Relevant Verses: James 1:2-11
Synopsis: The Challenge of Perfectionism
Taking its cue from the KJV of James 1:4, this week’s lesson points to the “perfecting” of our faith. The KJV reads: “Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire.” The NRSV wording is less “discouraging”: “Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete.”
A more acceptable use of the word “perfect” is found in Hebrews 12:2 which refers to Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter” of our faith. In Hebrews, flawed human beings are not the primary focus of a drive toward perfection.
According to Pedrito Maynard-Reid’s 1996 book on James in the Bible Amplifier series, the theme of “suffering” is the “lens through which the document is to be read” (PMR, James, 20). Given that perspective, then the 60 some imperatives in the book focus on people who are suffering in a variety of ways. That illumines a number of emphases in the book as we shall see in the weeks ahead.
In James 1:2-11, the section which is the focus of attention this week, two concerns are addressed in addition to the initial focus on perfection: prayer for wisdom (1:5-8) and the first of several passages which condemn the rich. Indeed, in the three passages dealing with the rich (1:9-11; 2:1-6; 4:13 – 5:6) not one kindly word falls in their direction. They are consistently condemned for their wealth.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Maturity or Perfection? In 1:4, the NRSV reads: “let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” KJV has “perfect.” Which one is better?
2. How am I doing? If survival during difficult times is a dominant concern in James, is it helpful to ask, “How am I doing?” Are there times when it would not be helpful to ask?
3. Prayer: Don’t doubt. Why might it be dangerous to apply James 1:5-8 (“never doubting”) to all prayer requests? The context suggests that prayer for wisdom is the one clear object of prayer.
Note: However grim our circumstances, we can always learn something, even if not what we wanted or expected. Difficult times can make us wiser that we were before.
4. No hope for the rich. James 1:9-11 speaks harshly about the rich with no glimmer of hope. Where in Scripture could one go to find a softening of that hard edge? Can the rich be saved? The Bible knows of many good rich people. But those don’t show up in James. James knew only the oppressive rich.