[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Prologue of James

by H K Flynn
I never saw Timon of Athens performed, nor have I read this little-known play of Shakespeare, but its title has stuck in my mind because I read something about it that sort of clicked with me.

Timon of Athens is very much considered a lesser Shakespearian work. If what I read was accurate, what folks consider to be the main problem with it is simply that it lacks of one simple dramatic element. Timon lacks foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is where the writer gives subtle nods, in dialogue and action, to what will emerge later in the work of literature, especially at its climax. Apparently, in Timon, the changes the character takes, and he goes through a radical transformation, feel hollow and unsupported simply because Shakespeare hadn’t gone back and added early hints that would have given the closure and balance found in his greatest plays.

In music, the orchestration that introduces the musical themes of the entire work is called an overture or prelude. In non-fiction, the way themes are introduced is in an introduction, which is often called a prologue.

Hodges calls the section in the Epistle of James where his themes are introduced, the prologue. The prologue of James doesn’t make the mistake evident in Timon. He does carefully introduce his themes.

Right at the end of his prologue (more accurately right after the prologue has ended) comes the key verse of the Epistle of James. It’s the verse that sets the entire direction of the main unit of James. So between the salutation/greeting and that key verse, James gives his readers a neat and carefully laid out introduction to everything important he will say in his epistle.

So here the church is, after Pentecost and after three striking deaths: that of Ananias, Sapphiras and Steven. Just what are the VIP issues James wants to convey?

IMO:

#1
The need to embrace trials as the key to
complete, post-Pentecost Christian maturity

#2
Attitude check on the part of the rich

#3
Attitude check about the seriousness of sin

#4
Need for unswerving faith in
the transformative power of God’s Word

#5
Need for unswerving faith in
the miraculous perfection of the gift of new birth

These are the issues James previews in his prologue so that his epistle has closure, balance and a greater sense of weightiness. Here is the text of James' prologue in the NKJV:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

[I tip toward Hodges' observation that everyone hearing this would have 'caught' James's meaning. That in the months and years after James had seen His risen Savior face to face, they would have known James was admitting to his own state of confusion during the period in which he had opposed the Lord’s earthly ministry.]

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes.

So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(v. 2-18)

The final thing to notice regarding what I call issue #5, is that James is not a book that explicitly explains the Spirit-filled life as such. Instead, it is a book that acknowledges that post-Pentecost maturity only can emerge out of the miracle of new birth. That’s why right before the key verse he beautifully contrasts the birth of sin (and the full maturity of death that follows when sin is not turned from), with the awesome miracle of new birth:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

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