It’s the first century. James is Jesus brother. He’s pastoring the church at Jerusalem. It’s big. Lots of people have believed in Jesus—and a very diverse group. (You’ll see that in Acts.) James was a leader—a religious man, well-connected and well-respected. The politics of the day were complicated (to say it simply)—more like a hornet’s nest of complexity and power-play—Jews vs. Romans, Jewish sect vs. Jewish sect, Jews vs. Christians, Romans vs. Christians, Jews vs. Jews, Rulers vs. Commoners… on and on.
In the middle of all this the gospel was exploding!
Poor people believed. Rich people believed. Religious leaders believed. Jews believed. Gentiles believed. And they were a MESS! (Read James, you’ll see.) They had real bad issues. You name it, they struggled with it.
They had trials. They had persecution. They had politics in the church(es). They had division. They had partiality, judgmental hearts, fakery, strife, infighting, boasting, arrogance, and carnality—AMONG THEM… yes, in church. They couldn’t control their tongues with each other. They were having a hard time mixing poor and rich, powerful and powerless, well-connected and disconnected. They were self-absorbed, contentious, petty, and pathetic in many ways.
The church was an assortment of interpersonal conflict, relational disconnection, political tension, and spiritual immaturity. James was herding cats. Or, as a friend of mine put it recently, he was pushing a wheelbarrow full of bull-frogs… and they were a difficult group to stabilize and disciple. They were fighting, warring, striving (not together), and stewing. They were at war with one another over wages, business, legal matters, and church leadership positions.
If they could have, they would have blogged and social networked against each other. They would have sent each other mean voice-mails and emails. They were cursing each other, condemning each other. In some cases—KILLING each other. They were claiming to have faith but living like pagans. They were completely filled with pride—which God resists. They were befriending the world, refusing to submit to God, and refusing to humble themselves with one another.
They were thinking evil of each other, speaking evil of each other, despising each other, lying against each other, bitter at one another, envious of one another—earthly, sensual, devilish. They were full of sinful lusts, fractured in church life, and failing miserably at spiritual maturity and wisdom. They were presumptuous, chasing wealth, making plans, and presuming to be “in control.” They were cheating each other, oppressing each other, and power-playing against each other. You get the idea.
Like I said. Bad. Really bad.
Here’s the killer—the REAL killer.
When this letter was written, all these people—the rich, the poor, the powerful, the powerless, the connected and disconnected… ALL OF THEM… get this…
They were TEN YEARS away from TOTAL DECIMATION. Yep. In less than ten years, Rome is going to walk all over this church. 1.1 million people in Jerusalem are going to be killed. Another 100,000 are going to be taken into slavery. The city will be burned. It’s all going to come crashing down on them in very short order!
Point? All their games, their carnality, their politics—all of it was a “luxury” they wouldn’t have much longer. It was margin. It was a latitude that would soon disappear. Very soon, they would ALL desperately need each other. Pretty soon their politics, their fights, their pettiness would all be abruptly halted by tragic oppression and persecution.
What they needed more than anything was spiritual maturity and spiritual unity. They needed GRACE. They needed each other. They needed to forget their games and get unified around the gospel—and QUICK!
Here’s the point. Fighting, nit-picking, or critiquing other Christians is a luxury of lethargy. It’s a product of mission margin. It only happens when you have the latitude, the freedom, the “down-time” to be nit-picky. It only happens when you’re not being over-run by persecution, scattered by invading pagan oppression. And it only happens when you take your eyes off the hopeless, lost condition of humanity and start inspecting the ranks of your fellow-believers.
When Jerusalem is being over-run, Christians suddenly, quickly, immediately unite. They suddenly need each other. They urgently, aggressively love one another. When the perpetuation of life and gospel ministry is on the line, pettiness becomes exceedingly petty.
Sadly, we no longer have the “luxury of disunity” in our local churches and Bible-believing relationships.
Maybe last generation did. Maybe when there was a moral majority, there was time and latitude for senseless strife. Maybe when most Americans had biblical values and Judeo-Christian morals there was margin for endless cross examination and inspection of the Lord’s army.
But not any more. If you’re warring against other Christians—people you will worship next to in Heaven FOREVER—you are fighting the wrong war. If you are nit-picking the guy that you would worship with in eternity and hide out with in oppression, rethink your focus.
Read the book of James, and let’s not play those games.
Ask it this way— “How would I treat this brother (or sister) if we were sitting in a jail cell, waiting to be beheaded for our belief in Jesus?”
Time is short. The harvest is white. The gospel is powerful. Jesus deserves to be magnified, exalted, lifted up. Like first-century Jerusalem, maybe ten years from now we will wish we had matured.
James predicted his own demise. (See James 5:6) And before his horrible death, he called for Christians to stop grudging against each other and establish themselves in patient gospel ministry. They didn’t have much time to get their act together. Neither do we.
Seriously—for the sake of the gospel, we just don’t have the “luxury” of disunity.
End Note: This post was partially born out of an engaging conversation with a like-minded friend of mine—Trent Cornwell from Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta, GA. I’m thankful for a generation of young leaders whom I call friends who really “get it” and want to engage in gospel ministry with biblical humility and vision!