Connections 08.29.2021: Pressing On

James 1:17-27

I wonder if any of you ever find yourselves running into the same kind of barrier that I find myself running into. It’s the barrier that stands between me and the goals that I have set for myself. It’s actually a more serious matter than that: it’s the barrier that stands between me and the goals that God has set for me.

There is a sense in which my frustration is well-earned. That is because there is a sense in which I have been trying so hard for so long. To be specific, I have been trying so hard for so long to live in the ways the Bible says I should live. I really want to be a doer of the word and not just a hearer of it. Reading, studying, and teaching what the Bible says has been my passion for my entire adult life. I can truthfully say—and I’m not bragging but rather just stating a fact—that I know a lot about the Bible.

But that doesn’t mean that I do what the Bible says as faithfully or consistently as I should. It doesn’t mean that my hearing, reading, studying, and teaching the word necessarily translates into my doing, obeying, and following the word. It doesn’t mean that the word transforms my spirit and my heart so thoroughly that my actions reveal the change.

Still, I have tried. I have attempted to let my hearing of the word lead to my doing of the word. I think that I have at times moved in positive and helpful directions in doing so. But that hasn’t been the case often enough or regularly enough.

With that, I arrive at the root of my concern, which is that I often find myself assuming that I’m not going to make it. I find myself taking for granted that I will never be the person that I could be, should be, and want to be. To put the matter in even more serious terms, I find myself taking for granted that I will never be the person that God says I could be, should be, and should want to be. I find myself thinking that I will never live a life that has been truly transformed by the word of God that Christ became flesh to bring into the world and that the Holy Spirit comes to make present in my life.

I’m concerned that I too easily accept that that’s just the way it is. I’m afraid that I am all too often willing to accept as insurmountable the distance between how far I have come and how far I have to go. It is, after all, a much shorter distance between acknowledging the challenge of continuing to press on toward greater maturity and choosing to live in light of the conclusion that it’s unreasonable to expect so much of myself—or for God to expect so much of me.

I need—we need—to keep some things in mind.

First, God has given us a great gift. God has “implanted” God’s word in us (v. 21). Jesus embodied God’s word. The Gospel writers made that word available to us . The Spirit enlivens the word in us. And while we are responsible to receive and to nurture the word, we can do so only because God gives it to us in the first place.

Second, God has given us a great opportunity. We have the opportunity to make ongoing progress in having our lives formed and shaped by the grace and love of God that the implanted word makes available to us.

Third, God has given us a great goal. We are to always be growing into practicing “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father…: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (v. 27). Our goal is to grow toward love, compassion, and generosity and thus away from hate, apathy, and greed.

I need to remember—we need to remember—that growing in the kind of love that the presence of Christ makes possible is never easy. But it is always worth whatever effort we have to put forth. And we should always remember that it is the word of God working in and through us that makes it all possible.

Discussion

  • Why does James emphasize that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift” comes from God (v. 17)? How does this relate to what he says in the rest of the passage?
  • Why is it important that we “welcome with meekness the implanted word” (v. 21)? Why is meekness necessary?
  • What kinds of difference should our doing of the word make in our lives?
  • What does it mean “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (v. 27)? How might we put it positively?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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