The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents)


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About The Epistle to the Philippians

Or we may believe that God called us to our work, promised us greatness, or owes us success because we have been faithful to him. Failure at work then seems to mean that God cannot be trusted or does not even exist. Or we may be so gripped by fear that we doubt God will continue to provide for our needs. All of these work-related challenges can test our faith. What should we do if our faith is tested at work? Endure James —4. As the crisis passes, we find that our maturity has grown. In speaking about wisdom, James begins to develop the principle that we can trust God to provide for us.

Our problem is not that we expect too much help from God at work, but that we expect too little James It is absolutely essential to grasp this.

James is under no illusions about how hard it can be to trust God. He knows all too well the trials his audience is already beginning to experience throughout the breadth of the Roman Empire James —2. Yet he insists that the Christian life must begin with trusting God to provide.

He immediately applies this to the economic sphere in James — Success or failure comes from many factors beyond ourselves. Those who have ever lost their livelihood due to recession, corporate sale, office relocation, crop failure, discrimination, hurricane damage, or a thousand other factors can testify to that. God does not promise us economic success at work, nor does he doom us to failure, but he uses both success and failure to develop the perseverance needed to overcome evil. If James —8 invites us to call on God in times of trouble, then verses 9—11 remind us to call on him in times of success as well.

Notice that although James contrasts the goodness of God with the evil of the world, he does not allow us to imagine that we are on the side of angels and those around us on the side of devils. He is speaking to church members.

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This should make us slow to identify church as good and workplace as bad. In fact, the Christian community is one of the means God uses to raise up the poor. Christians need to listen well both to people James and to God James — When others speak words that we do not welcome—words of disagreement, criticism, dismissal—it is easy to respond in anger, especially in high-pressure situations at work.

How much better to trust God to defend our position, rather than defending ourselves by angry, hasty speech. This advice applies to all kinds of work and workplaces. Listening is well established in business literature as a crucial leadership skill. This brings us to the second principle of faithful work—working for the benefit of others in need. This principle follows naturally from the principle of trusting God to provide for our needs.

If we trust God to provide for our needs, then it frees us to work for the benefit of others. Belief means trust, and trust leads to action. A successful organization meets the needs of its customers, employees, investors, citizens, students, clients, and other stakeholders.

This application is not limited to serving customers in established businesses.

For example, a group of Christians started a furniture factory in Vietnam to provide jobs for people at the lowest level of the socioeconomic spectrum there. Social structures and political-economic systems strongly affect whether the needs of the poor are met. To the degree that Christians can influence these structures and systems, we have a responsibility to ensure that they meet the needs of poor and needy people, as well as the needs of rich and powerful people. Name of source withheld by request. James applies both of his underlying principles as a warning against favoritism toward the rich and powerful.

He begins with the second principle—working for the benefit of others in need. This is because the rich and powerful have the potential to bestow a bit of their riches and power on us. The poor can do nothing for us. But they are the people in need. Even in something as simple as coming to church, the poor are in need of a word of welcome. The rich—being welcomed everywhere—are not in need. Doing this means that either we are not treating our neighbors as ourselves, or we are failing even to recognize that a poor person is our neighbor.


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At work, we can pay attention to people who can help us or to people who need our help. In a healthy workplace, this might be merely a matter of emphasis. Although James couches his argument in terms of working to benefit others in need, this application implicitly raises the principle of trusting in God. James is demonstrating how good works are made possible by faith in Christ. Ironically, the poor themselves already live this truth on a daily basis. The poor are not inheriting the kingdom because they are better people than the rich, but because they put their trust in God.

Lacking the means to depend on themselves, or to curry favor with the rich, they have learned to depend on God.


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James takes up the topic of work in detail in the second part of chapter 2. What does James himself say? We have opportunities every day to meet the needs of people we work for and among. It can be as simple as making sure a confused customer finds the right item for their need or noticing that a new co-worker needs help but is afraid to ask. This is the heart of the book of James. James does not imagine that work is at odds with faith.

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He expects that Christians will work for the benefit of others in need as a result of placing faith in Christ. The insight that Christian faith always leads to practical action is in itself a lesson for the workplace. We cannot divide the world into spiritual and practical, for the spiritual is the practical. See Gk. James follows up his practical guidance about listening see James —21 with similar advice about speaking. Here he employs some of the fiercest language in the book. James is no doubt well aware of the Old Testament proverbs that speak about the life-giving power of the tongue e.

Many Christians rightly take care not to harm others through harsh speech at church. James , referring to Gen. Water-cooler gossip, slander, harassment, disparagement of competitors—who has never been injured by harsh words in the workplace, and who has never injured others?

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James — also employs the paired principles of dependence on God and service to others in need. Selfish ambition is the opposite of serving the needs of others. In typical fashion, he alludes to a workplace—grain harvesting in this case—to make his point. All of these can and should be employed by Christians in the workplace. You do not have, because you do not ask. This wraps the two principles into an integral unit. James states this metaphorically as an adulterous love affair with the world, by which he means the wealth and pleasure we are tempted to believe we can find in the world without God James —5.

James borrows the metaphor of adultery from the Old Testament prophets, who frequently used it to depict the pursuit of wealth and pleasure as substitutes for God. Although James uses the metaphor of adultery, he is talking about selfish ambition in general. In the workplace, one temptation is to use others as stepping stones to our own success. James is right that this is a chief source of quarrels. Ironically, selfish ambition may impede success rather than promote it.

It can be as simple as delegating work to subordinates, or as complex as coordinating an international project team.

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After all, even the things for which we wrongly demand credit and inordinate praise, are things for which the praise is due to God. We are therefore daily dealing in divine actions and are creatures of finer stuff than we imagine. James's commentary applies the Qur'anic phrase to very practical situations in which humans misunderstand and misappropriate to themselves praise due to God. To give respect to one human being over another on the basis of their wealth is idolatry.

Such respect belongs to God. He is the source and true owner of all things. The way to overcome this false perception is the practice of loving one's neighbor as oneself. This does not mean affection. It means to take consideration of every person equally in the struggle for survival. James's understanding of the Qur'anic principle allows him to point out that status based on wealth is empty, since all things finally belong to God. To love one's neighbor as oneself is known as the royal law. Here James mentions another law, the law of liberty.

Two examples from the law of liberty are given in verse eleven identifying this law as the ten commandments.


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The ten commandments, being the unique, direct revelation of God, are the general terms of divine grace. James uses this term to combat the antinomian elements in the early community of the followers of Jesus. The Bible tradition maintains that liberty is specifically defined by the ten commandments, and that the law is identical with grace. Salvation from sin and condemnation is therefore based entirely on grace which extended to those whose intention is to keep the law and who repent on their failure to do so. Established Christianity, by contrast, teaches that there is a contrast between freedom or liberty on one hand and the ten commandments on the other.

Christians do not see the commandments as liberating, but as binding and onerous. Christianity further maintains that there is a contrast between the ten commandments and grace, and that grace comes after the commandments and abrogates them.

The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents) The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents)
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The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents) The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents)
The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents) The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents)
The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents) The Epistles (With Active Table of Contents)
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