For all its practical teaching, the letter of James is also highly theoretical leaving none of its ethics unsubstantiated. James carefully weaves a biblical perspective of time and reality into his message; that is the perspective of now and tomorrow.
Even as Christians we tend to forget that we are going to experience two forms of existence. We are experiencing one of these now in a world where things come and things go; where our bodies’ age and our lives are temporal. The other is eternal, where our bodies will not age, and our lives will simply carry on. James pleads with us to be continually concerned with both of these forms. Our present existence ought to be informed and shaped by a complete awareness of our eternal destiny.
James invites us to zoom out and view our lives objectively as if they were plotted on an infinite timeline so we can see them for what they are. He compares life to a withering flower that passes away (1:11) and declares that our possessions will rot and corrode (5:2-3). Despite the bleak imagery, James is no pessimist, in fact he is thoroughly realistic aiming to snap us back to reality and inspire holy living.
‘What is your life?’ James asks. How can we make plans, do this or do that as if time is our own? When Jesus returns we will have no choice but to put down the tools, or fold down the laptop. Every morning most of us wake up assuming that the coming hours belong to us, and no one has the right to dictate them or take them away. This attitude produces arrogance and supersedes our understanding of God’s sovereignty, skewing our values and decision-making. We must remember that every moment of our existence is a gift from God! The more we recognize this, the more our values will align with His and life will carry the substance it is meant to.
Jesus’ return is the second most extraordinary event that will ever take place in the history of the world and James wants our eyes focused on this horizon. ‘Behold, the judge is standing at the door,’ (5:9) he exclaims; ‘...speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty’ (2:12).
In light of this balanced perspective of here and now, life begins to make a lot of sense. Living for riches or considering our appearance or career as supremely valuable suddenly seems utterly ridiculous. Flippant promises, judging others and treating people disdainfully all begin to feel like dirty habits. We ought to adopt God’s values, pray for the sick, be involved in our Christian brother and sisters’ lives that they would not wander from the truth and ultimately, we should live to glorify Christ. This is true freedom; this is the meaning of our existence and there is nothing else worth pursuing now and tomorrow.
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