Garry’s rather grandiose alliterative title (for which I can, sadly, claim no credit…) summarised both the whole book of James (which we finally completed studying tonight, having started in April 2012!) and the last two verses in chapter 5 (the focus of tonight’s study.)
We started, however, by looking at the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:1-23). Here, Jesus talks about the different kinds of soil, looking at the rocky ground and the thorny ground. Just as a lack of roots causes seeds not to grow and thorns (the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth) choke the word, so James has highlighted the problems in our lives which would cause us to stumble if left unchecked. Jesus says that ‘when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away’ (Matt 13:21). James has taught us to accept trouble and persecution, the trials and temptations of this life, with open arms since we learn perseverance and develop character through them. He has also taught us how to avoid the pitfalls of wealth: by shunning favouritism and by not putting our trust in material riches.
The whole book of James has been eminently practical, offering us solutions to the many problems we face on life’s journey. Now, James reminds us that we have a collective responsibility to each other as well as an individual responsibility to maintain our spiritual walk with God. We all have a sheep-like tendency to wander from the truth (the word ‘wander’ is the same used in Matt 18:12 in the parable of the lost sheep and is also found in Matt 22:29 – ‘you are in error’ – and Gal 6:7 – ‘do not be deceived.’) Israel’s history in the wilderness and the cycle of Judges shows us the tendency to wander from the truth which remains prevalent today (‘Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love!’) It is easy for us to forget all that God has said and done and to follow false gods. Anything that comes before God (however innocuous in itself) becomes an idol and we we need to be quick to understand the fragility and temptations which befall our hearts.
James reminds us that we have a ‘duty of care’ for each other. We are now in the family of God; we need each other and need to watch each other’s backs. In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd went looking for the one lost sheep. We too need to be vigilant and seek to help those who are struggling (see also Gal 6:1-9). This is not a task reserved only for the pastor; ‘whoever’ can be involved! We need to shun the individual isolationism of Western society and recognise the Biblical need for interdependence. That will inevitably mean getting to know people (how can we know they are wandering from the truth unless we know them?) and caring enough to respond in practical ways.
The debate about whether Christians can lose their salvation has been discussed for centuries. Whatever our views on the topic of apostasy, there is a need for the family of God to be like the trapeze artist’s safety net. We need to be willing to confront each other gently, holding out the word of life and being prepared to both love and challenge each other. It is not easy to do this, for we risk offending people and are often indifferent to each other’s needs. Nonetheless, James concludes his book with a reminder of the eternal significance of these actions and the collective responsibility of God’s people.