Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lenten Devotional 09: Eating Straw; Exegeting a Difficult Word

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Scripture reading: The Epistle of James 1:12-18

What is there to say about the Epistle of James? It’s canonized scripture written as New Testament Wisdom Literature and, like most Lutherans, I don’t care for it. Once upon a time ago, I considered it the magnum opus of the New Testament; so, why the change of mind? The Doctrine of Grace and Sola fide (by faith alone) challenge this text.

Arguably, there may be redeeming qualities in this work that Luther called, “an epistle of straw.” According to Luther, “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” The fact that the author of the book of James says we are not justified (Gk: dikaioō) by faith alone is disputable (the epistle is Antilegomena). Disputation aside, I read with you, and exegesis has pulled redemption from this text.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). The author’s attribution of God being the giver of all things is sound. Our pericope encourages perseverance amidst trials (1:12). It’s a proclamation of hope (albeit, a weird one, with that crown of life business). God is not tempting us that is the sinful nature, which has bonded the human will (vv. 13-16). Grace is the work of God (v. 17). Our justification was his purpose (v.18).

Unlike this epistle, the Gospel of Jesus Christ points to the work of God through the grace of the cross. In faith alone believe that we are justified (saved) by grace alone, through the work of Christ alone, and that glory is to God alone; according to scripture alone (adaptation of the Five Solas). James (whichever one he may be) composed a disputable epistle, but it’s not always easy to reconcile with the word of God (biblical text). May the Lord be gracious to us as we debate the difficult parts of the word.

Holy and Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for those who love the work of James, may you bless them through it and for others, like me, who refute the words of James, reveal their redemptive purpose, and be gracious to us. Sometimes, the words of your scriptures can be difficult, when that occurs, give us discernment, wisdom, and humility. May we reside in the grace of your cross and know that you are the Lord, our God. You are revealed in Christ and, yet, you are mysterious. We are humbled at the foot of your cross. Amen.

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