We are starting a new series in the Book of James. Beginning a study of a book of the Bible is something like preparing for a trip: you like to know where you are going and what you can expect to see. Perhaps the best way to launch into this study is to answer two important questions:
Why Did James Write?
To teach the marks of maturity in the Christian life. As we read the Epistle of James, we will discover these Jewish Christians were having some problems in their personal lives and in their church fellowship. They were going through difficult testings and were facing temptations to sin. Some of the believers were catering to the rich, while others were being robbed by the rich. Church members were competing for offices in the church, particularly teaching offices.
One of the major problems in the church was a failure on the part of many to live what they professed to believe. The tongue was a serious problem, even to the point of creating wars and divisions in the assembly. Worldliness was another problem. Some of the members were disobeying God’s Word and were sick physically because of it; some were straying away from the Lord and the church.
As we review this list of problems, it does not appear to be much different from the problems that beset the average local church today. Do we not have in our churches people who are suffering for one reason or another? Do we not have members who talk one way, but walk another way? Is not worldliness a serious problem? Are there not Christians who cannot control their tongues? It seems James is dealing with very up-to-date matters!
But James was not discussing an array of miscellaneous problems. All of these problems have a common cause: spiritual immaturity. These Christians simply were not growing up. This gives us a hint as to the basic theme of this letter: the marks of maturity in the Christian life. James uses the word perfect several times, a word that means “mature, complete” (James 1:4, 17, 25; 2:22; 3:2). By “perfect man”, James does not mean a sinless man, but rather one who is mature, balanced, and grown-up.
Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in churches today. Too many churches are playpens for babies instead of workshops for adults. The members are not mature enough to eat the solid spiritual food they need, so they have to be fed on milk (Heb. 5:11–14). Just look at the problems James dealt with and you can see each of them is characteristic of little children:
- Impatience in difficulties (1:1–4)
- Talking, but not living the truth (2:14)
- No control of the tongue (3:1)
- Fighting and coveting (4:1)
- Collecting material “toys” (5:1)
After 15 years of ministry, I am convinced that spiritual immaturity is the number one problem in our churches. God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all He can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other!
The five chapters of this letter suggest the five marks of the mature Christian: (1) he is patient in testing; (2) he practices the truth; (3) he has power of his tongue; (4) he is a peacemaker, not a troublemaker; (5) he is prayerful in troubles.
As the chapters are examined, spiritual maturity and how it may be attained will be emphasized.
James exhorts his readers to build on the perfect salvation to be had in Christ and grow into maturity; for without the perfect work of Christ there can be no perfecting of the believers.
First of all, it is essential we have been born again. Since the theme of James is spiritual maturity, we must begin by examining our own hearts to see where we are in the Christian life. Apart from spiritual birth there can be no spiritual maturity.
If we have been born again, there is a second essential: we must honestly examine our lives in the light of God’s Word. James compares the Bible to a mirror (James 1:22). As we study the Word, we are looking into the divine mirror and seeing ourselves as we really are. James warns us that we must be honest about what we see and not merely glance at the image and walk away.
Perhaps you heard about the primitive savage who looked into a mirror for the first time. He was so shocked at what he saw that he broke the mirror! Many Christians make the same mistake: they criticize the preacher or the lesson, when they ought to be judging themselves. (At the end of this article are 12 questions based on James that may help in a personal evaluation. Refer to them often. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health.)
Third, we must obey what God teaches us, no matter what the cost. We must be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). It is easy to attend a Bible study, share the lesson, and discuss it; but it is much more difficult to go out into life in the world and practice what we have learned. The blessing does not come in studying the Word, but in doing the Word. Unless we are willing to obey the Lord is not obligated to teach us (John 7:17).
Fourth, we must be prepared for some extra trials and testings. Whenever we are serious about spiritual growth the enemy gets serious about opposing us. Perhaps you feel a need for more patience. Then be prepared for more trials because tribulation produces patience (Rom. 5:3). The real examinations of Bible study come in the school of life, not in the classroom.
I recently read about a man who was burdened to grow in his patience. He knew he was immature in that area of his life and he wanted to grow up. He sincerely prayed, “Lord, help me to grow in patience. I want to have more self-control in this area of my life.” That morning, he missed his train to work and spent the next fifty minutes pacing the platform and complaining of his plight. As the next train to the city arrived the man realized how stupid he had been. “The Lord gave me nearly an hour to grow in my patience and all I did was practice my impatience!” he said to himself.
There may come a time in this study when you decide continuing is too dangerous. Satan may turn on the heat and make things so difficult for you that you will want to retreat. Don’t do it! When that time arrives, you will be on the verge of a new and wonderful blessing in your own life, a thrilling new step of maturity. Even if Satan does turn on the heat, your Father in heaven keeps His almighty hand on the thermostat!
Even physical maturity is not always an easy, pleasant experience. The teenager walking on that difficult bridge from childhood to adulthood has his frustrations and failures; but if he keeps on going (and growing), he eventually enters a wonderful life of maturity. Christian growth is not automatic, as is physical growth. Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly. So don’t give up! There is travail in birth and there is also travail in maturity (Gal. 4:19).
The fifth essential for getting the most out of this study is we must measure our spiritual growth by the Word of God. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health. But we should not measure ourselves by other Christians, rather by the Word of God and the Son of God (Eph. 4:13).
Not everyone who grows old grows up. There is a difference between age and maturity. Just because a Christian has been saved for ten or twenty years does not guarantee he is mature in the Lord. Mature Christians are happy Christians, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage others and to build their local church. As we study James together, with God’s help, we will learn and mature together.
1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
5. Am I able to control my tongue?
6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?
Don’t just grow old—grow up!