(1) This letter was written by Jesus’s half-brother James, who was one of my beloved servants. I inspired him to write this letter to all my people, spread far and wide not only by region, but also through time, which is how you are reading this letter now.
(2-4) Beloved, it may seem counterintuitive to you, but when you face difficulties in your life, which I promise you will, it is a cause for joy. Suffering, although hard to bear at the time, makes you stronger and more patient. Make sure you allow space for these difficulties to transform you completely. It will take your whole life, but I promise it will be worth it. It is my plan to mold you into my image! These trials will make you realize that your joy is found not in your day to day comforts, but in me, your only true joy.
(5-8) It is my delight to give you wisdom and knowledge of me. Just come and ask. You will be amazed at my generosity but keep your faith in me and not in your own resources. I have noticed how you come and ask me, but then before I can even respond, you place your trust back in your own feeble abilities. Stop being double-minded; you cannot have it both ways, and I am the only way that works.
(9-11) Sometimes, you get too focused on the here-and-now and on what the world says is important—riches, success, comfort. But listen, I will bless the afflicted–the one who clings to me when there is no worldly hope–not the rich man who says, “Hey look at everything I have accomplished.” If you keep putting these secondary things first, you will always be disappointed. Someday, you will be sitting alone in your broken-down house and threadbare clothes wondering what happened. Child, eternal beauty is found only in me. All earthly beauty reflects my eternal glory.
(12) Hold fast to me no matter how difficult things become because when you persevere, I will help you to remember the most amazing reward, the crown of eternal life purchased for you by my Son. I promise.
(13-15) Child, I know that when you are facing hard circumstances and you want to call it quits or give in to sin for a season, you sometimes wonder why I am tempting you. You need to know that I am never tempted by evil and I never tempt anyone. Temptations may arise from your flesh, from the world, or from the devil, but they never come from me.
Focus on these words: I know your heart better than you do. If sin did not cloud your self-awareness so much, you would know that when temptations to sin come, you give space to them in your thoughts. Like a moth to a flame, you allow those desires to overtake you, and then, when you have mulled them over long enough, your thoughts give way to sinful action, which is damaging to your soul.Turn instead to me; I am not your tempter; I am the only one who can deliver you from temptation.
(16-18) My gifts are always good. Whenever you see something of value, of worth, of beauty—it reflects my character. I do not ever change. I am always loving, always faithful, and always for you. Before time began, I planned you. I spoke you into life and my Holy Spirit breathes in you. The good fruit in your life comes through me.
(19-21) As you relate to others, do not be in a rush to make your next point nor hurry to show them how they are wrong. Be silent and listen and only after you have heard them should you speak life-giving words as my Spirit moves you. When your goal is to win an argument, you fail to love and that does not reflect my righteousness at all. Rather, mind your flesh: root out the coarse, rude manner that makes you want to be right and instead, live with humble other-centeredness. My word is written on your heart. My Spirit lives in you and through you. Be careful of relying upon well-crafted arguments; I alone can save your soul.
(22-25) Live out of the reality of who I say you are. Do not just read your Bible every morning or go to church every Sunday. Those are good things to do, but they can also deceive you into thinking that you are following my will. Religious exercises are meaningless—even damaging—if they keep you and me from relationship. My desire is that you put Christ on display in your life. Do not forget that my Spirit is not just inside of you, but he flows out of you in your relationship with others. Think about my Son and the freedom that he purchased. When you remember my grace toward you, your deepest desires will be to glorify my name and to love others with grace, which will in turn bless you as well.
(26-27) Sometimes, you think you are being faithful, but you talk foolishly. How deceptive! When you do not guard your mouth, you are not reflecting my character. Rather, if you want to be faithful to the Trinity, live a life of love. Pour your love into those who have been trampled by life—the lost, the hurting, and the lonely. When you are consistently focusing your energy into loving others, you will not be so tempted to follow the ways of the world.
(1-7) Be careful not to treat some people better than others. My Son, in whom your true identity lies, does not play favorites. If you keep living by worldly standards, you will be tempted to pay attention to the well-to-do among you. When a celebrity comes into your church, you will invite him to sit at your table and visit; meanwhile you ignore the one standing off by himself or tell him to sit elsewhere. Do not do that. How you distinguish between people reflects your sinful tendencies rather than the fact that everyone bears my image. Look at my Son Jesus; he spent his time with outcasts. He honored rejects. Do not forget that the celebrities and the rich people are the ones who often treat you poorly and make life hard for you.
(8-13) Do not forget the golden rule to love your neighbor like you love yourself.[i] All your life should flow from a desire to love me and love others. When you treat one person better than another, you trample on my desires and what I expect from you. Do not assume that just because you have not killed anyone that you are putting my Son on display. Even if you are faithful to your spouse, and do not steal or murder—if you fail to love the way my Son loves, you have broken my standard. Yes, I am the one who gave the Ten Commandments, but my desire is not simply that you behave in a certain way, but that you live a life of other-centered love, so when you speak, speak graciously; when you act, act mercifully. When you speak and act out of my perfect love, it will always win out over your imperfect judgment.
(14-17) Sometimes, even though you say you are a Christian, your life does not reflect it. Just reading your Bible does not mean you are saved. Going to church every week is no proof that you are following me. When I grabbed ahold of you, I began to change you from the inside out. Your life began to bear fruit. There have been dry seasons and there have been plentiful seasons, but when you belong to me, there are buds on the vine. When you see someone who needs something, you can love him by providing for his needs as well as telling him about me. I love him as a whole person and you are my hands and feet to a watching world. That is a full-orbed faith.
(18-20) One person points to faith, another points to works. One person points to belief, another points to action. I am calling you to both. Let me transform all of you—thought and deed. Even Satan has a working knowledge of the Bible; in fact, he knows it better than you and it terrifies him! I want you to live not just with head knowledge, but rather with a faith that enflames your hearts and moves your feet.
(21-26) Just think back to my servant Abraham. He possessed a remarkable faith in me. In fact, his identity was so fully wrapped up in me that he acted with trust when I asked him to sacrifice his son. He believed I would provide for him, and I did. Before he killed Isaac, I showed him a replacement ram in the bush. I want you to believe that I have provided a lamb for you too, my Son Jesus. Or how about Rahab the prostitute? She put all her eggs in my basket and because of her hope in me, she served my men. When you genuinely believe in Me, I change you—inside and out. A living faith bears the marks of life in my Son.
[i] Lev. 19:18.
(1) Consider carefully whether you want to teach my Word. It is not a calling for everyone. When you look around, you may see people preaching and think, “Yeah, I could do that,” but beware. My servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.”[i] I have higher expectations for those who teach my Word; it is not an easy life.
(2-5a) I know that you will say things you regret sometimes. Everyone does. If there was a man who never made mistakes in what he said, you might think he was perfect. Unfortunately, that tiny organ can cause big trouble! Just like a rudder on a ship or a bit in a horse’s mouth, your tongue can lead your whole body to places you do not want to go.
(5b-6) Little things you say might blow up in your face. All that is vile within you can flow out of your mouth and create a huge circle of damage. Yes, I gave you words, but when you speak poorly about me or others, it can ruin you. It is not too much to say that an uncontrolled tongue can wreck your career, your family, or your marriage. These death words come straight from the pit of hell.
(7-8) I have created you with the intelligence to do amazing things. You can train all kinds of animals, you can create cities, and you can develop governments—but you cannot keep your tongue under wraps for long. When you lose control, you spew poison from your mouth and damage others.
(9-12) My child, one minute you are praying about how much you love me and the next minute you are yelling at your kids. One minute you are singing “I love you Lord” and the next you are grumbling about how the person in the express lane has more than 15 items. One minute you say, “Thank you for your grace” and the next you say to another person, “Get out of my face!” Like a snake, you have a split tongue—deadly poison and living water, but I did not create you to speak both life and death.
(13-16) My child, if you want to be wise and understanding, then seek to be humble. Practice loving. Consider others worthy of honor. Fight the temptation to make yourself look better. Your flesh tells you that what is best is to put yourself forward, even if it means putting others down. Your sinful nature encourages you to fudge the details to make yourself appear just a little bit smarter, wiser, or more kind, but your self-centeredness runs in the opposite direction of my will for you. I am the God of order and love, but when you act selfishly, you create chaos and evil. This is not who I am, and it is not who you are.
(17-18) Beloved, ponder this: My wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by your own selfishness and worldliness. Strive for peace in your relationships, even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough around the edges, but I want you to practice gentleness. I have made you rational and capable of reason. I want you to think carefully, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you and sharpens your thought. Listen to others with interest. Rather than beating others down with your arguments, build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be patient and merciful, just as I am with you. Do not just pretend to love, be sincere. Do not simply pretend to be fair, judge with impartiality. You will be amazed how much righteousness and peace flows from your willingness to treat others with peace and gentleness.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1959), 89.
(1-5) Beloved, why do you bicker with others? You fight with others because you are double-minded. Your passions are all mixed up. When you decide you want something, you do whatever it takes to get your way. You obsess about how easy your spouse has it, so you make snide, underhanded comments. You get sarcastic. Do you want to know why you do not have what you want? I will tell you. You don’t ask. Rather than talking to me, you connive and manipulate to get your way. Is that how I created you? Remember what I told you at the beginning of the letter? Your doublemindedness leads you to focus on lesser things that you think you need. You primary need is me, not my gifts. My servant C.S. Lewis wrote, “Put first things first and you’ll get second things thrown in. Put second things first and you miss both first and second things.”[i] When you confuse your passion for me with your desire for created things, it is like you are cheating on me. I want your whole heart, not just a part of it. You have to decide between me and the world; you cannot have it both ways. I am a jealous God, and I will fight for what is my own. I made my Spirit to dwell inside of you because I love you. Do not go looking for other lovers.
(6-10) Even when you forget who I am and who you are, none of this changes the fact that my grace flows from a never-ending spring. I will stand against everything in you that rebels against me, but I will saturate you with my grace when you humble yourself before me. When the devil shows up, run to me. Satan will not dare come near to you then. When you are fighting your weak flesh or you feel overpowered by the world, come to me. I am so eager to be with you and deliver you. Wash up in the stream of my grace. The blood of my Son has swept away your sin. If you keep living for the world, your life will be full of sadness and tears but when you seek me, rivers of joy!
(11-12) Relationships are hard, so mind your tongue. Do not tear others down. When you speak against a friend, you are forgetting my law of love. Leave the judgment to me. I am the only one who can see clearly enough to judge rightly. Instead, love your brothers and sisters.
(13-17) Beloved, be aware of scheming and strategizing without seeking me. I know that you desire to make a better life for yourself on earth, so you make financial plans and negotiate the future, but do not get too worked up about your retirement. When you are more focused on financial investments than your eternal security, you have lost sight of my kingdom. Your life on earth is less than a breath but you will be with me forever. Store up eternal treasures. If I want you to live until you are 100, that is my prerogative, but I could take you home tomorrow if it is my will, so do not boast in your investments, rather boast in me.
[i] Walter Hooper (ed.), The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. III, Narnia, Cambridge and Joy, 1950-1963 (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2007), p. 111.
(1-6) Eventually, your house, car, clothes, and even your body will waste away. If you keep trusting in things, you will be miserable when you see them fall apart. If you are not careful, your soul will corrode along with all this stuff. Not only that, but I hear the cries of everyone whom you have treated unfairly. Remember, my heart is with the downtrodden and to think you are one who tramples over them! Every time you speak or act in a way that makes you look good at the expense of others, it is a testimony against you. Your file is thick, child, and apart from the blood of my Son, you have no hope of acquittal.
(7-8) So rather than placing your hope in stuff, or in your comfort, or your success, hope forward. Just think about your garden. Soon after the snow melts, you plant seeds, and you tend to them. If you judged the success in the first few weeks, you would feel defeated, but today’s faith in these seedlings anticipates a future hope. I am coming. Have faith.
(9-11) As you wait for me, avoid grumbling against your brothers and sisters. Focus on my coming kingdom instead. Life and relationships will often seem difficult and you will feel impatient and begin to justify your self-centered attitudes. When you begin feeling that way, think back to the prophets, who often saw nothing but misery, yet they hoped in me. Consider Job, for example. If he would have focused on his losses, he would have killed himself, believing he had nothing to live for, but he kept hoping in me even though he could not see my purposes. Now, he understands.
(12) Live simply. You do not need to make fancy promises. Honor your word. Whether you say yes or no, stick by what you said. If you are always honest, you will not be caught in a lie.
(13-15) Talk with me when you are suffering. Sing songs of praise when you are cheerful. Seek counsel when you are not doing well. If you become sick, tell those who are mature in the faith so that they can pray for you and anoint you with oil in my name. Prayer is powerful. Whatever is going on, I love talking with you. Too many of my children believe that they can only talk with me when they need something fixed, but I just want to be with them. I already know everything you need and what you need most is me. I am a gracious, merciful, forgiving Father and I cherish your company.
(16-18) I have also created you to relate with others. I am glad that you enjoy socializing, but I have also called you to something deeper. Get beneath the surface with a few people. Take off your mask and tell them what is really going in inside of you. Be authentic with your sin and pray together. As I said, when you pray it is powerful. Just think about Elijah. He prayed and it stopped raining for three and a half years! Prayer works, child.
(19-20) Finally, I know that in a sinful world, living a faithful life can be hard. Some of your friends are going to stumble, some will fall, and some will wander. Get past your fears and go after them. I came after you, you do the same. You just may breathe new life—my life–into a dying person.