Power in the epistle of James

It might seem a strange thing to consider the subject of power in the letter of James, since the principal word for it (Greek, dunamis) does not appear in the document at all. But there are other signs of James’s interest.

This servant of the Lord is not interested in power in any pure, static form, but in the effective working of God in a saint’s life.

The powerless

The Old Testament shows God’s concern for those on the margins of society, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans. James drank deeply of God’s spirit. He writes that real religion means caring for widows and orphans, 1.26-27. The poor are subject to discrimination and oppression, 2.1-13. They have unfulfilled needs, 2.14-16. Upon some are heaped unjust curses, 3.9. Unpaid laborers cry out to God, 5.4. The people of God suffer on earth, 1.1-2ff. The sick and the guilty need forgiveness and healing, 5.13-15.

James is concerned for such people because he knows that, when it’s all said and done, all mankind is weak and helpless.

Power of the word of God

James first gives a hint of the power of God’s word in 1.18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (ESV).

God’s word of truth causes this new creation to occur. It does what man cannnot do, start over.

Then he soon declares it openly:

“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” 1.21 ESV.

God is “able to save” 4.12, and he does so by means of his word that is received. It is received with meekness and after one has put away sin. This salvation comes through forgiveness and the starting over process that only God can perform.

Power of prayer

If on the one hand James knows that the word of truth is God’s power to save, both now and eternally, he also is aware of the power of prayer.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” 5.16 ESV.

James’s interest in prayer’s power is in its effect on one’s brethren. He has in view here intercession. The example of Elijah is how the prophet was just a regular guy, but his prayer had great effect. James is not thinking of rain or physical benefit, but spiritual life. Our prayers will also accomplish great things, such as restoring an erring brother, vv. 19-20.

The source of all power

James focuses strongly upon God as the source of all power. He is the Lord of hosts or Lord of the armies to whom the powerless appeal, 5.4. One Brazilian version translates it as “all-powerful God,” and that certainly gets to the idea. There is “only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” 4.12. It is “of his own will” that he causes us to live in Christ, 1.18.

So the word of truth and prayer are God’s means by which he exercises his power in our lives. This fact is so important, because if we fail to use them — constantly, properly, consistently, profoundly — we will cut ourselves off from the recreative power of God that he so wants to bestow upon us.

Our power

James urges us to be meek and humble, dependent upon God, seeking his will, asking for his help, praying constantly in faith, putting his word into practice. James is interested in righteousness and what it will produce, 1.20; 2.23; 3.18; 5.6, 16.

James would say amen to the psalmist, “Seek the Lord and the strength he gives! Seek his presence continually!” Psalm 105.4.

2 Replies to “Power in the epistle of James”

  1. I consider James 1:18 to be the theme verse of the book. If I am the Christian I say I am, then the word will have the power to help me live the “perfect law of liberty out,” (1:25 NET); my faith will have the power to become visible (2:17-18); I will have the power to control my tongue (3:1ff) ; the word will give me the power to draw near to God and defeat the Devil (4:7-8;) and I will live a life in Christ of patient endurance (5:12). Good work, brother!

    1. Thanks, John. You may well be right on the theme verse. They’re hard for me to pick out.

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