Tag Archives: Salvation

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:22

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:22
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.

James continues his instruction from the previous verse where he exhorted his listeners to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” Not only is his community to open themselves up to the word of God, but they are to be careful to “do” the word.

This is an idea with a long history in the Jewish tradition. When Israel came out of Egypt they were thirsty in the wilderness after days without water. When they came to the spring of Marah, they could not drink the water because it was bitter. In desperation Moses cried out to the Lord who showed him a log or a tree which Moses threw into the spring with the result that “the water became sweet” (Exodus 15:22-25a).

There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” (vv. 25b-26).

In this story the Lord uses the Israelites’ thirst and experience at Marah as an object lesson that they should listen to and obey God’s voice. The following statement has a doubled emphasis on listening and doing, giving ear and keeping all the Lord’s commandments, together with the promise that such faithfulness will result in divine blessing. This pattern of doing God’s words is repeated in the covenant ceremony in Exodus 19:4-8 and 24:1-8, and in the descriptions of covenant blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 15 (see also: Deuteronomy 29:29; 31:12; Joshua 1:7-8; 23:6; 2 Kings 17:34, 37; cf. Romans 2:13: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”). Scot McKnight (147-148) suggests that since Torah and “do” (‘asah) appear together so often in the Hebrew Bible, we ought to see in James’ instruction a distinctively Christian form of Torah observance.

More directly, the call to do the word echoes Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:21-27 and Luke 6:46-49 (see also Luke 11:27-28; John 8:31-32). Jesus’ parable of the builder distinguishes between those who simply hear his words without doing them, and those who hear and do his words. The difference between the builders is only finally observed when the storm arises and the one who has done what Jesus says stands firm.

Thus James instructs his community to “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers” (Ginesthe de poiētai logou kai mē monon akroatai). Although most English versions translate the particle de as “but,” it may be better to read it as “and,” thus emphasising the continuation of thought of this verse with what James has just said in verse 21 about receiving the word. The imperative ginesthe may be understood in the sense of “become” doers or “continue being” doers of the word. If James’ exhortation in verses 19-21 is directed to a divided community riven with strife and malice, it may be better to read the first sense. Poiētai usually means to make, construct or compose something, but here is likely a Semitism based in the tradition of “doing the Law” (so Vlachos, 58).

What, precisely, does it mean to “do the word”? Initially it simply means to enact it, apply it and obey what it says. This is more easily understood when a direct command is in view. Much of Scripture, however, does not take the form of command, and so a broader interpretation of “do” is appropriate. The community of God’s people is to inculcate the vision and ethos of Scripture, obey the specific commands of Scripture, embody the values of Scripture, and take its place in the ongoing narrative of Scripture.

It may be, however, that James has an even sharper perspective. Verse 18 indicates that the community has been brought forth by the “word of truth,” that is, the gospel, and it may be that James intends that his hearers be doers of this word specifically. Davids suggests that it was a simple transition in the early church from thinking in terms of “doing the Law” to “doing the Word,” especially when Jesus’ teaching was understood as a new kind of law. Thus for Davids, James is calling the community to obey the gospel, which primarily has to do with Jesus’ ethical teaching (96; cf. Matthew 7:24 “the one who hears these words of mine”).

Those who merely hear the word without doing it “deceive themselves” (paralogizomenoi heautous): their faith is not authentic, but pretense, or at least, as yet immature and not fully formed. Such people may believe they are Christians, and so part of the eschatological community of God’s people, but in James’ view, they are mistaken, or more strongly, self-deceived. They are presuming on God. That the self-deception has to do with eschatological salvation seems likely given the call to repentance in verse 21. They have not actually received the saving word or carried repentance through to its conclusion. They are like Jesus’ builder who builds on the sand and so whose house collapses when the storm of judgement is unleashed. For James, this teaching must be taken with utmost seriousness: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

In this text, then, we have a foreshadowing of the theme that James will develop more fully in 2:14-26, that is, faith without works is dead. James has already acknowledged that his listeners have been “born again” through the gospel, but also allows no place for complacence or presumption. True faith is active, issuing in a life of persevering obedience to the will of God, resulting in the realisation of “the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (v. 12).

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:21

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:21
Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

After my conversion, the church I attended used the King James Version of the Bible and this became one of my favourite verses. The quaint terminology, rhythmic cadence, and almost absurd weightiness of the language made it memorable: “Wherefore, lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” It still makes me smile. Nonetheless, the language needs updating, and even the NRSV might be clearer; the NIV reads simply, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…”

The commentators are divided on whether this verse better belongs with verses 19-20 (e.g. Davids and McKnight) or with verses 22-25 (e.g. Moo and Vlachos). This may indicate that it is better not to divide the passage here, but to consider verses 19-27 as one overarching unit with several subsections. James’ use of “my (beloved) brothers and sisters” in verses 19 and 2:1 may be the best marker of what he intended, given he often uses this phrase to introduce a new section (cf. 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 2:14, 3:1, 3:10b(?), etc). There are certainly connections both with the previous section, and with that to come. The “implanted word” (Logos) recalls the “word of truth” in verse 18, as well as foreshadowing the instruction in verse 22 to be “doers of the word.” The exhortation to “receive with meekness” may echo the command to be “quick to hear” in verse 19, and several commentators suggest that the evil (kakias) spoken of in this verse is best understood in terms of malice, and so parallel to the anger of verses 19-20 (see, for example, Vlachos, 56; McKnight, 142).

James’ first instruction is not a grammatical imperative although it functions like one. “Therefore, rid yourselves” (dio apothemenoi) does suggest that this instruction is predicated upon what has come earlier, probably in verses 19-20, but also reaching back to verse 18. The participle apothemenoi literally means to “put away” or “lay aside,” and is often used in the sense of removing one’s clothing (cf. Acts 7:58). The image is common in New Testament exhortations to lay aside pre-Christian patterns of behaviour. Thus, in Romans 13:12 Paul calls on the church to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” This pattern of “putting off and putting on” is found also in Ephesians and Colossians. In Ephesians, the believers are to put of the old self and put on the new self (4:22-24; cf. v. 25), while in Colossians they must put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk, and put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love (3:8-14). The author to the letter of Hebrews exhorts his readers to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” so that they may be freed to run the race set before them (12:1). Finally, Peter also instructs his hearers to “put away” all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander, and to hunger for the word of God that they may grow up into salvation (2:1-2). All these texts show that this was a common theme and metaphor in early Christian teaching.

James calls upon his readers to rid themselves of “all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness” (pasan rhyparian kai perisseian kakias). Rhyparian continues the clothing metaphor, its cognate being used for the shabby clothing of the poor in 2:2. The adjectival form is also used in Zechariah 3:3-4:

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ And to him he said, ‘See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you in festal apparel.’

It is impossible to know whether this text stands behind the common New Testament usage, but its context is suggestive. Joshua the high priest must take off his filthy clothes and be clothed with “festal apparel” (“pure vestments” [ESV]) in order to stand before the Angel of the Lord. The change of clothing is a symbol of his cleansing from sin, and so the change of status given him. The metaphoric use of the term also indicates that the concern of the writer is with moral filthiness. The “rank growth of wickedness” (perisseian kakias) is literally, “abundance of evil,” although as already noted, it may be better to understand kakias as malice (cf. vv. 19-20; 1 Peter 2:1). This translation would suggest that James’ admonition in verses 19-20 were not simply general advice, but specific instruction directed toward disunity and anger in his community. The NRSV correctly picks up the “middle voice” of the participle: “rid yourselves,” which indicates the believer’s responsibility for a deliberate and decisive repudiation of all these things.

Repentance in the New Testament, however, is more than simply repudiation. Not only must the believer turn from that which is evil; they must also turn toward and embrace that which is good. Thus the second part of the verse—“and receive with meekness the implanted word” (en praútēti dexasthe ton emphyton logon)—provides this balance in James’ teaching. Praútēs (meekness, gentleness or humility) stands in contrast to the anger and refusal to listen of verses 19-20. Instead of an aggressive or demanding disposition, James’ hearers must adopt the meekness that characterised Jesus (Matthew 11:29) and so “receive with meekness” the implanted word. Vlachos (57) suggests that the aorist imperative for “receive” (dexasthe) be interpreted in parallel to apothemenoi as a “true middle” with the sense of “open yourselves up to” the word of God, and so once more affirming the believer’s responsibility. The imperative calls the community to a humble listening to and hearing of the word of God (“be quick to hear!”), which must be welcomed and embraced if it is to work powerfully in one’s life. That this word must be “received” and is also “implanted” in us, shows that it is a work of grace to which we are called to respond, one of the good and perfect gifts which is from above (v.17), and for which we are allowed to pray (v. 5).

How is this word implanted? That it must be received suggests that it comes from without, most likely through the preaching and teaching ministries of the church. In verse 18 James showed us that our “new birth” was occasioned “by the word of truth,” which as we noted then, is an expression synonymous in the New Testament with the gospel. James says more: this word “has the power to save your souls” (ton dunamenon sōsai tas psychas humōn). Believers are to “open themselves up to” this word, maintain a continual openness toward it, so that its power might be continually at work within them. Although we are already born again or brought forth by the word of truth (v. 18), we are still awaiting the completion of our salvation, which in James refers to deliverance from the eschatological judgement which is yet to come. The same word by which we were brought to new birth is the same word by which we grow and by which we finally will be delivered. When James says that our soul will be saved, he likely is referring to our whole person, and not simply to some immaterial aspect of our being.

This verse, then, is a call to repentance—a life of continual repentance, which includes a decisive turning away from all the kinds of evil that characterised our pre-Christian life, and a humble, voluntary openness and submission to God through his word. This is not to be understood as a dour or joyless life, but as a life lived in accordance with God’s good and perfect purpose, a life, James will go on to explain, of liberty, generosity and moral integrity.

A Sermon on Sunday – James 1:12-18

 

Saint_James_the_JustI have not preached this sermon, but prepared it to see how I might approach this passage if I were called upon to preach it in a congregational context. Moving from exegesis to exposition is not always easy, and I am not overly happy with this sermon as it presently stands. Hopefully it would be developed and improved as I prepared it with a specific audience in mind. Perhaps its focus would be sharpened, and story, illustration and application would bring this somewhat cerebral text to life.

*****

The Two Loves

I am not sure I agree with the way Monica tells the story, but here goes…

We had been married a little under two years, had recently returned home from a six-month short-term mission experience in Indonesia, had our first baby, and were preparing to move to rural WA for our first pastoral appointment. I was obviously tired and had gone to bed earlier than Monica—after working hard all day, and then preparing sermons into the evening, I might add! When Monica came in I was asleep, but apparently half sat-up, turned, looked at her, eyes open and asked, “What’s the password?”

“What password? What do you mean?”

“What’s the password?”

Realising that I was still asleep even though sitting half upright and talking (it had happened before, unfortunately, and to my everlasting shame!), she said again, “I don’t know what the password is. You’ll have to tell me the password.” To which I replied—apparently in a deep, husky voice, “Desire!

For some reason, Monica still thinks that’s a funny story and loves to re-tell it, even thirty years later! She leaves out, of course, the most important point: the reason the word desire was so prominent in my mind…

Desire. What kinds of things do you desire? Do your desires run in good directions? No doubt some of them do. But our desires, typically, are a mixed bag of good and not-so-good. Our passions can shape the direction of our life for extraordinary achievement or they can run amuck. James turns his attention to these things in our passage this week.

Read the text: James 1:12-18

 Human Passions

In verse 13 James takes aim at an attitude that was evidently a problem amongst his listeners, who were blaming God for the troubles and temptations they were experiencing. Instead of “the devil made me do it” they were saying, “God is making me do it!”

It is convenient to attribute our temptations to God. If God is tempting us, we can hardly be blamed for giving in to the temptation. No, in fact, we would be doing God’s will by giving in! Although we might think this is all a bit silly, it is not all that uncommon for someone to justify their behaviour—sometimes even unconscionable behaviour—by claiming God had led them into it, that God has a higher purpose for them, and this activity is part of a bigger plan, that God has spoken to them, that God is love and surely he would not want them “suffer” any longer. Actually, it is amazing how easy it is to justify even sinful behaviour by attributing some blame to God.

In our text, however, the situation is probably a little different. James’ hearers are undergoing real suffering and hardship, very possibly economic oppression and marginalisation, and they are angry. Perhaps they want to take matters into their own hands, and strike out at those who are oppressing them. With bitterness of spirit they are blaming God for their troubles, and perhaps even suggesting that God wants them to rise up against their oppressors.

“Let no one say when he tempted, ‘I am tempted by God.’” James rejects this position out of hand, because God is always and only good, and he never changes. God cannot be tempted with evil for in himself, God’s goodness is his holiness and he is beyond temptation. Further, God’s will is that his people also be holy, so why would he tempt them to evil? For James, the very idea is ridiculous. Perhaps we are tempted, then, by the devil? But no, in this case James does not go there either, but lays the responsibility squarely at our own feet. We are responsible: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Desire in and of itself is not necessarily wrong. We can desire good things, both for ourselves and for others. Our passions can be noble. This weekend in Perth we have seen the results of noble passions, with the “giants” who have visited our city to open this year’s Perth International Arts Festival. A passion for art, creativity and excellence resulted in a series of street festivals as hundreds of thousands of people turned out to enjoy the spectacle of the giants. This week in Perth we have also seen the results of ignoble passion, again in the arts, with the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey in the cinemas, exploiting prurient interests and celebrating dominance and power.

James is familiar with the dual nature of our passions and draws on ancient Hebrew concepts to set forth his understanding of the nature of sin. The Hebrews believed that two impulses are at work in the human person, the yetzer hara‘ and the yetzer hatov. The first yetzer is the evil impulse, and the second is the good impulse. Our impulses, desires and passions can run in either direction, and when they run with the yetzer hara‘ we are lured into sin, enticed by a particular kind of bait, and snared in the trap of sin. Our own desires lead us into a trap. One commentator says that we are “hooked by own bait.”

James gives a biological analogy of the birth and development of sin: desire “conceives” and “gives birth” to sin. But sin is not the end of the story. The sin develops and grows and comes to maturity and eventually “gives birth” to death. We could probably push this analogy too far, and turn it into some kind of “mechanics of sin.” Paul refers to “the mystery of iniquity” which highlights the incomprehensible nature of sin. Nevertheless, if we add intention and action to illegitimate desire, sin results, and if we pursue and persevere in sin “the child grows up” exerting an increasing dominion over our lives. “Make no mistake!” says James: sin is deadly and death-dealing. What appears as a harmless little desire here may grow into a destructive habit or devouring addiction.

Divine Purpose

“Make no mistake!” says James. Illegitimate desire leads to sin, and sin leads to death. We are wrong if we think that this is God’s will for us. God is the lord and giver of life, not the lord and ruler of death! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” says James, “coming down from the Father of lights.” God is only and always good, insists James¸ and he never changes in this his character and temperament, but only wills and does that which is good. He cannot will evil and does not will evil, and so cannot tempt us with respect to evil. Even God’s judgement, ultimately, is for the good.

James calls God “the Father of lights” which is almost certainly a reference to God as the creator of the heavenly lights—the sun, moon and stars—and so a reference to God’s universal sovereignty and goodness. But God is unlike the heavenly lights that he has created. Whereas they change, even in the midst of their regularity, due to lunar phases and solar eclipses, God never varies in his basic character of goodness, his good intent and purpose. God intends good for his creation, and is kind to the just and to the unjust (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). God intends good for you and for me, which is why he warns us concerning the destructive nature of sin. Even in its fallen and alienated state, God wills the restoration of his creation, rather than its destruction. Yes, God is judge and he will judge the wickedness of humanity as James clearly declares in other passages. But destruction is not God’s purpose. Not only is God creator, he is also the redeemer.

In verse 18 God’s redemptive purpose comes more clearly into focus. “Of his own will,” says James, “he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” God, the Father of lights, has given us birth! In a daring image, James applies the image of pregnancy and birth to God. God himself has conceived us, carried us and brought us to birth through the “word of truth”—the gospel of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5). Of all God’s “good and perfect gifts,” this is the very best: the redemption and regeneration we have in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit so that we have actually become God’s own children! Notice that the whole emphasis is on God’s purpose and God’s activity, and so on grace. James is not teaching a theology of works, but like Paul, is a theologian of grace.

The contrast between God’s will here and human desire in verse 15 is unmistakable. Whereas human desire gives birth to sin and death, God’s will gives birth to life and new creation: we are “born again.” This is language used by Jesus, Peter and John to portray the new life believers have in Christ. Something marvellous, something miraculous occurs when someone becomes a Christian: we are actually, really born … a second time! We are born into God’s kingdom, born into God’s family, born spiritually. This is new life, a new hope, a new beginning, a fresh start, a new creation. You are not who you used to be. I am not who I used to be be. We are not who we used to be.

Scot McKnight, however, reminds us that the new birth is not simply personal. The “us” is corporate, the messianic community, the church. This is a helpful reminder that while salvation is personal, it is neither private nor simply individual, but has a corporate intention and public aspect. Indeed, McKnight goes on to say that,

The “new birth” of James is both intensely personal and structurally ecclesial: God’s intent is to restore individuals in the context of a community that has a missional focus on the rest of the world (131).

God’s ultimate purpose is finally seen in the final phrase of the verse: “that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” God’s redemptive vision is as large as creation itself. Because God has his eye on the whole of creation, he has brought forth the community of God’s people. The Father of lights has not abandoned his creation but is leading it towards its consummation. Just as God called Abram because he had his eye on “all the families of the world,” so God has brought forth the church, not simply to be the sole recipient of his goodness and blessing, but that through the church, his every good and perfect gift might also be directed to every creature. Such a gracious God is not leading people to fall as some in the community seem to be asserting (v. 13). Rather, the good and gracious God is one who strengthens them to endure the test that God’s purposes for them and for the entirety of the creation might be realised

Our Perseverance

So, make no mistake! Sin is deadly, but God is good. And God has a divine purpose for his creation, including us. Nevertheless, in this life we face troubles without and temptations within. Pressure on the outside, pressure on the inside. But whether without or within, James’ admonition is the same: persevere, hold fast, stand firm, resist!

Every believer is confronted with this choice, whether to give play to their sinful desires or stand firm against them. But James also has a final—and surprising—word of wisdom for us. Standing fast is not a matter of will power or gritted teeth determination. Just as the root of sin is found in desire rather than the will, so the secret of perseverance is found in our desire, in this case, in our desire and love for God.

In verse 12 James reiterates the advice he gave earlier, encouraging his hearers that those who do stand firm will be blessed, and indeed, will receive “the crown of life.” If desire leads to sin which gives birth to death, testing met with perseverance leads to life. In this verse, the crown of life is the final eschatological victory, the hope of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Blessed, not only in time but in eternity. Blessed not only as individuals, but as the community of God’s kingdom in the midst of a renewed creation. This blessing is given, according to James, “to those who love God.” In the final analysis, the Christian life is about who or what we will love. Will we love God, or will we turn our love inward and love ourselves? Augustine and Luther have famously defined sin as homo incurvatus in se—the human being turned in on themselves. But God calls us to a higher love, to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

What does it mean to love God? In broader biblical perspective we see that love for God involves keeping his commandments (John 14:15). It means to keep his word in our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). In this context, however, it might best be understood in terms of loyalty to God and to God’s will in the face of pressure to compromise and capitulate. It means to look to God, to hope in God, to approach God in prayer, and to trust in God. It means to rejoice in God and find our boasting, joy and life in him. The Christian life is neither a cynical quest for reward nor a fearful avoidance of hell. It is not simply a stoic endurance of affliction or a herculean withstanding of temptation. It is a life of joy rather than gritted teeth, of hope rather than fear, of faith rather than despair, of generosity rather than selfishness, and supremely, of love.

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:18

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:18
In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

The first question to be asked of this verse concerns whether James is writing with respect to the creational or redemptive work of God. If verse 17 is understood in a creational sense, it is possible to read this verse in the same way. Humanity, generally, has been created in the divine image by God’s word of command to be the first amongst God’s creatures. In our comment on the previous verse, however, we concluded that although the text could be read in a creational sense, it is better to understand it in terms of an exhortation to the believing community. So here, James uses language that elsewhere in the New Testament refers to God’s salvific work. The “word of truth” refers to the message of the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:7), which, more broadly, is understood as the instrument by which men and women are brought to faith and so to salvation (cf. Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The emphasis on divine sovereignty in this verse echoes Paul’s similar emphasis in Ephesians 1. The broader context of verses 13-18 suggests that James is piling up reasons for why his hearers should not blame God for the trials they experience. God’s will and activity toward us has ever been gracious and kind. God does not tempt us with evil, not only because his goodness is incapable of evil, but because such an act would also be counter to his ultimate purpose, which is to establish his people as the paradigm of his intent for the whole creation. God does not will evil, sin and death, but life.

“In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth” (βoulētheis apekyēsen hēmas logō alētheias). βoulētheis is an aorist participle meaning “by an act of will, deliberately” (Zerwick-Grosvenor, 692). The use of the aorist participle with the verb indicates that God’s action was the outworking of his logically prior determination. The implied subject of the verb (apekyēsen) is the “Father of lights” from verse 17. Salvation, a premier example of a “good and perfect gift,” has its ground in the divine purpose and intent. If James’ messianic community has experienced salvation, it is because God has purposed it; the whole emphasis is on God’s purpose and God’s activity, and so on grace. As such, this verse could have been written by Paul, and undermines the idea that James has a soteriology of works rather than grace.

The verb itself is daring, for apekyeō is properly applied to a female, and literally means to give birth (from kyō, to be pregnant). The image is applied metaphorically to God—the “Father of lights” gives birth!—and is almost certainly deliberately used by James here in contrast to its previous use in verse 15. Whereas human desire leads to sin which gives birth to death, God’s will gives birth to new life and new creation (see McKnight, 129). The image of salvation as new birth is found elsewhere in the New Testament in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, in John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, and in 1 Peter 1:23. Although it is common to think of being born again in personal and therefore individual terms, McKnight (130) argues that the “us” (hēmas) in this text, refers to the messianic community which God has “delivered” into the world. McKnight’s emphasis is a helpful corrective, and a reminder that while salvation is personal, it is neither private nor simply individual, but has a corporate intention and public aspect. Indeed, McKnight goes on to say that,

The “new birth” of James is both intensely personal and structurally ecclesial: God’s intent is to restore individuals in the context of a community that has a missional focus on the rest of the world (131).

This intent comes more fully into view in the final phrase of the verse, “that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (eis to einai hēmas aparchēn tina tōn autou ktismatōn). With this phrase, the whole saving purpose of God comes into view, and God’s salvific work is identified as the fulfilment of his creational activity. Because God has his eye on the whole of creation, he has brought forth the community of God’s people. They are the “first” of the harvest, and the promise of the full harvest which is yet to come. In the Old Testament, the first fruits belonged to God, whether the firstborn in a family, the first animal of the herd, the first grain of the field (see, e.g., Exodus 13:1-2; 22:29-30), and had to be offered to God or otherwise redeemed. As the first fruits of his creation Christians are God’s treasured possession, the first harvest of his intention that the whole creation shall be renewed and redeemed. God is giving birth to a new creation and believers, having been brought forth by the gospel, are the first fruits of this renewed world. It should be noted that the New Testament uses the idea of regeneration both with respect to the salvation of individuals and of the cosmos itself (see, e.g. Titus 3:5; Matthew 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21). The Father of lights has not abandoned his creation but is leading it towards its consummation.

That God’s intent is the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) does not imply universalism, especially in James, where the threat of judgement is very prominent and directed especially against the rich. Rather, and this picks up McKnight’s insistence that the messianic community has a missional focus, the redeemed community is to function as a picture of God’s intent for all humanity, and as the instrument by which God will continue his harvest. This reminds us of the call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, where God called Abram because he had his eye on “all the families of the world.” So God has brought forth the church, not simply to be the sole recipient of his goodness and blessing, but that through the church, his every good and perfect gift might also be directed to every creature. Such a gracious God is not leading people to fall as some in the community seem to be asserting (v. 13). Rather, the good and gracious God is one who strengthens them to endure the test that God’s purposes for them and for the entirety of the creation might be realised (Davids, 90).