More and more Christians are feeling the pinch. Our message isn’t one that is appreciated by the world. Our values aren’t shared by our culture. Our utility is questioned by society. Our priorities aren’t in harmony with mainstream institutions and organizations. In short, we’re constantly being reminded that this place is not “Home sweet home.”
That reminder isn’t a bad thing. We shouldn’t find ourselves at home in this world. After all, Jesus didn’t come in order to blend in with a world gone awry by sin. He came to overcome it. Living in light of that, the church is to be different, set apart, distinct — the church is to be holy in a hostile place.
This is well illustrated by the Letter of James. James is written to those who aren’t at home. In fact, we read that they are “scattered abroad.” They’re not within the boundaries of their homeland, and are living as strangers in a strange place. Whatever can be said about their geographical situation, the more important emphasis is that their condition reflects a spiritual category. In this present world the church must live apart from our heavenly home.
In his prolonged introduction to the letter, James tells us what to expect when we’re not at home. The environment we live in is one characterized by trials and temptations (1:2-15). Every step of the way home we’ll meet with situations that seek to loosen our grip on the Lord Jesus Christ, and our inward desires will be hooked by the enticing promises of this present place.
Thankfully, the grace of God doesn’t know any boundaries. His mercy isn’t confined to the homeland but is available and operative in our present sojourn. The various trials that test our faith need to be met with wisdom — a wisdom that allows us to count those trials as joy. This wisdom is supplied through prayer: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Also, our present temptations are met with and combated by the life-giving Word. It’s that Word that has brought us forth, and by continually hearing it and doing it, it shapes our lives for devoted service to God when we’re away from home.
What does that service look like? In light of cultural trends and wars, many Christians are asking the question: how should we live when we’re not at home. This is, perhaps, where the brilliance of James really shines. James’ answer to that question — and it’s not the only answer the Bible gives — is likely to catch us off guard. James doesn’t tell us that we should hunker down in a compound. He doesn’t tell us to spill ideological blood all over the cultural wars. Nor does he tell us to fight fire with fire. How should we live when we’re not at home? James tells us what our service to God is: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:26-27). We are to live as a merciful people (2:1-26), guarding our words (3:1-12), and being kept from the defilements of this world (3:13-5:6).
This isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to be kind and impartial. It isn’t easy to be careful and cautious with the words we speak. It isn’t easy to remain above the selfish in-fighting created by our worldly and murderous hearts. But this is what we do when we're not at home. And it’s costly. A Christian that lives with this kind of devoted service to God will not find their passage in this world to be a bed of ease. Every step of the way homeward will be marked by hostility. So James unites all of that — he ties it together — with the exhortation to be steadfast in patience under the suffering of this present world: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7).
We are not at home. The church is a scattered people, and we will remain that way until Jesus with a call of command gathers us together and we will be with the Lord forever.
To listen to Kyle’s continuing sermon series on the Letter of James click here.