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Thursday, April 18, 2013

He Gives More Grace

This is the second part of a series on James. Read part 1.

Before we really dig into James, I want to put the big picture together for you.

James is a book of the Bible for Christians who are fed up with Christians.If you are tired of people who talk a big game but have no spiritual life to back it up, of people who say they love Jesus but show they do not love the poor or the downtrodden and of people whose Facebook page looks like God is their whole life, but who never darken to door of a bereaved family's home, James is the book for you. The brother of Jesus is going to ream this people and show them what 'pure religion' actually looks like. Do not let yourself get too  self-righteous yet - you will see soon enough that you are one of those people. James is in many ways  a continuation of his Brother's 'Sermon on the Mount,' from Matthew 5-7, where Jesus taught on what life looks like in the Kingdom of God. 
Source: Wikipedia

The book is chiasmic in structure, which means it is like a Russian doll.A common form of Hebrew poetry, this means that the first problem introduced in the book is resolved last. Inside of the first problem is a second problem, which is resolved second to last.Inside the second problem is a third problem, and so on. At the very heart of the book (although not always literally the center, but fairly close) is a very small point which turns out to resolve each of the arguments above it. This is the knot at the heart of everything which, once unraveled, reveals the solution to every other problem one at a time. To use, this is a strange way to write, but to the Hebrews, it was actually pretty common. It aids in memorization and ideally demonstrates the logical quality of the argument as a whole by showing what nugget on which everything else is built.
Remember, in the first century, writing was not something you did lightly. Sending a letter was an expensive, time consuming process, so they necessarily paid much more attention to these stylistic matters than we ordinarily do. 

 Because of this structure, what seems to be the problem in the book initially is only the outer shell. The secret to really grasping James lies in painstakingly finding out the turning point and then using it to understand the rest of the book. Once you see it, everything makes much more sense. In James, the key is James 4:6: 
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 
 If you accept that as truth (which James' audience would, since it was backed up by a quote from Proverbs 3:34), the rest of the book falls into place. If you reject the turning key, James has no interest in trying to change your mind.

The main structure of the book is then:

To Endure in Temptation
We Must Ask God
So We Will Persevere under trials
Because Temptation comes from self
So We Must Let the Good Seed Sink In
Being Doers of the Word
With Pure Religion
Struggling with Right Judgment
But Knowing Judgment Is Resolved by God's Grace

It then unfolds in reverse order, finishing with endurance. Do you see how incredible this structure is? If you still are not sold (or just want to play with it), there is a much more detailed outline that Chris Meek and I made at http://db.tt/92AlCsOA. When you download that XML file and open it again in your internet browser, you will be able to open and close sections of the book and really get a feel for how it all fits together. Ideally you should be able to close any section and read it as if it is not there and still get a fairly sensible flow of thought. It is currently in the NASB, but for copyright purposes I intend to redo it in the ASV soon.

James is all about grace and how grace actually plays out when it is sincerely lived. It is the book where the rubber meets the road, where the Christian faith becomes real, visible and relevant. I hope seeing the big picture of this book in this way has gotten you excited about cracking it wide open. We know now that the heart of the book is going to  Join with me in the coming days as together we see what it is like Living James.


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