Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22 (NIV)
In the gospels, we get a few descriptions of the Jesus’ relationship with his family. His mother, Mary, knew from the beginning that Jesus would be different. The angel Gabriel told her Jesus was the son of God. She knew Jesus was conceived while she was still a virgin. God had sent people from a foreign country to welcome Jesus when he was a child. God led Joseph to protect Jesus by taking him to Egypt when Herod the Great wanted to kill him. Mary relied on Jesus to resolve family problems, like when the wedding party ran out of wine at the wedding in Cana. She didn’t know that Jesus would resolve the problem by turning water into wine, but she knew Jesus was her oldest son and he would do something. (John 2:1-11)
We don’t know what Jesus younger brothers and sisters thought about him. In talking about a time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John says his brothers didn’t believe in him. (John 7:3). I suppose that’s not so hard to understand, they had spent their lives thinking of Jesus as their big brother and it was hard to think of him in any other way. We know that Jesus’ brother James, the person who wrote this letter, did become a believer at some point. James must have been hanging out in the crowd when Jesus was teaching – or he later talked to someone who took pretty good notes – because we find in James’ letter a good summary of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Take a minute and read James Chapter 1 to put this verse into context (www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV).
In this section of his letter, it seems James is thinking about Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15). James reminds people to “humbly accept the word of God that has been planted in their hearts, which has the power to save their souls.” (James 1:21) Then, he reminds them they need to go beyond just hearing the word. They also must do what it says. Back to the parable of the sower. All of the people in the parable heard the word, which is represented by the seed falling on the ground. But only a few people provided the good soil where the seed could grow, which would have been demonstrated when they did what it said.
It is important to know the “listeners” James is addressing in his letter were church folks. They were meeting on the first day of the week to worship and break bread together. They were good people doing all the right things.
When I read the letter, I like to think, “I’m glad I’m not part of that group. James isn’t talking to me.” Then, I think about what I do in response to my faith. I go to church. That’s listening. I have a Christian radio station on in the car. That’s listening. I listen to podcasts of great Bible teachers. OK, that’s obviously listening. I lead a Bible study once a week. That’s listening and a little talking. It turns out I spend a lot of time letting God throw seeds on me. So, how can I tell when the seed has begun to grow? James tell us that too. He gives three examples of what it will look like when the seed begins to bear fruit, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27 (NLT)).
What? I thought living out my faith would be more – I don’t know – dramatic than that. If I want to be a real believer, shouldn’t I be slaying dragons and fighting giants? James would say, “OK. But do that after you have mastered the basics: caring for widows, caring for orphans, and living in the kingdom of God. When you feel like you have those things down, you can move on to dragons and giants.”
I have written a lot lately about living in the kingdom of God. Here are a few links: thedigitaldisciple.net/the-pop-culture-commentary/, thedigitaldisciple.net/this/, thedigitaldisciple.net/choices/, thedigitaldisciple.net/the-desires-of-your-heart/.
How can we apply James’ admonition to care for widows and orphans? The people James was writing to knew plenty of widows and orphans. Women in that culture were generally young when they married, and their husbands were older. It was not unusual for a woman to outlive her husband. Becoming a widow could be financially devastating if there were no family to help care for her. Orphans, too, were common. When a child lost both her parents, there were no social nets in place to help.
Most of us probably don’t know many widows and orphans. But you likely know people who make up the widows and orphans for our culture, they are the singe moms and children with absent parents. Also, if you get to know organizations like World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse and Back2Back Ministries, they will give you opportunities to care for widows and orphans all over the world. Your involvement can be simple, like packing a box for Operation Christmas Child or sponsoring a child through World Vision. It can be more involved, like going on a mission tip or helping a single mom start a business to support herself and her family.
This Christmas season is a great time to get started. Find a place where you can volunteer or donate food and clothing. Maybe you can mentor kids after school. Want to give a gift that keeps on giving? Get the World Vision catalog and buy a goat for a fatherless family in Africa. When you drop off your box at the food bank, stop and listen, that’s not thunder in the distance, that is a giant falling. When you walk to the mail box to send the check for the child you are sponsoring, watch the horizon for the vanquished dragon flying away. You’re bearing fruit.
To read this post on The Digital Disciple blog please go to: www.thedigitaldisciple.net. When you are there, you can sign up to receive the posts by e-mail.