Teach Me Thy Statutes:
Fr. Early: This is Fr. James of the Adult Sunday School, and we’re finally going to actually dig in to the text of the Epistle of St. James. My goal, which is probably not going to be realized today because we started a little bit late, is to get through James 1:19. Again, I doubt we’ll make it, but we’ll do the best we can.
Let me go ahead and read that whole section aloud. I’m going to read it from the New American Standard Bible. It’s a very good translation. Most of us have the New King James Bible. That’s what is is in the Orthodox Study Bible. So the translations will be close, but they’ll be a little off in places. So here’s what the Epistle says:
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren
We’ll go ahead and stop there. Now, don’t worry if that was a little too much. I’m going to break it down into smaller pieces as we go along. So let’s go ahead and begin with verse one. You will not be surprised to know that in my notes I have almost a full page just on verse one. I really love to dig in and get deep into the text.
Some of this is review, but it’s been a few weeks and some of y’all weren’t there. I want to just talk about the introduction. Now, St. James begins the Epistle with a standard greeting. He names himself, and he names his recipients. Epistles in the time of Jesus, in the ancient world, were written different from how we write them.
If I’m writing an Epistle, I’ll say for example, “Dear Shannon, Blah, blah blah, blah, blah. Love or signed or Respectfully yours, Fr. James.” So when we write letters, not that anyone writes a regular letter anymore, but if you did, if you were feeling a bit nostalgic, wanted to be old school, you would put the name of the recipient first; then the message, and we would conclude with your name.
But here, they would start by putting the name of the sender. And then, they would immediately say who it was to. So it would be like “Fr. James to Shannon Clark, Greetings.” And sometimes, there would be a blessing in there as well.
If you’ve read some of St. Paul’s Letters, you know that he puts a blessing, and sometimes it’s a very long blessing. He waxes eloquent; he’ll go on for fourteen verses, and finally say “Greetings.” This is not that way. In typical fashion, James is short, sweet, and to the point. Maybe that’s why I like him. So he starts with his name; then he puts his recipients.
I want to bring three points out into the open here. First of all, he shows his great humility by not identifying himself as the Bishop of Jerusalem or as the Lord’s brother. He could have said that. He could have said “James, Bishop or Leader of the Church in Jerusalem and Brother (or cousin or step-brother) of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
He could have pulled out his pedigree, so to speak, and rattled off his resume, but he doesn’t do that. All he says is he’s a bondservant, or actually the word in Greek is doulos, which literally means a slave. He’s saying, I’m a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that tells me, the greatest thing anybody can say about us has nothing to do with our position, our accomplishments, our education, or our family background, but simply that we are a slave of the Lord. When I die, I want people to say, “Well, he really was a servant of God. He loved God and served God.” That’s what I want them to say, not I had these degrees or I accomplished this, that, or the other.
So St. James set the example for us there.
Questioner 1: I think also when he’s talking about being a slave, he’s emphasizing complete obedience.
Fr. Early: He is. He is emphasizing complete obedience, and that’s a theme that will be touched on over and over, throughout the actual body of the Epistle. That’s a good point. Slaves do what? They obey their master. So that’s another way he sets an example for us.
And then he says, “To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.” Literally, in Greek it’s the diaspora, which means he’s writing to Jewish Christians who have been scattered abroad, either by famine or by persecution from the Romans or the Babylonians before them or some other people.
But he’s trying to shepherd people who used to live in Jerusalem or maybe even never lived in Jerusalem. Maybe, they’ve lived their entire lives abroad overseas. But I think primarily, he’s addressing people who were once in Jerusalem but were scattered by one of the early persecutions of the Church, that we read about in the early chapters of Acts.
The Church was still overwhelmingly Jewish. That’s another thing to keep in mind. There were not an awful lot of Gentiles in the Church at this point. And then look what he says, unlike St. Paul. No one ever would accuse St. Paul of being short, concise, or a man of few words. St. James is a man of few words. He just says, “Greetings.”
It’s interesting that if you look at the Epistle that was ascribed to James, James wrote an Epistle after the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and if you look at that one, guess what the greeting is. “Greetings.” It’s exactly the same as this. So we see that same brevity, if you will. Alexander Pope said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” I’m still working on that wit.
But anyway, we see that the Epistle that James wrote in Acts and this Epistle are very, very similar in the way they’re written and laid out—starting with the greeting. Now, we see other stylistic similarities as well. I won’t go into those in detail. I mentioned those in my past lesson.But there is strong linguistic evidence throughout that the author of this Epistle is the same person who was the head of the Church in Jerusalem and presided over the Council there.
So we have St. James, the so-called brother of the Lord, Adelphotheos literally the brother of God, who was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and is writing to his flock that has been scattered.
This is probably written about 47/48 A.D., give or take a year or two, so we’re talking fifteen or so years after our Lord ascended into Heaven. So this is really early; this is probably the earliest of all the Epistles we have.
Alright, let’s dig into the next section. I want to look at verses two through eight. Since I have the mike, I’ll go ahead and read it. We’re going to talk about trials, difficult times in our lives. And I’ve entitled this section “Count it All Joy.”
I’m going to switch. I think I’m going to be looking at the New King James. I can’t remember which translation I have in my notes here. But again, they’re all really similar.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Don’t worry, I don’t have a whole page on verse two. I think this whole page is verse two and three. Now, the first interesting thing we here in verse two is St. James addresses his hearers as brothers, adelphi which means brothers in Greek. And he uses that term of address about fifteen times throughout the whole letter.
And this speaks of his humility. Again, he doesn’t call them my people, my flock, my servants, or anything like that. He just calls them brothers. Fr. Lawrence Farley, the author of our commentary that we’re using today as one of our main secondary sources, says this:
This shows he addresses his hearers, not as an exalted judge but as a fellow believer; appealing them to submit to the same teaching to which he, himself, submits, even though he is the leader of the community. The entire Epistle breathes this free air of Christian egalitarianism.
So again, we have a spirit of egalitarianism, or there’s no master-servant relationship. Yes, he is the leader of the Church, but at the same time he’s a fellow Christian. He’s a fellow servant of the Lord. He’s not above them. He’s not better than them. He’s just been put in a different position, a position of leadership.
Questioner 2: First among equals.
Fr. Early: First among equals. That’s exactly right. And then, he addresses the main theme of the Epistle, which is trials or testing. And then later, he’s going to talk about temptations, which is not exactly the same thing. It’s different.
However, there’s one Greek word that’s used throughout this whole passage, all the way through verse nineteen. There’s a Greek word which is peirasmos, and that can be translated as a trial. In other words, it’s a difficult situation like you lose your job, somebody slaps you upside the head, a difficult time.
Or it can be used as a temptation, something that draws you or tries to persuade you to sin. And so, we have to be careful when we interpret this Epistle. If you were reading it in the Greek, you wouldn’t really necessarily know which one is which, except by the context.
When you read an English translation, you’re reading somebody’s interpretation. In other words, what times does peirasmos mean testing, and when does it mean temptations? The sense of the word has to be determined by the context. Different translations make different judgment calls on that.
But I’m going to tell you which one is right; I’m going to give you the right answer. I’m just kidding. I’m going to give you what I think is the right answer. I could be wrong, of course. Most scholars believe that peirasmos is used in the sense of trials or testing in verses two, three, and twelve. Again, I’ll touch on that more in a minute. But in the sense of temptation in verses thirteen and fourteen.
Interestingly enough, Fr. Farley interprets it only to mean testing, throughout the entire passage. He doesn’t really talk much about temptations. At least, he doesn’t think St. James is really talking about temptations. I rarely disagree with him, but I do here. And I’ll show you why in a minute.
So look at verse two. What kind of trials are these? What kind of trials would the readers have been going through? According to Fr. Farley:
It’s a trial or suffering so severe that it could cause one to fall away from one’s faith. It was this experience of testing that Christ urged his disciples, in Gethsemane, to pray that God would deliver them from and bring them safely through. James uses the word here to describe the various and many ways in which the Christian Jews were persecuted by their non-Christian neighbors. They may be tempted to despair and conclude that God has abandoned them.
If you read the book of Acts, you know what kind of trials the early Church went through. As soon as somebody, who was Jewish, went out and said, “I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,” they would be cast out of the synagogue, at best.
They might be cast out of their village. They would be disowned by their family as a heretic and ostracized. They might even be stoned in some cases, if they ran into the wrong crowd. Just ask St. Paul.
Questioner 3: Excommunication.
Fr. Early: Excommunication. That’s right, but it was more serious. Let’s say you’re in a devout Catholic family, and a son decides to become a Baptist or to become a Hindu. They’re not likely to be completely cut off from the family, forever and ever, Amen, and never spoken to—especially in our modern, pluralistic society.
I’m not saying that it never happens. But I’m just saying, in our society, in American culture, we’re used to religious pluralism. And if that were to happen, it’d be like “I hate that. It’s too bad. It’s really strange. It’s weird. I don’t understand it. But you’re still my son or daughter, and I still love you.”
We would all say that if one of our kids went cuckoo or something, right? No? We wouldn’t? We would take them out to the gate and stone them. OK! Wow! Tough church here! Tough crowd.
Questioner 4: It’d be more like excommunication during the Middle Ages, where you’re completely and totally shut off from society.
Fr. Early: That’s right. You’d be shunned. That’s what would happen to these people. Plus, a lot of them would lose the capability to have a job. You couldn’t work, in your hometown at least. You might be able to go to a Roman city and get a job doing some kind of manual labor, but it wouldn’t be the same. You’d lose a lot of privileges.
Here’s what the Orthodox Study Bible notes say about it. They say:
Trials, the world’s oppression, take place by God’s permission. The issue is not trials per se, but our reaction to them. Properly received, they reveal where our hearts are. They help to increase faith, which cannot remain static but most grow or die.
We’re going to talk a little bit more later about where trials come from and where temptations come from. Let me just say this. Nothing can happen without God allowing it. We were talking about this in a lesson a long time ago, in another course of studies that we were doing. I guess, ultimately the buck stops with God.
When we have something bad happen in our life, we can’t always say, “Oh, God is doing this to me.” God may be, in some cases, sending a difficult situation into our life to wake us up and bring us to repentance or to accomplish some greater good. But we can’t assume that is the case.
We can’t say, “I lost my job, so therefore I must be sinning against God, and I need to repent.” Maybe. Maybe not. It’s possible. Job was perfectly righteous, yet he had all kinds of trials. We always want to ask why and who. Who is responsible for this? Why is this happening to me? That’s not the important question to ask in a time of trial.
The important question is, “What am I going to do about it?”. What is my reaction going to be to it? And St. James gives us the reaction that God wants us to have. He says, “Count it all joy” or consider it all joy. Treat it as a joyful experience.
Is this the reaction that we normally have to trials? No! Most of the time, we gripe and complain. We grow angry. We question God. We try to figure out why it’s happening. We throw stuff. But James says that we should instead be joyful.
He’s not saying that we need to adopt a Pollyanna attitude. We don’t have to say, “Ugh, I just lost my job. YES! Awesome! Thank you, God!” unless you didn’t like the job in the first place. He’s not saying that we have to be thrilled about the things that come into our lives. “I just came down with a disease. Yes! I needed that. That’s what I really wanted. Thank you.”
You know that old commercial, that Skin Bracer commercial where the guy would get slapped and say, “Thanks I needed that.”? I know that’s not what James is saying. Joy is not happiness in the sense of an emotional elation. It’s not, “WHEE! Oh, I’m so happy!” That’s not what it is.
But at the same time, we should avoid feeling sorry for ourselves and having a pity party and saying, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. Guess I’m gonna eat worms.” Those are two extreme reactions.
Here’s what we should do. We should thank God, not necessarily for the situation, although that may be appropriate in times as well, but for what he is going to accomplish in us, through our difficult time. There’s a reason these things happen to us. Sometimes, stuff just happens, and God may night be behind it. Sometimes things do happen, and we never really know at the time what the source is, but we know what we’re supposed to do with it.
Why should we be joyful about trials? Well, look at verse three. The answer to the question is found there. He says, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Some translations say perseverance. What’s another translation? Patience.
It’s just like the old analogy. When you dig a bunch of gold out of the ground, the gold is impure and has extra stuff mixed in with it. But if you put it in a cauldron and turn up the heat, then the impurities start to rise to the top, and they can be skimmed out. That’s how you get pure gold.
So that’s kind of what happens to us. When we have the heat or fire, if you will, turned up on our lives, then those impurities tend to be exposed. And they tend to come to the surface. And then we have the opportunity, with God’s help, to skim those out and to get rid of them.
Questioner 5: Also remember, the parable of the seeds being sown on different kinds of ground. You’re being tested that way.
Fr. Early: That’s right. I think that’s a little bit different, but the application is similar. There’s four types of soil. The same seed is thrown out in the four different types of soil, so you get four different types of reactions. We have control over what kind of soil we are.
I like what the Orthodox Study Bible notes say. “Though difficult circumstances are from the evil one, to be angry at circumstances is to be angry at God, who permits them.” Keep in mind that if we do become angry that this is not an unforgivable sin.
We are, sometimes, going to get angry, and we can be forgiven for that. But instead of becoming angry, depressed, or adopting any other negative attitudes, we should be thankful and thank God for what He’s doing.
Let me tell you something I heard a radio preacher say one time. And this is actually a pretty sensible radio preacher. This is not one of those totally wild and crazy guys. He said, “Trials don’t produce character. They reveal character.” I actually think that they do both. I think that trials can toughen us up. They can make us better in the future. Or they can soften our hearts. Sometimes we need to be un-toughened. Other times we do need to be toughened up.
But they can produce patience, perseverance, and endurance in us, if we let them. We have total control over how we react. Do we get bitter? Do we get angry? Do we allow our hearts to become hardened and closed toward God? Or do we allow God to open our hearts through the situation?
And we need to also remember them and learn from them. We have to let them have their effects on us. James says in verse four, “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
He’s telling us we have to let it happen. We have to let God mold us through the difficult situations we’re going through. We have a choice to make. We can not learn from it. We can not grow from it. Or we can choose to grow from it and learn from it.
Questioner 6: It’s like having a victim’s mentality and switching that. From no longer being a victim of circumstances, but using them to grow in the Lord.
Fr. Early: That’s right. It’s a shifting mentality. We do not want to adopt the victim mentality. There’s an old cliché, “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade.” But there’s some truth to that.
Questioner 7: Would that be the same as saying, “I know this is not what I wanted to happen, but I trust God to allow something good to come of it.”?
Fr. Early: Yes, that’s right. “God, I would not have chosen to lose my job at this time, but I still trust you. And I trust that you’re going to give me something even better.” And it may not happen right away. It may take time. That’s a good observation there.
You all know the story of Job I assume. He lost his family. He lost his house and all of his wealth. He lost everything he had. He even lost his health. When Job was going through all his trials, do you remember what his wife said to him? “Curse God, and die!”
And Job said that he wasn’t going to do it. He said, “Yet even though, he slay me, yet will I praise Him.” I think that’s the exact translation from the King James. It could also be read, “I’m still going to follow Him.” That’s the choice we have to make.
We all have had bad things happen, and I guarantee you we will have more things happen. But, are we going to let the bad things that happened to us make us turn away from God? Here’s another quote from Job that I like. I can’t remember what part of Job this is in, but it says, “As surely as sparks fly upward, man is born to trouble.” So we’re all going to have trouble. And we’ve had it, and we’re going to have some more before it’s all over.
But there’s two choices right there in Job. It’s like a mini-lesson on what we’re talking about right now. Are we going to “curse God and die,” maybe not die but curse God and be bitter and turn away from God? Or are we going to say, “Even though I don’t understand this, and God I don’t really like this, but I trust you anyway. And I’m going to follow you, and I’m still going to praise you.”
That’s the reaction that St. James wants us to have. And if we let it, that will build endurance and perseverance in us for the next time. And not only that, but St. Paul speaks of this in 2nd Corinthians in the first or second chapter. I can’t remember.
That’s the nice thing about being Orthodox is I don’t have to quote chapter and verse anymore. If this were Bible study from my former church, people would be going, “Oh, that’s chapter one, verse two through seven. Don’t you know that, preacher?”
But anyway, St. Paul says that when we go through difficult situations, we receive comfort from God. And then with the comfort we have received, we can turn around and comfort others. If we have never had any difficult situations and if we’ve never gone through hard times, trials, and testings, then how will we, as the Church of God, minister to others who are also going through that?
It’s like they say, the best counselor to an alcoholic is a former alcoholic, who has kicked the habit and has gone through all the trials.
Questioner 8: We have Jesus, who didn’t avoid the suffering.
Fr. Early: Yeah, Jesus did not avoid the suffering. It says in Hebrews, “Despising the shame, He went ahead and went through it. He endured the cross for our sake.” I’m going to try to get through verse eight. That’s not quite nineteen. This is good stuff though, right? Isn’t it better to go slow?
We’re not in a hurry. We’re Orthodox. Time is meaningless. Have you seen that movie I.Q., where Albert Einstein is the character, and Walter Matthau plays him. You need to watch that. All these brilliant German physicists are arguing about whether time exists or not.
At the same time, they’re playing badminton and the little birdie got caught in the tree. And so, they’re throwing their rackets up to try and knock down the birdie, and the racket gets stuck too. And they’re saying, “So you’re saying time doesn’t exist?” And the other guy says, “Well now your racket doesn’t exist.”
I’m getting way off, aren’t I? Comedy Bible study. Where am I? Verse five. No, I’m sorry. I’m still in four actually. We’ve got to let endurance have its perfect result. Why? So that we can be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Now perfect here is the Greek word teleios, which does not necessarily mean sinless. Although, that’s the goal we’re shooting for. It can mean mature, blameless, and completely dedicated. The Hebrew equivalent to this word is is used to describe Noah in Genesis 6:9, “whole, entire, not fractured by divide loyalties, enduring persecution with joy results in finally having united heart, one zealously set on serving God, so that one is lacking nothing that one needs.”
Once you get the commentary, Fr. Farley does his own translation from the Greek. It’s very interesting, because sometimes he uses totally different words than you would find in regular translations. It’s very eye-opening and very educational.
There’s a beautiful poem. You need to look this up on the internet. St. Nikolai Nikolaj Velimirović was a Serbian saint from the 20th century. He was in Dachau concentration camp for a while, and then later he came to the U.S. and was a professor at St. Tikhon’s. I think he died in the 60s maybe. I’m not real sure about that.
Questioner 9: He put together The Prologue too.
Fr. Early: Yeah, he put together The Prologue of Ohrid. He has a great poem called Thank you for my enemies. And he talks about how my enemies teach me this and they do all these good things for me. It seems kind of crazy from a worldly standpoint, but it’s really great. Look that up if you can find it. I don’t have it here.
What do we do? Do we have enough wisdom to deal with our trials? Usually not. I don’t know about you. I usually don’t. He says in verse five. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Wisdom is how to cope with the trials that we’re enduring, at least in this context.
Wisdom is more than just head knowledge. It is, in the words of the Orthodox Study Bible notes, “It’s the practical and spiritual knowledge, required for godly living.” It’s kind of like common sense almost. The problem with common sense is it’s not very common anymore. But it’s how to live life successfully in a way that is pleasing to God.
Questioner 10: Uncommon sense.
Fr. Early: Uncommon sense? That’s right. That’s what we need. So when we’re at the end of our rope, when we have no idea what to do, when we just cry out to God and say, “God help me. I don’t know how to handle this,” that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do.
St. James says, ask from God. He gives to all liberally with without reproach. When we do this, God will give us the wisdom we need to endure. He does not give this to us stingily or grudgingly. He doesn’t say, “Well, alright, if I have to. Here’s a little bit of wisdom, but that’s all you get today.” He doesn’t say that.
He gives generously. The Greek word is haplōs, which literally means openly, as with an open hand. It’s like if a child asks you for candy and you give him a big fistful and you have an open hand. It’s all going to be gone in a heartbeat, isn’t it? They’ll take it all. God gives to us with that open hand, where we can take it all.
He will not think badly of us for asking. The only caveat placed upon our asking for wisdom is that, as seen in verse six, we “must ask in faith without any doubting,” or as Fr. Farley says, wavering. In other words “I don’t really know if I’m going to get it, but I’m going to ask just in case. I’m going to cover my bases, but I really don’t think I’m going to get the wisdom.”
That’s not what we’re supposed to do. There needs to be a lack of doubt, and the lack of doubting includes, “an unquestioning loyalty to God, and with confidence that comes from a life that is stable in all its ways.”
And Fr. Farley add this, “The word waver or doubt here indicates, not so much the element of psychological hesitancy, as the element of moral hesitancy.” So see, it’s not just an aspect of, “Well, I’m skeptical. I’m going to ask anyway, but I don’t believe it.” There’s more to it, according to Fr. Farley.
“There’s an element of moral hesitancy. The waverer here is not one who needs mental certainty that his prayer will be answered, but he needs moral decisiveness in his approach to God. He needs to repent of being double-souled” or in the English double-minded. That’s dipsychos. Di means two. Psychos means your actual soul or your life, so double-souled.
Don’t try to live as a worldling and as God’s servant, at the same time. In other words, trying to have a foot in the world and a foot with God. The guy that spoke to us last night from OCMC was talking about, in India, a bunch people will come to an Orthodox service who are not Orthodox. Like, you’ll have fifty people in an Orthodox service, and six of them are Orthodox and the others are not.
And those other non-Orthodox people will go right down the row, then to the Hindu temple, and then they’ll go down to the Catholic Church, and then they’ll go to a mosque or something. And somebody asks them, “Well, why do you do this?” The response is, “Well, we’re just trying to make sure we have all our bases covered, in case this Jesus Christ thing pans out.”
That’s not the approach we’re supposed to have. I’m almost done.
Questioner 11: Pascal’s Wager.
Fr. Early: Pascal’s Wager—I’m going to make sure my bet is covered there. We need to fully, completely, and undividedly devote ourselves to the Lord Jesus.
Questioner 12: So he says this is a moral question?
Fr. Early: Fr. Farley says it’s more of a moral, than a psychological question. I would say both, probably. St. James is saying, don’t mentally doubt that you’re going to receive the wisdom that you need, but also don’t morally doubt. In other words, don’t have a foot in each kingdom. Don’t have a foot in the world and a foot in the Kingdom of God.
Questioner 13: I guess, I’m just having a problem understanding the morality of it. I understand how immorality can create doubt in me, if I’m asking God for something, and I don’t feel I’m worthy enough to receive whatever I’ve asked for. But is that what it’s referring to?
Fr. Early: I don’t know that it’s so much morals in the sense of the way you’re behaving, as opposed to your loyalty.
Questioner 14: Could it be in the sense of will, Father?
Fr. Early: Exactly. It’s like saying, “I’m going to ask God for this, even though I’m not fully dedicated to Him. I’ll ask God to bless my life, but I won’t fully devote my life to Him. I hope that he gives it to me.” That’s kind of the idea.
Although, certainly the moral aspect follows. If you’re not completely loyal to Christ, you’re not going to have the moral life either. Now, what’s he saying, if I can sum it up, is that we need to have integrity. Integrity, in the most basic meaning, means unity or lack of internal division.
You’ve heard the phrase the structural integrity, like of an aircraft. You hear sometimes, “Well, the aircraft broke up. It lost it’s structural integrity.” That means it broke into two or three pieces. We often hear of people who are described as being “a study in contradictions.” Have you ever heard that? “He claimed to be a Christian, but he did such and such.” You hear about people from time to time in the news.
Let us, my dear brothers and sisters, not be such people. Let us be people that are not studies in contradictions or paradoxes. Let us be people who are eternally unified, who are fully and completely dedicated to Christ; firmly in God’s camp, not trying to have one foot in the Church and one foot in the world.
Even if that’s not what James is saying here, that’s true anyway. He’s going to say it later on. But this whole idea of being double-minded or double-souled is trying to split the difference and say, “I’m kind of dedicated to Christ, but not fully. I also want to live my own life and my own way.” I lived that way for many years when I was a younger fellow in high school and college, before I finally realized I need to get on board completely with Christ.
If we do not do this, we cannot expect to receive wisdom from God. Fr. Farley says:
The one who is divided in his choice to serve God and not the world can never received wisdom from God. Persecution will find him out for what he is, for he will be at a loss.
Think about that for a second. Think about how many people, let’s say during the communist period is Russia, stopped going to church and stopped doing things for God as soon as it was illegal. Now again, I don’t mean to judge anybody, because we don’t know how we would react in that very, very difficult situation.
But times of trial, like that, tend to kind of winnow out the fields, if you will. They separate the wheat from the chaff. Don’t they? If we are not fully devoted to Christ, and if we have a serious time of persecution come, what will happen to us?
And I think one day we will have that, but hopefully not in our lives and hopefully never. Certainly, the world seems to be moving in more of an anti-Christian direction as a whole—not all parts of the world, but the Western world. Are we going to stand firm, or are we going to fall away?
That’s what St. James is talking about here. We need to be people of integrity that are going to stand firm, no matter what happens in our lives. Any other thoughts or questions?
Questioner 15: One story that I heard about this, a long time ago, was that in Russia, a group of soldiers came into the church service and interrupted everything with guns. And they came to the front and said, “If anybody here is going to stay right now, we’re going to shoot you if you say you’re a Christian. And if you’re not just walk away. Maybe you just happen to be in this building.”
So a few folks left, and others stayed. And the ones that stayed, when they closed the doors, they said, “Okay, we just wanted to check out who the real Christians were. Now let’s fellowship together.”
Fr. Early: I’ve heard that story. That’s a great story. The people who stayed are the ones that St. James would say are not double-souled, double-minded. They’re the ones who are really standing firm. They’re not the ones that are like the waves of the sea that are driven about.
So what would we do in that situation? Would we stand firm if somebody marched in this room now, with guns, and said, “Alright. If you’re a Christian, we’re going to shoot you.” Would we stay or would we go? St. James is saying you need to be the people that would stay, that would give all for Christ, and be completely loyal to Him, no matter what the situation is.