The picture above is from my time in Israel (January 2014) and I am sitting with a fellow seminarian (now pastor in Ohio) upon a pillar in the ancient city of Scythopolis. Scythopolis is an example of an Israelite city (Beth Shan) that became completely Greek in how it thought and behaved around the time of Jesus and the Apostles.
I chose that picture for this blog because Scythopolis is a possible location where the letter of James would have been delivered, since we are not 100 percent sure what “the 12 Tribes of the Dispersion” means in James 1. I do have an explanation down below of what I think that phrase means, but anyhow, let me introduce James and why I am posting this blog.
The book of James is arguably the most practical book of the Bible. The only other book that is in the same category of being as “hands on” is the book of Proverbs. Because of this, many describe James as being a “wisdom book.” I don’t want to bore you with academic discussions about literature genres, but I would rather define this book as a book on how churches should look. James is a letter where a lot of junk is called out as being exactly what it is: sin. But it also sets in a beautiful contrast how Christians ought to think and act in a world surrounded by sin (and with sin lurking in our own hearts!).
Below you will find day 1 of a 20 day trip through the book of James. I developed this 20 day trip for the jr & sr high Sunday school class that I am teaching at Grace Bible Church. If you want more of the material posted, you gotta somehow comment on this blog or on my Facebook posts when I attach this blog on my Facebook.
Each day has a Scripture to read, and then has some explanation and some questions. I want to add that every time you read the Bible you should be asking 3 questions all the time
- What does this passage say about God?
- What does this passage say about humanity?
- What does this passage say about how I should live?
So, below I do not ask these questions each day, but instead have questions that are more geared for the specific text. I use ESV for this devotional, but you can choose any translation you want.
Week 1: James 1:1-2:13
Day 1: 1:1-1:4
Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Jas 1:2 Count it all joy*, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials* of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness*. 4 And let steadfastness* have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Alright, Let me explain a couple of things about this passage. James is the brother of Jesus. There is no indication that he followed Jesus in any of the 4 Gospels. He did not accept his brother as Lord until after Jesus rose from the grave. Then, we see in the book of Acts that he became one of the leaders in the Church. How awesome is this!!
Question 1) James defined himself as the servant of Jesus. How do you define yourself?
He addresses this letter to the “12 tribes in the Dispersion.” This could either mean those Jewish churches that were spread throughout the World because of events a few hundred years prior to this (Israel was conquered by Assyria in the 700s BC, and Babylon in the 500s BC). Or, “The Dispersion” could be those churches that are scattered across the world outside of Israel due to the persecution that came upon the church during the early years (Read Acts chapter 6-9 for more information). Either way, these would be churches that encountered trials and hardships and have it rough.
In these verses speak about trials of various kinds. What kinds of trials do you face during each day and week?
Question 3) What is the biggest trial or hardship you have faced, and how did you handle it?
It is hard to have joy when we are experiencing pain, right? It was extremely hard for me to feel happy when I was collapsing during cross country races my junior year of high school (I was supposed to be #1 on the team, but I only finished about 2/3 of the races that year!). But, I think we have to redefine joy in our minds. Joy is not some emotional gooey-ness. Joy is understanding that God is in control and that He can make all things work out for good (Romans 8:28). Joy depends on our view of God.
Prayer for the day: God, Help me to define my life by my relationship with You. Also, help me to trust You throughout each day when I experience pain and frustrations. Thank You for the promise that You use hardships to make me stronger. Help me to demonstrate joy today and all this week, no matter what happens. I love You, God. In Jesus’s name, Amen.