I am indebted to Charles Svoboda for the observation that the word brethren occurs fifteen times in the epistle penned by James. Although he believes that James’ use of the term uniformly indicates that he “was writing to backslidden brethren,” what strikes me about the citations is the volume and breadth of the warnings and cautions that James offers and the tokens of love implied by such extensive watchfulness. Observe the following examples of the exhortations James gave his brethren and, consequently, that the Holy Spirit has given to us.
1. Be joyful in trials (1:2).
2. Avoid deceit about the relationship of temptation to sin and the source of temptation (1:16).
3. Listen more, talk less, don’t be quick-tempered (1:19).
4. Don’t discriminate against the poor (2:1).
5. Recognize God’s sovereign choices (2:5).
6. Realize that godly works are the fruit and evidence of true faith (2:14).
7. Don’t casually or carelessly attempt to teach the Word of God (3:1).
8. Guard your tongue (3:10).
9. Remember that the fruit of your lips is an accurate reflection of the nature of your heart (3:12).
10. Do not say anything that will harm your brother (4:11).
11. Be patient (5:7).
12. Do not complain about your brother (5:9).
13. Take the prophets as your example of how to endure suffering with patience (5:10).
14. Be truthful and honest without making God a partner in an oath (5:12).
15. Turn sinners from their error (5:19, 20).
If you are feeling completely satisfied with yourself after that recitation of exhortations from James, you are a far better person than I am. Consider the scope of these appeals: they touch on our attitudes, our manifestation of the character of Christ, what we say and don’t say, our relationships with our brothers in Christ, with the poor, and with the lost. And if that weren’t enough, this is a list of exhortations directly associated with his use of the word brethren. The epistle includes many other exhortations, such as, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22)—to name only one. It should be impossible for anyone who takes the Word of God seriously to become smug or complacent in view of these commands that come from one brief epistle. Small wonder, then, that Moses, when speaking about the Law of God said to the nation, “it is your life” (Deut. 32:47b). Surely, we have much to do if we wish to thank and honor the Lord for His salvation. These commands betoken His love for us and His concern that we do not fail to lay hold of that for which He laid hold of us.
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