(1) As you may know, I gave this letter to Jesus’s half-brother James, who was one of my beloved servants. By his pen, 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) My child, this is going to seem counterintuitive to you, but when you face difficulties in your life, which I promise you will, that is a cause for joy. These difficulties, although they are hard to bear at the time, make 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. This 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’ve 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 second thing blessings in first place, you will always be disappointed. Someday, you will be sitting alone in your broken down house and threadbare clothes feeling humiliated, wondering what happened to you. Child, eternal beauty is found only in me. All earthly beauty is a reflection of my eternal glory.
(12) Remember to keep this in mind, little one. 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 your sin didn’t 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 mortally 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—that is a reflection of my character. I don’t 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) My child, I want you to hear this. As you relate to others, don’t be in a rush to make your next point; don’t be in a 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 doesn’t reflect my righteousness at all. Rather, mind your flesh: root out your course, 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. Don’t 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 I from relating to one another. My desire for you is that you put Christ on display in your life. Don’t 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 for you. 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 don’t 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 won’t be so tempted to follow the ways of the world.
(1-7) I want you to be careful not to play favorites. My Son, in whom your true identity lies, doesn’t play favorites and it is to his glory. If you keep living by the world’s 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. Don’t do that. How you distinguish between people reflects your sinful tendencies rather than the fact that they bear my image. Look at my Son Jesus; he spent his time with outcasts. He honored rejects. Don’t forget that the celebrities and the rich people are the ones who often treat you poorly and make life hard for you.
(8-13) Don’t forget my golden rule, to love your neighbor like you love yourself. All of 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. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t killed anyone that you are putting my Son on display. Even if you are faithful to your wife, don’t steal, and don’t murder—if you fail to love the way my Son loves, you’ve 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 grace; when you act, act mercy. 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 doesn’t 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. So 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 do and it terrifies him! But I have called you as my child to live not just with head knowledge, but rather with a knowledge that enflames your hearts and moves your feet.
(21-26) Just think back to my servant Abraham. He had 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 of her eggs in my basket and because of her hope in me, she served my men. Do you see, when you truly believe in Me, I change you—inside and out. A living faith bears the marks of life.
(1) I want you to think hard about whether you want to teach my Word. This isn’t a calling for everyone. When you look around, you may see people teaching my word and think to yourself, “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 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 would think he was perfect. Unfortunately, that little 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 don’t 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 very 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 minute 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 one of my kids, “get out of my face!” Like a snake, you have a split tongue—deadly poison and living water. This isn’t the way I made you. You cannot speak both life and death.
(13-16) My child, do 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) My child, I want you to ponder this: My wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by your own selfishness and worldliness. I want you to strive for peace in your relationships, even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough; I want you to seek 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, how about you build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be patient on merciful, just as I am with you. Don’t just pretend to love, be sincere. Don’t 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.
(1-5) My child, why do you bicker with others? Why do you fight? Because you are a double minded man. Your passions are all mixed up. You get it in your mind that you want something and so you do whatever it takes to get your way. You obsess about how easy your wife has it, so you make snide, underhanded comments. You get sarcastic. Do you want to know why you don’t have what you want? I’ll 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 to be? Remember what I told you at the beginning of the letter? You are a double minded man and too often you get focused on lesser things that you think you need. Don’t forget what I told you before, what you really 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.” When you mix up your passion for me with your passion for things I have created, it is like you are cheating on me. I want your whole heart, not just a part of it. You will have to decide, me or the world; you can’t have it both ways. I am a jealous husband and I will fight for what is my own. I made my Spirit to dwell inside of you because I love you. Don’t 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 anything in you that rebels against me, but you will be saturated with my grace when you humble yourself before me. Live under my merciful rule. When the devil shows up, run to me. Satan won’t dare come near to you then. When you are fighting your weak flesh or you feel overpowered by the world, come find me. I am so eager to be with you and deliver you, my child. Wash up in the stream of my grace. The blood of my son has swept away your wretchedness. 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. Don’t tear one another down. When you decide to speak against a brother, 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. What I want you to do is love your brothers and sisters.
(13-17) My child, 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 don’t get too worked up about your retirement. When you are more focused on your financial investments than your eternal investments, you have lost sight of me. 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’s my prerogative, but I could take you home tomorrow if it is my will to do so. So be careful to boast in your investments, rather boast in me.
(1-6) If you keep watching, your house, your car, your clothes, even your body will waste away. If you keep putting your hope in things, you are going to be absolutely miserable when you see it fall apart before your eyes. If you aren’t careful, your soul will corrode along with all of this stuff. Not only that, all of the people whom you have treated unfairly testify against you, and I hear their cries. Remember, I am for 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 hopes in stuff, or in your comfort, or your success, hope forward. Be patient. I will be there soon. Just think about your garden. Soon after the snow melts, you plant seeds and you tend to them. If you were to judge the success of the garden in the first few weeks, you would feel pretty defeated, but today’s faith in these seedlings anticipates a future hope. I’m coming. Have faith.
(9-11) As you wait for me, don’t fall back into the habit of grumbling against your brothers and sisters. As I said, I’m coming back soon, focus on that instead. There will be times when life and relationships just seem so hard and you will feel impatient and begin to justify your self-centered attitudes. When you start feeling that way, think back to the prophets, who often saw nothing but misery, yet they hoped in me. Just think about my friend Job. If he would have stayed focused in the here and now, he would have killed himself because he would have believed he had nothing to live for. But he continued hoping in me even though he could not see my purposes. Now, he understands.
(12) Live simply. You don’t 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 won’t be caught in a lie.
(13-15) Don’t forget to come and talk to me when you are suffering. I love it when you sing to me when you’re cheerful. It’s music to my ears. When you aren’t doing well, seek counsel. If you are sick, tell those who are mature in the faith so that they can pray for you and anoint you with oil in my name. The prayers of my children are powerful. Whatever is going on, I love talking with you. Too many of my children get it in mind that they can only talk with me when they really 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) But I have also created you to relate with others. It’s great that you enjoy just hanging out with other people, 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’s really going in inside of you. Be authentic with your sin. Then come and talk to me together. As I said, when you pray it’s 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 since sin entered the world, life on the narrow road is hard. Some of your friends are going to stumble. Some will fall. 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.
- Bonhoeffer (1937). The Cost of Discipleship.
- Lewis (2005). The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963