Teach Me Thy Statutes:
Fr. Early: Welcome back to our study of The Epistle of St. James. Last time, which was two weeks ago, we looked at the first eight verses, James 1:1-8. Probably what I’ll do, is I’ll go ahead and reread that section and give you a quick recap of what we talked about, just so we have some context for where we are now.
So let me read the first eight verses, and I’ll give you a real quick, kind of like a Cliff Notes, version of what we talked about.
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.
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.
Okay, just a recap. I know some people weren’t able to make it last time. This is written by St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem. We have his icon right here behind us. This is my patron saint. It’s not why I chose this Epistle, but I do love the Epistle anyway.
He was the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and he was one of the sons of Joseph, by a previous marriage. At least that’s the Orthodox tradition. In the Roman Catholic tradition, he would be a cousin of the Lord Jesus. But we do not believe, as Orthodox, that he was another son of Mary. Of course, Mary only had one son, the only begotten Son. That would be our Lord Jesus Christ.
But James is kind of semi-related to Him, not by blood, but grew up in the same household. He would have been with Joseph. And he eventually became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. And he’s writing to Jewish Christians, who were scattered abroad by some of the persecutions that we see in the book of Acts.
And then he says in the second verse, “Count it all joy, when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” So when we fall into trials or hardships or tribulations or difficult times, we should not complain and gripe and say, “O, woe is me.”
But we should instead, count it as joy. Now again, that doesn’t mean we just go like, “Yes! I just lost my job. Yeah man, I’m so happy. Give me five!” No. We don’t necessarily have to be emotionally happy about it, but we thank God for everything. And we count it joy, because when our faith is tested, it produces patience in us.
In other words, it’s for a greater good. It helps us to become more patient, more like God, more steadfast. And eventually, patience, if we let it in us, makes us perfect and complete, lacking nothing. That doesn’t necessarily mean perfect in the sense of sinless, but it means mature and complete.
And then he says, if we are in trials and we are lacking wisdom, we need to ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach. In other words, God will give us the wisdom and the resources we need to get through our difficult times, if we just ask.
But we need to ask in faith. We need to not say, “Well God, I think you might. Just in case you want to give me some wisdom, give it to me. I’m not really sure if I believe you will or not, but give it to me.” That’s not what we’re supposed to do.
We are supposed to ask with faith, not doubting; claiming the promises of the Scriptures. And if we do not ask in faith, then God is not obligated to give us anything. I guess technically, He’s not obligated anyways, is He? When you get right down to it, God’s not obligated to do anything, but He’s promised that He will, if we ask in faith.
And he talks about being a double-minded man. We should not be a double-minded person. This is the Greek dipsychos, meaning two-souled or double-souled. That’s not the kind of person we need to be. We need to be firmly in God’s camp, if you will, not trying to put one foot in the world and one foot in the Kingdom of God.
Any questions about anything in there, before we move on to the main topic for today?
Questioner 1: Are they going to tell us how to do that?
Fr. Early: Are they going to tell you how to do that? Hmmm…It is. This is the standard that we are to strive for. It’s like, I’ve been involved in karate lately. And when you’re a black belt, you have to do 100 pushups to get the black belt. I’m not even anywhere close to that. I’m not going to tell you what I’m at right now, not even half.
But that’s the standard I’m going to strive for. And even once I get to where I can do that, I probably won’t be able to do it every single time, but I’m trying. I’m trying to strive toward that. I took a fitness test, when I was going to the mission field back in 1998, and I was only 30 years old at the time. They made us do push-ups. They said, “Just do them until you can’t anymore.”
Do you want to know how many I did? Seven. That’s pathetic. And the other day, I did 45. So I’m getting closer, but it’s kind of like that. This is the standard. We need to work toward that and keep making progress and making progress, knowing that we’re not going to achieve that right now. We can’t hit the mark.
Questioner 2: Remember what St. Paul says too. You have to keep running the race.
Fr. Early: That’s right. He says to keep your head up. Press toward the goal. We are going to stumble and to fall on our face, bad sometimes, but we get up and we keep running. You know the old saying about the monks.
The little boy asked the monk, “What do you do up there in the monastery all day long?” And he says, “We fall down, and we get up. We fall down; we get up.” So that’s it. I think the writings of the Fathers too are helpful in specific things we can do in our prayers to avoid temptations. They flesh out what the Scriptures teach us. The Scriptures tell us the what, and the Fathers tend to tell us the how.
Now, let’s go on to the next section. I’m going to read verses nine through eleven, and later I’ll do the rest.
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flowering of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat; then it withers the grass. Its flower falls and its beautiful appearance perishes; so the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
Before verse nine, we’ve been talking about trials, difficulties, and our reaction to them. And now, it may seem like he’s changing the subject all of a sudden. Now, all of a sudden, he’s talking about the rich and the poor.
He talks about the lowly brother, and that probably is referring to the poor. And then, he says the rich one. It makes sense. If you say the lowly brother and the rich, then the lowly has got to refer to the poor. Although, they are lowly in more ways than one. They would be in the lower social class.
And he presents a paradox. This is very interesting. He says, “The lowly one should boast in his exaltation.” Think about that. If you’re low, how can you also be exalted at the same time? How can you be lifted up if you’re low?
And then he says, “The rich one should boast in his lowliness.” And again remember that rich in those days also meant that you were in the higher classes of society, i.e., the ruling class or aristocracy. Again, that’s a paradox.
Why is this? It’s because most rich people think they are high and mighty. Don’t they? And that hasn’t changed a whole lot in 2000 years. Some things never change. Human nature hasn’t changed a whole lot. Rich people think they’re high and mighty, but they will be humbled one day by death.
You’ve heard all the old cliches. You can’t take it with you. You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.
Questioner 3: The Bible reading today.
Fr. Early: Yes. Death is the great equalizer. St. Paul wrote to Timothy. He says in 1st Timothy 6:7, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” So that’s kind of the Biblical justification for that thing about the U-Haul and the hearse.
Now, there’s a connecting theme between this passage and the other one. And it’s persecution, at least according to Fr. Farley. I tend to agree with him. The reason the lowly should boast in his exaltation and the rich should boast in his lowliness is because, as he says,
Persecution reveals for the Christian the true state of things, stripping away the lies and the illusions of the world. For the lowly, the persecutors may despoil him of his goods, but he has little to lose. And no persecution can take away his true riches, which await him in Heaven.
But for the rich, on the other hand, persecution reveals how transient and ephemeral earthly riches really are. When he is despoiled, it’s a vivid reminder that he should not trust in his riches, but in God. For all will eventually die and leave their wealth behind.
I know probably all of you in here have read some stories about Nazi Germany and the struggles of the Jews in those times. And you had people who were very wealthy Jewish merchants and bankers, who had lots and lots of stuff before the war. And they saw all that taken away. They were happy to escape with the shirt off their back and their very lives, if they got away with nothing at all.
Think about the movie, The Sound of Music, one of my favorite movies. Remember Captain von Trapp, he was a very wealthy aristocrat, and he had been a naval officer for the pre-World War II Austria. I’m feeling the urge to sing Edelweiss, but I’ll fight it off because my wife hates that song.
So anyway, Captain von Trapp lived in this huge castle and had all these servants. And yet because he refused to join the Nazi navy, they were forced to flee—again with just all that they could carry on them. That’s all they had. They got away, and eventually made it to the United States.
I lived in Bosnia, and I knew lots and lots of people who, before they war, may not have been rich but had a comfortable life. They had a good job, a good government pension, and a weekend house. And they’d live in an apartment during the week, and then on the weekend, they’d go off to the country and a nice little house. They had a really nice life. And then, the war came along, and they lost everything.
It’s that kind of thing, persecution. When we go through times like that, they show us what’s really important in life. All of a sudden, that big car or the weekend house don’t become important anymore. What becomes really important is our life and our faith in God. And so that’s the kind of thing St. James is getting at here.
And he uses a vivid analogy. He talks about the grass withering and the flower fades. Can you think of any other parts in the Bible. Have you heard that anywhere else in the Bible, references to grass fading and flowers falling away? There’s a lot.
Questioner 4: Didn’t Jesus use the example of the branches?
Fr. Early: The vine and the branches? Jesus talked about the vine and the branches, and God will prune the branch or if it’s worthless, cut it off. Yeah, that was part of his teaching. How about the Old Testament? Some of the Psalms.
You think about Psalm 90. It’s the one that talks about, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” It talks about grass growing up in the morning and flourishing, and then in the evening, it’s cut down and thrown in the fire.
Psalm 103. “The flower, its place is gone. Its place remembers it no more.” There’s Psalm 145, which in the Slavic tradition, that one is used as the 2nd antiphon. We use it in Typika. It talks about, “Put not your trust in men. His spirit departs and passes away. In that very moment, his life perishes.”
How about Isaiah? “The grass withers. The flower fades. But the word of the Lord lasts forever.” So St. James is borrowing from a common Jewish tradition of very earthy teaching, and I don’t mean earthy in the sense of vulgar. I just mean it uses the earth. And Jesus taught that way too, didn’t He?
It’s very effective. We all know what happens with grass. We all know what happens with flowers. So we can relate to this, and our life is like this. But we forget that, don’t we? I think the older we get, the more conscious we get of the fact that we’re not going to be here forever.
I know I’m still young. I’m only 41.
Questioner 5: You’re still a kid.
Fr. Early: I’m still a kid? Alright, Dad. But I can feel it more acutely than I could when I was 21. Will you give me that?
Questioner 5: I’ll give you the 45 push-ups.
Fr. Early: Yeah, and I feel like my arms are going to wither and fade. When I was 21, I couldn’t do that many. But if I could, I wouldn’t feel so bad the next day. Anyway, we’re digressing. Let’s move on. Let’s steer our way back to the text and look at verses twelve through nineteen. And I think this will be the last thing we discuss today, but there’s a lot to discuss here.
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
Okay, so in verse twelve, he goes back to the theme of trials. He pronounces a blessing upon those who have persevered under testing and promises that they will receive a reward, the crown of life. Here, as Fr. Farley says, “This is the final incentive to persevere and rejoice in your trial.”
So that’s one thing we can do is, when we’re going through difficult times, think about the reward. Think about what lies ahead, and that can be helpful at times. For example, if you’re running a race. I’m not a marathoner, probably never will be, but people who are in marathons say they hit a wall when they get to Mile 21 or 22, and they’ve only got four more to go. And they start thinking about that finish line.
When I get down and try to do those push-ups and I’m dying, I think about that black belt. And it helps me. That applies to the spiritual life as well. Now this, the Crown of Life, is interesting. I remember one time, when I was a Baptist, I would listen to a certain preacher. I loved listening to him, and he was a great Bible teacher.
He did a series one time on the five crowns promised to us in the Bible. He taught that they were literal crowns. You have the Crown of Life, that’s mentioned here. But there’s other crowns; St. Peter mentions one. And if you do this, you’ll get this one crown. If you do this, you’ll get a second one. And if you’re really good, you’ll get up to five.
This is where I didn’t agree with him, even then and much less now. It’s not a literal crown. It’s not like, “Okay, let me check the list. Did you persevere under trial? Check. Here’s your crown. How about you? Here’s your crown.”
Questioner 6: You have to cast all those.
Fr. Early: You have to cast them down anyway. That’s right. So what’s the point of even getting it? I’m just kidding. But the crown is the Greek, stephanos, which is where the name Stephen comes from. It’s a symbol. It’s symbolic of persevering in the Christian faith and life.
St. Paul would have said, “finishing the race.” St. Paul loved athletic metaphors. He didn’t ever talk about push-ups, but he did talk about races a lot and wrestling and boxing. The life that St. James is talking about here is eternal life with our Lord and his saints in Heaven.
So the Crown of Life could also be thought of as the reward which is eternal life. The Crown of Life is equivalent to eternal life or salvation. Here’s what New Testament scholar Douglas Moo says. This is one of the commentaries, I’m using.
As the athlete endures by bodily stress, in order to achieve a high level of physical endurance, so the Christian is to endure the trials of life, in order to attain the spiritual endurance that will bring perfection.
Now, we would use the the term theosis instead of just perfection. Theosis is that process that we go through the trials, and we’re purified and we’re strengthened. We become more and more like Christ.
Now, is it wrong for us to hope for a reward for our spiritual endeavors? What do you think? Is it wrong to look for a reward? To hope for a reward? Or shouldn’t we just love God for God’s own sake? There’s an argument that goes on about this sometimes. What do you think?
Questioner 7: I don’t think it’s wrong, using a C.S. Lewis argument though.
Questioner 8: I agree.
Fr. Early: C.S. Lewis? Well, he was Orthodox. He just didn’t know it.
Questioner 9: It’s not wrong for the General to want the victory.
Fr. Early: That’s right. Well, it’s very Biblical as well. Some people, I don’t understand their reading of the Bible.
Questioner 10: Why choose to go a certain direction, without some type of incentive?
Fr. Early: Yeah. I mean, if you’re running in a race you could just go off to the right, off to the left, or you could make the hamburger stand your goal, but you wouldn’t win the race. You could say, “Here’s a bar over here. Heck with the finish line. I’m going to hit the bar.” But you don’t win the race. You’ve got to go to the finish line.
Questioner 11: To me, the Orthodox, if I understand the tradition, seems to have a lot of prayers in the Orthodox liturgies that point us to the fact, that that’s one of the reasons we are who we are—for the hope laid before us. And that’s one of the reasons people become Orthodox.
Fr. Early: Exactly. The New Testament constantly invites the Christian to contemplate the inheritance that awaits him.
The contemplation of this glorious inheritance can be a marvelous source of spiritual strength and sustenance. By fixing his gaze on this inheritance, the believer is able to find sustenance and strength in the trial, recognizing that the suffering of this present is not long.
I think about St. Paul. He says, “I press on, toward the goal,” to win the prize. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win the prize and getting the crown of glory. St. Paul also said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present life are nothing to compare with the glory that awaits us in Heaven.” So he’s using that motivation himself.
Questioner 12: Didn’t the Orthodox mystical side say though that the only reward that is, is to be in the presence of God? It has nothing to do with what we might think here in this life. We don’t know the glory of the Theotokos. We can’t comprehend it. Neither could we comprehend the love that she has for God. So I don’t see the parallel with what I do here on earth.
Fr. Early: The reward itself is communion and being present with God.
Questioner 12: I think Orthodoxy, especially St. Ephraim the Syrian, talks about the four virtues and one of them is humility. If you’re trying to gain a prize, through some sort of activity that you’re doing, to me that goes against the grain. That’s competition, and I don’t think the Kingdom of Heaven has anything to do with competition.
Questioner 13: It’s not competition with anyone else. It’s competition with yourself. You’re warring your own attachments and your own body.
Questioner 14: You’re in the midst of war with your own self versus the free will that God has given you.
Questioner 12: But Judaism had a real problem with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who thought they could earn merits with God, and Roman Catholics do as well. Earning merits, that’s going to give you a different kind of reward. To me, I am not comfortable with the word reward. I don’t think it goes along with the mystical side of Orthodoxy.
Questioner 15: I think he’s thinking of a worldly reward like a kingdom or power, but this is totally different
Questioner 16: You mentioned you disenfranchised your mind from the man who was talking about the crowns. To me, that is a crossover, if you will, between what God wants us to be doing, and what we as carnal creatures want to do. That is, to gain some semblance of the magnificence of our efforts, which is kind of pointing to yourself in a way.
Fr. Early: This is not about pride and “Look what I did.” We’re not trying to keep a checklist of all the good things we do. And when we die, we’re not going to go up to God and say, “Hey, take a look at this. Look at my resume. I’ve got ten pages.” It’s not about that.
It’s, in humility, striving to stay on the path and to stay close to God in this life and work toward the reward, which is God’s presence, Himself.
Questioner 17: So getting back to the point of evangelism, being a former Protestant, one of the big things Protestants often stress is numbers—people that you convert and how many numbers are in the pew. That’s their form of reward.
Whereas, one of the monastics said, “Save yourself, and thousands around you will be saved.” You’re not trying to go out and win souls. You’re trying to save your own soul, and to me, that’s what the mystical side of Orthodoxy is. I’m not looking for a reward from God. I’m looking to worship God.
Questioner 18: I think it’s also the peace within. We’re talking about earthly and the reward we don’t know won’t be done. But I think it’s in everyday life, where you’re confronted with situations; that it’s always our ego or wanting to get rewarded in the carnal sense.
And when you let go of that, you don’t think with your carnal mind. You allow yourself to come to that place of peace, which you’re going to be a testimony to whoever is around, and the legacy for your children, which to me, goes beyond just the reward, but more of a place of peace that we come to.
Fr. Early: We need to go on. I’m sorry. If somebody wants to talk more about this later with me, I’d be happy to. But let’s keep going. In verse thirteen, the topic shifts here. Now, there is one Greek word that is used for both trials, in the sense of difficult times that come from without, and temptations. Of course, temptations can come from without, but they can also come from within.
A trial though is really more something that happens to us, but it doesn’t necessarily try to entice us into sin. But a temptation is something that does entice us to sin. And there’s a Greek word that’s used for both of these and it’s called peirasmos.
Now, there’s a shift here. If you look at verse thirteen again, it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted.” Now, that technically could say, “Let no one say when he is under trial,” but I think the context demands that it be tempted. Most of the English translations change the word from trials to temptations.
Interestingly enough, in Fr. Farley’s commentary, he doesn’t. He thinks it’s referring to trials, difficult situations, tribulations all throughout. But he says, “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.”
I’m going to have to cut a few things here. There is a relationship, because sometimes trials weaken us and they stress us out. And it’s sometimes, in those difficult times, when we’re more open to temptation. When we’re angry, when we’re hurt, when we’re tired, when we’re hungry or thirsty, we can be more likely to give into temptation.
When did the devil come to Jesus in the wilderness? After He had been eating heartily for forty days? No. After He had been fasting for forty days.
Questioner 19: I think another way to say that is not trials, but tried.
Fr. Early: Right. But the point he’s making here is that God never tempts anyone to sin. St. James says that primarily temptation comes from within us. He says, “each one is carried away and tempted by his own lust,” or his own desire. The Scripture teaches us that we are fallen creatures. We have an innate tendency toward sin. Fr. Farley says:
This inner darkness manifests itself in willfulness and rebellious determination to have our own way in an uncontrollable appetites. Outer experiences cause us to rage against God, but it is this inner darkness, not the outward suffering, that is the danger to us and is to blame. Testing and suffering are only spiritually dangerous to us because we are fallen.
See, we’re fallen creatures, and we have this bent or this inclination toward sin, and we have to fight that our whole lives. St. Paul refers to that as the old man. He says, “Put to death the old man that is within you.”
St. James talks about how it is your own lustful desire, your own impure desire, within you that drags you away. You’ve got the image of somebody being dragged off, like a slave being caught and dragged away, back in those days.
Does this mean that the trials in our life, necessarily, that they must lead us to giving into the temptation to sin. Not at all, of course. Do we ever have to sin? Our we ever in a situation that we must commit sin? No. We have the power to say no to sin.
When it comes right down to it, we sin because we choose to. Certainly, there are times when we are weaker. Again, I mentioned being tired, being hungry, being stressed, having two kids standing right next to you and yapping in your ear.
But desire, by itself, is not a sin. The Scriptures and the Fathers teach us that only when we, by an act of the will, give into desirous enticements, sin results. It’s not easy but we do have the ability to say no to sin. St. Paul said, “Sin shall no longer be your master, because you’re not under law, but under grace.”
And this is something that we must do. If we do not, the desire within us brings forth sin. And if we sin long enough, sin leads to death. This does not mean only physical death—we can certainly sin ourselves into the grave physically—but spiritual death, eternal suffering in hell. We don’t have to have that.
Fr. Farley says, “God does not allow testing and persecution so that we may fail, but so that we may succeed and become seasoned, proven, and holy; to think otherwise is to be deceived.”
One thing that we must always keep in mind is that everything that God allows to happen to us, everything He gives us, is for our ultimate good. It’s for our own good. It’s hard to believe that sometimes, especially when you’re in the midst of a difficult time.
But St. James says that every good and perfect gift is from above. You could also say that everything from above is good and perfect. God doesn’t want to lead us into sin. He doesn’t allow things to happen to us, so that we can fall away from God or fall from grace.
But he allows trials and temptations to come to us so that we can draw closer to Him; so that we can fall on our knees in our desperation and say, “Have mercy upon me, O God,” and hopefully come out of it with a stronger faith than we had beforehand.
Does that make sense? I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I skipped a bunch of stuff in my notes for lack of time. Let me ask you, some liturgical trivia. Tell me where, without peeking, in the Divine Liturgy is this verse quoted. “Every good and perfect thing that’s from above.”
Questioner 20: In the blessing.
Fr. Early: Right. Well, right before that actually. It’s after Communion. The priest comes up, and he turns sideways and he stands before the icon of Christ. It’s called “The Prayer before the Ambo.” The Ambo is the place you stand. There’s a pretty long prayer, and the priest says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
That’s one of many, many places in the Divine Liturgy that is a direct quote from the Scriptures. Even John 3:16 is quoted. Do you know where that is? You don’t always hear it. You hear it at St. Joseph’s because we try to say the so-called secret or silent prayers out loud. In a lot of parishes, that’s not done.
It’s done, not right before Communion, but during the Anaphora. It’s after the Great Entrance, but before we actually consecrate the bread and wine. So anyway, there’s a little trivia.
One thing James says here, is that God’s goodness or His essence will not change. He says, “There is no variance or shifting shadow.” If we think about the weather, the sun, the moon, all that changes. Of course, you have the old joke about Texas weather. If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes and it will change.
God doesn’t change like that. God’s not going to be nice one day and then mean the next. He’s not going to torture us and pick on us, and then give us a new car the next day. God is not like that. God is consistent, unlike us. We are inconsistent.
The teaching of St. James agrees with that as does the author of Hebrews. He says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” And that’s what I like about Orthodoxy too. Orthodoxy doesn’t change. I heard somebody say once, “We don’t vote on what we believe.”
You know how you hear all these things, and that such-and-such church had their annual convention. And they voted to do such-and-such or voted to allow this or that. We don’t vote on our theology.
Questioner 21: Like Chesterton said, “Tradition is the vote of all Christians that have lived since the very beginning.”
Fr. Early: Right. Tradition is giving your ancestors a vote. And there’s a lot more of them than there are of us. And for the most part, they were a lot wiser too. Alright, I’m getting close to the end.
Perhaps the greatest gift God has given us is that “He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” And the Greek word that’s translated as brought forth is usually used to describe a mother giving birth. It’s also the word for desire giving birth to sin in verse fifteen.
So desire gives birth to sin, but conversely, God brought us forth by the word of truth. The Word is ultimately Christ Himself. Christ is the Word of God. The Bible is not the word of God. It’s the written word of God. It’s part of the word of God, but it’s not the sum total of the word of God. It’s why we, as Orthodox, don’t usually refer to the Scriptures as the word of God.
You’re not too far away if you do say that, but the Word is ultimately Christ. And then in a secondary fashion, the word is the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, not all of which were written down. That’s where we disagree with our Protestant friends who would say that everything necessary was written down.
Well, no. Not everything was written in the Scriptures. There’s a lot of things that weren’t written in the Scriptures. But through the Word, Jesus Christ, and the word in the teaching, that’s how God brings us into the Kingdom. St. Paul said, “It is by hearing that we believe. Faith comes through hearing.”
And also, new birth can be thought of as Baptism as well. New birth is a spiritual thing, but it’s also a reference to Baptism. Through our faith in Christ, the word of truth and our cleansing from sin, through Holy Baptism, God has saved us and made us a kind of first fruits among his creatures. What St. James is saying here is that one day all of the creation will be renewed and transformed.
This whole place is going to be changed. It’s going to be upgraded, if you will. But now, we, as Christians, are the first to experience this transformation. We are a preview of what is to come, or at least, we can be; we should be.
In other words, God has taken us and He has upgraded us. He’s washed our sins away through Baptism. He’s given us the gift of Confession. He’s given us the sacrament of Holy Communion for our constant renewal. And He’s given us the Holy Spirit within us, so that we are a first fruits of the transformation of the entire creation that’s to come.
We’re kind of a sneak preview of what’s to come. No pressure there. We need to live up to that. We need to make sure we’re not living unbaptized, without the Holy Spirit. We need to live a life, not in the lust of the flesh, but according to the Holy Spirit who is within us. And finally, let me read you one more quote from Fr. Farley. He says:
For now, He has transfigured us as the first fruits and pledge of what He will do for all of His creatures, His entire creation. St. James reminds his readers that their exalted status, as God’s first fruits, is no novel teaching. He’s exhorting them to live consistently with what they already know. He says, this you know.
So in other words, he’s not telling them anything new. He’s just saying live up to it. This is what God has done for you. Now act like it. Make sure you stay in the faith, and do not give into sin and fall back into worldly living.
So God has given us the resources we need to fight temptation, which can come from within us. And when we go through trials and difficult times, we need to not let them drag us off. We also need to not let them cause us to give into sin within us, even though we feel weakened and run down.
We need to cling to God and say, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Give me the strength to persevere through this time.” And He will do it, if we just ask.