Faith in Patience in Practical Christian Living
The Book of James is a New Testament book that may have been initially composed by James, the sibling of Jesus Christ, and later revised by an obscure supervisor. He was also known as ‘James the Just’. He was murdered in about 64 C.E. Actually, he was not part of the twelve disciples of Jesus, and failed to believe in Him (Jesus) till after His death. It is only after the resurrection of Jesus and an appearance to James that he began to believe; with the fact to this recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:7. Imagine the surprise and look on his face when Jesus appeared to him, knowing perfectly well that he had the messiah as a brother and never believed. What would his reaction be? And what regret he might have felt?
In the book of Acts, James is mentioned as one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church1. Here, he seems to be mentored by the Apostle Peter, and a spokesman for the Jerusalem Council. Also, it is mentioned elsewhere in Acts 21:18 and Galatians 1:18-19 that, James was the leader to whom the Apostle Paul reported to on his return to the Jerusalem church. In the same book of Galatians 2:9, James is referenced along with Peter and John as the three pillars of the church. He eventually rose to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Peter the Apostle, was the first and original leader of that church after Jesus had ascended. He preached the sermon on the day of Pentecost and saw the conversion of over three thousand people. Within ten years after the special appearance of Jesus to James and his conversion, he rose to become the leader in place of Peter.
The nature of literature styles found in the New Testament are as follows; Gospels, Theological History, Epistles (letters) and apocalyptic material. James, happens to be an epistle (letter) written to the “…. twelve tribes of Israel….”2. Epistles are situational letters written to a specific people, and dealing with specific issues at a time. Although it is an epistle, it is nothing like the ancient Greek form exemplified in Paul’s letters, except the greetings3. Also, it is worthy to note that, this book (James) is an epistle not to a specific people, but to the entire twelve tribes of Israel in the diaspora. Therefore, it is not one of the typical situational letters (epistles), but a general one addressed to a general people who have been scattered abroad in the entire Roman Empire due to persecution.
The book has also been compared to Old Testament wisdom literature because it contains wisdom elements; such as comparing the wisdom of the world with the wisdom that comes from God4. It also contains exhortations and prophetic elements that aren’t common to wisdom literature. “It appears to many scholars that the epistle of James was probably the first divinely inspired one, and that James composed it in the middle or late 40s, perhaps A.D. 45-48”5. To an extent, this particular book has received many criticisms because of the nature of its content, and also, because its true meaning has often been misconstrued, with prominent religious leaders such as Martin Luther calling it “the epistle of straw”6. Largely, many people see this as a direct rebuttal of Paul’s teaching that faith alone saves, but it is not. “Some think that this epistle was written in response to an overzealous interpretation of Paul’s teaching regarding faith. This extreme view, called antinomianism, held that through faith in Christ one is completely free from all Old Testament law, all legalism, all secular law, and all the morality of a society”.
The book of James has five chapters, and sounds like a sermon that essentially centers around how one can have a Christian existence in administration of God. It emphasizes practical living over fanaticism as a believer. James stresses that good actions will naturally flow from those who are filled with the Spirit and questions the authenticity of the faith where the fruits of the Spirit cannot be seen. Found in the book is an obvious concern to address internal and external difficulties that Jewish Christian congregations faced. Externally, they faced trials; particularly oppression of various sorts from wealthy landowners; with the oppression not appearing to be religious in nature8. Internally, it appears that a lack of self-control caused disagreement, uncontrolled speech, and false teachings that led to a misunderstanding of true religion; favoritism toward the wealthy, and selfish ambition that opened the door to murder and criticism. Although there are many themes addressed in the book of James such as, Practical Christian living, Faith and action, True wisdom, Control of the tongue, Discipline of patience, Righteousness by actions, Prayer, the Law and the Word, etc., this work will focus on Practical Christian Living; with emphasis on three sub-themes of patience, self-control and faith. The rest of this work will seek to delve deeper into the three areas mentioned above, with Practical Christian living being the overall topic. To begin with, patience is one of the obvious standout themes as one begins to read through the book of James. According to Merriam Webster, “the ability to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people”10, is what it means to be patient; the word from which patience is gotten. This definition – quiet interesting to note – ties in with the Greek words “hypomonē” and “makrothymia”11, which means to “persevere” or to endure as used in chapter 1:4 for the former, and “long-suffering, loving attitude” that we are to have towards others as used in 5:7-11.
“Hypomone”, is also the same word used in 1:12, conveying the same message of perseverance when read in context through to vv. 16. This word is frequently used in the New Testament to show the quality required of Christians as they face adversity, temptation and persecution. It is used 31 times in the New Testament. It seems to stand for a call to be mentally fortified and remain constant, refraining from succumbing to our urges and feelings when in times of discomfort. It is not a meek, passive submission to circumstances, but a strong, active, challenging response in which the satisfying realities of Christianity are proven in practice. It denotes a call to remain steadfast in our calmness and maintain our posture even as we face trials, temptations and oppositions. It shifts the focus from the waiting time, to our behavior and conduct in times where we are required to wait.
As beautifully put by Easwaran Eknath, “the resting rate of patience is zero”12. No one is born with patience. It is a quality that is developed by our steadfastness in times of trials. When trials come, we are given the opportunity to take a lesson in the discipline of patience, and we succeed at it when we persevere. This is what the writer of James seems to point out with the Greek word, “hypomoné”. “Makrothymia”, which means long-suffering and a loving attitude towards people even as we remain steadfast in facing trials’ is another Greek word used for patience. The use of these two Greek words for patience is deliberate, seeing that one is directed to our perseverance and relentlessness in facing the trials; whereas the latter is our loving attitude towards people – even the ones who are the cause of the trials we face. Of this distinction between the two Greek words, N. T. Wright helpfully writes, ‘patience’ (makrothymia), is the attitude which Christians are to exercise towards people, and hypomonē, is that with which they are to respond to problems : ‘[endurance] is what faith, hope and love bring to an apparently impossible situation, [patience] is what they show to an apparently impossible person.’13 Also, Gene Lacoste Munn writes of the same nature of patience as described in the book of James thus Patience is an essential ingredient in the Christian life. The Christian is to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord. While waiting is involved in patience, it reveals only one dimension. The concept of stamina helps to bring out the full meaning of patience. Stamina is the strength to keep on performing until the end of the race. The Christian must keep on trusting and obeying. Patient waiting and stamina are both essential.14
Next on the themes found in this book, is the practical Christian living empowered by self- control. Right at the end of the exhortation to persevere and be patient in times of trouble, there is the command to not blame any temptations on God but ourselves; followed by the source of all our temptations. Merriam Webster defines self-control as, “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.”15 The phrase, “…but each man is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire…” as used in 1:14, translates from the Greek word (epithymia); which refers to fleshly, selfish, illicit desire and is often used to describe sexual passions specifically.16 According to Chris A. Vlachos, “the term may also suggest self-interest as opposed to a theocentric interest.” Moreover, epithymia is supported by two verbs “exelkō” and “deleazō”, translating to mean “a forceful drag out or away” and “attraction exerted by a proffered bait”. This breakdown further helps to drive home the import of the phrase. It is an exhortation to not give in to our urges and desires which fail to align with that of God, a call to live in constant denial and rejection of those wants of our heart that displeases God and fails to glorify Him. Finally, faith will be the theme which is also evident in the book of James discussed in this write-up. On this subject, James minces no words in suggesting that the evidence of one’s faith is by making practical that which is received through the word of God. His main focus apart from the first two themes discussed above is a concern for practical obedience.
This concern is made evident by the following, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves.” The Greek word translated “doers” is (poietes), which means to “act out as a poet” or “a performer”. Faith is not just a belief held in God, it moves further to become an action that springs from the same. And until a belief is converted into action and applied, then it is rendered as impotent or dead. Of the necessity to practicalize our faith, Dr. Thomas Constable writes; Doing the Word of God, in this context, means persevering in God’s will when we experience temptation to depart from it. Hearing God’s will is good as far as it goes, and it is indispensable, but obedience should follow. Some Christian disciples ‘delude themselves’ by thinking that knowing God’s will is enough, but it is only foundational to doing God’s will. Evidently, there is no separation of the deeds of a believer from his belief. They must work in tandem. In this vein, Dr. Douglass J. Moo writes that, “the ‘religion’ that counts before God and that is able to save must be lived out in a lifestyle of obedience to the word of God ‘planted’ within each believer.” Simply put, the actions of a believer validate his/her faith.
Conclusively, it is imperative that every man learns to be patient; persevering in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppositions whilst remaining constant in the exhibition of their Christian virtues. Now, this can be a tedious venture, but that is what the call to Christianity demands. Moreover, when patience is mastered, then, the door for self-control is opened. This is the realm and state where a believer is able to stand most – if not all temptations that come his way. He is able to do this, not because he has become a super-man, but because he has allowed the testing and trial of his character to develop a patient spirit in him. Imagine what would happen if a church or Christian fails in patience? This would prevent them from gaining self-control, further curtailing the practical manifestation of that which they believe and hold as the foundation of their faith.
Faith matures only after patience is developed, birthing self-control in the process. It is at this point that the believer is able to constantly take a practical walk in his beliefs because patience and self-control have been cultivated over time. This call to practicality lies at the center of all that James teaches. It sums up the message of the whole book – practical Christian living. Indeed, James 1:22 may well be the key verse of the entire epistle. It remains a thing of interest to note the progression of these themes in the whole book of James. For there seems to be an intentional arrangement of themes in this book, with patience leading the pack; followed by self-control, and then, faith. Like every other good writer, the author opens the epistle with a straight forward declaration of thoughts and intentions, and closes by re-affirming them. For this reason, it is no coincidence that the same themes of patience, self-control and faith are strongly reiterated in the last two chapters of the book.
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