Today we start to read and think about the Book of James.
James 1: 1-4
James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: greetings. My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
We’ve all heard about the zeal of the convert. James, brother or half-brother of Jesus, was not a follower at first, but, after the Resurrection, he rapidly became head of that small but growing group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He’s writing here to the fellowships of Greek-speaking Jewish believers, scattered around the then known world. He’s telling them not to be dismayed, but glad, when they face trials and difficulties. Adversity will test their faith and find it sufficient for the occasion. They will develop and reach maturity.
We complain, don’t we, when things go against us because of our faith – when we’re mocked, or heavily tolerated, or condescended to because of our life direction? These annoyances should serve to confirm us in our faith direction, but let’s not forget for a moment our Christian sisters and brothers in various parts of the world, whose sufferings really do dwarf what we face.
Oh, and by the way, the Greek word used for “servant” in the first verse really means a position between servant and slave. James has the status of dignity, but one without the freedom, as he perceives it, to leave the service of his Master. Isn’t that true of us, as well?
Lord Jesus, save us from exaggerating the problems we experience when witnessing, but enable us to rejoice and mature. May our suffering fellow-Christians, facing real hostility where they live and witness, know the strength of your presence in their suffering, and may oppressive and despotic powers know your love and impulsion towards justice, toleration and mercy. Grant us the wisdom and self-knowledge to recognise ourselves as both servant and slave of the Gospel, and keep us in that knowledge and perspective. Amen.
Ed Strachen is a Lay Preacher, Elder and member of Heald Green URC in South Manchester.