TODAY’S READING: James
Peter called James “the Lord’s brother” (Mark 6:3), included him among the apostles (Gal. 1:19), and characterized him as one of the pillars of the church (Gal. 2:9). James was the first apostle to die, but not before he wrote to the “12 tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1), primarily to give counsel on how to respond to poverty and suffering.
The book of James has been resented through the ages; perhaps the most notorious objection coming from Martin Luther who called it “an epistle of straw,” a comment he later retracted. Theologians have aptly reconciled James’ stance on active faith and works with Pauline and Gospel teaching on grace. Missiologically, the tension is elsewhere—namely in our resistance to poverty and persecution. The struggle is mostly taken up by those in the West, for no Christian in Pakistan doubts that following Jesus essentially means being poor and persecuted. The rich and protected Christian abroad is the exception.
We object to the good and perfect gifts God sends down (v. 17) as being poverty and persecution, yet that’s the very context of James’ writing, living, and dying. James lived in a time when the church was impoverished, hungry, abused, beaten, tortured, hounded, and growing! In the difficult, dangerous mess of the volatile first century, a time in which Rome would chew through four corrupt emperors in less than thirty years, James boldly stated that these troubles are ordained from God, good and perfect gifts, and that in such perilous times precious fruit can be brought forth (v. 18). He laid out in his epistle of steel that perilous, impoverished times give no excuse for the wrath (or folly) of man (v. 20). The implication for missions is twofold. If you are from a poor country that persecutes Christians, you have no excuse from living a holy life, nor from participating in God’s holy passion to take the gospel to all peoples. Rather than your condition being a disadvantage, you have been given a good and perfect gift in the same way the early church was given. If you are from a wealthy country with security and indemnity from most persecution, we have no excuse from living a sacrificial life that takes risks so that souls will be saved from death (5:20). We have no exemption from taking up the cross and denying ourselves. In fact, the book of James was written to help us fight against all the internal allowances and external luxuries that prevent us from full participation in God’s mission.
James makes pertinent reference to the grandfather of missions, Abraham, by pointing out it was Abraham’s radical action, his willingness to sacrifice his son, that won God’s favor (2:21–24). James’ critical contribution to the biblical theme of missions is that faith is not enough—we must tame the tongue, resist pride, use wealth for gospel advance, and patiently endure. We must sacrifice and suffer. For missions without these works is dead.
 The Chronological Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 1283.
 The comment originally appeared in Luther’s 1522 Preface to the New Testament, but Luther himself removed the comment for subsequent editions.