Why? – I

August 25, 2017

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James 1:2-5

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Have you ever heard it stated concerning a hard trial coming into a life – “We are not supposed to ask God ‘Why?’ ”?  I disagree!  And so does the Bible!  Here is James 1:2 through 5:

      My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing
      that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have
      its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 
      If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
      and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Let’s take a look at this Scripture verse by verse, and see what we can learn.  We will begin with verse 1 so we can better understand the situation of this writing.

James 1:1 – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

•      The epistle of James is most likely the earliest of the New Testament writings.  There are some indications of this in verse 1 (and this early date becomes important when we get to verse 2):

      ✞      According to tradition, and recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, James, the half-brother of Jesus (see Matthew 13:55) was martyred in Jerusalem around 64 AD – stoned by Jewish leaders!

      ✞      Many Bible scholars date this epistle as early as 45 AD – only 15 years after Jesus was crucified!

      ✞      This letter was directed to the Jews – “…to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad…,” which speaks to an early date of writing.

              ▸      Following Jesus’ commission in Acts 1:8: “…you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and to the end of the earth…,” it is probable that the witness of these early believers had not yet gone past Samaria, and to the end of the earth.  The main witness may still have been focused on Jerusalem and all Judea.  It was still an early date when Peter opened the door to the Gentiles taking the gospel to the Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10.  Even earlier, in Acts 8, Philip ministered to the Samaritans just to the north of Judea.  These were the first outreaches beyond the Jews!

              ▸      In James 2:2 it says this: “…if there should come into your assembly a man…” (James is writing concerning the practice of showing favor to the rich over the poor.)  The word assembly in the Greek is συναγωγή (pronounced soon-ag-o-gay’ ).  We pronounce it synagoguethe local center of Jewish worship and education – another indication that this is an early letter directed to the Jews.

James 1:2 – “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials….”  What were the trials the early Jewish believers were experiencing?

•      In John 9 is the story about Jesus healing the man who was blind from birth.  The Pharisees were upset and angry because this had occurred on the Sabbath (see John 9:14).  When the leaders called in the man’s parents to confirm the facts, their answer in John 9:21 was, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees, we do not know….He is of age; ask him….”  And then it gives the reason for their abrupt answer in verse 22:  “…they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that [Jesus]…was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.

      ✞      This was not just being thrown out of the building on his ear!  This was excommunication from the Jewish religion – and their religion was the central part of the Israelite’s life!

      ✞      This excommunication was somewhat like the Amish ban!  Wanda Brumstetter, in her website, wandabrunstetter.com/amish-life/amish-facts, says this about the ban:

      Although limited conversation is permitted with a shunned person, church
      members are advised not to have any business dealings with someone who
      is being shunned.  The shunned person may attend family gatherings, but
      will likely be served food at a separate table.

Jewish excommunication was even more severe!  Other Jews were not allowed to hold conversation with the excommunicated one.  They were not to buy from or sell to that one.  The ‘sinning’ one was cut off from the religion of the Jews, (as said above) the central part of the Israelite’s life!  That person was put in a very hard place!  He would probably lose his job or his business, and perhaps his home and family!  He would be like a leper – ostracized from the community! (See Leviticus 13:45, 46).

•     In Acts 7 is recorded the incident where Stephen is stoned – the first Christian martyr!  In Acts 8:1 and on into chapter 9, it tells us of the intense Jewish persecution led by Saul the Pharisee, who later became Paul the Apostle.  We are told in Acts 8:1, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  Paul later testified before King Agrippa in Acts 26. In verses 10 and 11 he told the king:

      …many of the saints I shut up in prison…and when they were put
      to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them very
      often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and
      being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even
      to foreign cities.

Saul was a terror to these new Jewish followers of Jesus!  They ran for their lives!  And James wrote to them, addressing them as “…the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad….

•     One more hardship that they were facing is recorded in Acts 11:27 and 28:

      …in those days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Then
      one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that
      there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which
      also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.

This famine is an historical fact, occuring in 47 AD!  And this was another hard testing for those persecuted Jewish believers to whom James was writing!

So, when James tells them to “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials…,they had a lot of trials to count for joy!

We will continue on Monday.

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