Yesterday I challenged everyone to read through James this week. Look for every occurrence of the word "brothers" or "brethren" or the phrase "brothers and sisters" and pay attention to what it says when it says it.
I said to write down what it says, then do what it says.
Now, to be clear, "brothers and sisters" is rarely the point. It's the context of the point. If you received a letter from me addressed to you personally, the point of the letter wouldn't be "dear you." The "dear you" would say how you're to hear it. Similarly if you received a letter from me addressed to "Members of Sarasota Community Church" it creates context about how to hear it.
In this we're reading things addressed (so to speak) as "dear brothers and sisters," or "dear family."
I'll walk through the first chapter, just to give an example of how I would do it.
Example #1: Verse 2
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Just thinking out loud about that, I notice that James starts out his letter writing about trials. And when he does, he addresses his comment to us as "brothers and sisters." And then he says that not only do we need to persevere in trials, but there is value in the perseverance it produces for us. We can read that as a personal challenge or lesson, which it is of course, but we can also read it as family.
He is writing to us as family of his. And he is writing to us as family of each other. When we face trials, we do it as family.
What does it say to do as family? Persevere under trial. We might add "as family" or "together." So I might write it as this: "Persevere together under trial." And today I will do that with whatever I face.
Example #2: Verse 16
16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
As I read that, it doesn't really sound like the gifts of God are a threat of deception, so I read what comes before it to see if the statement is referencing what has already been said. And sure enough, verses 13-15 help it make sense:
13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters...
How I think it through, James is writing about temptation, and the threat of deception, and he addresses it in the context of family. There must be value in recognizing and resisting deception together.
So what is he saying to do? "Make sure you're not deceived by temptation." And if I add the "family" or "together" emphasis, I might write it out as this: "Together, watch out for deception so that you don't give into temptation." And I prayerfully renew my devotion to do that today.
Example #3: Verse 19
19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
Again, thinking out loud: When James writes to us about how to hear better, and how not to lose our temper, it seems obvious that he'd put it in the context of relationship. But I wonder how often we try to conquer these things on our own? What if we actually looked to each other as family to help each other do those things? What if we actually confessed our short comings to each other? What if we said, "I'm sorry, I was too quick to criticize," or "I should've listened to what you were saying before I answered." And what if we said, "I don't feel like you've really heard me. Can I have your undivided attention to really hear what I'm saying, and then I'd love to hear what you have to say about it." What if the family of believers was the context in which, not only are our shortcomings magnified, but where they're overcome?
That's how I think this through.
So what is James saying to do? "Don't talk over each other, and don't be so quick to perceive insult or lose your temper. Instead, take time to listen to each other as family." And so I take that to heart today, not just to study it, but to actually do what it says. This will affect how I converse with people. It should.
So that's how I do the first three occurrences in James. Read the rest of James for yourself.
Learning to study scripture is worth your time, and not beyond your reach.
Study not just to learn what it teaches. Study to do what it says. And in this week's lesson, learn to notice what scripture says about being "brothers and sisters" in Christ. And then put it to action.
Again, if you didn't hear yesterday's message yet, you can watch it here.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.