write this letter?
  • Remembering that christianity is birthed from within a Jewish framework, if you were a first century Messianic Jew what would be some things you might have to wrestle with in terms of your new found faith?
  • Acts 15, we find a clash of cultures between gentile christians and Jewish christians, how do you see James speaking wisdom into what christianity looks like in practise?  Why do you think he gives the advice that he gives?
  • Imagine you were taking christianity to a new people group on the planet Mars, what would you consider to be the most important truths, practises, habits, disciplines they would need to learn in order to live out their faith in Christ?
  • Imagine James was writing a letter to us, what do you think he would think it most necessary to speak wisdom from heaven to us about?
  • How does thinking about yourself as sown rather than scattered change the way you think about your own life?

For Personal Reflection:

  • Think about this last week, and the week to come in what area’s of your life do you need God’s wisdom in order to be intentional for His kingdom?
  • Do you think of yourself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ?  How might you live differently if you thought of your relationship with God in terms of being a servant and Lord relationship?
James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Wisdom for each day:

Monday: wisdom that is first of all pure. 

In 3:17-18, James describes that wisdom from heaven has particular characteristics.  Everyday we are faced with choices, and discerning what is the right choice can sometimes be difficult but perhaps basing our decisions on these  characteristics might be helpful for gaining wisdom. Firstly he describes wisdom as pure. Purity in a biblical context relates to cleansing from sin, selfishness and pride.  In order to gain heavenly wisdom the first question to ask ourselves is, is this choice coming from a place of selfishness and pride within me? Or are my intentions pure?

Tuesday: wisdom that is peace-loving.

The opposite of peace is unrest.  We can experience unrest in all sorts of ways.  Perhaps we have made a decision that does not sit right with us.  Perhaps we have acted in ways that have caused turmoil and unrest within relationships.  A lack of an experience of peace might suggest that we have acted unwisely in some way. Is there anywhere in my life that I am lacking peace?  Is there anything that keeps me awake at night? What would it look like to gain peace in this area of my life?

Wednesday: wisdom that is considerate. 

At the heart of being considerate is really that we take time to consider the outcomes and the implications of our choices. We might find ourself incorrectly thinking that the choices that we make will only affect us without taking the time to think through what the implications of these choices will be for our relationship with God and for others in our lives. To be considerate is to consider how this will impact others in my life? What will this choice mean to God, to my spouse, for my children, for my friends, for my community and for myself?

Thursday: Wisdom that is submissive.

We live in a time where the word “submission” is almost a dirty word.  But in order to understand the word we need to look to Christ.  Jesus submitted himself to the will of the father.  In his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed one of the most profound prayers, three times…He asked that the burden of death would be lifted from his shoulders and yet he continued his prayer with “yet not my will but yours be done.”  Here is submission.  Jesus didn’t ignore his desire for his burden to be lifted, in fact He asked God to take it from him. Yet in the very same breath he submitted himself to the Father’s will trusting that the Father would do what is right. Is there an area of your life where you are struggling to submit?  What would it look like for you to foster a heart of submission?

Friday: Wisdom that is full of mercy and good fruit. 

There are two definitions of mercy. One is to show kindness, compassion or forgiveness to those to whom it is within our power to harm or punish. The second is somewhat connected; it is to alleviate someone’s suffering or pain.  James writes that wise choices are those that have the intention of bringing restoration to another.  It is the central point of the gospel. The question then is how can we, with God’s help bring forgiveness and reconciliation into other peoples lives?  What would it look like to be kind to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve our kindness?

Saturday: Wisdom that is impartial and sincere.

Throughout the old testament we catch glimpses of moments where favoritism caused turmoil within families.  For example we think of Joseph and his colourful coat that bred jealousy amongst his brothers. James picks up on favoritism in James 2 where he highlights those who show favoritism to those more wealthy.  But wisdom is impartial and sincere – it does not judge nor discount people based on status or wealth.  Where might God be calling you to be more impartial?

Coming up at the Minster

  • Love that Lasts marriage seminar “maintaining intimacy” Saturday 28th April.  Email steph.horrocks@theminster.org for more information.
  • Encounter prayer evening – an opportunity to gather together and seek the Lord.  Friday 27th April, 7.30pm-8.30pm.