I searched the websites of the major George’s (Gallup, Barna, and Curious) this morning hoping to find data regarding an important matter. I’m curious to know if balky American sinners have ever been polled to reveal their least favorite Book of the Bible.
There are plenty of candidates. Leviticus is bound to get some votes (too much blood and gore). So would its New Testament cousin, Hebrews (more blood and guts, and who is this Melchizedek character, anyway?). The Book of Numbers, sporting way too many begats, has never won a popularity contest. In our superficial world where pretense and pride parade as virtues, the Psalms are much too honest to be widely accepted. Jeremiah (too edgy), Ezekiel (too spacey), and Amos (too convicting) would undoubtedly finish near the top (which is really the bottom).
I’m guessing, and remember this is all very unscientific, that most folks (including you?) stay away from straight-up scripture on purpose. It’s no accident that the Ten Commandments have been converted to the Ten Suggestions. The pervasive cultural mentality dismisses God’s absolute moral code as crusty and a hindrance to self-consumption.
Contemporary pleasure-seekers, busy pampering self and justifying multiple excesses, express little interest in ancient lectures regarding sin and avarice. Few folks enjoy hearing about their true condition, and thus, the calculated effort to marginalize scripture that demands we shape-up and fly right. Most folks prefer something more user-friendly like Oprah, Hillary, or Nostradamus.
Lot’s of folks bemoan the Bible’s hard-line, no-nonsense stand regarding character and behavior. “If the Bible wasn’t so uptight about me enjoying myself, I might read it.”
All this cultural review leads me to believe that the Book of James remains the people’s last choice. I’d be surprised if any section of the Word proved to be less popular than James.
This short epistle has all the ingredients necessary for wholesale neglect:
“Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials…” Oh, yeah, sure.
“Don’t be deceived, sin brings forth death…” What a downer.
“Prove yourselves doers of the Word, not merely hearers who delude themselves…” Take a hike, dude.
“If you show partiality, you are committing sin, and convicted…” How about minding your own business!
“The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity…it is a restless evil and full of poison…” Hey, buddy, try biting yours.
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?”…Give it a rest, will ya’?
“To the one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin…” Mind your own business!
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries about to come on you…” Leave me alone!
You get the drift. The Holy Spirit uses James to deliver a clear and important message – get it right or get ready for trouble. And here’s the really frightening part: He’s writing to Christians! Or at least, those claiming to be Christians, though they think and act more like pagans.
Christianity is a superior belief system only when its faith principles are practiced on a consistent basis. What separates Christianity from a legion of competitors is love in action. Remove the “Royal Law”, and Christianity differs very little from other worldviews.
James expects believers to think and act differently from unbelievers. He says we operate by an enlightened understanding. The Holy Spirit equips us with Spiritual insight and the Word of Truth provides supernatural recognition. Equipped with the “wisdom from above,” we actively pursue good deeds to confirm our faith and verify the life-changing power of God’s love.
What irritates James and prompts his bare-knuckle commentary is the concern (or disgust) that church folk differ little from their pagan neighbors. They have the same disputes, fears, and mistaken notions as those frequenting idolatrous temples and staying late past happy hour.
They are greedy, reckless, malicious, bigoted, presumptuous, mean, prideful, ignorant, and often faithless.
All this in view of the indisputable reality that “God provides a greater grace!”
James cuts to the chase. He identifies the source of their evil as natural, earthy wisdom void of supernatural enlightenment or power. They are acting like jerks because they let their subscription expire. Listen to this:
13 Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. 14 Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. 15 It’s the furthest thing from wisdom–it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. 16 Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. 17 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.
James says the wisdom this world offers is not only shallow and selfish, but also evil and the source of human troubles. It produces disorder and destructive practices. It thwarts God’s kind design for mankind.
I’m not surprised James remains unpopular. His message confronts and convicts. It challenges both pagan and Christian. It demands that unbelievers acknowledge the foolishness of their ways and that believers think and act like their Master. Tough sledding for all.