A Letter to James, Leader of the Church in Jerusalem:
Dear Brother James,
Greetings in the Lord! I am a follower of Jesus, our Messiah.
It’s been over twelve years since I first heard Jesus speak. I witnessed his miracles. And I believed when I heard his disciples speak of God’s mighty acts in my native language, on the feast of Pentecost. My family and I even began hosting meetings in our small home, and supporting the work in Jerusalem after we were banned from our synagogue.
But when our beloved deacon, Stephen, was stoned to death for preaching the good news, and the great persecution broke out against the believers, our family was forced to flee with many others to the east. And for these past ten years, we have struggled to make a living, and find a hospitable place among the pagans.
These Gentiles scorn our faith. The rich landlords here take advantage of us and drag us into court when we can’t pay their exorbitant rent. But most of all, we feel isolated and alone. We are exiles again in a foreign land, desperately trying to keep our faith alive in the absence of most of you, our leaders, who stayed behind to minister in Jerusalem.
We need help! We need direction! Many of the Christians here seem to be settling for a superficial profession of faith, without any real life change or discipleship. Those with wealth are esteemed and treated better than the rest of us. The standards of character we first learned from the apostles are lax here, as there is no one to uphold or reinforce them in these little backwater towns.
Those who should set an example among us have become worldly, arrogant, and selfishly ambitious. I wish you could hear their shameful and unwholesome speech! And we are facing trials of every kind, not only from these foreigners, but from our own countrymen who are selling themselves out to the world, under the mantra of ‘grace, grace, grace!’ And there is constant quarreling and conflict.
This is not the kind of faith that we learned or signed up for! We are becoming increasingly discouraged. What should we do? And where is God in all of this? We need your input and counsel, as do all of our brethren who are scattered far and wide. We eagerly await your help and reply.
Elias, of the tribe of Benjamin
Fast-forward 2,000 years. Is there anything, perhaps, in this letter that you can relate to?
Do you as a Christ-follower still encounter trials of various kinds? Do you increasingly feel like an alien and stranger here? Is it increasingly difficult to not cave in to our culture, and compromise? Does faith among us sometimes feel shallow? Are the virtues of godly character and humility no longer paramount in many churches? And is wealth too big a deal in 21st century America?
Many would answer “yes” to all of these. We still grapple with these same issues across the sea of time. That’s why we will be studying the book of James this spring. It contains God’s response to these very real needs that both we, and our 1st century brothers and sisters in Christ have experienced.
Join us this Sunday, as we open up the book of James, and consider inviting a friend!