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James 1 and connecting the dots

It seems to me that James receives some bad press for not being linear enough in his writing. One writer says, "It is difficult, if not impossible, to extract from it a continuous and coherent plan. Its sections follow one another with a certain disconnectedness." Another uses the word "rambling," in regard to its style, while a third observes that "little sequence or development can be detected." At first glance, these conclusions might seem warranted but I’m of the mindset that the more the letter is probed, the more clearly its connections (which do at times lie beneath the surface), can be seen.

For example in the first chapter, it’s not hard to see in James’ discussion of trials that he tells us:
  • how we should view them (v. 2),
  • what one of their purposes is (v. 2-4),
  • how the wisdom we need to handle such tests comes from God who gives generously to all (v. 5),
  • and a failure to trust in God’s goodness is worse than any trial we might face (v. 6-8).

The introduction of the poor person and the rich person seems abrupt, but it's not.  It's simply an application of what James has been discussing to a significant trial the communities were struggling with --- the relationship between the rich and the poor.  This is a major (if not the major), theme of the letter.  Some of the people James is writing are undergoing trials due to their their poverty --- brought on (as least partially), by the oppression of the wealthy (2:6-7, 5:4-6). Then too, I think a good case can be made that some of the poor are retaliating by means of envy, judgment, and slander upon the rich. (Keener believes chapter three addresses a situation where teachers are using their position to attack the rich (v. 9-10, 14-16).  If this is true, 4:1-3, 11-12, fits in well with this.  In light of the prominence of this problem, it makes sense for James to introduce it here by consoling and counseling the poor in regard to how to look at the circumstances. While their situation might be unjust, they have a high position (presumably in that they are more sensitized to and seeking of God and His kingdom in their lives --- Luke 6:20ff), and they should appreciate that as opposed to envying the rich. Meanwhile, the rich need to glory in their low position by realizing the transitory nature of their circumstances (4:13ff), and acting accordingly.

The blessing of v. 12 then speaks to all generally, but perhaps especially to the poor who are having a rough go of it. They are to pursue the blessing of God rather than use their difficulties as an excuse for sin. God is testing them as a teacher does their student, not setting them up for failure or sin. To mishandle a trial/test is the fault/choice of the student (v. 13-15). Their Teacher is not the source of evil, but good (v. 16-17). Sin gives birth to death but God gives birth to us through His word (v. 18).

It is this word they should listen to and allow to shape their lives rather than rant about our difficulties and go off on people (v. 18-21). More than that, there needs to be a serious commitment to putting into practice the things heard from God’s word. This is freedom and blessing (v. 25).

The statement chapter one closes with has to do with the nature of truly seeking God. Although often isolated from its context, it’s not hard to see how these words form a conclusion to what has gone before as well as setting the table for some things he will develop more. True religion is about being slow to speak (a word to the poor?). It is about reaching out to people in distress rather than distancing yourself from them (a word to the rich?). It is about resisting the world's temptations (1:13-15, 4:7ff).

I think you can see from this little piece that James can be approached as a fairly straightforward letter. Of course, there would have been nothing wrong if James had written in the manner of Proverbs, moving unrelatedly from one subject to the next. I’m just among those that are unconvinced this is what he did!
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