What motivated James?
by Jack Wald | February 10th, 2013

James 4:11-12

Mike mentioned last week in his sermon that James was a bit too intense. He said that James would be a difficult friend to have, always pushing for perfection. Mike is not the only person to feel that way. There are many who find James too intense. The pastor of a church I visited in Los Angeles preached from James and he had to take a Sunday away from his exposition of the letter to deal with the many people in his church emailing him to say they were feeling oppressed by the messages from James. What makes the intensity of James so difficult is that his words in this letter are not directed to those outside the church. These difficult words are written to those inside the church, his brothers and sisters in faith.

When you read his letter from this perspective, what he writes jumps out even more powerfully.
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?

These are harsh words. Is this the way we are supposed to talk to each other in the family of Jesus? If you used this tone in speaking to your brothers and sisters when you were a child, your mother or father would take you aside and tell you to begin showing more restraint, more respect toward your brothers and sisters. The words of James are the words and tone of a prophet. These are the words of John the Baptist who saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming and blasted them: (Matthew 3:7–10)
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

These are the words of Jesus who provoked the Pharisees at a meal where he was a guest: (Luke 11:43–44)
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”

But James is addressing brothers and sisters in the family, in the community of faith and when we hear those words we ask why he is being so harsh, so demanding.

If we want to be comforted we go to Hebrews 4:14–16
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

We go to the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28–30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But open up to James and his first words are: (James 1:2 )
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,

Then when he goes on to call us foolish and adulterous, he seems to be determined to lose the “Who is the New Testament Mr. Sunshine?” contest.

Let me share why I think James was so intense in this letter and then I will talk about how the teaching of James can be encouraging teaching for us.

James was the half-brother of Jesus, same mother, different father. I’ve said before that Jesus would be a difficult older brother to follow. Those of us who had older brothers or sisters who excelled in school know what I am talking about. You step into the classroom and the teacher says, “Oh, you’re Mike Smith’s brother.” What is not spoken is that Mike Smith was the class valedictorian, president of the Student Council, captain of the football team. This is understood and your older brother is the benchmark against which you will be measured.

Here you are, a new student in the school, which is difficult as it is, but unlike all those around you, you enter expected to be the best and if you are not, you will have failed to measure up to your older brother.

James stepped into the class at his synagogue and the Rabbi said, “So you’re Jesus’ brother.” Jesus always had the right answer and then asked a penetrating question that revealed the depth of his spirit and mind. This was the benchmark for James. This was the standard against which James would be measured.

At home when James took some bread and then lied, saying he had not taken the bread, Mary told him, “Why can’t you be more like your older brother Jesus. He doesn’t lie.” Jesus was always good, always obedient. What an impossible model to follow.

I don’t want to paint a dark picture because having a competent older brother or sister is also wonderful, especially if they are kind and loving toward you. So I imagine there was deep affection between Jesus and his brothers and sisters despite the difficulties of following in his footsteps.

When Joseph died, Jesus took over the carpentry shop, doing what his father had trained him to do. Depending on when he died, Jesus not only had the responsibility of running the carpentry shop, he also had to train James and his other brothers to be carpenters themselves.

But then Jesus left the carpentry shop. He left Nazareth and began traveling around as an itinerant rabbi. Was there agreement in the family he should do this? Did the family think he should stay and continue earning money for the family through his carpentry? Did he leave with his family’s blessing?

Perhaps the family agreed with Jesus that he should do this, but then reports began to come back. There were reports that Jesus was healing people and casting out demons as well as teaching. What were they to think about this?

When Jesus came to their hometown synagogue and spoke, the whole family was gathered with the expectation that Jesus would make them proud. The family honor was on display and when he began to speak, the people of his hometown were initially impressed. But then he provoked them, claiming they were only interested in him because he could do a few magic tricks and they were furious with him.

Jesus walked away from Nazareth but his family was left to deal with the anger of the people in Nazareth. Every day, when people came by the carpentry shop, or when they went to buy food or get water at the well, they had to deal with the shame of Jesus being so critical of the people in his hometown.

As reports came back of more and more healings and exorcisms, and larger and larger crowds, the criticism of people in the town grew. Jesus was a big deal. He was a local celebrity, but he clearly thought too much of himself. He was too good to spend more time in Nazareth. They did not understand who he was but they felt judged by him.

And now there was a new element added. Was Jesus going to lead a rebellion against the Romans, as had Judas Maccabees 200 years earlier. This was the speculation. If this happened, what would happen to Jesus. Would the peace of Nazareth be disrupted by the Romans?

All this is speculation. What we know from the gospels is that Mary and James and his other brothers thought Jesus had gone too far. (Mark 3:20–21)
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

They went to take charge of him. They said, He is out of his mind. They obviously had talked a great deal about this and decided he was getting carried away and needed to be helped. Mark includes this incident with the arrival of the teachers of the law who came from Jerusalem to accuse Jesus of being linked with the devil. James and his family thought Jesus had gone mad.

In John’s gospel there is an insight into the relationship of Jesus and his brothers. The Jewish rulers in Jerusalem were threatening to kill Jesus and rather than being concerned or protective, James and his brothers mocked Jesus. (John 7:3–4)
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”

They dared him, taunted him, to go to Jerusalem and face his opposition.

This is all that is recorded in the gospels, but obviously there was much more.

Then Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and executed. Whatever James had felt, now his older brother was dead. He grieved the loss of his brother and, as happens at funerals, he remembered the good times and not the bad times. He grieved for his brother’s terrible death, perhaps regretting he had not reconciled with Jesus before it was too late.

But then, just a few days later, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and this became the turning point of his life. All of his life became measured by this appearance. Everything in his life became before or after this appearance.

Of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus, I think I would most like to see this one. What did Jesus say? What did James feel? What did James say?

Whatever was said, James was a different person the rest of his life. He was spiritually transformed. James quickly became leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was known as a man of prayer. His nickname was “camel knees” because his knees were calloused from spending so much time on his knees in prayer. He lived the rest of his life devoted to Jesus and ended his life as a martyr, being stoned to death for his faith in Jesus.

Why is James so intense in this letter? Why is he so fervent in his teaching? I think it is two things. First, he regretted all the mean things he said about his brother. He regretted that he had been so stubborn and worked against Jesus, rather than working with Jesus. He could have been one of his followers but instead he had been one of his detractors. James wanted to make up for what he had done.

Secondly, I think James was so clear about where he was going. For many years he had resisted the teaching of Jesus, but then he got it. He understood. He understood Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. He understood that this world is passing away and we will soon stand before Jesus as judge. He understood that what matters most in this world is not how much we accumulate but how much we love. He understood that what makes an eternal difference is not fighting for our rights but seeing the purpose of Jesus in each life and working toward that. He knew he would see Jesus again and was determined to give a good account of his life.

James relies more on the teaching of Jesus than any other New Testament writer, other than the gospels. Jesus said it, so now do it. This is how James concludes his teaching on words.
11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James teaches that when we speak against our brother or sister and judge them, we speak against the law and sit on judgment against the law. What does he mean? What law is he talking about?

Always remember that when James teaches, he is standing on the words of Jesus. What words of Jesus is he referring to?

The Pharisees and Sadducees got together to talk about how to test Jesus and an expert in the law asked him: (Matthew 22:36–40)
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said this was the law and that was enough for James. Jesus said it, so now do it! When he looked around and saw the fighting and quarreling, the political infighting, the jealousy and envy in the church, he almost exploded with frustration. “Don’t you get it!” James exhorted. “Don’t you know who Jesus is and what he is doing!” “Don’t you know where you are going and who you will face!”

The intensity of James comes from his powerful experience of Jesus, when he saw his brother and realized who he was, the risen Son of God.

James is intense so how do we deal with what he has to say?

The mistake we don’t want to make is to work hard to be a better person. If that is what you want to do, then go to one of the many self-help gurus who go around telling their secrets about how to be more successful in life, how to win friends and influence people. But don’t go to the New Testament because that is not what it teaches.

If you focus on working hard to be a better person, you may improve your behavior, but it will be an external improvement. This is what the Pharisees did. They had a long list of laws to obey and they worked hard to make sure they did not break any of them. Jesus was highly critical of this.

Jesus taught: (Matthew 12:33–35)
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

If we want to be better people, we need to go to the heart of our being and clean that up. Once that is clean, then our behavior will improve. This is what James taught: (James 4:7–10)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James did not tell us to be better people, he told us to submit to God, come near to God, resist the devil, repent. All these are actions at the heart level.

This is also the teaching of Paul. The fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) do not come by focusing on the behaviors. Your life does not become characterized by kindness by trying to be kind. Kindness is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of a tree is produced by paying attention to the roots of the tree. If the roots find water and are healthy, then the tree will produce fruit. If the roots are unhealthy, affected by disease, then the tree will not produce fruit and begin to die.

In the same way, when we focus on developing a more intimate relationship with Jesus, when we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, when we allow the Word of God to affect us at a heart level, then we become changed people and our behavior changes. We don’t have to beat ourselves up because we fail to use our words well; we have to draw near to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to help us clean our heart from being overly critical.

What is amazing and so wonderful is that we can do this because we are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. God who created the world from nothing, who pre-existed creation, dwells in us. This means that the power of God is at work in us. When we draw near to God his power works in us and changes us.

This is what happened to James. What drove James was his experience with the resurrected Jesus. What happened in that encounter was so powerful it turned his life around. It cannot be that his life was driven simply out of guilt and a desire to atone for his sins. And the reason I say that is because he spent so much time in prayer. If all he wanted to do was to be a better person and adhere to the teaching of Jesus, then he could have made daily lists of good behaviors and made sure he lived up to them. But that is not what James did. He devoted himself to his relationship with Jesus through prayer.

James was not simply working on his external behavior; he was living out the internal life he had with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. His union with Jesus was what drove him, what motivated him to exhort others to live lives pleasing to Jesus.

This is what makes all the difference. If we feel guilty when we read the Bible and work hard to live up to all the Bible tells us to do, then we will have, at best, an external obedience, just like the Pharisees. But if we focus on our relationship with Jesus and develop an increasing intimacy and openness with Jesus, then the Holy Spirit will work his creative power in us and our external lives will begin, more and more, to reflect the teaching of Jesus and Paul and James.

This is where you need to put your first focus. This is why it is important to take the part of the day when you are at your best and open the Bible and read, reflect, journal and pray. If you neglect your relationship with Jesus and focus on the externals, you will become more and more rigid, stuck in a rut, unable to see your sin, relying more and more on what you have experienced in the past rather than living in the present with Jesus who will take you into the future.

One of my problems is being too critical, too judgmental. I have been very critical of a certain ministry and have been free to share my criticism. I know the people who lead this ministry. I have great respect for the head of this ministry, but less respect for some of those who work with him.

As I have worked on this message I have been convicted that I am wrong to share so freely what I think. I have felt guilty for saying the things I have said. As I considered that Jesus is working in each life to bring that person into his kingdom and that my critical words work against what Jesus is trying to do, I was convicted. I want to work with Jesus, not against Jesus. So what do I do now? I can speak to the leaders of that ministry and apologize. I can go around to all those I have spoken to and tell them I was wrong to say what I did. I can slap myself every time I say something I should not say.

But if I slap myself and beat myself for not being the person James says I ought to be, that is going to be a destructive experience. The reason I am thinking about this is because this message affected me at a heart level. The Holy Spirit has used this sermon to convict me of my behavior. I became aware at a heart level that I need to make sure my words build and encourage others. And so I have repented and resolved to be different.

This is where change needs to start. We need to be convicted by the Holy Spirit that our behavior is not what it should be and that happens because we draw near to Jesus and open ourselves to his teaching.

I am certain that for each of you, there are parts of your behavior you are not pleased with. You may have problems with jealousy, envy, anger, being judgmental, critical. You may say things and then cringe, wondering why you had to say what you did.

Here is what I want you to do. Take some time to be with Jesus. Listen to some praise music. Remind yourself of how you are loved by God, completely. Remind yourself that you will not be rejected because you are not perfect. Then, when you are safe in his arms, open yourself to God and ask him to reveal to you the ways he wants you to change.

When the Holy Spirit speaks to you, be open to the changes he wants to bring in your life. If you feel convicted by what James exhorts us to be and do, let your love relationship with Jesus be at the center of your being so you will be transformed from the inside out.

Be patient, you will not become perfect overnight, but persevere, keep drawing near to God, keep your experience of the love of Jesus for you fresh, and then work with the Holy Spirit to make the changes he wants to bring about in your life.